Coffee lovers, I haven’t forgotten you! We’ve been so busy touring Southern Greece, and enjoying countryside festivities that now we can get back to the things we love as much as the beautiful topography of Greece….and that is it’s cuisine! A large part of Greece’s culinary lifestyle is coffee. As I’ve described the importance of  ‘coffee breaks’ in Greece from previous postings, we must understand that this is really a cultural characteristic, one that spreads across Europe.  The lifestyle here is slower. Greeks don’t run until they’re out of gas. They take time. They make time time for what matters.

In this case, what’s important is coffee. Now that you’ve seen the process of making traditional, hot Ellinikos cafes (Greek coffee), the time has come for you to learn about the cold version….a more popular type of coffee among the young and trendy.  When ‘frappe’ finally became popular over on our side of the ocean in the US, the drink was quickly added to many fast food chain menus across the country. I was eager to try ‘our’ version, but guess what? It’s horrible! There’s just no comparing real Greek frappe to any other version!

Easier than making hot Greek coffee, cold frappes can be made with no stove, and nothing more than a simple hand shaker. As the video shows, you’ll need a can of Nescafe instant coffee. You can even find Nescafe in decaf now, which is nice, but sort of defeats the purpose!  This is what you become addicted to while traveling throughout Greece, especially on hot days, right along with the tiropites, the sunsets, the sparkling ocean and the gorgeous green mountains. They all fit together to make the Greek experience one that will go home with you and stay in your memory forever.

All across Greece you can order frappe.  In fine restaurants, stree cafes, town squares, even truck stops.  Like the hot version, they are offered in glukos (sweet), metrios (medium) or skeotos (no sugar). I recommend “metrios.” The sweet version is a little too sweet if you ask me! Greek frappes are the most refreshing coffee drink in the world, and the caffeine pep lasts for a really long time. They’ll serve it to you with a tall glass of water. Nothing cuts the hot summer heat in Greece like a cold frappe. Enjoy!

Coming soon….a trip to Gythion. A special place I’ve been visiting for 3 decades. Don’t start getting homesick on  us. There’s plenty more to see in Greece.

Enjoying the Quiet

August 26, 2012

Those last few days of summer…..painfully beautiful. The moon and stars are at their best, the sun still shining warm, embracing love onto our tanned faces. We absorb the remaining moments of Vassara in its peak season. There’s still more to see in Greece, many more day trips to take, but the village is starting to quiet as August comes to a close, a time to relish once again in serene moments of beauty throughout the village.

Taking a stroll, we see the best time of day, in the best place in the world. Sunset approaches in Vassara, painting a pastel water-colored sky above the clay rooftops, creating a perfect scene of serenity.  True love exists here in this moment.

Stay tuned for magical Mistras,  fun-filled Gythion, and of course more comments on coffee. I’ve delayed my presentation of Frappe only to cover this month’s busy feast day schedule, but now we are free to discuss the greatest coffee in the world yet again. Stay tuned…and keep enjoying the enchantment of this magical place while the summer sun still shines.

The peak of the summer – August 23rd – Vassara’s panayiri festival!

We begin this special day with quick ride or walk across the mountain to a grotto church named Panayias Sto Vraho ( Virgin Mary of the Rock ).  Then, it is a steep climb up many stairs. (Forget the morning excercise – this is it!) The view up top is amazing as you overlook the village across the way.  Now we have reached the top. This cave-like church dates back to the time of the Turkish invasion of Greece, where it was used to educate Greek children in secret at night in order to preserve the Greek language and culture. Today, this is a beloved church, a place where the entire village comes to worship the morning of August 23rd.  Xronnia Polla (Many Years) to all those named Maria, Mary, Panayioti (Peter)!

The village is PACKED with visitors on this feast day. Relatives, friends and travelers from all over swell Vassara to its maximum. Keep an eye on the little ones tonight at the festival, there will be hundreds and hundreds of party-goers jamming the streets of the platia (village square) to dance and celebrate into the morning hours.  We don’t dare think about tomorrow, when many of Vassara’s summer inhabitants will begin to pack up and leave the village for the realities waiting back home at school or work.

Today….we worship. Tonight….we party!

Long live Vassara and its summers of splendor!

Cool off in Parori!

August 20, 2012

With the village’s festival only days away, we have time for a quick trip to Parori. This adorable village with it’s ‘magical mountain’ is just moments away from Vassara.  Parori is unique in that it is home to natural springs that flow generously all summer long, offering natural refreshment. Just look at how the mountain spring water comes out of the rock!

When you go, remember to bring some empty containers to fill before leaving!  There’s a lovely cafe where delicious Greek food is served – a full menu from fresh fruits to evening entrees.  Although some of the other neighboring villages have natural springs as well, none of them are as charming as Parori.

Kids as well as adults marvel at the large mountain that brings forth nature’s goodness. You’ll never look at a bottle of ‘spring’ water the same way again! This is where it comes from! Enjoy!

Xronnia Polla everyone! Today is one of the most important holidays not only in Greece, but across Europe. We celebrate the ascention into Heaven of the Mother of God, Panayia. In Vassara, we travel just one town over, to the quiant village of Verrioa.  There, we attend the divine liturgy at the church named after this holy day.

The church iteself is very small, so most of the congregation stands outside. Just as a side note, my maternal grandfather had a hand in designing and building the interior of this church, so it holds special meaning.

After services, just like on August 6th, take your hand at bidding on the many items up for auction.  Today, the wares are mostly livestock, and include chickens, lambs and goats. Take a look at this lucky bidder’s prize!

Tonight we break bread with loved ones, and celebrate late into the night in Vassra’s townsquare. But the real party is just a week away. August 23rd will bring us Vassara’s annual festival.  Until then, we have time for some side trips.  Coming up in future blogs: day trips to Gythion, Parori, and ancient Mystras.  Also, coffee lovers – I haven’t forgotten you – my special posting on Greek ‘frappe’ is on its way! Stay tuned….and keep your comments coming. Love to hear from you happy travelers.

Balcony View

August 13, 2012

We’re enjoying the village today, sitting in the shade in the late afternoon on our balcony. It’s a simple house, but one that dates back to my great-great grandparent’s time.  Left as a dowry for my grandmother, this is our home away from home.

We drink our coffee with these views, relishing in the quiet streets of Vassara, where, even though the village is filling up in anticipation of August 15th, there still exists that silent afternoon siesta time, when all you hear are bells tinkering on the necks of sheep as they are herded through the quaint streets.

St. George’s bell tower is our view straight ahead. We will for sure receive our ‘wake up call’ when the bell rings out for church services on Wednesday morning.

Some great pics from simply walking the streets of beautiful Vassara.

Quiet streets in the late afternoon……….

 

Let the celebrations begin!  Today is a special feast day in the village, and we begin early in the morning,  following all of the Vassareans to Agio Sotirio for church services.

The bells of St. George ring out early as our alarm clock. Wear comfortable, FLAT shoes as we travel from the main road leading out of the village and turn left onto a dirt path that will take us up the adjacent hill to the charming, white church that comes alive every August 6th for this special holiday.

After church, we’ll hang out in the courtyard that overlooks the beautiful village of Vassara and greet fellow villagers while we await the ‘live auction’ to begin.’ (and I mean LIVE!) Sometimes it’s a set of sheets from America that catches the highest bid, or a plate of Greek sweets, but have no doubt, there are always some chickens or goats that are sold off to the crowd. (You have to kill the animals yourself…or I suppose, keep as pets!)

On the way back, be sure to pass by Taki’s in the town square for a frappe or a cold beer before returning home for the afternoon feast. Families gather with relatives for a shared lunch in celebration of the day.  The village is busy now, as Vassara has swelled with summer residents, inhabiting ancestoral homes for the month of August.  Enjoy the liveliness of the village.  This is Vassara at its best!

Vassara at last!

August 3, 2012

We’ve turned off of the main road from Athens to Sparta, at a sign that reads, ‘Vassaras, Verrioa, Vresthena” and we’re headed through the hills, over the bridge to beloved Vassaras.  The hills wind and turn, each with a more majestic view of cyprus and evergreens, taking us deeper, and deeper into the nestled terrain which cradles our xorio (village).  The ride off the main road will take about 20 minutes, depending how fast you drive. But be careful, it’s August now, and Vassara is repopulating with descendants from abroad. Slowly but surely, the village will grow from less than one hundred occupants, to nearly one thousand.

In a few days, on August 6th, the bell of St. George will ring out a rhythmic toll waking us for church.  It’s Agio Sotiro – The day of the Transfiguration as we celebrate Jesus’ radiant appearance to three of His disciples.  This begins a crescendo of holy days in not only Greece, but throughout Europe as we prepare for August 15th, the day celebrating the Virgin Mary’s ascension to Heaven.  Vassara will peak in celebration with  its own ‘panayiri’ or festival on August 23rd, and the end of summer party will be one you won’t soon forget.

For now, let’s prepare for our arrival, as we wind through the hills, where the dirt roads eventually become paved, marking our entrance into the village.  As described in Seasons of Sun, chapter 2 – Out of the Hills of Parnonas, “Out of nowhere, a tapestry of little houses visibly unfolded onto the mountainside ahead.”  Like Brigadoon, Vassara appears in the mist, reminding those who have sadly said goodbye to her in the past, that she still remains, waiting for us to return. No matter how long it’s been, she is there, with open arms, waiting to show us the ‘magic’ that is Vassara.

First timers will be be enchanted, mouths agape at Agaia Triatha sitting watchfully above the town below, protecting the lives that love her so.  As we pass the ‘campo’ and the old schools, we approach the platia.  My cousin Taki is waiting there at his cafe, offering the best patates (french fries), keftethakia (meatballs), pizza, cold Amstels, ice cream and more (even an American martini – God love him!)

Welcome to paradise, my friends. Your heart, your life, will never be the same again.