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Kyparissi, Geraki and Kosmas

Kyparissi, GreeceLast weekend seemed like a good time to take a trip. Amarandi had a school field trip to Sparta from Sat-Mon, and Tuesday was Ochi Day, a Greek holiday celebrating their refusal to let the Italians occupy the country at the beginning of World War Two, so it was a 4 day weekend if you skipped work or school on Monday. Our plan was to go to the Peloponessos and then pick up Amarandi on Monday from somewhere along the way and stretch out her trip, but she did not want to suffer the humiliation of having her parents meet her along the way and take her off so we had to plan on being back in Athens on Monday night when she got back. So Saturday morning we still did not have any concrete plans besides taking Amarandi to ACS and putting her on the bus. I looked at weather reports ( is pretty good and even if you don't read Greek you get the idea from the pictures) and it seemed that with the exception of the island of Skyros, which was on our short-list, where it was raining, it looked pretty good anywhere in Greece for the end of October. But to be honest if we just stayed home and passed the day and then went out at night in Athens I would have been perfectly happy. Traveling seemed like a hassle and in my mind we were not going to go anywhere. We would drop Amarandi off and then go to a cafe or Starbucks and talk about where we wanted to go and spend so long doing it that in the end Andrea would just agree with me and we would go home. But things did not go as planned and because we came to the entrance to the Attiki Odos (National Road of Attika) before we came to a cafe I got on the road and we still had no idea where we were going. Originally we thought about Epirus but we really did not have enough time. Then I wanted to go to Volos and drink tsipuro and eat their wonderful seafood mezedes and explore the wooded Pelion Peninsula. Andrea wanted to go to Pylos where there is some kind of chameleon preservation park but that did not seem very exciting to me. We thought about Zakynthos but that's the island where development is endangering the carretta-caretta sea-tortoise so its on my list of places to avoid. Lefkada was another option as was Patras and Kefalonia. But we were approaching the intersection with the National Road and we had to at least decide whether we were going north or south. At the last moment we went south, not because we had made a decision but because a big truck cut me off from the exit so I really did not have a choice. We now had an hour to decide whether to turn west towards Patras and see either Lefkada, Kefalonia or the western Peloponessos or go south towards my grandmother's village of Kyparissi and maybe down to Monemvasia and Neapolis.

I was torn really. I have this sense of responsibility that tells me I should find new places to write about for the website but there is a sentimental part of me that just wants to go to my favorite places and see my friends. The sentimental side usually wins out which is why after working on the website for 15 years there is a lot of Greece that I still have not been to. Maybe we should go to Kithira. But the travel agents on my site are dreading the day I go there because it is so far off the beaten track that they are almost helpless to assist with hotels and ferry bookings and usually when I write about an island it brings about a surge of interest which takes them by surprise and sends them scrambling looking for contacts and hotels if it is somewhere obscure. No. I will have mercy on the agencies and save Kithira for sometime after the world economy collapses. Lets go to Kyparissi, I said to Andrea. But first lets call Electra, my Canadian friend who splits time between there and Athens. When I told her I was on my way to Kyparissi she practically screamed with delight. "I am on my way there too!" she said.

Kyparissi, Peloponessos, GreeceKyparissi is one of the most remote and most beautiful villages in Greece. If you come across the coffee-table photo book called The Most Beautiful Villages in Greece by Mark Ottoaway and Hugh Palmer you will find it in there. For years, centuries actually, it was cut off from the rest of Greece, connected only by a dirt path which climbed through a wall of mountains and took days to get through by donkey. The only way to get there was by boat, first the caique from Leonideon or Spetses, then a weekly ferry and for a dozen years or so until they discontinued it, the flying dolphin. Now there is a road that follows the old donkey path and if you have a good map and don't stop too often or get lost you can get from Sparta to Kyparissi in about two hours, but the last twenty minutes is the most terrifying mountain road you will find in Greece. It hugs the cliffs, several thousand feet above the sea and is so frightening that one time when we had too many people for one car and had to hire a taxi to come with us the driver refused to go any further because it was too dangerous. I had to tell him just to look at the back of my car and follow me down the mountainside and not look left or right. But when he got to the bottom he was astounded at the beauty of the place and said he was going to come back with his family for a holiday (he never did though).

Byzantine ruins, Geraki, Laconia, GreeceThere are several roads to Kyparissi and everyone who goes there has their favorite way. We like the road through Geraki for a couple reasons. First of all the village of Geraki is a very interesting agricultural town with a beautiful platia and some cafeneons and a couple restaurants with a view of the valley and miles of olive groves. There is also a ruined Byzantine city, sort of a smaller version of Mystras, on the mountain overlooking the town, with dozens of old buildings and several churches still intact or restored with some beautiful frescos painted on the interior walls. There is also an archaeological site that is being excavated by the Dutch School and a couple of our friends work there, though we have never managed to be there at the same time as they are. The whole town is as traditional and unpretentious a place you will find in all of Greece, not the kind of place that makes a post-card like photograph but a taste of the real Greece for those seeking that. It even has a hotel or two.

Geraki is also within view of my grandfather's ancestral village which was called Zarafona but is now called Kalithea. They say that the people from Zarafona came from Malta by way of Corfu and the name means the sound that echoes through the ravines and gorges. They name Kalithea is sort of inappropriate as if they decided to change the name and could not think of one so they chose one that would make people want to go there. Kalithea means 'good view' but it is not on the top of a mountain where there is a view, but up against it on the edge of a large plain of olives trees that stretches to the sea. Zarafona, which is what our family and probably most people who live there call it, is a very simple, quiet agricultural village with one or two quiet cafeneons where they can throw together a meal if you show up and are not too selective about what you want to eat. Its whatever they have on hand which is usually fried potatoes, macaroni, cheese, bread, salad and maybe some lamb or goat cooked to order. There is also a very old Byzantine church, maybe 6th century in the beautiful town square. Tourists rarely if ever come here even though on the outskirts of town are the ruins of a Frankish castle. But it is a beautiful village if you want to see what a small, unspoiled agricultural village looks like.

Road to Kyparissi, Laconia, GreeceFrom Geraki the road continues past a number of small towns including Alepohori and Ag Dimitrios and if you have followed the map correctly you will end up on the outskirts of Lambokambos on the way to the picturesque village of Harakas hugging the side of Mount Madara. Until now you probably have not caught a glimpse of the sea except for the Lakonikos Gulf many miles distant in the south. But as soon as you pass Harakas you come through the mountains and suddenly the Mirtoo Sea is right there and the countryside has dropped away and you are now on a narrow road on the east side of the mountain in a setting that is as impressive as anything you will see in Santorini or even the Grand Canyon. The road has been cut through parts of the mountain, in some places with the rock hanging over it and runs along the side with the sea below on your right, the mountain face on your left. There is little margin for error though the road is good and people generally drive slowly on it because to do otherwise might mean if not instant death, then enough time to have your entire life flash before you in as much time as it takes to reach the bottom several thousand feet down where if you are lucky you will hit the rocks and die in a fiery explosion and if not you will hit the sea and what is left of you will drown.

Blackjack Jerome house near Kyparissi, laconia, GreeceRight at the entrance to the pass through the mountain to the sea there is a road to a small church on the right with an area you can park and see the view. There is a steep ravine that leads down to a small beach. There is actually an calderini, a walking path, that goes down though from the looks of it a lot of it has been destroyed by rock slides. At the very bottom is a house which was built by a California union buster named Blackjack Jerome, known for hiring thugs and arming them to break up strikes the nineteen-twenties,  for his girlfriend, accessible only from the sea. He was killed before he finished the house and it is now inhabited by goats. Above the church is a dirt path that leads to another church and some abandoned buildings and watchtowers and an even more impressive view, though if you don't feel like climbing you will be just as satisfied with the view below. The ten kilometers to Kyparissi takes about 20 minutes so those who are terrified of heights don't have long to keep their eyes shut before coming to the first view of the village where the road zig-zags its way down the mountain until you find yourself at a narrow crevice cut in the mountains with a small church on the rocks, the source of water for the village.

Vrissi, Kiparissi, Laconia, GreeceThe first town you come to is Vrissi, meaning 'spring' as in water, not the season, a collection of white houses, mostly in the traditional style and many with beautiful lush gardens. Vrissi is on the slope of the mountain so when you wander around the village you are either walking uphill or downhill. There is a town square which serves more as a parking lot, except for panagiris (religious festivals like the 15th of August) when the village gathers here for music, wine and food. There is a taverna which overlooks it, open year round. Further down is a smaller platia, more for sitting, right next to a traditional cafeneon where the old men gather in the mornings and afternoons. Vrissi controls the water since it is closest to the source. Its kind of a sore point between the villages especially since they have to bring water by boat for the summer to handle the needs of the holiday population in the community by the sea. It seems kind of silly. Anyone who has ever put on a mask and snorkel in these waters know that there is so much cold mountain water pouring into the sea that there are places where the temperature drops around twenty degrees and the fresh water mixing with the seawater makes everything blurry. But people here are convinced the only water is what they can get coming from Vrissi so instead of drilling for more they buy it.

Vassiliki Kolombotos and Giorgos EconopoulyIf you continue through Vrissi and go down the mountain you will pass the old school and some olive groves, a beautiful old church and cemetery and eventually find yourself in the town of Paralia which means 'beach'. This is where my grandmother, Vasiliki Kolmbotos, lived until her parents drowned on a caique that flipped over on the way to Spetses and they sent her off to live with relatives in Alexandria, Egypt and eventually to the USA to marry my grandfather Giorgos Oikonomopoulos (George Econopouly) from Zarafona. The story of my life has been my battle with my father and his cousin John over the restoration of the family house since their inclination was to just forget about it and let it fall apart, while mine has been to fix it so the family can use it. This is a common story in Greece and in every village you will see beautiful old homes that have collapsed because squabbling relatives can't get it together to negotiate and save it. Everyone believes the house belongs to them and rather than have to share it or work something out they just let it go. Unfortunately in my situation our house is the only one in the village in this state and since I am the only member of the family that visits Kyparissi is has become somewhat of an embarrassment. Everyone asks me to fix it and I just shrug my shoulders and tell them I am trying. When Vasiliki, the old woman who lives next door sees me she begs me to do something. People throw their garbage in the house, there are rats, the town has moved the garbage cans to the property and it smells in the summer. I tell her the same thing. I am trying. But how can I have a partnership in a family where everyone is only looking out for his own interest and does not trust anyone else? And if I just get a lawyer and take it then they will all believe they were right not to trust me.

kyparissi, Laconia, GreeceThe center of activity in Kyparissi is the small dock where the ferry and the flying dolphin used to come. Its not a good harbor, being open to the sea and when the waves were too big the dolphin would just pass by and continue on to Geraka which is more sheltered, at the end of a small fjord. I always wondered how people felt who were on the dolphin, expecting to stop in Kyparissi and watched as the boat went past it, and then what they had to do to get to Kyparissi. Probably get a taxi from Geraka or Monemvasia. They built another dock on the north side of the bay at Agios Nikolas but it collapsed after a year due to faulty construction, as did the dock in Gerakas and probably several other docks made by the same contractor who is probably living in Switzerland. The flying dolphins were sold to Minoan Ferries who discontinued the route that used to go down the coast of the Peloponessos and also included Leonidio, Torou, Geraka, Monemvasia and even Kithira, because it did not make any money. The once a week ferry from Pireaus stopped going to Kyparissi too and we were cut off, though you would never know it by reading some of the guidebooks where according to them we still have both flying dolphin and ferry service. There are a couple ways of looking at the situation. Its a drag because we used to get on the dolphin and in 3 hours we would be in Kyparissi. Sometimes we would go to Hydra for a couple days and then go. It was a nice trip too with every port more beautiful than the last. I would stand in the outside area by the entrance with the wind nearly blowing me off the boat as we raced down the coast of the Peloponessos at a hair-raising 35 mph. But had the dolphins and ferries continued then it would not have been long until Kyparissi was completely developed and overrun by weekenders and day-trippers. As it is now the long journey, five hours or more from Athens, keeps all but the most adventurous away and generally it is not worth the trip if you are only going to stay for a weekend. People come for a week, two weeks, a month, or the summer and some for the rest of their lives. The last terrifying twenty minutes of the journey eliminates all but the most courageous from coming here more than once, if at all and that is fine with me. Plenty of people on sailboats find it and there are moorings at Agios Nikolas and also on the south side of the bay at Agios Giorgos but its a long walk from either place. The last time my father came here with his wife he got off the dolphin at Agios Nikolas. This was back in the days when my father still had his illusions of Greece as the land where everyone was friendly and he told his wife that if they just started walking someone would pick them up because many people had driven out to meet arriving family members. Nobody stopped to ask if they needed a ride and from that moment my father labeled his mother's village as unfriendly and never went back.

Metropolis, Kyparissi, GreeceBesides Vrissi and Paralia there is also the village of Metropolis which is the newest part of Kyparissi and has many of the more modern buildings. Not that Paralia does not have its share of ostentatious summer mansions built by returning Greek-Americans as a monument showing how successful they were in America, or even some built by Athenians that rival them. But both Vrissi and Paralia have enough of the traditional architecture to give you the impression that they are still quaint Peloponnesian villages. Metropolis is less image conscious and you will find a mixture of apartment style houses and some simple traditional houses as well. There are also a couple tavernas including the wonderful Tiris, open year round. which also includes the area's only bakery which bakes beautiful horiatiko psomi(village bread). But despite the lack of an authority who could tell people "this is ugly and you can't build it" the picture as a whole is a pleasant one and unless you are one of those people who freak out about polikatikions (apartment buildings) taking over every town and village in Greece, you may not even notice them. I am used to it. Andrea will never be. But she still loves Kyparissi. Its also the home of one of her favorite artists, a talented Englishman named James Foote whose watercolors seem to be in every restaurant and home in Kyparissi.

View from Kyfanta Apartments, Kyparissi, Lakonia, GreeceUsually we stay in the apartments of my aunt, Katina Poulakis. She is not really my aunt except that probably somewhere down the line we must have some relatives in common as does everyone in the village but we call her Thea Katina which makes her happy and makes us feel like we have family here. We do have family but barely know them. We used to stay in the rooms above Katina's restaurant-general store back in the days before air-conditioning or before we even thought about air-conditioning. The rooms would get as hot as the kitchen below us and smell like whatever she was cooking. The toilets were Turkish-style which means you had to squat, not sit. But we did not spend much time in the rooms anyway and eventually she built some nice apartments on the property next door and we stayed there because she was Thea Katina, though she did charge us, since she is really not my thea. But the place to stay in Yannis and Esther's hotel which is called Kyfanta Apartments (See for a number of reasons. Number one is that they are beautiful apartments, simple and traditional with small kitchens, air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter, with a view of the sea from all but the lower level rooms. There is a cafe-bar with a rooftop sitting area also with a view of the sea. The beach is a thirty second walk down the lane so you can have a quick swim and be back before your coffee gets cold. Plus Esther speaks English and Spanish, being of Spanish origin. Yannis is a zen-like character, friendly in his Lakonian way and though I have never heard him speak a word of English I think he understands more than he lets on. They also have begun to get involved with activities with their guests like walking trips through the mountains to see the abandoned villages, olive groves, churches and caves in the area, as well as trips around the Peloponessos. Not that anyone coming here will be in need of organized activities since every direction you walk in leads you past or to something beautiful and interesting. At dinner with Esther last weekend when she told me all the activities she wanted to provide for her guests I told her that the beauty of Kyparissi and the beaches are all the activity anyone ion their right mind would want. Kyparissi is not a place for the tourist who wants to use it as a base to explore Mystras, the Diros Caves, Elefonisos, Gythion, or Monemvasia which are all within striking distance, mainly because once you get here you won't want to leave.

Parilea, Kyparissi, GreeceKyparissi beaches are among the best in Greece. The main beach between Paralia and Metropolis is a long stretch of mostly black and white pebbles or stones with a sea the color that people dream of. This is usually the most crowded which means any month except August there may be a dozen or so people spread out along its quarter-mile length. In August there will be more since it is the easiest beach to walk to and people come from other villages too. At certain times of the month there are big waves here, great for body-surfing until they get so big that you just want to sit and watch them. On these days people go to the series of beaches beyond Metropolis to the north which are more sheltered and usually waveless which is why most sailboats moor nearby at the collapsed dock. There is another small beach right in the town of Paralia. The sea is open and clean and when it is calm excellent for snorkeling. Some of my most fruitful diving adventures were here in Kyparissi. ( See George Bush senior has been known to come here and jog from Agios Nikolas to Paralia, sometimes stopping for coffee with the secret agents who run with him. He came on the yacht of Greek zillionare Latsis, as did Prince Charles and Princess Diana, together and apart. They say the morning of the day she died in Paris, Princess Diana was on the beach in Kyparissi.

Tiris Taverna, Kyparissi, Laconia, GreeceFood-wise there are lots of choices in the summer, not so many in the winter, but enough. Tiris in Metropolis is open year round and serves grilled meats, roast lamb, fish soup, grilled fresh fish, kalamarakia and a variety of frozen and whatever fresh fish has been caught. Across the street is a similar restaurant which we call Lula's. Both are good though Tiris is more popular with both the locals and the people who come on sailboats and yachts. In Paralia is Trocadero which is a combination pizza-ouzeri-taverna which is owned by Greek-Canadians, has good food and nice view. Nearby is Rovatsos which we used to call 'the hotel' on the days when there were no hotels here, because it looked like the only building that could be a hotel. Now there are several. Rovatsos is a pure estiatorion with oven cooked dishes and grilled meat and fish and along with Tiris is the most popular of the lower restaurants and in a way the most professional. That's not to say it is the best. I don't know which is the best but having lived in villages with no good tavernas I am happy that Kyparissi does not have any bad ones. Also in Paralia is Thea Katina's which is part general store and part home-cooked meals restaurant. I think she has souvlakia in the summer too. She runs the place with her sisters-in-law and this was pretty much my hangout when I spent my summers here. In fact our schedule was usually a night or two at Katina's, then one of the other restaurants, then a night or two at Katina's and a night at one of the others, until we had eaten at all the others and then we would eat at Katina's every night unless someone invited us out to dinner elsewhere. But back then her husband Panayotis was alive, working the grill, making kontosouvli or roast chicken and the tiny patio where we ate was like our living room since we lived right there. In Vrissi there is another simple taverna overlooking the square (parking lot) open year round and good for a break from Paralia that serves really nice local pitas (filled with horta in the winter and maybe vleeta or spinach in the summer) and grilled paidakia, loukaniko (sausage) and other meaty and fishy things.

Well as you can see I am writing this with an eye to the future and a possible Kyparissi page. But what about my weekend in Kyparissi?

dancing in the Baraki in Kyparissi, Lakonia, GreeceI spent a lot of time eating and drinking and talking and listening. Our first stop was at the new Maritsela Cafe and nice little bar in the basement which used to be the shop of Vassilis, an eccentric gentleman who for some reason would weigh everything he sold. One day we went to buy a dog chain with a small lock to close up the ruins of my grandmother's house. He searched the shop until he found a chain, weighed it, found it in a book and gave us the price. We were astounded that there was actually a book with a chart that said how much a dog chain costs by the kilo. After Vassilis died the basement was rented by Maria Fasili and renovated into a very comfortable little cafe-bar. My great grandfather actually built the house the bar is in and it was at one time my family house. Afterwards we walked up to Tiris in Metropolis where we met my friend Electra and her cousin and some friends and we drank wine and ate paidakia and then returned to Paralia and went to the little bar we call To Baraki, right on the dock. The waves were crashing and breaking right up to the patio so everyone was inside where it was nice and cozy. Electra got everyone dancing and was the star of the show. I was torn between watching her and going outside to watch the waves and spent the night going back and forth. Electra is one of my best friends. Actually I thought I was on my way to being her boyfriend when I met her in Montreal many years ago when I would go to visit her daily at her restaurant. But the last week I was there Andrea came to visit and somehow I ended up with her instead. Now Electra is one of my best friends as well as my coach when it comes to all things Kyparissi. If I ever restore the house it will be because of her advice and assistance.

Thomas, Kyparissi, GreeceThe next day we went to Electra's beautiful house in Vrissi for coffee. Within minutes of sitting down a parade of guests began to drop in. First Nikos the lawyer came with his friend Thomas from another village. Thomas is one of those interesting guys who is not only a sort of country philosopher but also knows everything about the history of Lakonia, all the villages, and how to grow, fix, build or make anything traditional, for example a stone house like the one my grandmother was born in. He brought with him a bottle of dark red wine in a big water bottle and plopped it on the table and started filling glasses. It was the best wine I ever tasted in my life with a bouquet almost like chocolate. He told us he made it from a variety of local vines, some of them ancient. Lakonia is probably the oldest wine-making region in the world and in the village of Klitoria (real name-no kidding) there is an ancient vine the size of a tree trunk, that is thousands of years old he told us. Thomas had a bag of the largest chestnuts I had ever seen and began peeling them and then scraping off the internal fuzz with his knife, before handing one to everyone. What am I supposed to do with a raw chestnut, I thought, thinking back to Xidera, Lesvos where they offered me what they called pikra elies which were a variety of olives which they ate raw and said went very well with ouzo but I thought tasted terrible and would not go well with anything. But to my surprise a raw chestnut tasted pretty good, like a big nut. I actually ate a couple. People kept coming and going and Electra, now recovered from last night, brought out a plate of salami, parmesan cheese, olives and bread and we kept drinking. Nikos called Tiris and asked if they had any fish and then he and Thomas jumped in the car and came back with fish soup, several skorpios and cod, potatoes, lachano-carotta salad (cabbage-carrot) and potatoes and we had a feast in Electra's garden. Eventually we were the last ones remaining and while I dozed on Electra's couch, she and Andrea discussed art, decor and kitchens. We drove back to the hotel and had enough time to take a shower and then drive back up with Esther to the taverna in Vrissi where we rejoined many of the same people we met at Electra's and a few more, for dinner. By 11pm I was more exhausted than I had been this entire 5 months in Greece. When I am in Athens everyone speaks English. I feel like I forget more Greek than I learn. But when I get to the countryside and everyone is speaking Greek I am forced to listen and try to keep pace with the conversation with my flawed Greek. Andrea helps me sometimes but her translations are often like the subtitles in an American movie where the actor speaks for half a minute and the translation just says "OK. You are right". So I try to patch the words I understand together to make some sense of what is being said and because it does not come naturally and many words I have to think about what they mean, it becomes exhausting. For some reason when I am in Xidera, Lesvos drinking ouzo and nobody but me speaks English, my Greek is pretty good. Not grammatically but I get my ideas across. But there I am usually discussing sheep with farmers. At Electra's everyone was educated and the discussions ranged from the origins of wines to poverty in Mozambique or the processing of Mediterranean Blue Fin Tuna into Japanese sushi. Most of the afternoon I was lost, attempting to swim but drowning in a sea of Greek words.

Geraki-frescoes in the Byzantine churchThe next day I woke up early, found some boards and a hammer and some nails and boarded up my grandmother's house because the door had fallen in. Last time I did this my father's cousin John freaked out and called my father and told him I was trying to steal the house. But actually I just don't want some little child to fall in since there is no floor. You just walk through the door into a big debris-filled hole. We had coffee with Thea Katina and said goodbye to Electra on the way through Vrissi and then drove out of town and up the mountain, stopping at the church right before heading inland. We stopped in Geraki and went to the Byzantine town but the site was closed on Mondays. Luckily the young archaeologist-caretaker was there and was able to show us the frescoes on one of the churches before closing up the gate that led to the site. We drove through the village and found two more Byzantine churches also with frescoes inside. We were sort of in a delicate situation and I had been mulling it over for an hour or so while driving. I felt like we should stop in Zarafona to see my relatives but because we had to be home to meet Amarandi after her field trip we would not have time to do more than say hello-goodbye and leave. But they would want us to stay for lunch, there would be wine and conversation and then when all I would really want to do is climb into a nice comfortable bed there would be a long drive back to Athens. Andrea said it would be better not to stop and I agreed. Hopefully we would not run into any of my family in Geraki where we had to stop to buy bread (Andrea loves the paxamadia they sell in the bakery there) or gas. Of course the gas station owner asked me my katagogi (origin-where my family was from) and I told him Zarafona and of course he asked my name and I told him and of course he was best friends with all my relatives and even related to me through marriage. So much for passing through town undetected.

Kosmas, Arkadia, GreeceOur nest stop was Kosmas just over Mount Parnonas and across the border into Arcadia. Its a gorgeous mountain village with cafeneons in a large tree shaded platia next to the  large church of Ag Anargiron with a fountain of lion heads spitting water. There were chestnut trees everywhere, their leaves changing bright yellow and in the square and in the small traditional shops were big baskets of chestnuts for sale. We stopped in a small traditional restaurant called O Elatos where two women and their husbands crank out dishes of grilled paidakia, hirino brizoles(pork chops), mouschari(steak), sikotaria (liver) and other meat dishes. But the specialties of the village are what we ordered which included yida, a goat soup that is eaten in the winter, gkougkes, which is a local thick pasta with cheese, and pitaroudia, the local horta or spinach pie which is fried, grilled or sauteed instead of baked. They had an excellent local rose, more tan than pink and almost like sherry which we wanted to get a bottle of to bring home but they were in short supply. (They did have some at the Selinouta traditional products shop in the square and whether it was as good I will have to tell you when we finally get to drink it.) We ended up spending as much time in Kosmas as we probably would have if we had gone to see my relatives and once again when the waiter-owner Thanassis asked me my katagogi and name it turned out he knew all my cousins too because they used to hang out at his old taverna in Geraki.

Ag Nikolas on the Leonidio-Kosmas roadThe road from Kosmas to Leonidio is one of the most spectacular in Greece. You start in the mountains and then go down through the Dafonas Gorge which in the summer is a dry riverbed of white stones but in the winter and spring must be fairly full of water if not a raging river of rapids. Along the way is the monastery of Agios Nikolaos built into the side of a rock cliff. There are a couple turnoffs to remote villages like Paleohora, Platanaki, Ag Vasilios, Gagani, Socha and Vaskina, places that see few if any tourists. Gradually you end up on a big fertile plain where the town of Leonidio sits against the side of Mount Karkovouni at the entrance to the gorge. Leonidio is a place that I have always wanted to spend time in, since I was a child actually, but have only seen while on the way somewhere. Its one of those large towns that for one reason or another never got the opportunity to be destroyed by hideous architecture like most of the larger towns in Greece. There are several bridges which span the riverbed and it must be an amazing site when there is water in it.

Leonidio, Arkadia, Peloponessos, GreeceWhen we reached Leonidio it was starting to get dark. There was a large number of 18 wheeler trucks and I could not figure out why. Its not as if there is so much agriculture that they would have that many trucks. I found out later they are shooting a movie there called Arkadia Lost, starring Nick Nolte and produced by Phedon Papamichael who also did Sideways, one of my favorite movies. Its about 2 American teens whose parents die during a holiday in Greece and they wander around the countryside where they run into Nick Nolte who plays this grizzled veteran backpacker, someone like Lonely Planet's Paul Hellander if you left him in the wilderness for twenty years. The movie also features Renos Haralambides, my favorite Greek actor-director whose film Kardia tis Ktinous (Heart of the Beast) is one of the funniest bank robbery movies ever and Renos character is one of the most lovable, in a neurotic-pathetic yet typically Greek way. Actually if I had known they were filming I would have stopped in and introduced myself since he is a friend of my friend Andy Horton from Kea. But I didn't know this and we still had three hours of driving on the dark before we got to Athens. The first twenty minutes was OK because there was still some light and we were driving past some coastal villages like Sambatiki and Livadi which kept us entertained. But by the time we reached Paralia Tirou it was dark and we did not know whether we were by the sea or in the mountains. It was just us and whatever the headlights illuminated in front of us and any car coming from the opposite direction, which were few. After an hour I was dragging and we stopped in the town of Xiropigado at a cafe-bar called Chill-Out. The owner, Sotiris, was a guy a little younger than me with long hair in a ponytail, the kind of guy who probably had a professional job in Athens and one day said fuck this and moved back to his village. The cafe was wonderful, part candy store, part internet cafe, part coffee-shop, part old-man cafeneon and part cava (wine store) with lots of historical photos of the village and beach of Xiropigado, which means 'dry well'. Sotiris was a really friendly guy, the kind you seem to only meet when you get out of Athens and Andrea commented on this when we got back in the car. The whole weekend was meeting one nice person after another. When you live in Athens it seems like everyone is distracted and irritated about something and when you meet someone who smiles and is friendly you are almost surprised. But here in the Peloponessos, at least in October it is the opposite and friendly people who seem genuinely interested in who you are and where you come from is the norm rather than the exception. Sotiris gave us a tip that by turning left at the Ford Dealership outside of Argos would get us to the National Road faster and once we did that it seemed like we were back in Athens pretty quickly. Amarandi was already home, happily IMing her friends and doing whatever kids do on Facebook. She barely noticed we were there. Nobody was hungry so we did not even eat. We just watched the news, read a little and went to bed exhausted. Once again realizing that the best thing about living in Athens is how much fun you have when you leave Athens.

Check out my father's photos of Kyparissi in 1963 at
If you want to visit Kyparissi you will need to rent a car to get there unless you hire a taxi which will cost you at least a couple hundred euros each way from Athens or the airport.
Stay at Yannis and Esthers:

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