Research and Remembrances, Part 7

Alpha and Omega

Alpha: Beginnings 

My trip to Greece began with my arrival on the island of Crete where I stayed at the home of my dear friend, Theodore Papaloizos and his family. Theodore’s life has been centered around education, primarily teaching children and adults the Greek language. He has authored hundreds of Greek education books and his company, Papaloizos Publications,  services Greek schools and churches worldwide. For two years, I worked with Theodore as a co-author to write and prepare his autobiography for publication, and we rejoiced when the book was published this summer.

The cover of Theodore Papaloizos' autobiography

Spending a few days in beautiful Crete was a delightful way to segue from American to Greek life and culture. Theodore’s stately and spacious home sits atop a mountain, overlooking a cove, and the peace and beauty of the area washed over me as I relished the view from the veranda.

View from the veranda of the Papaloizos home, Bali, Crete

View from the balcony of the Papaloizos home, Bali, Crete

Crete is a lovely island, infused with rich culture and quaint ambiance. I loved the fruit and vegetable stands that line every main road. The produce comes straight from the fields, untouched by conveyor belts, refrigerated trucks, or supermarket coolers. Each stand had a tiny room built into the back which held a bed and a refrigerator — the requisite necessities for family members to stay there during the busy summer months. This eliminates the need to put out and take in the produce every day, and allows the family to sell its goods far into the night.

Farmers Produce Stand, Crete

Farmers Produce Stand, Crete

This was the perfect way to prepare both mentally and physically for the rest of my trip. After three days in Crete, I flew to Athens where I met Kathy, Elizabeth and Christine to begin our personal Greek odyssey. You can follow our travels here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

Omega — Endings

The final days of my journey ended in Patras as the guest of the family of Gregory Kontos, my researcher, friend, and guide. Patras is an ancient port city that commands charming views of the Gulf of Patras. The lovely Kontos home has a stunning view of the water.

View from the veranda of the Kontos home, Patras, Greece

View from the veranda of the Kontos home, Patras, Greece

We took a day trip to Ancient Olympia, home of the Olympic Games which began there in 776 BC (yes, over seven hundred years before the birth of Christ!) Gregory’s father, Pavlos, and his mother, Despoina, were perfect teachers (which is their profession) and we learned much more from them than any tour guide could share.

Pavlos and Deospina Kontos are our knowledgeable tour guides, Olympia, Greece

Pavlos and Despoina Kontos are our knowledgeable tour guides at the site of ancient Olympia

There is so much to see and contemplate. Touching the ruins and seeing pre-Biblical Greek letters carved into stone is living ancient history. Your imagination soars when considering the thousands of athletes who competed at this very site: their training, stamina, honor and faith.

Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia

Hours pass quickly when viewing the multitude of artifacts in the museum at Olympia. Treasures unearthed through the millennia are amazing to behold; each tells a unique story, many of which are sadly now lost.

Olympia Museum Collage

I was surprised (and thrilled) to see that archaeological digs continue today. A dig is not begun unless there is sufficient funding for the entire project, from start to finish. Archaeologists believe it is safer for ancient ruins and artifacts to remain buried underground, than to unearthed them, if they cannot be immediately preserved in the proper environment.

An archaeological dig underway at Olympia, July 2014

An archaeological dig underway at Olympia, July 2014

The Kontos family also took us to the beautiful city of Nafpatkos on the Greek mainland. To get there, we drove over the Rio-Antirrio or Charilaos Trikoupis bridge, which is the longest fully suspended bridge in the world and a wonder in itself.

Rio-Antirrio ( Charilaos Trikoupis) Bridge, which connects Rio on the Peloponnese to Antirrio on the mainland

Rio-Antirrio ( Charilaos Trikoupis) Bridge, which connects Rio on the Peloponnese to Antirrio on the mainland

Nafpatkos is charming and picturesque, built into the side of a mountain, with a castle at the top and a wall surrounding the city. The town nestles around the harbor, providing residents with access to the Gulf of Corinth and a beautiful setting to enjoy every day.

Nafpatkos,

Nafpatkos on the Gulf of Corinth

Leaving Greece was difficult — much more so than I anticipated when I first arrived. My travels through the Peloponnese left me with feelings of belonging, rootedness, and pride in my heritage. I more fully appreciate the sacrifices of my great-grandmothers who knew, as their children left villages in Sparta for cities in America, that they may not see them again in mortality. I saw firsthand the blending of the old with the new: a woman herding goats while talking on a cell phone; computers in stone-walled homes that were built in the 1850’s; centuries-old buildings now resurrected as modern cafes.

Greeks are rugged, resilient, loyal, and loving people. They are survivors. Despite a history of enemy invasions and occupations, they clung to their faith and resourcefully triumphed. This is their legacy to me, and one which I proudly pass to my posterity.

My daughter, Kathy, to whom the baton is passed.

My daughter, Kathy, to whom the baton is passed.

Research and Remembrances, Part 6

On to Mani!

How can I describe Mani? It is beautiful yet forbidding, spectacular yet humble, historical yet contemporary. It is an amalgam of opposites; a study in contradictions. It is part of my heritage. I am trying to determine which lines in my family migrated from Mani into Sparta. I’ve done a search in Election Rolls, looking for my surnames in areas in Mani. There are many, and unfortunately without corroborating evidence, I can’t determine which people are my direct lines. Church records are such a vital key, but they did not open to me during this trip. Next time!

Gregory and I met our friend, Giannis Michalakakos, in Areopoli where our adventure began. Giannis is from the village of Nifi, and he is an expert on all-things Mani. Giannis keeps a blog, Maniatika, where he chronicles history, genealogy, and culture.

My dear friends, Giannis Michalakakos (left) and Gregory Kontos (right).

My dear friends, Giannis Michalakakos (left) and Gregory Kontos (right).

Areopoli is an amazing town! It’s name means “the city of Ares” who was the god of war. It was here that, on March 17, 1821, Petrobey Mavromichalis united many clans of Mani and began a movement that resulted in the Greek War of Independence from Turkish rule.

Statue of Petrobey Mavromichalis, in the Aeropoli town square

Statue of Petrobey Mavromichalis, in the Aeropoli town square

I have never seen anything like Areopoli — ever! The “tower” architecture of Mani is built into every building: rectangular with thin and narrow windows, always constructed of stone.

This post will be mostly photographs with captions, as one picture is truly worth 1,000 words!

Aeropoli

Courtyard in Areopoli

Alley in Aeropoli

Alley in Areopoli

Dining tables are found outside every cafe and restaurant

Dining tables are found outside every cafe and restaurant

Even Churches have the tower architecture

Even Churches have the tower architecture

This building was erected in 1818, three years before the Greek Independence Revolution began with uprisings in Aeropoli

This building was erected in 1818, three years before the Greek Independence Revolution began with Petrobey Mavromichalis from Areopoli

This is a restaurant , such a perfect mix of old and new.

This restaurant  is a perfect blend of old and new.

Mani-Aeropoli (32)

Trees and flowers add splashes of color to this courtyard in Aeropoli

I’ve never seen a bookstore quite like the one below! It has everything from old newspapers to history books to tourist souvenirs. Giannis knows the owner, who welcomed us warmly and gave me a CD of a helicopter ride over Mani.

 'Adouloti Mani' Bookshop owned by Georgios Dimakogiannis

‘Adouloti Mani’ Bookshop owned by Georgios Dimakogiannis

We spent the night in the Hotel “Areospolis” – charming, quaint and very comfortable.

Hotel Aeropolis

Hotel Areospolis

The next morning we embarked on a road trip unlike any I have ever undertaken — through the narrow, switchback roads that wind around the mountains and through villages. There are times I couldn’t believe that we were actually on a road!

Carol in car

The homes in Mani are stark, isolated and impenetrable. Many are carved into the rugged hillsides, which led me to wonder how they ever were built.

Houses and villages

Houses and villages reveal that people have tamed the forbidding countryside

Our southernmost destination on this trip was Vathia, which Giannis promised was one of the most beautiful places in Mani. He was right! As we drove the winding road into the town, we saw a produce truck. Fruits and vegetables were protected from the blazing sun by a white tarp, and the all-important scale swung back and forth as the truck made its way through the villages.

Produce truck making its rounds through the villages of southern Mani

Produce truck making its rounds through the villages of southern Mani. We drove the same road into Vathia.

Entering Vathia

Entering Vathia

Vathia is

Vathia overlooks the sea, and vegetation punctuates the rocky hillsides.

Vathia tower houses

Vathia tower houses have a seaside view

Our ride out of Vathia towards Kotrona provided us with incredible views of the sea.The aquamarine blue provides a stark contrast to the barren hillsides.

Leaving Vathia, headed towards Kotrona

Leaving Vathia, headed towards Kotrona

Churches are everywhere, both large and small. We had to stoop to enter this one, which was constructed by a family for personal use only.

Interior of a tiny church

Interior of a tiny family church

Of course, what is a trip to Greece without donkeys and goats?

Donkey and goats abound!

Donkey and goats abound!

Gregory and I left Giannis at his home in Nyfi and headed north, up the east coast of

Mani. Kotronas was a beautiful place to stop for lunch.

Kotronas, an idyllic village by the sea

Kotronas, an idyllic village by the sea

A cemetery in the countryside

A cemetery in the countryside

As we drove into the lush farmland of the Spartan plains, I felt as if I had traveled from one distinct world into another. Such variety of places, people and scenery in a one-day car ride!

View of the plains of Sparta from the mountain village of Anavriti

View of the plains of Sparta from the mountain village of Anavriti

This first visit to Mani has left me with a deep-seated desire to return. There is so much to explore and experience! I can now understand why the Turks and Nazis could never overtake this area of Greece. The resilience and resistance of the people who adapted to this harshly beautiful land was no match for the greatest armies of our times. I am so deeply proud to be a descendant of Maniates!

If you would like to read more about this amazing area, this brief essay, “The Deep Mani,” written by Diana Farr Louis, combines history and photos.