Tearing ourselves away from the magical ancient sanctuary of Delphi, Thor and I took a meandering route along the coast of the Gulf of Corinth, with more surprises in store.
NOTE: Since my 4-month backpacking trip around Greece too many years ago, I had been longing to return to this magical land of myth, history, and dramatic landscapes. I recently made a fabulous 3-week return trip there, to research additional settings for my novel-in-progress, THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT. My first post in the new series, on September 30, gives an overview of my rambles with my husband Thor from Athens to the islands of Rhodes, Santorini, and Naxos, and finally a pilgrimage to the ancient center of the world at Delphi.
After a last morning salute to the luminous Tholos of Athena…
…we dropped down through the Pleistos Valley once more…
…and through Itea for a glimpse of one its Orthodox churches:
Then heading east along the coast, we climbed and turned and climbed more turns for glorious views over the Gulf.
The straight road is not always the most rewarding, if you’re not in a hurry. We enjoyed taking some detours to explore side roads, thinking we might take one last swim before leaving Greece. The chilly wind discouraged us, but we enjoyed checking out some port towns and villages.
A dirt road led to a tiny cove with a few buildings and some busy working boats. With 8,498 miles of coastline in Greece, it’s not surprising that so many of its people make a living off the sea and trading.
At the edge of the cove, one of the lovely little shrines.
As we’d experienced on Naxos, driving the side roads sometimes involves getting lost. The paved main road periodically boasted signs for Athens in Cyrillic alphabet, but would turn into narrow, winding lanes through small villages. Once in a village or town, we could be lost in a labyrinth of twists and dead ends, with no signs to find the “highway” again.
We would then have to stop and ask directions from someone on the street. Most of these people spoke no English, so we would repeat our amusing pantomimes and peering at maps with the locals. A great way to interact with these sweet and helpful Greeks! No photo from this leg, so we’ll just run a repeat of Naxos:
Thor actually did have one goal in mind for our meandering journey back to the Athens: the small town of Distomo, the site of a horrific massacre by Nazi troops. During Word War II, the Germans occupied Greece, and the repressive occupation was met with resistance by fighters who often hid in caves in the mountainous terrain. On June 10, 1944, acting on erroneous information that Distomo villagers were responsible for an attack on a German convoy, Waffen-SS troops went door to door in the town for two hours, killing everyone they found — 214 men, women, and children.
Today this memorial on a hillside overlooking the town testifies to the atrocity.
A few years ago, Thor had visited the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and felt that seeing the tangible evidence of such calculated inhumanity was an important experience. In my earlier travels on the island of Crete, especially, I had spoken with survivors of Nazi German attacks on villages there, and realized that it was important to keep the memory of these events alive, as painful as they are. On this visit to Distomo, I was especially struck by the long list of names and ages of those slaughtered, including infants.
With the political and moral crises now roiling the U.S. and other countries, I hope we can all remember and learn from history. The people of Distomo certainly have not forgotten.
In the village, life goes on, and we paused for a break at this outdoor cafe beneath a huge old plane tree. These beautiful trees are found everywhere in Greece, providing welcome shade.
A matron in the black clothing of a Greek widow passed by us. In my earlier travels in Greece, I had seen many women of all ages shrouded in black head-scarves, long skirts, and shawls, but now it seems the tradition has eased somewhat.
Sobered by our encounter with history, Thor and I meandered on, thinking we’d take the first sign for Athens. Instead, I happened to spot a tiny sign with the symbol for an Antiquity, and impulsively we turned off. Again, we had providentially stumbled upon a wonderful experience that lifted our spirits with a different taste of history: The walled monastery of Hosios Loukas, established in the 10th century to house the remains of Saint Lukas, said to emanate healing powers. We learned that this monastery, which has been continually active throughout the centuries, is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art.
Join us next Saturday for a tour of this sanctuary of serenity.
You will now find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here every Saturday. Sara’s latest novel from Book View Cafe is available in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize and the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. Sara has recently returned from a research trip in Greece and is back at work on the sequel, The Ariadne Disconnect. Sign up for her quarterly email newsletter at www.sarastamey.com