By Cathy Kurth
We call ourselves the “Ya Yas” — group of life-long friends from DeQuincy.
About 15 years ago, we vowed that every five years we would take a trip together to some place exciting. Husbands were optional, though none ever opted to go.
We first went to Playa Del Carmen in Mexico. Then five years ago it was Las Vegas. Where to next?
That question was quickly answered when Cindy said she had a friend, Dawn, whose family had a house in Greece that we were welcome to use as a home base. Momma Mia!
As our trip drew near, Greece plunged into a financial crisis. The banks were closed; people could only withdraw 50 euros a day from the ATM machines; and there was some question as to whether Greece might be forced to revert to its old currency, the drachma.
Our dilemma: What kind of money should we take with us to Greece? Some advised us to take euros; some said dollars; and there was even a suggestion that we take gold bullion and bitcoins. Our solution: take half euros and half dollars.
Dawn and her Aunt Denise, who owns the house, were our hosts for the visit, and had arrived two weeks ahead of the Ya-Yas to make preparations. The house was in the mountain village of Kapsia, about 30 miles from the Mediterranean coast and 150 miles north of Athens. It’s just a cluster of about 100 homes, with those along the main road having a shop or restaurant on the bottom floor and living quarters above.
Every morning, shortly after the cock crowed, a local farmer rode his bicycle cart around the village announcing he had fresh fruit and vegetables for sale. And every hour-on-the-hour the church bell rang out the time with a single chime. It was so beautiful and peaceful.
Then the Ya-Yas arrived. A visit by six women from the United States was not unnoticed in this tiny village, and everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We proudly wore our Ya-Ya t-shirts, proclaiming to all that we were the Ya-Yas from Louisiana.
Dawn had earlier explained to us that “Ya-Ya” is a term for grandmother in Greek. This suited us fine, since we are all proud grandmothers or grandmothers-to-be.
The house we stayed in had three bedrooms total, but just a single bathroom for eight women. The bedroom was like a rotating carousel, with one woman entering as soon as another went out.
They use 220 volt electricity in Greece. They were careful to warn us that the hot water heater must be turned off when one is taking a shower or the person will be electrocuted. Thus, shower-taking became a ritual — one person turned the hot water heater on; waited about 10 minutes for the water to heat up; then went into the bathroom and yelled out “I’m naked.” This was the cue for the circuit breaker watchman to turn off the hot water heater.
Despite the crowded living conditions, we all got along very well — possibly because we knew that if we made the others too mad we risked electrocution in the shower. Eek!
Dawn and Aunt Denise were wonderful hosts. Denise knew the area and the language well, and while we travelled around the country, she treated us like her little ducklings, making sure no one took advantage of us. When we were at the house, she cooked us fabulous meals consisting of only fresh ingredients. Fresh bread and fresh Feta cheese accompanied nearly every meal.
Dawn had arranged for us to take a ferry to Santorini where we would spend two nights; then another ferry to the island of Paros for another two nights. When I think of a ferry, I imagine the Galveston ferry. But these island ferries are more like cruise ships. They are enormous, with comfortable seats, nice bathrooms and reasonably priced concessions. They travel so fast that passengers are forbidden to stand on the deck.
By making our reservation locally in Greece, Dawn was able to get us some really good deals. I had been to Santorini before and fell in love with the gorgeous views. We ate some great food there (something we YaYas never miss out on) and visited the red beach, the black beach and the white beach.
The water was cold, clear and beautiful. But the rural countryside of Greece now seemed crowded and commercial; full of tourists and over-priced souvenirs. Paros was a different matter: much less commercial and very laid-back.
A man from our hotel met us and brought us straight to our beachfront hotel. The beach was beautiful, and we could walk everywhere in this tiny village. We all agreed that Santorini is a must see, but Paros was our favorite!
We returned to Kapsia; did some laundry; and ate at the restaurant next door to Denise’s home. Vicky was the owner, and Dawn and Denise had been helping her with her English. She liked practicing her English with us and treated us like family. The food was delicious.
We took a day trip to a beautiful beach called Tolo and hung out there all day. We managed to squeeze in lunch at a beautiful restaurant called Maria’s. The view was spectacular and, again, the food was great.
We also visited caves, museums, castles, churches, the second lost city of Atlantis, Spetses, Hydra, Vytina (a beautiful mountain village) and Tripoli. Most of these things we would have never seen had it not been for Dawn’s planning and Denise’s engineering. What a trip!
The people in the countryside didn’t seem very concerned about the financial crises. We did see people standing patiently in line at the ATM machines, and a few times we spotted anti-IMF graffiti. But most of the Greeks we met were more concerned about enjoying life than worrying about global affairs.
The average work week is 21 hours; the stores open at 9 am, but most close for naps from 3 to 7 then reopen around 9 pm. “It’s OK, it’s OK,” seems to be the national motto.
At the end of our two-week stay, we returned to Athens. We visited the Acropolis and Parthenon and, of course, ate dinner before heading to the Holiday Inn at the airport, which actually had a bathtub!
The rest of the Ya-Yas were flying home. I have to admit that I got a bit teary-eyed leaving my sweet sister-friends. But their hugs and words of encouragement gave me what I needed to get in line for Air Italia all by myself. I was flying to Rome, then on to Venice to meet my husband, Mike. I was petrified. He was driving to Houston; flying to Atlanta; and then switching planes to fly to Venice. Could we possibly meet up without the use of cell phones and texting? Pick up the next issue of Lagniappe to find out.