By Catherine Tsounis
“Cash only!” “Dollars not euros for tips!” “We do not honor Power of Attorneys from New York Consulate unless we see a specific clause relating to the Bank,” said officers of the Ethniki Trapeza of Greece. “We are the Trapeza!” I passed this information to legal professionals. My impression in the first week of June 2015 was that Greece’s government was the Trapeza. I changed my outlook on USA banks, after experiencing the horrors of the Greek banking system. My husband became overstressed and found refuge in Tripoli, Arcadia.
“Nona, go on your five day excursion of Macedonia,” said my godson, Dr. Alexios Vardouniotis, otolaryngologist. “Nono will enjoy Tripoli with us. My Dad, Professor Spiro will restore his health.” Our cousins, Pitsa and Christo Macarouni explored Arcadia with John. The Greek business and educated middle class, who are holding up Greece’s economy, showed me more loyalty than my own blood and old friends in both countries. One never knows when a higher power sends persons in one’s path to save one.
I left all. I went solo on a five day tour of Central Greece and Macedonia arranged by Uli of Dolphin Hellas Travel Agency in Athens. The excursion was part of G.O. Tours; a conglomerate of various travel agencies pooling together their groups to form one excursion. This is called cutting costs. I was picked up in front of Athens Hilton. Our guide, Effie Varvatsoulaki explained the history of Boeotian plain on our way to Delphi. Effie was a highly education person, diligent in her profession with a positive attitude.Kosta, our driver, Leo, our self appointed group captain/bodyguard and matina, our guide from Naphplion
“This is the navel of the world,” she explained. “The high priestesses of Apollo were called Sibyls. This polygonal wall was commemorated to Delphi from the island of Chios.” Effie’s information brought back memories of my research on Chios and Erythrea, Asia Minor, where my family has roots. Herodotus states in his History that “the Temple of Athena Polias at Erythrae was famous in the ancient world for their famous priestesses known as the Sibyl. “ According to Greek and Roman mythology, they were women bestowed with prophetic powers by the God Apollo. The Erythaean Sibyl was painted by Michelangelo from 1508-12 in a fresco from the Sistine chapel, Vatican. The famous Sibyls were the Erythraean and the Cumaean Sibyl who presided over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae, a Greek colony located near Naples, Italy. The Erythraean Sibyl sold the sibylline books to Tarquin, the last King of Rome, that were housed in the Temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill in Rome,
At Delphi, I overheard Effie say to our guide, Matina, in Greek, “You have two members who know Greek.” Actually we were three persons; the tourists who did not know Greek were highly educated and understood all. Some members of our group claimed they were experts on Greece. They claimed they knew more than the native Greeks on their history. “We will be together for the next five days,” said our new guide Matina, with humility and genuine warmth.Macedonian gold, Pella
Matina was on call 24 hours a day. She cared about each individual person. Her expert information on Macedonia will form the basis of more articles on Greece. “Philip of Macedon was a Dorian Greek from a Peloponnesian tribe,” she explained. “He participated in the Olympic Games. Only Greeks were allowed to participate.” This destroys the false modern mythology that Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great were not Greek. Matina showed us proof that St. Demetrios existed through his prison under the Church of St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki. St. Demetrios died three years before the “Edit of Milan”. This disproves the Catholic Church’s claim that St. Demetrios was a mythical figure. Driving along the Aliakmon River in Macedonia, brought alive my memories of October 28th celebration of Greece’s heroic stand against the Axis Powers in WW II. Many view 2015 as the successful reconquest of Greece in an economic war. The middle class is holding its ground and will be inspired by their unique cultural legacy to succeed.
My daughter called me in the monastery of St. Varlaam, asking me for Holy Water. Matina went out of her way to please my daughter who was calling from New York City. She had one aim: to welcome the foreign tourist so they will return. Our driver, Kosta, did an excellent job of navigating through mountains and narrow roads. His driving expertise was behind the success of our tour.
Everyone I encountered worked long hours, in June 2015, trying to support their families. One must look at the present, not the past. The educated and business middle class wants to keep the euro. They are sacrificing to be protected by the Euro Zone and NATO. They face a Balkan threat that wants Thessaloniki. Turkey is now facing an ISIS problem of fundamentalism that may destroy their Republic and threaten Greece. The invasion of Northern Cyprus is in everyone’s mind. The 2015 Greek is holding his/her ground in an economic war. They are the real heroes of adversity. Mitt Romney in his presidential bid said “Look at Greece and in four to five years that is us.” This is a fear that lurks in every American’s mind.
I am impressed with the Greek women in the work force. They are educated. With the help of their parents and grandparents, they are trying to create a future. Their parents and grandparents lived through WW II and the war no one talks about: the Greek Civil War. The new manpower of Greece is its women, who are leaving the kitchens. I met retired teachers, cooking, cleaning, sewing, doing blue collar work. Teachers are working as taxi cab drivers, harvesting the olives of Peloponnesus. Old attitudes must change with the realities of the summer of 2015.
The hotel staffs at the Amalia Hotel in Kalambaka and Mediterranean Palace in Thessaloniki were from the areas. Their hospitality and friendliness made me feel welcome. We visited St. Varlaam and the Holy Trinity of the Meteora monastic complex, shopping at Kalambaka. We drove through Trikala and Larissa admiring Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece and home of the 12 Gods according to the Greek Mythology.
We visited picturesque Edessa where we see the town’s famous landmark, the waterfalls. In Naoussa, we visited Aristotle’s School, the picturesque site where the great philosopher taught “the doctrines of moral and politics” to Alexander the Great and the Macedonian youth. The drive to Vergina (ancient Aigai), to experience a visit to the unique museum, seeing the Great Tumulus covering the royal tombs of Macedonia. Amphipolis was created in this style: build a unique tomb building; put the dead and riches inside and then cover the tomb. We saw the astonishing findings from the tomb of King Phillip II, Alexander’s father. A few miles away was Veria (biblical Beroea). We followed in the footsteps of St. Paul, walked the old Jewish neighborhood and the colorful market. The excursion went to Pella, the capital of Alexander the Great. We saw the exquisite floor mosaics of the 4th century BC villas and the new museum.
We spent three days in Thessaloniki, visiting unique monuments. The Museum of Byzantine Culture was awarded with the Council of Europe’s Museum Prize for the year 2005. In our free afternoon, I visited the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle and the Archaeological Museum. On our final day, we visited the Archaeological Park of Dion (sacred city of the Macedonians, at the feet of Mt. Olympus) driving south, through Thessaly, Lamia, Thermopylae (Leonida’s Monument) and Thebes and arriving in Athens late in the afternoon.
The tourists were from the USA, Belgium and Australia, English of Indian and Japanese roots. Listening to their comments was amazing. When we were climbing up a steep incline in the Old Jewish quarter of Veria, I was helped by Pam of Melbourne, Australia and her husband Kevin. The couple was environmentalists, who described the natural surroundings of Dion. They loved Greece and were very expressive with emotion when the tour ended.
Sandy’s husband, an American, intensely reading a guide book explained 1924 was a time when there was “an exchange of populations between Christians and Muslims. The governments agreed. The people were unhappy.” Leo, the Maltese/Australian was the self-appointed Captain or Bodyguard of our group. He wore a beige cap and found us when we were lost. Magdalena of Belgium won an icon from an icon factory in Kalambaka. Jack of Rochester, who stayed two days, was impressed that I “speak Greek. You would love going to Greece, New York.” Christo of New South Wales, Australia, took his dream trip. His enthusiasm of the social scene made me laugh constantly. “I worked double shifts in a factory to pay for this trip.”
John, an Australian from Lefkada, was amazed by the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. “I never knew about the Orthodox Bulgarians coming down to Thessaloniki, destroying the civilians. My family was from Izmir with priests and cantors. I am going on a trip to Western Anatolia after this tour ends to retrace my roots.” he said. Macedonia has always been the dream of Balkan countries. A young Australian came to Greece to visit her grandmother. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me,” she explained. “Yiayia lived in Australia for fifty years and never learned English. I feel bad for her because she has difficulties in communicating with me in English.”
An Australian couple, who spent time in Malaysia, was astonished by the affluence of Thessaloniki. “I read a Greek magazine in English that blames the affluent Thessaloniki families for the economic disaster, because they did not invest properly.” Seventy percent of the group was from Australia. Their warmth and enthusiasm made me feel welcome. The subject came around to “The Thorn Birds” and “Australia” movies, an American perception of their continent. “Who doesn’t remember the romance of a young woman with a handsome priest,” the Australian said. These are my memories of my “Tour among the Ruins”.
“Thank you for coming to Greece,” Matina said in her farewell. “Greece is not just food, islands and beaches. Support our monuments in the difficult years of our financial crisis. Mr. Kosta, our driver, G.O. Tours and myself thank you.” I saw our Australian tourists with tears in their eyes. See the movie “Kings of Mykonos” and “Greece in Ruins”. Experience travelling with a unique group. Forget the Eurozone crisis.