I was glad I had a window seat. The plane was starting to drop below the clouds & I could finally see the great blue expanse: a sea that would become my constant backdrop (& faithful companion) during my next week. We glided past boats that looked like tiny dots of driftwood in the ocean & massive, mountainous cliffs on different islands as we approached our landing strip. When I stepped off the plane & into the hot, Mediterranean climate, I tucked my hair behind my ears & instructed myself, “Remember this. Plant this moment in your mind. You flew to Greece. You are here.”
My time in Greece this past July holds fun & lasting memories that I’ve made here in Europe. I was invited by a friend of mine, Ariel, who is forever traveling the world on her own without fear & with contagious, joyful spontaneity. We stayed with the Koutras family (who live in Preveza), which includes Ariel's friend Alex, his sister Amalia, & their parents Andrew & Yassou. & I’ll always remember when Ariel, Alex, & Andrew picked me up at the airport: jumping into the family truck, laughing & learning a few Greek words in a matter of minutes, & Andrew exclaiming passionately in Greek that we were all family now.
“You are here.”
While I can’t sum up the entirety of my experience in Greece in this space, there are a few details that need to be documented. For one, the hospitality & warmth shown to us by the Koutras family was a precious gift to Ariel & I during our time in Preveza. We had delicious home-cooked meals daily with warm bread, local honey, fresh garden tomatoes with olive oil, hunks of salty feta cheese, & always a hot, savory dish at the end of the day (the olive oil & feta cheese were our favorites, with simple flavors that wowed our taste buds like never before). We were also blessed to learn first-hand what Greek culture looked & sounded like by living with the Koutras family. Their expressive & affectionate ways of communicating with each other & their generous relationships with their friends & neighbors taught me a lot about how I should view others; how I should treat those who are closest to me. It humbled me (& woke me up) in the gentlest of ways.
Another detail to be chronicled is the rhythm & roll of Greek life. Our days began late in the day & ended late at night with dinner served around 8-9pm. It allowed time for long conversations & lounging around while enjoying each other's company; another piece of experience that I tucked away in my mind. I learned that I want more interactions without agenda, without having a purpose or plan, & to simply be with those around me.
Preveza: Our home (away from home)
Preveza is a little town with countryside roads & calm beaches. The downtown harbor is full of narrow alleyways & sunny streets by day & is packed with both tourists & locals at night. & it became our second home. We swam in the ocean every day with distant island mountains watching down on us from afar. We had a dinner feast in the backyard garden with soft lights amidst the black sky. We stayed out all night dancing at a traditional Greek festival & tried small shots of Greek vodka. We skinny dipped in the ocean with lapping waves & loud laughter. We visited a seaside watermelon farm with hundreds of round watermelons waiting to be picked. & we were so so thankful, for every moment spent with our new friends. Our new family.
Acheron River: An ancient myth
One particularly hot day in Greece, Andrew drove us in the family truck across wild roads & into the green mountains. There, we arrived at the ancient Acheron River, known in Greek mythology as the river to the underworld (among many other myths). With icy clear water fed from fresh springs, the Acheron was both freezing & stunning to walk in. We ambled over hard stones, dunked our bodies in deep blue pockets, & wandered between the tall canyons above. Andrew brought along a picnic of tomatoes, fresh bread, feta cheese blocks, cold chicken, & cinnamon short bread; & we ate along the river’s trickling edge, watching the surrounding scene.
Parga: A seaside town
Ariel & I practically screamed at each other when we first walked on Parga’s seaside boardwalk. With colorful shops lining the cliff & small islands reachable by a pebbled beach, the sight seemed almost too good to be true. We spent our time walking through whitewashed streets, eating creamy gelato (which was very similar to ice cream), & taking very touristy photos. Since Alex & Amalia told me countless times that there weren’t any sharks in the Ionian Sea, I even braved a swim to one of the nearby islands (the first time I swam over-my-head in an ocean in five years!) where we hiked in our swimsuits & explored the ocean views. The water was deliciously cool & blue, & I wanted to stay on that beach & island forever.
Porto Katsiki: Stunning beach cliffs
On our last full day in Greece, Ariel, Alex, Andrew, Yassou, & I piled into the truck & drove to Porto Katsiki: a famous local beach. We sped down the coastal roads with ease & passed several mountain overlooks, olive oil & honey stands, & little houses nestled on the hillside. The views of Porto Katsiki, while stunning in photos, were completely jaw-dropping in person. & I felt small & insignificant while walking under the cliffs. Swimming in the layered blue sea while taking in the surroundings was surreal, dream-like; a film strip that I can remember vividly. Our visit to the beach ended abruptly when a small landslide sent rocks & rubble down from above. & although it wasn’t a major disaster, it was definitely a sign of danger that caused many families (including our own) to leave at once.
After our shock & excitement died down, the drive back to Preveza was peaceful. We stopped by the city of Lefkada & ate authentic gyros while we strolled through the maze of streets. We rolled down the windows of the truck & sang loudly (in both Greek & English) while the wind tangled our hair in the backseat. & we fell asleep on each other’s shoulders while the truck bumped & bobbed along the road; sea salt on our sun-beat skin, without a care in the world.