Full disclosure: I can’t really pronounce ‘hello’ in Greek. The only word I successfully mastered during my long weekend there was ‘thank you,’ which is much more useful anyway.
You really only get to say ‘hello’ once per conversation. But thank you? You can say ‘thank you’ over and over. And I did.
I have lived a few hours from Greece for more than a year and a half, and this month, I finally had a chance to visit. In Macedonia, Easter is celebrated according to the Orthodox calendar and this year it was on May 1. We had a four-day weekend off from school, and since I experienced showering with an egg and doing candlelit laps around the church last year, this year I took advantage of the vacation time.
I traveled with a bus tour from Stip (about 45 minutes by bus from my village) to Corfu Island, in the Ionian Sea. (About 90 euros covered travel, daily breakfast, and two nights in a hotel.) With a long stop at the border, a long wait for a ferry to the island, and two teenage girls sitting across from me, the 12+ hours overnight tested my bus fortitude.
The weekend was worth it.
Our first stop Friday morning was at the Achilleion Palace, which was built by the Empress of Austria, Elisabeth of Bavaria, in the late 1800s. The palace was beautiful and dedicated to Achilles because of Elisabeth’s keen interest in Greek lore and culture. (It’s also where several scenes from the James Bond flick “For Your Eyes Only” were filmed.) I’m no history buff, and my understanding of Achilles is primarily based on Brad Pitt’s portrayal in the movie “Troy,” but I enjoyed wandering the grounds. I wasn’t impressed with Elisabeth’s story though. She was obsessed with her hair and refused to have any paintings of herself after 30 to preserve her beauty for history. Dream big Liz.
Bonus prize of the visit: there was a liqueur/wine store across from the palace with every kind of kumquat product you can imagine, all with free samples. (Corfu’s is famous for kumquats.)
Our tour package included accommodations at the family-owned and operated Primavera Hotel in Dassia, which I adored. The staff answered all our ridiculous questions about finding the best beaches and no one complained when we demolished all the Greek yogurt at breakfast each day. (That yogurt though! Soo good.)
It was an interesting and busy time to be in Corfu, where Easter weekend is steeped in tradition, like smashing red, clay pots to cast out bad spirits and encourage happiness and luck in the year ahead. They had the crowds to prove it. Friday afternoon we weaved in and out of parade routes and selfie sticks and enjoyed beautiful music and traditional choirs.
On Saturday, Rachel and I opted out of the tour itinerary and instead spent the day enjoying the beach. We caught up with our travel companions Betty and Pavle when they returned to the hotel around 5 p.m. Then the four of us skipped the evening’s itinerary (a return to crowds for late-night egg cracking and Easter ceremonies) and we wandered around Dassia and enjoyed some Greek beer on the beach.
Sunday morning started early with a sunrise run for me and then one more delicious breakfast buffet (and all the Greek yogurt we could handle), before boarding the bus to slowly make our way back to Macedonia.
One our way back, we stopped at the Meteora monasteries, which are built on the top of stone pillars. When they were first constructed, the monks needed long rope ladders or nets to reach the top. Thankfully, the monastery we visited had stairs.
The views were stunning.
We weren’t on the road long after a quick dinner at a cafeteria-style rest stop, when we stopped again. The tour guide was giving all the information in Macedonian, so I zoned in an out, but my general understanding was that we were stopping at a special place to wash your eyes. (Wait, what?)
I was more or less correct. We went down several sets of stairs, passed under the highway, crossed a bridge, and found ourselves at another monastery built into the rocks there. A stream that passed by was apparently blessed and healing for the eyes. No one could explain to me why this particular water had healing power only for the eyes, but we thought a little dunk would at least be refreshing after so much time on the bus.
Spoiler: my eyesight is still terrible.
It was one of several detours I hadn’t read about in the itinerary, but I’ve come to accept that it’s part of Macedonian life, especially when there is a monastery to be seen.
Our last stop was the Macedonian border, where we made great time, despite the travel regulations. (Because of the name conflict, Greece doesn’t recognize Macedonian passports. Macedonians have to carry an 8×11 sheet of paper that gets stamped instead.)
It was very late when we finally made it back to our Macedonian beds, but I finally got to cross Greece off my travel list! ευχαριστώ Greece!