There was no way we would come to Greece and not go to the place where my parents were born and raised. To me, this is where I feel most connected to this land. So we packed up and hit the road.
In Central Greece, right in the middle of the mainland, is Lamia, the city where my sister and I were both born. You see it from the National Highway A1 that goes from Athens to Thessaloniki. Following the exit to the center of town, Zaf detoured into a side street that led out of town towards the town of Karpenisi. We visited Lamia once before. This is where he got lost for an hour, so it is not his favorite place. It doesn’t bother me that he avoids it like the plague as there is not much to see there for tourists and exploring.
To make a note here; my parents met here in the restaurant my mother’s uncle owned. Dad was a waiter and my mom would come in to pick up the day’s meal to take home. There are so many stories my mom told me about living here. You can read them in my memoir that I have started to save the history of our family. Hopefully, this will be my next retirement project.
We also drove through the outskirts of Karpenisi en route to the villages. We’ve been there a few times and it boasts a lovely square in the middle of town. I remember one shop from 2005, above the square, where I sat in an internet café, drinking my frappe and sending emails. Now of course, the internet is everywhere, including here in the mountains.
To get here is to begin the climb: a mountain road with twists and turns in and out of villages. With lanes so narrow, most cars come to a halt before the turn and inch forward to make sure that another car is not coming at them. We wondered how people live here but I guess they have adjusted to the tightness of the spaces. It took about an hour and half to get to this point from Lamia and then we began the real ascent into the forest. Our goal was to reach my mother’s village, which is my heartbeat.
Small Village/Mikro Horio
You might think that I am just describing the village, but I am not. That is the name of it: Small Village/Mikro Horio. A picturesque square boasts a huge plane tree in the very middle surrounded by tables and chairs and two tavernas. Behind it, six faucets are drilled into the mountain, where clear water runs every day, all day. When you sit to order food, they bring you a pitcher and some glasses. You simply walk to the faucet and get your fill. Zaf drank right out of the faucet on several occasions by cupping his hands and slurping as much as he could!
Along the side of the square are steps which lead up to the homes that are built on the mountainside; my mother’s being one of them. We climbed, we saw the house, I wept.
Alas, I was only able to find one relative; my mother’s second cousin Spiro. I did not have a phone number for him; I asked the hotel owner if he was in the village and he said yes he was; I began to look for him after dinner where people gathered at the hotel terrace. And there he was! I wasn’t 100% sure it was him, but I approached and he recognized my grandmother in my face. We embraced and pulled our chairs close together. We began to talk about our family tree; he promised to meet me the next morning to see what I had already put together. We did and he was amazed at the extent of my knowledge of family genealogy. He introduced me to some other distant cousins and some of the villagers and they wanted to see my work; I unfolded the papers once again and they were duly impressed. When Zaf showed up he was surprised to see me sitting with about 12 people, most of them complete strangers – but that’s me!
Big Village/Megalo Horio
The next day, we drove down the mountain a bit and crossed the bridge and then back another mountain into my father’s village. Once again, I kid you not, it is called Big Village/Megalo Horio. The two villages can see each other and there is an undercurrent of competition of which one is prettier, has the best views, etc. I remember my parents talking about this very thing, with little dings at each other thrown in. To me, I love them both.
By asking a villager sitting under a tree in the main square, he pointed out my cousin’s house. We knocked and there he was; his father and my father were first cousins. We met Niko in Athens on a previous trip, so this visit was shorter but nevertheless, it was good to see him and share with him the family tree on my father’s side. Then, a few short steps around the bend, brought us to my father’s home. Now owned by someone else who cleaned it up beautifully, it still brought tears to my eyes to know that this is where dad walked every day of his life till he left for America in his late twenties.
Both of these villages, and several others, are folded into the mountains. Quaint and charming during the day, but in the late evening, when the lights come on, one at a time, across the entire slopes of massive trees, you are in awe of the beauty of the night. Over the years, this area has been developed into a major skiing location in the winter and a perfect place for camping and hiking in the summer. The enormous trees, the valleys below, the sweet little villages, the sparkling brooks and the gorges in between the mountains make this area a popular vacation spot all year long.
It is a bit of drive to get here. As we left, I wondered if we would ever return. Although another trip to Greece is certainly doable, the ability to drive might not be, especially through the mountains with their precarious edges… we’ll see. For now, I am grateful that I have seen my villages once again and that to me is proof that we have…Retired Well, Helene
Photo of Mikro Horio in the Mountains From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf
Photo of the village square in Mikro Horio From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf
Photo of the village square entrance in Megalo Horio From the Personal Collection of Helene and Zaf
For more information about Greece, please visit: www.greektravel.com