|My friend Carol, a wonderful and unique woman in her early 50s,
is a high school math teacher, a gifted painter, a very decent
piano player, and what else - a world traveller. I only really
met her about a year ago or so, but once I found out all the
places that she'd been to I knew I had to do an interview with
Carol has been travelling since the 1970s, and she has forged
some amazing connections with 2 countries: Turkey and Greece.
She lived in Turkey for close to 8 years and has made life-long
friends in what she calls her "second country". And she's also
developed some close ties with people in a special little
village in Greece. Here's her story:
1. Please tell us a bit about your travel experience in general.
What places have you visited?
It started with my first trip to London, England, to visit my
uncle when I was 16. That trip changed my life and opened the
world up to me. I basically led a sheltered life in Scarborough
(a suburb of Toronto) and really had known nothing else. The
trip to London gave me this travel bug that has never left. I
backpacked Europe the summers of 1972 and 1973, that's when you
could do "Europe on 5 $ a day". Greece was the cheapest - we
managed on 2$ a day!
The next summer I went out east to P.E. I. and the next summer
out west to Victoria.
After university in 1976 I took a few years off to travel. My
sister joined me for the first year. We started in Paris,
visited our dad in Communist Czecholosovakia, hit the beaches of
Yugoslavia - Makarska, and then on to Greece. After Greece we
flew to Israel to work in a Kibbutz. I had to see what was going
on in that country that was so much in the news. I stayed 8
months and then went to be an au-pair girl in Paris for 11
months. Back to Greece followed by a great trip to Turkey,
Jordan and Syria in July 1978 and then back to real life in
I always made shorter trips back to Greece once I became a
highschool teacher. And to the States to visit friends I had met
on my travels. A wedding on top of the World Trade Center, a
friend in Memphis besides the memory of Elvis, and a friend in
San Francisco where I fell in love with the Golden Gate Bridge
and another in Manhattan.
I quit my full-time highschool teaching job after 4 years and
went on a trip to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Thailand. The timing was
close - we were in Tiannanmen Square one month before the
massacre of May 1989.
From 1989 to 1999 I worked as high school teacher in Istanbul,
Turkey, coming home twice for one year and once for half a year.
My love affair with Turkey began. Before I came back to Canada
for good in 1999, I had the pleasure of visiting Australia, a
great country with the friendliest people.
2. You have a very special connection to a village in Greece
called Parga. Please tell us about your first encounter with the
village of Parga.
The first time I went to Parga was in 1976. I had been working
at the O'Keefe Center [a famous concert venue and theatre in
Toronto] and an usher there had told me about this wonderful
village in Greece he used to go to in the summers. He produced a
postcard with a beautiful beach and uttered the word "Parga" as
if it were magic. He couldn't speak much English so I didn't
even know where it was located in Greece.
In September 1976 on my big trip with my sister, having just
come from Yugoslavia, we were staying on Corfu. Corfu seemed too
touristy to us, so we wanted to visit another place in Greece.
My idea was Crete. It seemed far but on the way to Israel. We
couldn't decide so I just opened a map of Greece and my eye went
directly to "Parga" (a tiny village in the northwest of Greece,
so small it is sometimes not even on the map). Parga!!!!! Then I
remembered that magical word uttered by the usher. "Let's go", I
said, and fortunately it was close to Corfu. The travel agent
was surprised we were asking directions on how to get there. It
wasn't too popular with foreign tourists yet. And she added,
"the young men are beautiful". Well, that did it! We left that
A ferry trip 2 hours to Igomenitsa, and a 2 hour bus ride south.
We arrived in the evening and we found a room for the night and
walked along the waterfront of the village. It was beautiful - 2
small islands in the port with a church, a castle on one side on
the hill, and mountains behind.
We ate "brizola" (pork chops) and than sat at the café "Parga
Bar", discussing our plans which included not talking to any
young men for a week because we were tired of the men in
Yugoslavia who came on too strong. At that moment one of the
most beautiful men I had ever seen walked up to us with his
friend who spoke English and asked if he could sit down. My
sister said "No", I said "Yes". I was mesmerized. They both had
rooms to rent, one above a disco, and one just in the building
beside us. One for a $1 a night and one for $2 a night. We
picked the second one not above the disco. Lefteri looked like a
Greek god or like a young Marlon Brando. He had a friend,
Camille, a Canadian woman who was in Parga for the 3rd time. He
brought her to the table and we became instant friends.
To make a long story short, we stayed for a month in Parga,
having the time of our lives. It was a small unspoiled fishing
village then, only 3 people spoke English and there were very
few tourists in September. And the young men were beautiful!
Lefteri, Camille, and many of the young men who are now in their
late 40s and 50s, my sister and I are still friends who
reminisce of the good old days of the summers of 1976 to 1979.
3. Since your first time in Parga, your relationship with this
village and its people has evolved. Please tell us a little
about the human connections.
I have always gone back to Parga for my holidays, unfortunately
it is too far and too expensive to go every year. In 1976 my
sister Elaine made friends with a teenager by the name of
Christos, who was at the disco every night, dancing up a storm
and was one of the three people who spoke English. He invited us
to have coffee with his mother, a remarkable mother, who
extended her hospitality to us ("ksenis"). Foreign women were
not looked on favourably in the village at the time, and
probably even today, as it seemed we were there to take the
young men. I remember the first female tourists who married and
stayed to live in the village. That was 1976. Now there are at
least 40 of these marriages. (Maybe the local women's paranoia
Gia, Christos' mother, became my Greek mother. Either she
"adopted" me or it was the other way around. How many hours I
spent in her tiny house with 2 rooms, the tiniest kitchen, and
the most magnificent view I have ever seen. She fed me, kept me
company, taught me Greek and slowly we communicated. She had a
wonderful husband Vagelis, who I had coffee with every morning
down in the village. And 7 children, mostly grown-up by then - 6
boys and 1 girl.
Christos and Lefteri came back to Toronto with us in 1978.
Christos had never slept in a bed until then. Lefteri went on to
visit his brother and sister in Chicago, Christos stayed with us
for 4 months and saw snow for the first time. He now lives with
his wonderful partner, Jo (from England) in Brussels with 3
beautiful children and he still loves "patates" (French fries).
Lefteri still lives in the village with his wonderful young
Greek wife Marilena and 3 beautiful children. He used to run 2
discos and the "bouzoukia" in the olive grove. He has had a
restaurant now for many years. Who knows where he learned to
Many of the young men I used to know from the 1970s still live
and work in Parga. Most have families of their own. Some are
still single, many have their own businesses.
4. What is your favourite memory of your stays in Parga?
I have many favourite memories of my stays in Parga. I'll
mention 3. One is always there and will always be there every
time I go. I can always count on it. It is the moon, especially
when it is full. The full moon rises at one side of the village,
it makes its way across over the beach and finally sets on the
other side above the monastery. There is nothing to match it.
Everyone there knows I love the full moon - "panselino" it is
called in Greek.
My other favourite memory was a bar called "Stavlos", run by
Giorgo and Angelo from Veria. Giorgo started it on a shoestring
in 1978 - the best bar ever! A bottle of Retsina (Greek wine) -
17 drachmas (50 cents)! And 'toast', like a grilled cheese, for
a dollar. And usually you could make it yourself as Giorgo was
too absorbed with his girlfriend at the time. My sister and I
were his first customers, many hours were spent there watching
the people walk by. He seemed to be always open, even after the
discos, at 4 am. A great atmosphere! How many glasses we washed
(we helped him out)....
Giorgo became my Greek brother and unfortunately he had to close
down after a few years due to rising rents. I followed him
wherever he worked - the islands of Paros, Santorini and Kos,
and his hometown of Veria near Thessalonika. He married a Danish
woman who has also become a very good friend of mine. They now
live in Denmark and have 2 beautiful children. I have been to
visit them 3 times. I love Denmark!
My 3rd memory is my connection with the Avloniti family,
Christos, his mother, his father and siblings. They made me feel
a part of their family. Vageli passed away 12 years ago and
sadly Gia passed away last year. Parga will never be the same
without her and neither will I. Finally though, after 5 years, I
am going to see Christos, Jo and the family this summer in Parga
at the end of August.
About the author:
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of
http://www.travelandtransitions.com. It deals with travel to
foreign countries and is chock full of advice, tips, real life
travel experiences, interviews with travellers, insights,
cross-cultural issues, and many other features. Participate in
our travel story contest
http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm and win great
prizes, a fabulous cruise to the Amazon. Life is a Journey -
Explore New Horizons.
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