Returning to Greece aka going home

Being back in Greece feels so comfortable….of course, I don’t speak Greek and of course, I still have no sense of directions….I can walk 1 km and have no idea how to get back but I don’t care……always possible to find a solution somehow.   There are so many things that are different here – the little elevators that hold a piece of luggage and 2 people maximum, turning on the hot water 20 minutes before a shower,  metal shutters over the doors and windows that always challenge me to operate.  The apartment where I have been staying in Athens has been completely renovated and the shutters work off a remote control.  Best of all I love hanging my laudry outside on the clothesline and bringing them in smelling of the hot sun.  It is a smell so delicious that I cannot stop breathing in the intoxicating fragrance.  In Toronto, I have a rack that I put out on my balcony hoping that my building manager won’t knock on the door and tell me to remove it.  It isn’t the same though.  I think there is a special scent  from the Mediterranean sun.

2014-05-19 20.10.03-1
My beautiful apartment in Athens, Greeece

Today I had lunch in a restaurant in Illiopoli.  I ate there once before and I remembered that the food is like home- cooked Greek fare.  Today I had Pastitsio with a half order of steamed Swiss Chard.  Pistitsia is a noodle dish cooked in a tomato meat sauce and covered in a Bechemel.

Pastitsio and greens
Pastitsio and greens

 

I am writing now on board a ginormous ferry that will take me from Pireaus to Heraklion on the island of Crete.  There I will cross the street and board a bus that will take me to Aghios Nikolas where I will catch a taxi to the Dulac Hotel. At this moment I am drinking my first Mythos beer – a cold mug of draught and it is delicious.  At least it is in Greece.  I lived at the Dulac for 5 weeks in 2011.  When they asked me what I did, I said I was very lucky to be able to do my work on the internet.  It was somewhat true.  Later when they learned what I was really doing in Crete (see previous blog), they were very supportive of our project – The Canadian Boat to Gaza – to break the illegal siege on Gaza.

 

Accommodations on board the ferry

F/B Crete II

The past 2 days I traveled 700 kilometres to the north with my wonderful friends Anna Stamou and her equally wonderful husband Naim Elghandour.   Anna is a candidate in the European Elections which are this week.  She is running for the Eco Green party.  She wears a hijab,  is a true Feminist and believes that women must be involved politically to make changes.  She is so intelligent, so caring and never stops working for change.   I know that I would not have been as successful with the preparations for the Canadian Boat to Gaza without their help.  We went to Xanthi to speak with women and men about the upcoming elections.  Xanthi has a Muslim community that has been there for centuries.  Until only recently, this Muslim minority was not able to obtain building permits to renovate their home or to build new homes.  They worked as farm labourers.  The women I met I had been educated in Turkey – sent to boarding school at 12 years of age because of the prejudice that surrounded them from the other Greek communities.  Today they are stronger and the laws have changed to allow all Greeks to own their homes and renovate them.  Today their children are educated in Xanthi and mothers and children do not have to cry at night because they are separated.  Meeting the women of Xanthi was wonderful.  We went to the center square where like all Greek communities, people of all ages gather in the evening.  One of the women is an English teacher and she speaks English very well.  She and her husband met while they were students in Turkey.  Now they have 2 adorable children – a girl 3 and a boy 1 ½. She invited us to her home that night for a late dinner and an informal conversation with several women.  Dinner was delicious- cucumber and tomato salad, lentil soup, fried potatoes, small meat patties and a traditional pastry – filo dough filled with potatoes and rice.

new friends in Xanthi  The wonderful women of Xanthi.

The trip was long traveling 7 hours each day but it was such a rewarding experience.  I got to spend some quality time with my friends Anna and Naim and I have made some wonderful new friends in Xanthi.

setting up the booth in northern Greece for the Anna Stamou, Eco Green party.  European Elections in Greece are May 25, 2014

Advertisements
Aside

Story of commitment, a boat, justice and peace

Ten years ago, I planned a 1 year sabbatical to travel as a volunteer to 4 different countries.  The first stop was Palestine and it was there that everything changed.  I chose to stay for 2 years and become part of the struggle for a just peace for Palestine.  It was very important to me as a Jewish woman.  If you are interested in this story go to my blog at Sandra for Just Peace and read the archived blogs listed from January to June 2006. They tell the story from December 2004 – June 2006.  http://miriamswell1.wordpress.com/  I refer to this time as unpeeling the onion as I discover the atrocities inflicted on the Palestinian people.

Women in Black
Naomi O’Hara and me, Women in Black, Haifa 2004

I have been very fortunate to have traveled to many destinations but most of that travel was through work – as an activist and also back when I was a travel agent and travel instructor.  I travelled on fam (familiarization) trips with groups of agents and also as a Tour Escort.  When my daughters were growing up, our holidays usually were car trips to the east coast (New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) or to Clearwater, Florida.  We did spend a summer in Oslo, Norway selling t shirts, costume jewellery and African crafts but that is a whole story in itself. Later I travelled as a peace activist.  This 3 week holiday is just that – a holiday- to visit an area I have fantasized about and to open a new chapter in my Life Story. Ten years later, I am still passionate to see this Just Peace become reality but it time for me to change how I am walking in the world.  I am rebirthing my business as a healer and teacher, “Miriamswell Healing Care” in Toronto.  I am a Reflexologist and a Doula who uses a variety of  healing modalities in my practice.  I facilitate workshops in foot massage, aromatherapy, homemade beauty products, homemade cleaning products, vision books, meditation and more.

Imagehttp://miriamswellhealingcare.com/

I came to Greece in March, 2011 for the Canadian Boat to Gaza.

The steering committee realized the only way to complete our project was to have someone on the ground in Greece.  They sent me to buy a boat.  The boat needed to be refurbished to take 45 activists from Aghios Nicholas, Crete to Gaza, Palestine.   I hired a captain and a crew. I hired a lawyer who we could trust.  Together he helped to open a company and a bank account. We chose a country to flag the boat.  We purchased insurance.  I found help to plan a menu for 45 people for 10 days and then purchased the food.  I also purchased $30,000 in medicines to take to Gaza.  Everyday involved a huge learning curve.  I was away from home for 5 months.  When the Greek government locked down our boat refusing to let us leave the port, we decided to stage an escape in protest.  The Greek coast guards captured our boat after about 20 minutes.  Everyone on board in a great Spartacus moment claimed to be the captain.

Image
Awesome international Tahrir team of Canadians, Australians, Danish and Belgium with our Greek crew

The Greeks were reluctant to arrest 35 foreigners so they arrested me instead since I was the registered owner of the boat.  I was arrested with two others, convicted and given a 30 day suspended sentence.

Image
Released from detention and overwhelmed from the support of my friends, Aghios Nicholas, Crete, July, 2011

Eventually the other activists left and I stayed another month in Aghios Nicholas living on our boat “The Tahrir”. Finally we had permission to leave and I sailed with the captain and 2 crew members to Turkey.  I even got to drive the boat for an hour or so, on my own.

Tahrir 010
Me on the Tahrir, July 2011

Now I am back in Greece and this time I am a tourist.  I am here to see Greece without an agenda.  Greece holds many memories. I made lifelong friendships.  I am here to remember and I am here to appreciate this wonderful country.

A little more Provence

The past few days in Provence can only be described as delicious……………delicious scenery, delicious food, delicious smells from roses, lavender, orange blossoms, jasmine and the burning leaves.  That is an awesome memory smell for me – burning leaves and branches from the olive trees – for me that is the smell of Palestine and it evokes some of the best life memories.  The sun is so bright and the past few days the sky has often been cloudless.

We visited a huge Friday market in Valbonne where they sell clothing (mostly Italian), soaps, pottery, linens, herbs and some vegetables and fruits.  I bought an Arnica cream(Baume a l’Arnica pour les Articulations Douloureauses) that is effective on aches and pains – great for my creaky knee.  I also bought some lavender soap and some mountain honey (Miel de Montagne).

window in Valbonne

Greta is an awesome tour guide and has made sure that I get to see everything.  She has taken amazing care of me. Hmmmm…..how can I possibly say thank you enough?!?!?!?

I took a leisurely walk through the village of Bar Sur Loup – there is not much there but it is just so picturesque.

Bar Sur Loup 4it Bar Sur Loup 9Bar Sur Loup 8Bar Sur Loup 18

Today we had lunch at a neighbour’s home.  This villa is exquisite and I could not do it justice with my words but it was exactly how I would imagine my dream home………pictures of ships and beach scenes, African art and furniture, beachy, breezy, and comfortable. The table set outside was just beautiful and the food and wine….ahhhh….delicious and abundant.

lunch in Provence

In true Provencal style we ate and ate and ate….and then ate some more.  The starters were tomatoes and cheese on toothpicks with a salad of cucumber and creamy cheese similar to sour cream.  Everything made with fresh herbs from Greta’s herb garden.  We had garlic bread hot from the oven, bread with green olives, and another baguette.  Then came the main course….I thought we had it…..forgetting the multitude of courses.  We had a delicious Italian pasta covered in olive oil, basil and parmesan cheese.  We then grated more parmesan over it.  Next was a platter of cheeses and a salad of mixed leaves.  Wine and more wine…………. and then dessert which was a beautiful platter with a variety of pastries.  We were almost too full to walk home and naps were all we could manage.

More Provence, My birthday

My 58th birthday and I am just where I want to be –physically (in Provence with friends), mentally and emotionally.  Ahhhhh………..so Blessed. I always enjoy living in community.  This week I am doing just that.  We are 4 women  in this magnificent villa.  We range in age from 58 to 80.  We have a lot in common – radical crazy- ass activists, independent, self supporting, mothers, travellers, passionate about all we do.  Greta is the perfect host -so generous of her time, her home and her spirit. The days seem to flow organically with everyone moving at their own pace. Yesterday Greta drove me to Gourdon –a breathtaking village set high up in the mountain.  It has little touristy shops and a few lovely cafes.  I bought  jasmine eau du toilette –an  intoxicating fragrance that I love and always reminds me of the Mediterranean.

view from Gourdon
view from Gourdon

2014-05-12 14.20.03 Earlier in the morning we went to a nearby Farmer’s Market.  We bought fresh fruit, vegetables, sausage, bread and cheese.  I am shopping for the perfect market basket – serious business that will probably take me the whole visit to find!

Shopping in the farmer's market
Shopping in the farmer’s market
Perfect market basket
Seeking the perfect market basket

Today we had a beautiful birthday breakfast with Greta’s famous Swedish scrambled eggs ( a recipe from her Grandmother), crusty baguette, and delicious melons with banana slices. Of course, the usual pots of coffee and glasses of juice.  The table was covered with a very traditional Provencal print with matching cloth napkins in the outdoor dining area where we seem to spend a lot of our time.

Villa dining area and master bedroom balcony
Villa dining area and master bedroom balcony

My friends – Greta, Audrey and Mary gifted me with a huge bottle of pure lavender essential oil that I will have great fun when I get home making bath salts and bath bombs, eau du toilette and other cosmetics, room fresheners and cleaning products.   I will scent my  homemade beeswax candles and look through my book that my daughers, Raya and Tovah, gave me for my birthday more than 10 years ago “Lavender and Lovage” for more ideas.  At midday we drove to Juan les Pins – a sea resort where I swam in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in 3 years.  The water was cool but not for a Canadian from the east coast…..pure bliss!!!  Cold beer in a cafe outside under the bright spring sun………………can you feel my JOY?

On my way to Provence

I chose to start this blog at a time when I am turning a new page in my life story.  It is time for that change and I am calling this holiday to Europe the first chapter, the first page of my new life story.

There are so many things that I love and that bring me pleasure and those are the things that I want to write about and that I wish to share. For me it is important to embrace things I love, acknowledge them and share them.  I love to travel, I love great food, I love my daughters and my grandson, I love new adventures and I love to embrace life!

Provence isn’t just a destination for me – it is a place that I have fantasized about, dreamed of, read books about, watched films about and always knew that one day I would visit.  I never doubted it but I wasn’t sure how I would manifest it. When Greta invited me last year, I knew it was closer to my reality.

Provence – the lush gardens, mountains, forests and water.  Provence – farmer’s markets with delicious foods – baguettes, cheeses, sausages and delicious melons and other fruits and vegetables.  Provence – villages playing Boule, friendly shop keepers, unforgettable dining experiences, meals a la fresco.  I have come here to find it all.  I want to feel, touch and taste every experience.

I flew overnight from Toronto and arrived at 7a.m. in Paris.  A few hours later, I boarded a train to Antibes in the south of France.  The trip took about seven hours.  I could have flown to Nice but I wanted to experience that train ride across the country.  I really enjoyed it watching the French countryside pass by and the scenery changing.

When my daughters were young, they had a story book called “ Orlando and His Little Friends”.  Orlando went on holiday with his parents and he met new friends along the way – his little while friends.  My girls have teased me for years about being Orlando because I love to talk to people and make my own “little while friends”.  Checking in at the airport, I met a woman and we started up a conversation in the line.  We found we had things in common and we were both on our way to Paris.  We decided to give the special Air Transat lounge a try.  The airline had a special on and the lounge was $36 for 2 hours.  It included alcohol, a buffet meal and a quiet calm atmosphere.  It felt like traveling first class and was a great start to the holiday.  I  traveled to the airport by TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) – I recommend it because it is cheap and easy – subway to Kipling and then the express bus to the airport all for a $3 ticket.

I am visiting my friend Greta Berlin who owns this magnificent villa in the south of France.  It is so beautiful – 3 large bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a gourmet kitchen, large living and dining room and a view that catches your breath every time you look.

View from my bedroom window
View from my bedroom window
The patio off the gourmet kitchen
The patio off the gourmet kitchen