Greece – The Love of my Life

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At first sight, I thought it had lost its fascination.

But after a little while, it all came back.

I have always prayed and asked God for two things:

To let me live until my children have grown up and don’t need me anymore

and

to let me travel to Greece one more time (or may be twice….or……- am I too greedy?).

I am so grateful that God has granted me both wishes.

Greece has something special which is difficult to find words for and I won’t even try to describe it. It may be something that not everyone feels, but Greece is special to me; I hold it dear to my heart.

Is it the constant sunshine? So reliable, just like in Australia. Is it its barren, dry landscape?

Is it its people, friendly, simple people, a life away from all the hustle and bustle?

Is it the steel blue Mediterranean Sea, crystal clear and always so refreshing to jump in?

It could be its food, too, I guess: Greek salad, olives, feta, fresh fish, grilled vegetables, moussaka, always prepared in olive oil and with fresh herbs. Or is it the wine? Retsina, and the white house wine are my favourites.

How else can I share my special affection for this country and its culture, landscape and people?

Just take this bus driver. IMG_2744IMG_2745.JPG
Every day, he drives tourists around the island of Foligandros.

He is about my age, or a bit older. He is a very careful bus driver and I trust him with my life, every day. He beeps his horn at every bend in the road, he is never in a hurry and speeding is as alien to him as a sprint to a snail. He takes his time, “cigar, cigar” (slowly, slowly), before he finally gets started, having a chat with the locals before departure. If this means delaying our departure by five minutes….”n’daxi (that’s ok). He carefully slows the bus to a momentary halt when two donkeys loaded with hay block the road. And then, at snails pace, he tackles the steep descent to Agia Agkani, the nice beach where the bus drops you off and from where you walk to another, even nicer beach for twenty minutes.

This is a tight turn for a bus. And the little road is VERY steep! Scary! I think he is taking it in first gear. He is just so careful. “Efcharisto poli”, thank you very much, bus driver.

Another day we hiked for about an hour to get to another beautiful beach. For a while, walking down, it looked as if we had the whole beach just to ourselves…..Wow, that would have been nice! You know what I mean…..? Ron and I are still in love, after 33 years…..

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But sadly – not such luck. There were another four people, maybe? And, as we made ourselves at home under a small pine tree where someone had erected a little rock wall, we found out soon that we had invaded the space of at least 10 little lizards who peeped their heads out of the rock crevices and looked at us (and our food) with great interest. They weren’t scared of us at all, they moved very fast in between our hiking boots, cut up tomatoes and cheese and made themselves at home on our Turkish bath towels. Their fast movements unsettled us and we decided to move closer to the water, on the pebbles, so that we were able to read our books in peace. Two hours rest: swimming, sunbathing, eating, reading, collecting beautiful pebbles, round and smooth, grey, white, with sparkling silver specks that glitter in the sun, observing small fish in the water and wishing we had snorkelling gear.IMG_2712.jpg

So calming!

Then, at 4 o’clock, it was time to pack up and walk an hour and a bit, uphill now, along stone walls, goats, purple flowering wild thyme full of buzzing bees and an old stone settlement, in ruins now, but still beautiful, with glimpses of the blue sea underneath us.

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We love you, Greece. We love your colours, your smells, your views, your water, your people, your cats and donkeys, your yoghurt and your honey.

We love all your islands, too. After Crete, Santorini and Folegandros, we will go to Sifnos next.

One more story I want to share with you here.

Do you want to know what else Greece has revealed me this time?

Read on.

There are others.

Like us.

Have I mentioned that this trip to Greece has shown me for the first time that I belong to the oldies? Not that I don’t know I belong to the older ones, but so far- I had never felt it. And with that, I mean I don’t feel physically or mentally old. On the contrary, I feel fitter and younger than ever. I am experiencing first hand that it does have its benefits not to work and be able to do as you please, not just for the weekend, not just for the school holidays, but every single day!  It gives you an absolutely amazing feeling of freedom.

Hurray retirement – can’t wait to welcome you into my life!

But- there are others.

Like us.

Couples in their 60’s, give or take 10 years, that travel around, like us, with backpacks, walking boots and sunhats shielding their grey hair. Some have upgraded to roller suitcases, but many use backpacks, new ones, of course, like us.

There are others, like us, who are in the same fortunate position, because they still have their life partner, whom they love and cherish and ahh, know so well.

When I look at these couples I have no doubt that they have known each other for many years. The way they travel, the way they go about their business every day, the way they get dressed to go out for dinner. The way they talk, to each other, and to others, like us. You can read their body language. You find (and hear) them all and everywhere, the French, Germans, Italians, British, Americans, even Greeks themselves. It is such a pleasure to observe them.

And – it makes me feel a little older, because I am just one of them and when I go home and see my tanned face in the bathroom mirror, I see so many similarities, the many lines around my eyes, more grey streaks in sun bleached hair, the sagging boobs and the thinning hair, but hey:

I am alive and well, resting in the very fortunate position to have my life partner traveling with me, the one I love and cherish and know so very well, just like he knows me ever so well; and we share so many memories, memories of earlier days, as young travellers with our backpacks, and not a care in the world.

These days, we are one of the other “oldies” and seeing them all around us is what makes me feel old!

In a good way.

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Family Affairs

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My sister’s house. This is where I grew up.

Home, sweet home.

How blessed we are to have two places we can call home;

at least this is what I have decided:

Instead of feeling torn between the two countries, never knowing the answer to the frequently asked question, ” Do you feel more like an Australian or a German?” and never knowing the complete truthful answer, I have chosen to believe that it is a blessing that I  have two homes. And it is! It is great!

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My sister’s old car that she provided for us to use while we are here. How lucky we are! And isn’t it a happy colour …..

It’s good to be back in our first home.

We love our families which we “deserted” when Ron and I decided to follow our adventurous desires and settled in Australia about 33 years ago.

Nevertheless, it’s always good to be back. Everything still feels familiar: the houses, the front yards, the neighbourhood, the variety of cold meats in the supermarkets, the yummy bread rolls and the German coffee and the beer, of course, as does the language, the TV programs, the discussions….

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This was the main reason we took the 12 months off, right? To spend time, quality time with our families. Just us, without 25 senior students pottering behind us, to look after, to supervise, to educate on yet another of those student exchange trips.

Just the two of us. Most of the time.

The fact that our younger daughter Maren joined us for a while was just an added bonus. How we love our daughter, so young, so positive, so refreshing.

Maren, we loved your company in Germany and Iceland. You are an absolute pleasure to have around!

 

As we were preparing for our extended time with our loved ones, we prayed for patience and acceptance.  Just like us, every member of our respective families has grown older, and little, sometimes subtle changes have been noticeable.

One is not quite so fit anymore. We all get a little slower, a bit more set in our ways of thinking, less flexible, less tolerant.  Our conversations evolve around our health, our appointments with the GP or the ENT specialist.  Ah, the joys of ageing!

 

It is so good to be back in Germany, the country of our birth and upbringing. Spring is just starting and the scent of the “Fliederbaum” in bloom is something we had missed for years! I love that sweet smell!

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The bright yellow flowering “Rapsfelder”,

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canola fields: I thought they would flower much later in the year… but no, they glow in the sun with an incredibly shiny, almost fluorescent yellow, especially when they grow on gently rolling hills, fields in amongst other fields, green, brown, all well ploughed in straight lines, in a very orderly manner.

Everything in Germany appears like that:  well organised:  The flowers in the balcony pots, in the front yard, on the graves, along the rivers, in the parklands.

The parking spaces in the cities, with the “Park-Automat”, functioning, of course, into which you drop your Euros.

Or take the set routine for afternoon “Kaffeetrinken”: There has to be a tablecloth, matching china set including saucers for your cups, a container for the milk and the sugar pot. Everything fits so perfectly well, down to the point of matching serviettes. The table has to be set beforehand, and the coffee has to be made in advance, so that one can start on time.

Our home country: picture perfect, very efficient.

 

In many ways, Germany hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years.

We find that the Gemans are still crazy about soccer. You should hear Oma shouting every time Bayern Munich scores a goal!

Germans still love to talk a lot about the weather. As soon as the sun appears on the horizon and the air warms up, every minute is spent outdoors, in the garden, on the balcony or veranda. And then you plan a “Grillabend”, a BBQ with your friends and neighbours. Of course the variety of different “Grillgut” is absolutely mind blowing.  It seems one has to top last years’ food bonanza.

 

But sadly, Germany has become so, so crowded.

When I look at the neighbourhood where I grew up I can see 100% more houses.  Every inch which used to be garden has been filled with yet another building. And solid they are, these German houses, without much room “wasted” in between them. Is it just a subjective feeling due to the fact that we have been enjoying the abundance of space in rural Australia for so long or is it real?

 

And then there is the traffic: I couldn’t believe the amount of trucks on the “Autobahn” when we drove to and from Berlin on the way to the airport. A constant line of trucks occupies at least one lane. Then, on the car parks at the “Raststätte”, we noticed one truck next to the other, not only German number plates, but from all European countries. So, so many!

On a side note: The oddity that really, really annoys me, are the toilets at the “Raststätte”. Firstly, you have to pay to use them. Secondly, you have to have the right amount of coins to feet into the machine to operate the “Schranke” (like a turntable).  Wouldn’t you hate to be caught in an “emergency”? Surely, by the time you have done all the right things it might be too late…. Thirdly, the toilet seat rotates and disinfects automatically as soon as you raise your bottom which can be quite unsettling if you haven’t experienced this before and, besides, who needs a rotating toilet seat. Lastly, you have to remember to keep your toilet entry ticket so that you can have the 50 cents taken off your bill when you spend your Euros on some food or drinks before you join the trucks on the “Autobahn” again.

But back to our families. We have already enjoyed two birthday parties, one family reunion, one Mother’s Day excursion, a visit to extended family in Köln and Gießen, a get together with sponsors for our Uganda work, a visit to a local health spa/swimming pool, lots of shopping trips and “Spaziergänge”IMG_2123 IMG_2160, countless board game sessions with Oma and TV “Krimi-nights” both with my sister and with Oma and Opa and soooo much food! We will have to roll ourselves back to Australia at the end of the year, I fear.

It is obvious, unavoidable  and of existential importance that we needed a break, and so we interrupted our visit to the old “Fatherland” for a few weeks. We have escaped to the country of our first love: Greece.

We will be back and and are planning to spend the summer months of July and August in Germany: Wohnwagen am Bodensee, Fahrradfahren am Dümmer, we are looking forward to it.