Tag Archives | Itea
Itea has seduced me.
I was a little wary upon first impression… few cars and fewer people, a seemingly deserted promenade, closed shops and scatterings of unfinished and abandoned buildings. I also had the misfortune of arriving on a cloudy, grey Monday (not the most active of days in the first place) during the afternoon siesta.
But I am quick to soften with the right inducements: Mount Parnassos sits solidly and protectively to the north, the Gulf of Corinth lays easy and open to the south, the presence of my two favourite natural features always felt and often both visible with just a simple turn of my body.
Then slowly, patiently, as if aware of its own charms and how they would gradually chip away at my initial misgivings, the town began to win me over: the palm tree fronds that rustle in the breeze; the unhurried pace of life; the quiet and unassuming manner of the inhabitants; the church bells that ring at 8 minutes and 38 minutes after the hour (and that go absolutely crazy on Sunday mornings, I assume, calling people to service); the locals who gather at water-side cafes to talk and watch the sunrise or the sunset, leisurely enjoying their beverage and the view for hours at a time.
My first Saturday here, I was invited to dinner with the family of V, my friend K’s cousin (the house where I’ve been staying belongs to K’s family). During the meal, V’s parents-in-law asked why I had chosen Itea, since it’s not a popular tourist spot.
A big reason is generosity: when I mentioned that friends and I were hoping to meet up in Greece for a holiday (we’re a little spread out geographically), K generously offered to let us stay at her grandmother’s old house in Itea. I’d already determined that I wanted to spend more time in Greece than my friends could manage given their jobs, and again, K and her family readily agreed to let me live in the house. As a restless wanderer, I can never be too thankful to friends and family who open their doors to me and allow me to stay in their homes. It’s a point of comfort, to be sure, but it also allows me to be on the road longer than I could otherwise afford.
At the same time, while I do want to see the major sites and cities of a country, I’m often just as happy to skip many of the venues that are on the ‘must see’ list or, at least, to limit my time there. After all, a list is just one person’s opinion. Some of my most cherished memories and experiences have been had at places quite far down on those lists where people have more time and willingness to interact with genuine reciprocal interest and friendliness and who haven’t been worn down by the oft times ‘hit and run’ nature of tourism.
I also find myself wondering about what experiences I might have in those less visited locales. What the more popular locations make up for in terms of sites and attractions, I think we lose in nuanced experience, growth (through challenge) and observation: the transaction with the fruit market owner via smiles and gestures; the seemingly severe stares that become big broad grins upon a smile and a ‘hello’; the lovely surprise of cheese filling in the pastry I randomly pointed at in the bakery; the realization that what sounds like arguing between generations of a family is the love of true conversation – honest discussion and debate.
I was recently introduced to the term ‘flâneur’, its ‘basic’ definition being an idler; dawdler; loafer1. The book that I was reading, though, used it in its broader sense which began to evolve in the 19th century2: that of a detached observer, one who participates in but remains outside of the scene before him/her and who, in its latest derivation, continues to adapt to and to change goals based on what he/she experiences3 – to my mind, whether in action, in thought, or both. This is what I love about spending more time than is ‘necessary’ in one location: that I can decide from day to day what to see, where to go, what to do or what to try – that I have the option to choose where and in what manner I take the adventure next. With a less well known place, I get more time to watch, learn and absorb the spirit of a place and its people.Do you ever feel like you’ve missed out?
Smile and say hello. In Greek, if you’re greeting one person, phonetically, it’s pronounced yah-sou, a group, it’s yah-sis.
A great rule to follow no matter where or who you are.
In particular, though, I’ve found it very useful here in Itea and, its environs, as a solo female traveler of asian appearance. The men in Itea have generally been quicker to return a smile than the women. What starts off as such a serious look can immediately become a broad, warm, genial smile. It’s the polite thing to do, but it also reminds everyone involved that as strange as the other person may seem, we’re all just human beings trying to make sense of our world and navigate it as best we can.
People are curious and understandably so.
First, being alone is an unusual thing in the Greek culture: people like to meet, to converse, to enjoy each other’s company. I love that fact. It’s relatively rare to see anyone drinking, dining or relaxing, in any way, by him or herself. Even walking is an activity most popularly done in pairs.
Second, spending time out of the house has traditionally been a man’s game in Greece, with women meeting in the house. I see lots of men at cafes sitting and enjoying a drink, usually in pairs or groups, and less often, solo. This pattern is obviously changing with the younger generation, but to memory, I haven’t seen a female on her own in a cafe or restaurant so far. Having said that, dining unaccompanied, especially for females, is still uncommon enough anywhere in the world that people are still writing tips on how to be comfortable doing this. (Personally, I find it easier at lunch than at dinner; at a more casual restaurant than a formal one; and in a quieter establishment than a busy one unless it has a bar area for dining.)
So, throw the two things together and I get a lot of stares. My friends just left after spending a few days with me in Itea and I’m almost certain that the combination of 2 black women, 1 brown woman and 1 asian woman led to fewer confused looks than me on my own. And I realize now it’s because the locals can more easily understand why a diverse group of females would be together (vacation) than why a single female (of any persuasion) would be here alone.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t have the time to learn more Greek (truthfully, any Greek besides hello, good morning and thank you). This would be such a wonderful place to converse, to ask questions about culture, history and traditions: people seem to be as curious about me as I am about them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my travels… I’ve been so blessed to go so many places, but I find that some friends have a much more immersive experience. I think partly that’s because I travel alone and I am more cautious because of that, but it’s also part of my personality to be more careful than I know some others would be in the same situations. Another barrier, though is language. I find myself wondering what I could learn, who I could meet, the experiences I could have if I was only better able to communicate with the people who live in the places I visit.
How do you find the balance between safety and a ‘true’ experience? What are your secrets to a more immersive adventure?