The first day in Bucharest after a week on the island

It feels as if I were going through the long corridors of a mental institution. What is wrong with these people? I wonder.

The metro ride seems to last forever and I’m looking at people’s faces for a while, before getting out my book. A guy smelling of alcohol sits next to me and keeps falling asleep and over me. After two stops he is replaced by an overweight lady, who strategically places her big shopping bag full of groceries over my foot. I carefully extract it and she has no intention to apologize. I miss the cold politeness and remoteness on the fringes of autism of he Nordic countries.  Patience, my dear, I tell myself and go on reading the story  about a girl who has no friends and she can see and talk to ghosts.

I interrupt my reading to get off the train and find that it gets more bearable when I get into the park and among the trees, in a shaded alley, where I sit on a bench and enjoy the light being filtered by the leaf curtain. A girl gets up from a nearby bench, mounts her bike and rides off, the water in her plastic bottle fastened behind her seat sending rays of light to the tree trunks lining the alley. I miss my carefree bike riding, having only myself to think of. And as soon as I write this I my head I wonder if that’s even true. If indeed I ever only had myself to worry about and if indeed I miss those times when I longed for my travel companion and a family.

I take out my book, “Stories of the Peculiar”, and finish the story I started on my metro ride to the park. The girl in the story eventually falls in love with a living man, he loves her back, they move in together and have kids.

I am secretly hoping for a happy end, though I am afraid of a disappointment. That is why I don’t reject the possibility of a tragedy. It’s there, masking my hope for a happy end for fear I might look stupid (even to myself) for imagining pure happiness.

When I come to the end, after the ghosts of her dead parents and sister find her in her new home, having looked for her for a long time, and I read the ending

ending of story

I realize I do have a fear of happiness. When everything is fine I am afraid of things going wrong. I tend to be secretive about my plans until they have worked out for fear that spelling them out might spoil their chances of coming true.

I miss our holiday mood.

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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day ten: Alexandroupolis – Bucharest

The next morning, though we’re sleeping in a tent and hear the birds chirping, other campers snoring, still others zipping and unzipping their tents, others starting their cars and so on, getting up doesn’t seem the easiest thing to do, so we keep postponing, although sweaty and hungry, until around 9 o’clock.

It’s another hot day when we leave the camping, having said goodbye to the sea, the island a little bit hidden behind clouds, making it easier for us to go home, of course. We do some shopping for the road (mainly fruit for the little fruitarian runner, of course) and hit the highway. (Oh, yes, the supermarkets are open today in Greece, it’s Tuesday.) I realize only now how close we are are to the Turkish border and that partly explains the large number of Turkish campers who were our overnight neighbors.

I get a lump in my throat as we’re leaving. It’s been like a honeymoon in three and perfect just the way it was and I don’t want it to end. Ever.

We resolve to speak English on the way back and there is a short delay before we start. Stalling is something we are especially good at, by the way. English between us is awkward and I’m thinking about the little fruitarian runner overhearing our conversation and imagine he’s feeling a bit confused.

Sunflower fields are growing on the side of the highway and I can’t imagine why I didn’t notice them a week ago. For mysterious reasons, the GPS takes us on a detour through a narrow road in a fir tree forest before taking us back to the national road. It looks beautiful and deserted. Only later will I find out about the stories of the Bulgarian robberies and hijacks. I can only be happy I had no worries on the road.

We make a stop in Velko Tarnovo for a hot walk, to stretch our legs and see the castle there on the outside, before getting on with our trip, making plans for the time ahead so that the return doesn’t seem purposeless, pointless and joyless.

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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day nine: Leaving the island

We postpone getting up, having absolutely no desire to pack and leave this place. When we do, eventually, it’s because we want to be kissed by the sea again.

We pack and have a pleasant breakfast on the balcony, accompanied by butterflies and singing cicadas, while the sheep in the neighboring garden are silent this morning.

We carry our luggage and stuff it in the car, then head to our favorite beach in the south – Lakkoma. I’m holding up through the swim and the first few minutes on the beach beds, but then sadness and a feeling of longing and lack creep inside and I give in.

“I don’t want to go…” I complain, rolling on to one side. And then, trying to keep it all together and struggling for a more positive attitude, I add:

“Let’s make our life beautiful every day. Let’s do beautiful things that make us happy. So that we are not sad about having to go back home.”

I can feel the water evaporating from my darkening skin as when we get out of the car in the harbor and look for the ticket office. We have already purchased the ferryboat tickets online and we need to have them printed there. The sun is cruel.

We eventually find the office, following the directions of a beautiful islander. We get in and stand in line for a few minutes, to benefit from the impoliteness of the clerk, an overweight middle aged man, of course, who can speak only Greek. He is very rude and shows us how bothered he is by the electronic tickets we show on the mobile phone screen. He finds it difficult to read the ticket number and, when he manages to, he keys it in on his computer and prints our tickets, which he throws on the counter in front of us without a word. I secretly think it is life’s way of making leaving easier on us.

We then send postcards to our family and ourselves, which we have written on the beach after the swim. Hoping for the best, I take them out of my turquoise purse and slip them in the yellow box on the side of the road in the harbor.

I desperately need to go to the toilet and choose the taverna I have been admiring the whole week but never gone to. It’s an old, wooden one, traditionally looking, with the walls of the tight space inside full of old black and white photographs of the island and its people. The overweight middle aged guy (of course) sitting by the side of the door cries out:

“Provlima!” When I ask about using their toilet and points across the street, directing me to the public toilet in the harbor, which I haven’t noticed before. That makes it even easier to get on the ferry.

We later board the ferry, shuffling our feet to the outside deck and spend almost the entire 2.5 hour trip standing, all the time looking at the island we are sailing away from and at the beautiful shades of blue of the waves the ferry is cutting through my beloved sea. I wish I could kiss her a thousand times more before I turn my back and go on my way, before I dream of her, before we meet again.

samothrakis from the ferry in the harbour

We want to see dolphins (not a dolphin, this time), and our wish is granted. A lovely school of dolphins comes close to the ferry, playing with their babies, starting a competition with the fast going boat and surprising us with their swift moves and quickly changing directions.

The little fruitarian runner starts a series of strong kicks right before we get off, making us wonder if he’s actually more of a martial arts fighter than a runner.

After trying unsuccessfully to find a supermarket open in Alexandroupolis (“No, is closed, is Monday today”, we are explained), we go to the camping without any fruit for the little fruitarian runner, except for the glass of fruit juice we got from a juice bar on the way.

We choose our camping spot, check in, park the car and head straight to the beach. It’s big, crowded and a little dirty and the water is even more unpleasant, with an uncertain shade of dirty green, algae, feathers and unidentified fragments floating in it. It all makes it easier to go back home… But we can still see Samothrakis rising in the middle of the sea, straight ahead.

“You know, this island is the first thing we saw when we got here a week ago and we had no idea that was where we were going… And here we are, a week later, after having explored it, still looking at it.” I remark pensively, and I feel this  sense of protection from the high mountain that allowed us to climb its highest peak. It’s still watching over us and I get a lump in my throat and goosebumps at the thought.

“Thank you.” I send out the thought with a deep bow.

I miss it already.


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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day 8: Water. The last full day on the island

This morning is slower and, during our breakfast on the balcony, a small basket tied with a rope descends next to the table. I follow the rope upwards and I am met by the smiling face of the lady of the house, looking down at me from among her laundry hung out to dry.

“Hello! Kalimera!” she says, pointing to the small basket.

“Kalimera! Efharisto poli!” I reply, picking up from inside the basket a white bowl with the best olives in the world.

She was very kind and came to our door with a plate of delicious apricots the night we were back from the mountains. We spoke some more Greek then and I was happy to have someone to practice with.

After breakfast we make a stop at the bakery but, being Sunday it’s closed today, so we shortly stop at the supermarket on our way to Fonias.

Once at the river, we start going upstream, back into the land of dragonflies and soon find the vathre (pool) where we bathed the first time we were here. It’s tempting, but we don’t jump in this time, but walk ok, determined to get to the waterfalls.

And before long, we find a bigger varthra and we can hear the water falling from the left, hidden behind a huge rock. We climb on and see the gorgeous waterfall from above. We continue the climb through the forest but give up after a while, eager for a bath down below and then for a swim in the sea and relaxation on the beach.

So we go back down and when we get there we find a crowd of loud people taking a swim. We can’t be bothered. We ARE going to jump in no matter what. When we do, in spite of the cold water, we are amazed by the beauty and the freshness of the place. There is such purity and such clarity about it. We swim to the waterfall and let it splash us with its fresh, clear water.

“Clean me”, I tell her, “purify me of everything I no longer need, everything stale, everything burdening me, make me clean and clear, purify me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

After the purifying and refreshing swim in the vathra, we go down the river, get back to the car and go to Lakkoma beach in the south. We crash again under the same bamboo umbrella, take a swim and just relax.

We have a meeting with Carlota at 8.45 pm, so we go back to the house before sunset. The view of the mountain rising up to the sky on the right, the tumbling hills with their olive orchards below, gradually becoming lower and lower until they turn into the pebbled seashore that pressed against our foot soles a short while ago, all in the mild, golden light of the setting sun are signs of paradise.

At home we are offered ice cream by the lady of the house, while waiting for Carlota to finish her giggly conversation with the young English couple that’s just arrived, looking for gifts for a wedding they are attending in Alexandroupolis next week.

When she is done, we are next. Like a good host, she asks us about our stay and is particularly interested in our climb on the Feggari two days ago. She’s impressed by our performance and asks about the baby, whom she insists is a “strong boy”. And she is right. Later on we pay for the room and her mother in law comes and makes good wishes for us and our baby, expressing her gratitude and good will.

“Write to us”, Carlota says, “send us pictures and come back with your boy!” And then translates her mother in law’s words: “She wishes you that with only one cry to take him out.”


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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day seven: Chora and the beach

After yesterday’s adventure we are feeling tired and sleep more in the morning. Our desire to leave the house is insignificant, but since we still haven’t done all we set out to do, we eventually convince ourselves to get into the car and then do some more walking.

It’s a very hot day and our first stop is at the bakery. Being hungry, we buy more than what we strictly need and then, after having our usual morning ice-cream by the lavender bushes in the garden of the bakery, we head to Chora, the capital of the island, a high village up on a slope, built amfitheatrically and resembling a citadel, with its extremely narrow, steep streets and small, tiled roofed houses, with wooden blinds and dozens of colorful flowers.

We walk around and visit a shop where I get a nice pyrite pendant and then we pay a visit to the folkloric museum, which is really interesting to see, especially upstairs, where you can spend time inside a traditional Samothrakiam home and read about the different functions of the home areas, feel the texture of handwoven silk fabric and wonder at the Turkish influence in Greek traditional culture and at both the Turkish and the Greek influence in the Romanian culture.

Walking along one of the narrow streets, we stop at the end of this very tight and steep staircase lined with huge begonia clay pots and are approached by this old man speaking Greek to us. He disappears after manages to direct us upstairs to this 1300s tiny dark stone church and, as soon as we enter, I feel I can’t breathe for a few seconds. It feel like a lot of anxiety and sadness has been experienced there by people desperately seeking refuge. We spend a few minutes in the cool air of the tiny church and then we are back outside, in the scorching heat.

We also visit the ruins of the local castle, built in the 1400s as part of the defense system of the island. The view of the sea from among the ruins is very nice and walking on the iron net above the water cistern feels interesting, too. Over the years it fell pray to several conquerors and at the beginning of the 21st century it actually housed the headquarters of the local police, but the building was eventually taken down so that now the castle has historical and touristic value to the island.

A bit later, after we get some fruit (of course, you know for who) and cold water, we head south and crash on Lakkoma beach, under a bamboo umbrella, enjoying the soft breeze and the small waves licking the hot pebbles on the shore. We read and write, take naps and relax.

It is here that, for the first time, I read out loud a story to my boys: “The Fork-Tongued Princess” from “Tales of the Peculiar” by Ransom Riggs – the book I got from the English bookshop in Uppsala, Sweden, this winter, a month and a half before the little fruitarian runner came into our lives. He shows his gratitude through repeated kicks that start his father and me giggling.


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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day six: 13 hours on Mount Saos

We set the alarm at 5.30 to climb the Feggari today – the highest peak of Mount Saos. Feggari means ‘moon’ because the moon forgets herself on the peak, legend has it. It is from this peak that Neptune watched the Trojan war, Homer says.

“We’re going to attack the peak!”, my travel companion announces.

“No, we’re not going to attack the peak and we’re not going to conquer it, either. We’re going to make friends with it.”, I reply in my usual soft tone, leaving him pensive for a short while.

We have been warned there is no marked route leading up the peak and finding our way is hard, especially in the beginning. Having arrived in Therma, we park the car in the shade and go up the road left of the thermal baths (one old and one new building, both closed now). We pass Paradisos reataurant on the right and a few small motels and guest houses and then we get into the plain tree forest, up a whispering stream. We soon reach a crossroad and have no idea whether we should go left or right. We spot arrows pointing to the right and follow them to a closed gate. After some confusion, we decide only that can be the way and open the gate and go up the road, in the hot sun, accompanied by the baa of goats.

The humidity is very high and is making us highly uncomfortable. It slowly decreases as we are going higher and higher and we soon get into another forest: one with shorter and younger trees, shedding their outer bark, in a perfect combination of light green and dark red. Below, ferns are rising above the dead leaves layer under which the rocks are hiding.

Looking back, we can see the silver sea behind us as we are climbing. Never before have I had such an amazing view down below while climbing up a mountain and I can’t help thinking what a fabulous descent we will have.

As we are climbing higher and higher, we spot marking (metal plates inscribed with “E6” nailed on trees and red round paint marks on rocks), while the temperature slightly drops and the humidity significantly decreases. So we gradually go easier on the panting and we no longer look like we’ve just come out of the shower.

If you associate the mountains with cold weather, prepare for scorching heat and very high humidity on Mount Saos. That is why everyone in their right mind starts early (6 am or earlier). We started at 8 (though we did wake up at 5.30). And everyone we meet is descending, while we are the only ones still going up. Everyone is warning us “it’s difficult”.

Further up, the forest changes and it’s now oak trees that provide  precious shade to the climber and shelter to the tireless singing birds piercing the constant noise of the cicadas. Aromatic plants (thyme, oregano, melissa and mint) send waves of scent up into the air and we seem to be all floating in this perfumed fairy tale land of century-old trees, zen goats, myriads of curious insects and the shimmering sea below.

Only close to the summit do we find a spring and we drink and refill our bottle and refresh. Then, a bit higher,  we eat in the shade of a very old oak tree. Initially, when we are still optimistic, we think we’ll eat upon our descent. Fortunately, we are well inspired and eat before we got out of the forest and into the sun. The descend will have to wait quite a few hours.

When we get out of the oak forest, an area of sadistic short bushes awaits. And the trail is so narrow that they scratch the skin above my trekking boots. I wish I had a pair of trousers to change my shorts especially for this part of the track.

With the sadistic bushes successfully behind us, we are now in the kingdom of rocks – big and small, loose and stable, they are a challenge for our abused joints. And they will stay with us all the way up to the peak.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the way because the marking is not very obvious or easy to spot (and it will be even more elusive during the descent), but we make it. After seven hours we are on the highest peak. The view here is flabbergasting. I absolutely love being able to see the sea surrounding the island on all parts and identify villages and beaches where we have been. We spend 30 minutes on the peak and then we start the descent, perfectly aware that it’s going to be a challenge most part of the way and hoping to be back at the car before dark.

We make two more stops on our way down – one at the spring, where my travel companion picks a huge bunch of oregano and another one of thyme to take home with us and they have now invaded our room. The second stop is in the forest, where we have dinner on a fallen, dry tree trunk, a huge bug staring at us from below its antennae resting still on a perky brunch the whole time.

It’s 9 pm when we are back at the car and we started the ascent at 8 am. We are laughing imagining dialogues among the noisy goats we meet on the last portion of the road, before getting back to the plane tree forest. Dead tired, with blisters on my feet, I am grateful I didn’t suspect the whole adventure would take us 13 hours. I might have passed on it and what a pity that would have been. Still, I have the well being of this small boy growing inside me to consider besides my own desires now and that is something so new and life changing.

Probably without a bump you would go a bit faster but where’s the charm in that?

We needed 7 hours for the ascent to the peak and 5.5 hours for the descent. Had we started earlier in the morning and had we known the way, we could’ve probably spared one hour. But not more, for sure. So I guess it’s safe to say someone in good physical condition and without a bump, starting early in the morning (at 6 am or even earlier) can do the ascent in approximately 5 or 6 hours. That is the longest we were expecting to need for the ascent, but we were late and wrong.

“Still it’s only 1600 m high. That’s not a lot of you think about it”, my travel companion remarks during dinner in the forest. “Only you start climbing from sea level…”

If you’re planning to climb Feggari during pregnancy (and probably other mountain peaks, as well), I think the following should be considered:

  • Make sure you have your doctor’s approval to make effort and do sports. Pregnancy is not an illness, it’s a normal state for the female body and you should be just fine doing what you normally do (with extra care, of course) unless your doctor advises otherwise. On the other hand, any pregnancy book or specialist will probably tell you that if you haven’t done any sport or exercised prior to your pregnancy, it is not advisable to start now. I read the best way to make sure you are ok is to be able to have a conversation through any effort you make. If you can’t, you need to decrease the intensity. Anyway, I guess the first and second trimester are more comfortable for this kind of adventure.
  • Use good sun protection and apply it more than once. Also wear something over your head and sunglasses. The sun is really strong.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, fit for mountain climbing. Make sure they are neither too tight nor too large – any small discomfort will become a big issue during a long and difficult climb.
  • Take just what is strictly necessary. With all your tissues being softer and more elastic now, extra pressure on your joints is the last thing you want. Trust me, I have been there. When I climbed up the Ciucaș peak in Făgăraș three weeks ago, my backpack was heavier because we had to camp and spend a cold night in a tent. The pain in my hips was a significant discomfort overnight and a couple of days after the hike.
  • I don’t suffer from heartburn, cravings or severe hunger, so I didn’t need to pack snacks, we just had some food (and fruit – peaches – for the little fruitarian runner on board, of course). Take whatever you really need.
  • There is just one accessible water source on the way up to Feggari, after you leave the springs and stream in Therma behind. Water is a must. Take water with you. Especially since heat and humidity cause you to sweat a lot and dehydrate.
  • With the shift in the center of gravity, it is much easier to lose your balance so be careful and take your time.
  • Rock climbing is not advisable during pregnancy, as far as I have read. On Feggari, the last portion of the route is exclusively on rocks – no ropes or chains, but it is quite challenging and high.
  • Do go with a travel partner or a group, never alone.


Good luck and enjoy every step of the way! It’s not a walk in the park, but I assure you it’s totally worth it.


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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day five: A special day on Samothrakis

It is my travel companion’a birthday today, so it’s a special day. We are kissed by butterflies in the morning, both on the balcony and outside the bakery while we are having our ice cream. The kissing continues in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods, a very special ancient place of rare stillness and worshiped rocks, as well as numerous wise olive trees, where we see baby olives for the first time.

The archeological museum is closed for repairing work, so we just visit the archeological site, of which I have read is one of the most important archeological sites in Greece and the place where the statue of the Winged Nike of Samothrakis was discovered. But that’s now at the Louvre, so I guess I’ll have to go see it there some day.

It is a very hot day today and we need time in the shade, drinking plenty of water, resting and talking. We take a long break at the spring outside the archeological site and then go to Fonias River, a truly wonderful place, a fairy tale valley going up the mountain, in the soft music of the waters on which dragon flies are dancing tirelessly, their wings shining in the hot sun filtered by the leaves and sent back to he sky by the water’s mirror. We are too hot and take a bath in the first ‘vathra’ we find.

Then we go and watch the sunset on Panagia Kamariotissa beach, on this long and narrow stony stretch of land going far into the sea. Everything is perfect here, at the end of the world, where we collect stones and eat cherries and pears washed on the sea (slightly salted this time, for the little fruitarian runner). I don’t take any pictures, but watch that perfect red ball of fire tonight diving into the cold waters of the sea. I just want to remember, I want it forever in my heart and mind. Here and now, with the perfect color of your skin, your boy’s face looking up at the sky and my proud, round bump under your hands.

I imagine watching the sunset together with our kid and telling him how the sun goes to sleep in a land faraway, beyond the great sea. And later his dad telling him the truth: “Son, it actually goes to the other side of the world, to wake up the Chinese; because someone has to work in this world.”


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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day four: The southern part of Samothrakis

Finally a sunny day, spent entirely on the southern part of the island. Started the day at Lakkoma beach, where we took our first swim in the sea. The water was a bit cold in the  morning, but nothing like the one in the mountain rock pool the day before. The little fruitarian runner loves it when I swim.

Then we drive to Profitis Ilias, the highest village in the southern part of the island, famous for their goat cooking (which we don’t try). We take a walk, visit the local church (I am surprised to find it open, since not a soul is here :P), then we have water and juice at a cafe nearby, where all the Greek I can remember is very useful.

The little fruitarian  runner gets his daily portion of fruit, everywhere I go. So here we pick sour cherries, wax cherries and apricots from the trees lining the road, some in deserted gardens, others not. Since I’ve grown my bump, people seem very tolerant with me and everyone is staring as if we were some kind of aliens. We sort of are, I guess.

We later crash on the Pahia Amos beach, a long, sandy one at the end of the road on the southern coast. It is here that we wait for the sunset and make plans for the next day.

Only at 8 pm do we realize the sun has the peculiar tendency to set in the west. Most of the times, at least on this planet. And we are in the south.

So we get in the car and drive to catch the sunset back in Profitis Ilias, up on a hill behind the church we visited earlier. It is so peaceful as herds are heading back to their homes and dogs are barking in the distance. I wonder how some people can be hiding in their homes right now, wasting their time in front of their TVs when such wonderful shows are put on by nature. Every day at about the same time, in the same place. You just can’t miss it unless you really want to.

A more quieter day, finally a hot summer day in the drier, Mediterranean climate of the south, driving along narrow roads cutting through ancient olive orchards. Such a small island with so many micro climates, so few inhabitants and even fewer tourists!  So different from the rest of Greece we have seen so far and in a completely different world than Romania. We can’t help loving it.


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