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traveling in the second trimester of pregnancy – a lover of the road

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 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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A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day two: Alexandroupolis – Samothrakis

The next day I am woken by the stiffness in my back and the rain tapping on the tent. The little fruitarian runner performs a soft but lengthy training and then seems to go back to his usual meditative state.

When we build up the courage to get out of the tent, we are greeted by a beautiful rainbow rising above the sea and the rain stops just in time for us to get our stuff back in the car, have a small breakfast standing next to the car and head for the harbor to catch our ferry. Not before we study the orange flowers of a small tree whose buds look like fruit. When they reach maturity, their shell cracks and the flower explodes in the outer world. I declare it a unique phenomenon: having fruit before the flower. My travel companion says they’re just buds.

The two and a half hour ferry ride is far from spectacular, except for the sight of a beautiful dolphin springing seemingly from under the ferry and swimming away. The cool breeze is relaxing and the clouds tucked into one another like sheep in a sleeping herd are a spectacular view accompanied by the intense ultramarine blue of the sea underneath.

We spend almost the entire trip outside on the deck, determined to resist the cold wind and spot dolphins and countless shades of blue both above and below. Up on the deck we seem to be in a state of limbo, suspended between two worlds, traveling from the continent to the island.

When the arrival time approaches, we move to the left side of the boat and finally see the island: a high mountain in the middle of the sea. A thick blanket of clouds is covering the shy peak, hiding it from that shameless touristic gaze cast by so many pairs of eyes on the ferry.

samothrakis harbour from the ferry

Our host, a dark skinned, thin Spanish lady in her forties, Carlota, has written to me on WhatsApp and is now waiting for us “by the big green container on the right of the harbor”.

“I came here nine years ago with Erasmus, fell in love with the island and never left. It’s a very powerful place”, she confesses and, noticing the blue scarab locket on her necklace and remembering her meditating clay frog picture on WhatsApp, it all makes sense. We are of the same kind.

We then follow her car to her husband’s family’s place and I immediately fall in love with the beautiful stone paved garden, with its two small tables, trees packed with ripe fruit and the huge geraniums and begonias in bloom everywhere. We get inside and she offers a studio with a kitchenette instead of the small room I booked online.

“I can give you something bigger for the same price. Since we are free, why not. Here, this one has a balcony and this one doesn’t. Choose the one that you like.”

We make the choice,  but change our minds after she leaves and eventually move into the room with a balcony – it’s prettier and more luminous. The house has a kitchen and it looks like an old family house turned into a small motel. The owners, her parents-in-law, still live upstairs.

After she leaves, they arrive home and park their utility van next to our car. Her mother-in-law starts calling her name, so I take the opportunity to get out on the balcony and practice my Greek, since I have been warned by Carlota that she speaks no English at all. I say hello and explain that her daughter-in-law is not there. I am rewarded with delicious,  freshly picked apricots and a big smile.

We later get out of the house, in between heavy showers, in search of the bakery. We find it much later and it is closed, like pretty much everything else around here, actually.

“It’s still low season”, Carlota warned us as soon as we stepped foot on the island.

Since we come across no open shops, we pick fruit from the trees lining the road, so by the time we get back to the house, still without a map or food, our stomachs are full of apricots and sour cherries. The little fruitarian runner is satisfied.

“What shall we do next?”

“I know, let’s take a nap!”

And, with the soothing sound of the heavy rain hitting the leaves in the garden, one third of us does just that while another third is meditating and the third third fixes the blog and starts posting.

At sunset the rain decides to give us a break and sheep are grazing peacefully in the neighboring garden and I realize for the first time we have a view of the sea from the balcony. It is not so obvious, since the eyes are tempted to stop at the trees separating the two gardens in front. The water is now shining under the setting sun and cannot escape my vigilance.

At sunset we get out and see how islandy it looks from the harbor. We eventually find some shops open and get what we need. The shopkeepers are bored and still have not activated their tourist-attracting mode.

We have dinner on the balcony – salad and cheese and make plans for the next day. It’s been a weird, rainy day. Perhaps sensing my uneasiness, the little fruitarian runner is very discreet with his evening training.

 

Related post: “A journey with the little fruitarian runner on board. Day one: Bucharest – Alexandroupolis

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

The little fruitarian runner starts his morning training just as we get into the car, finally ready to hit the road again. His soft, repeated kicks move me to tears. I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for everything in my life. I must be the happiest person on earth right now and it feels like I am melting into everything, no more borders, distances collapse and we all fuse. I seem to be the only one to notice, the rest of the world simply carries on. But that changes nothing.

The road to the Bulgarian border is short and wet, a blessing after all the heat in Bucharest. And then it takes forever to cross the bridge over the Danube, so we have a picnic in the car right in the middle of it, eating apricots and apples (fruit, of course, for the little fruitarian runner) and admiring the view from above the river. Being suspended on a high bridge over a big river, the car being shaken as if by small, consecutive earthquakes feels a little bit like being pregnant: all control systems are obsolete and each new breath and every passing second bring new experiences. Exciting!

An eternity and a half later, having been angered by the people crouched in their big cars cutting the line at the Bulgarian border, we are finally out of Romania. It’s amazing how different everything feels once you’ve crossed the border of your home country. Suddenly the pressure is off and it feels like karma is finally giving you a well deserved break. Or so it feels to me.

Crossing Bulgaria feels peaceful enough and the traffic is far from busy. Rather the roads seem underpopulated, giving the traveler space to contemplate the green fields, the fat trees and the gray clouds crammed up in the sky, rain pouring down from them in soft, transparent waves of a silk curtain, its hem ardently sweeping the road.

I will not discuss the apparent poverty of the Bulgarian villages, for they are filthy rich compared to the Cambodian villages I traveled through last year. A totally different world. Their simplicity is relaxing to the eye. So interesting how little connection I feel to this country. Not much difference compared to Romania, but still, to me it’s just a land in between, a space to be crossed, not a destination.

Having crossed the mountains through heavy rain and fog descending from the forest like the wise spirits of our deceased Indian ancestors, as we are approaching the Greek border the sun is shining and the temperature is rising. Farmers have already harvested their wheat crops and the lower, drier scenery brings back to memory Greek words and phrases for me to (ab)use in the coming week.

We come into yet another heavy shower as we are crossing the Greek border – a small, old place that appears as a surprise in the middle of nowhere. And the little fruitarian runner starts his afternoon training – a much softer version of his energetic morning training – pulling all my attention to my lower abdomen and bringing back images of colorful fish swimming peacefully around me while snorkeling in the Aegean Sea a few years ago.

Finally, we are in Greece! Back to one of our most beloved homes after a few years of absence. And yet it doesn’t feel like Greece yet. I look around searching for that unique, familiar feeling that softens the tongue as it wrapping itself around every word, sliding against the roof of the mouth with such sensuous determination. It’s still too green, too hilly and too rainy.

But as we are leaving Bulgaria farther behind, Greece gradually becomes more like her old self and l lean back, anxiously waiting for that exciting first glimpse of the sea. And finally the sun! Coming down like a blessing – a huge hand, its fingers all widely spread to reach as wide an area as possible. And there is such stillness. We barely speak a word. There is no need. A while later, old Greek music, with its coarse, serious, masculine tunes, fills the car, sweeping silence away and bringing back impressions from other lifetimes.

And then we get a little lost in a beautiful small village, taking the time to admire tiny, welcoming gardens and wondering where everybody is. Until we pass the local pub and see all the men in the village gathered there, sitting and drinking in silence, staring at the empty road. The women must be cooking dinner in their low ceiling white kitchens overlooking the back yards.

Finding our way again, we are greeted by a spectacular rainbow on the left of the road, before coming right into a storm, equipped with great lightening and all. There is no rush, so we can afford to simply be happy, our quiet company of three.

Alexandroupolis greets us a bit later, with its typically Greek narrow streets and Mediterranean modern architecture and I get my first glimpse of the sea from the harbor, which leaves me a bit unsatisfied. I get consolation by reminding myself I have a full week on an island coming up.

We check out the harbor and find a motorcycling gathering taking place. We locate the ticket office and then head to the camping. We have a ferry to catch tomorrow morning and, after the long drive today, just want to crash as soon as possible.

We put up the tent on soft, muddy ground, next to a beautiful birch tree, in spot 69, a square lined with tall pink rose bays, letting out their discreet sweet scent. Dinner is fish accompanied by butterflies, a black cat and a more rewarding view of the sea.

sea view at the alexandroupolis camping

And we finally call it a day.

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