Where Olive Trees Grow

A small hard green olive fell on the table in front of us.Not ripe yet, but dropped down by a gush of wind. Glancing up I could see the branches of an olive tree stretching out over our table like a canopy of light green leaves flickering with silver. Another gush of wind brought one of those leaves floating down to our table. Later that evening the leaf got an inscription: “I’ve had the best fun day today!” I couldn’t but agree with the daughter of my boyfriend. Indeed it had been almost a magical day.

Only a couple days before I had left the then cloudy Finland and flown to Athens with my boyfriend and his daughter, but without my wallet. I had my passport and some money on me, I’d been up since three thirty, travelling through Riga where at the airport I’d discovered that I was missing my wallet. At the Rafina harbor I forgot to tip the taxi driver, and was feeling exhausted and a bit miserable on the SeaJet to Tinos. I was in a different culture, a stranger, without my credit cards or my driver’s lisence, unsure of myself on foreign terrain.

The first day of travel was like three days in one. First all the flights, a taxi race to the port where we made it to the boat with not even another minute to spend. The boat trip to Tinos in high waves, then the drive to Porto in a rental car. For my boyfried it was like coming home. He’d spent 3 summers on Tinos already, he had friends everywhere and he knew the places. To me everything was new and I was awed by the beautiful scenery, the cycladian architecture, everything. I was meeting new people, seeing new places; the first evevning went by in a sort of a haze.

By the time the olive fell on the table I already had started to feel somehow at home on the island. We had nice accommodations behind an olive garden, with one olive tree growing right by our veranda. I would sit on the railing, in the sun, watching the olive trees bend in the wind but never break. And when the wind died, the trees looked like a photograph of wind blowing through them, the branches still bent all in the same direction, the leaves in the angle the usually unyielding hard wind had set them. I was on the island of the meltemi winds.

But the winds died down by the day of the olive, giving way to some truly hot summer days and pleasantly warm summer nights – warm being still 36 degrees at midnight. On the day of the olive we had been up to the north coast of Tinos, to the small village of Kolimbithra. Beautiful views of terrassed mountainsides, small villages, a fertile valley full of bamboo on our way. Delicious meal at a little taverna, some beach time and a freddo cappucino at Volax on our way back. And in the evening, a proper Greek village celebration at a distant village somewhere in the mountains.

The whole village was gathered at the church yard when we came there, the men taking their turns in clanging the church bells. We walked behind the church to the village center where tables han been set up at the edges of the agora, leaving room for dancing in the middle. People started filling up the tables, food was served – souvlaki, proper tzatziki with lots of garlic in it, greek salad in the Tinos way, potatoes and some flat bread – and the village musicians started playing traditional greek music. Dancing went on for hours, the old and the young ones dancing together. The whole village was there. And they still continued dancing when we left after midnight.

The winds never did come back while we were on Tinos. Some days we would go swimming at the Porto beach only a short walk from our house. Some days we would drive to some other beach in another bay, bathe in the sun, take shelter under the umbrella when the sun was too burning hot, have a couple drinks at thebeach bar. And swim in the clear blue Aegean sea. The water sparkled in the sun and felt exactly right on the skin. Not cold at all, but not too warm either. And after the swim, the sun and the slight breeze would dry the skin quickly.

I took almost a thousand photos on Tinos and Mykonos, which we visited for a day or so with my boyfriend. On the beaches and in Porto, I would roam around, climb the rocks barefoot, the marble and the ground burning hot under my feet, and take pictures. At the country club at Pachia Ammos I would sit on the low stone wall, watching the beach, the cliffs, the peaks, and the sea beyond it. You could see Mykonos from the club, as well as from our veranda. Some evenings we would sit on our veranda, looking at the fully lit Mykonos, talking and dreaming. The night so peaceful and quiet around us, the buzz of Mykonos so close yet so far away.

Mykonos was a whole different world. Tinos has some night life, bars that are open till morning, and a night club. There seems to be some people around always, going about the town, bar hopping – 1, 2, 3 and back. We had a girls’ night out with the wives of my boyfriend’s friends. We were probably the oldest ones and the only foreigners – for neither one is greek, but married to Tinoans – in the bar we spent most of the evening, and eventually we were also the only ones dancing on the dance floor. The dj went through the musical decades, playing a lot of good ol’ rock. We had a great time!

Still, Mykonos was something else! My boyfriend’s daughter stayed on Tinos with the friends and we went on an adults’ trip. We hit the Paradise beach sometime in the afternoon, lay in the sun, went for a swim, and waited for the partying to start. At five the Tropicana bar launched into party mode and by six we were there too, amongst a couple thousand others, I believe, for it was packed! We had some wine, danced and got drenched in the sparkling wine people all around us were spraying non-stop. And after we left Paradise beach, and after a shower, we went down town Mykonos to have some dinner and enjoy the night life. Never got to the Space club though; unfortunately fatigue got too much hold of both of us.

The next day we spent walking around the town that was so much more peaceful in the daytime than night. We did some small shopping, but mostly just window shopping, dreaming of jewelry and art worth hundreds of euros. Tinos doesn’t make an average european feel poor, but Mykonos has that effect. We ate lunch at the Ceasar, the taverna owned by people we had met in Panormos, Tinos, some days earlier. They had excellent food!

As had that tiny taverna in Panormos, where we met the owners of Ceasar. We had driven up to Pyrgos first, visiting the Museum of Marble Crafts, and having our freddo cappucinos and some baklava and ice cream at the coffee shop right in the middle of the village, beside a huge sycamore tree. Panormos is only a few kilometers further, a small fisher village with a beach, tavernas right there at the shore, and the village itself built on the hillside, with a maze of tiny alleys going up and down and around, much like Mykonos. We hadn’t really planned on staying the night in Panarmos, but sitting in the taverna, having good food, drinking some wine and ouzo, we decided against driving back the same night.

So we got ourselves a room for the night. We were about to head back to the tavernas, when I started wondering why the stove was so hot even though it wasn’t supposed to be turned on. But it was, I had turned the other burner on when I thought I was adjusting the adjoining  refridgerator underneath the stove. So I burned the three middle fingers of my right hand, couldn’t get cold enough water from the faucet and stuck my hand to the freezer box for the twenty minutes. Not that it helped much. I kept my hand in a glass full of ice all evening long as we were having dinner at a taverna, and wrapped a frozen towel around the hand for the night. By morning I had huge burn blisters on the fingers, but all the nurse at the Tinos medical center said was to wipe them with Betadine solution and not to worry. Nor pop the bubbles. Which I did though, a couple days later.

Our last night on Tinos we went to chora – town – after a day by the pool at the country club. We had dinner at our friends’ restaurant – tomato cucumber salad, fried sardines, lamp chops (eh, lamb chops ;) ), wine and ouzo; our vacation was full of delicious greek food! – chatting the evening away with the owner and his wife, the girls playing and roaming around the town center in true Tinos way. Twentyfour hours later we were driving in cloudy Helsinki, our minds boggled by all the traveling of the day – boat, buses, airplanes, cabs… – and the change of culture and environment. Takaisin sateeseen (back to the rain) as Eppu Normaali sings. I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the start of a new work year in cold Finland. My home country, but so cold in so many ways.

I fell in love with Tinos, just like my boyfriend had several years ago. The people so friendly, the feeling of a community, the Aegean sea, the architecture, the food, the slower pace of life, everything! At the end of our vacation we started to dream of a house on Tinos, a permanent place of our own there. A summer home on the windy island – though curiously enough I didn’t get more than a glimpse of those winds. To dream is good, right? And who knows, maybe our dreams could some day become true.

***

Photos of our trip (in Flickr)

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