Greece (Ελλάδα)! (Part 2: Katerini & Thessaloniki)

P4213685(You may want to read part 1 of our trip to Greece.)

After a nice stay in Athens we took the train to Katerini (Κατερίνη) in the north. The train ride was uneventful and, apparently, unmemorable.  Our arrival was not, as a large group of our relatives were there to greet us at the train station including my uncle Dagi who had driven down from Thessaloniki. It was quite emotional, actually, especially for my mother who cried quite a bit. We’d prepared the kids for the hugging and kissing and cheek pinching and they weren’t disappointed.


Katerini is a relatively small town of about 55,000 people and is only a few kilometers from the sea, which makes it a popular destination in the summer months. We were there in April and on our only visit to the beach it was completely deserted. One of these days I’m going to go to Greece during summer and lie around on the beach…

The time in Katerini, as usual, was predominately about visiting family.  We stayed with Anna and Yannis, Anna’s daughter Phoevia, Phoevia’s husband Sebastian (who is French in an interesting coincidence) and their very young son Claude. Anna has been an English teacher for many years and Phoevi’s English is also perfect (she’s teaching some English now too) as is Sebastian’s. Their hospitality was amazing and we really had a great time staying with them. My Mom stayed with Nounou just down the street. Nounou was our designated chauffer and took us to see a variety of places, including the famous ruins at Dion and Vergina.

Yanni is the director of the church choir and so the house is very musical.  Both Jack and Daphne enjoyed playing the piano that was in the living room. Yanni is actually writing the authortative book on pipe organs in Greece and he was hard at work both on that book and on getting the choir ready for Easter services. There are only about 12 or 15 pipe organs in Greece and, in fact, one of them is in Anna and Yanni’s house!  Yes, a real pipe organ in the house. The kids actually got to play it and their duet of La Phantome sounded fantastic.

The week culminated with Easter Sunday.  The services were, of course, in Greek but they provided a translation (via headset) in English.  And there was plenty of singing which we all enjoyed. I have to say that the kids were incredibly patient and well-behaved through a service they didn’t understand (in more ways that one!).

My family in Greece comes from the Pontus region (outside of Modern Greek boundaries in what is now Turkey) is actually protestant (evangelical) rather than orthodox.  This is extremely unusual and is apparently a result of the conversion of a single orthodox priest in Pontus. As part of the ethnic cleansing and population dispersal during the early 20th century (happening at the same time and place as the well-known, in the US at least, Armenian ethnic cleansing) many who survived ended up scattered around Greece. Because of their relatively small numbers they petitioned the Greek government to relocate them to a single place, Katerini, so they would have critical mass to have a proper church and evangelical community. And so there is a relatively high concentration of Greek protestants in Katerini.


The day before we headed back to Paris we spent in Thessaloniki, the 2nd largest city in Greece and home of more of my relatives including the famous Theo (Uncle) Daki and Thea (Aunt) Riga. Shannon, Matt, Joyce and I stayed with them 20 years ago and to say we have fond memories of them would be a staggering understatement. Tears still come to my eyes when I remember how well they took care of me when I got sick there. And the expression “it’s not so much” (said by Riga to Matt as she shoveled a giant amount of food onto his plate) is still used amongst us today. They’ve slowed a bit in the 20 years since we’ve seen them, but just barely.

We saw the white tower, had a snack at Daki and Riga’s house, and then went out to a late dinner with a large group of family members, including Theodoros and Gregory and their families.  Daphné always thrives in these late night outings and she was going strong at 11pm.  Jack, on the other hand, kept his schedule and ended up crashing on a couple of chairs.

It was definitely too short a visit but it was fantastic to renew the relationships with our family members there. It was especially gratifying to see Daki and Riga again because I know they won’t be visiting us again in the US.  Hopefully, though, some of the other family members can make the trip to California so we can return a small part of their hospitality.

Lots of photos are available on Flickr.

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