Monday, June 20, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: A Church that Grows Trees

Chapter 52: Saint Theodora's Chapel - The Miracle of the Rooftop Trees

Deep in the heart of Greece's Peloponnese lies a tiny church that sprouts trees. It seems hard to believe, but seventeen mature trees literally grow from the roof of this eleventh-century structure, something that scientists have been unable to explain, and that others call a miracle.

The story of the church dates back to the 10th century. In a lush mountain gully near the village of Vastas, lived a girl named Theodora. At the time a law stated that every family needed to send at least one male to fight as a soldier or be forced to pay a tax. Theodora's family was very poor, and to avoid her father having to serve duty, she volunteered. When bandits raided the region, Theodora disguised herself as male, calling herself Theodore. She not only managed to keep her identity a secret, her valient fighting won her many admirers. Among those included a young woman from the region who became infatuated with 'Theodore' and spread a rumor that she had become pregnant by him. Theodora's commander gave her two options: either marry the girl or face execution. Theodora could have saved  her own life by revealing her identity, but this would have caused her father to face punishment, so she did what saints do: took the retribution herself. Upon her death she was heard to cry out: "Let my body become a church, my blood a river and my hair the forest."

Moved by the bravery of this young woman, the locals erected a church at the site of her grave. Legend has it that a river rerouted itself to run beneath the chapel, and that its holy waters nourish the miraculous trees that sprout from its roof. Some say the entire site feels like a living, breathing relic, and there are those who believe Theodora's deathbed wish came true: that her body became the church, her blood the river, and that her hair became the magical forest of seventeen trees sprouting from the chapel's roof. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: Athena Drops a Rock

Chapter 3: Lykavittos Hill

Legend has it that the goddess Athena, flying on her way to install a rock on the Acropolis hill, accidentally dropped the boulder in the middle of the city that bears her name. This 'boulder' dropped by the goddess is known today as the hill of Lykavittos. At a height of over nine hundred feet, this natural rock formation is the highest point in Athens, and, considering the relative flatness of the surrounding landscape, the comparison to a woman's breast isn't too far from the mind. Lykavittos, along with the Parthenon, located atop the Acropolis hill, dominate the Athenian skyline, and are the first things to capture your eye as your arrive in the ancient city from the airport or by sea. Although the name Lykavittos means hill of the wolves, never fear, for you won't encounter any while climbing up the slopes of this natural wonder, only breathtaking views of the city that just get better the higher you go. 

Whether you hike to the summit or ride the funicular, take a moment to gaze out at the magnificent panorama of Athens...

...then make a stop at the Church of St. George, light a candle, and be sure to thank the goddess for dropping that rock.

Monday, May 23, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: Greek Shadow Puppetry

Chapter 66: Greek Shadow Puppetry and Karaghiozis

Ever since I saw The Year of Living Dangerously, a movie starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver which features Javanese shadow puppets, I've been mesmerized by these storytelling figures. Java has characters known as Gareng and Semar, but Greece has one of the most famous puppet character of all: Karaghiozis, which means "dark-eyed." Portrayed as a poor hunchback, Karaghiozis's right hand is always depicted as longer than his left. 

With bare feet and scruffy clothes, he lives with his wife and three sons in a shack across from the Ottoman Palace. His character represents the common everyman with his human faults, and his escapades depict the social and political struggles of life in 19th century Greece. Shadow puppetry is prevalent all over Greece, and Karaghiozis appears in village squares across the country in summer months, but tourists can see this ancient art form at the quaint theater known as Figoures and Koukles, located at 30 Tripondon Street in the trendy Plaka neighborhood of Athens.

Monday, May 16, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: Brettos Ouzo Bar

Chapter 73: Brettos Ouzo Bar - The Most Colorful Bar in Athens

Located just a stone's throw from the first Greek university in Athens is Brettos Ouzo Bar. This oldest distillery in Greece and second oldest in Europe, Brettos was established in 1909 when its founder, Michael Brettos, began distilling ouzos, brandies and other liqueurs. Situated on the first floor of an old Athenian mansion in the city's main shopping district known as the Plaka, this is what Athens looked like before developers tore down the neoclassical buildings in favor of cement apartment buildings. Even for those who don't favor the taste of this licorice flavored classic Greek beverage, a stop at Brettos is a must just to check out the floor to ceiling walls of colorful bottles of pomegranate, apple and mint flavored ouzos and catch a respite from the penetrating rays of the Athenian sun.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: The Snakes of Kefalonia

To celebrate the publication of my book, 100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go, (thank you to all who have ordered it!) I will be featuring images of each chapter.  This week is Chapter 42: Of Healing Serpents and Mummified Saints.

Every August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, thousands of snakes miraculously appear in a church located in the remote mountain village of Markopoulo on the Ionian island of Kefalonia. The legend of the mysterious serpents dates to 1705, when pirates attacked a monastery in the area. To avoid being captured, the nuns prayed to the Virgin Mary and were changed into snakes. Today, thousands of people, such as the little girl pictured above, flock to the village in order to handle the snakes, which the locals believe bring healing, and the region is thought of as Greece's Lourdes.