Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Yesterday Giannis took me for a morning outing around a hill known as Vatsina (pronounced Vacheena).  It looms above Skala Loutron, our sister village, a harbor town that was settled by refugees from Asia Minor in the early 20th century. On its crest is the tiny chapel of Panagia Apsili (Madonna on High).  If you want you can climb the 100+ stairs to visit the church and enjoy the awesome panoramic view from her heights. Our quest was to circle around and make our way to the southern slopes where it is said that there is an ancient quarry and stone walls dating to the pre-Christian epoch. 

We parked our vintage Yamaha Townmate by the shipyard near the center of  the village and followed a little trail that winds between old workshops and olive groves, through beds of giant reeds, and emerges quickly at water's edge.  There, in front of the shipyard, is a floating iron dock and the vestigal remains of ships and boats, like this one who is still managing to keep somewhat afloat.

Natural springs of sweet water flow out from beneath the limestone mountain, providing a fertile environment for little creatures.  The rocky shoals are stained vibrant green and purple by the rich waters of the Gulf of Geras, one of two huge bays that stretch far inland, cutting the island into a wonderful convoluted shape.  Our bay is almost enclosed and its warm Aegean currents nourish an incredible variety of sea life.  It also provides us with endless wild shores to roam.  



Giannis decided to test the waters for fish, giving me time to explore, gather and photograph.  Below you can see the road that runs beside the harbor of Skala Loutron, and our village, Loutra, in the distance.

I found plenty of treasures, as I do everywhere we wander. Tiny green sea urchin shells were tucked into the drift, blown ashore by the wind and waves.  Giannis pointed out a tonna galea (giant sea snail) tossing in the waves, which I was just able to reach with a long stick. It was empty but a little slimy, so it's going into the compost pile to be cleaned by microorganisms.  Just down the way we saw a live one, and I found one more, an empty shell as big as my outstretched hand. That one also came home with me. 

As we maneuvered the rocky cliffs that encircle the base of the mountain, we came across openings that revealed small meadows and steep walls of limestone rock, crowned by sinuous olive trees.  These weren't the ancient quarries I had hoped to find, but were the remains of limestone quarries that were active until the mid-1900s.

Nearly hidden in the thick brush beneath them were deep round caves of drystacked stone, the remnants of lime kilns.  Giannis' father and many other villagers worked very hard to turn the local limestone mountains into quicklime for building and plastering.  They cut and carried great bundles of thorny oak down the mountainsides to fire the kilns. We run across old lime kilns nearly everywhere we roam, but these were the biggest I have seen.  There were four of them, mostly in beautiful condition, stone arches and all. 

Rounding the western side of Βατσίνα, we came across a little boat that had been blown ashore, made of flimsy fiberglass and pink styrofoam.  It didn't look very seaworthy but made for a lovely photograph.  

We continued around to the southern side of Βατσίνα where we headed inland.  There we found a crumbling farmhouse at the foot of the hill, a few of its plastered stone walls were still standing. 

We didn't climb to the top of the mountain (yet) to find the ancient quarry, but we did discover a section of an ancient marble column in the collapsed porch of the old farmhouse.  It made a convenient plinth to hold up a bearing post and quite likely was a remnant of worked marble from the old quarry that tumbled down or got broken in transit and left behind.

Just as we reached the road, I discovered a trash dump amidst the rubble at the base of the hill.  It contained parts of old clay water jars, rusty cans, broken bottles, old shoes, and other wonderful little remnants from the village that lay just beyond.  My favorite find was a little piece of printed vinyl from a schoolchild's satchel. I rescued it, of course.

Loaded down with goodies, we decided to call it an adventure and head back home for lunch and a siesta.  Next time we'll take the stairs to the chapel and roam around the top of the hill to see if we can find those ancient sites.  In any case, I get just as excited by slightly less ancient ones.


  1. I like your first sentence: Yesterday Giannis took me for a morning outing...
    That sound so dear, and it sounds familiar to me, because this is what my husband did all the time when I first came to Israel more than 30 years ago - and he is still doing it, taking me to places, beautiful or antique, interesting and fascinating, showing and explaining to me all that matters. I learned to love his country and it is mine too now.

    I enjoyed your new post and read it several times and took pleasure in the photos. I never saw such a huge shell. It is just so pretty - I wonder if you will transform it one day into some magic thing! I am truly happy you go on blogging, you have so much to tell! :-)
    Now I am going to listen to that song you posted in the morning...

  2. What a wonderful comment! I've been thinking about it all day...."showing and explaining to me all the matters." That's exactly what my husband does, with endless patience, wisdom, and a whole bunch of wit. We only range within a few miles of our village since we don't have a street-legal vehicle, but that is OK because I have gotten to know our little stomping grounds intimately.

    I feel like I was reborn here. I had to learn everything from scratch,including the language. It sure keeps life interesting. I've been here six years and Giannis says that I've turned into an Ellinida (Greek woman). I'm not so sure but I like that he thinks so. I love it here, the slow pace and the four seasons and the warm people and the supportive community where everyone knows my name. I feel honored to have been adopted by this amazing and beautiful place.

    I'm so glad you like my post. Yes, that is a splendid big shell and I'm turning it around in my head until a design comes out. I think it might become a rooty light fixture.

    I'm having fun lots of fun blogging! Thanks so much for inspiring me and for being a good friend. :)