If you want to see an olive before it is picked, you must visit Greece where the fairy tale about the oldest cultivated tree fully unfolds.
The olive began its journey in Africa. Later it was spread by the Phoenicians to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. In Europe, the tree was first cultivated in Crete more then 5000 years ago.
Around 600 B.C. the olive tree reached Greece, Italy, and other Mediterranean regions.
The city of Athens was named after the Goddess Athena who brought an olive tree. For the Greeks, the olive isn’t only a symbol of peace, wisdom, and victory, but also of national pride.
'Yaso, Yaso …Where to?'
‘Yaso, Yaso…’ greets us from a young man at the security check point of the freeway, he continues, “Where are you going to?” ‘Yaso’ is the word for ‘hello’ in the Greek language. The bus slowly passes through the border between Bulgaria and Greece, and it dives into the Mediterranean climate of this southern country.
Gradually the bus picks up speed on the freeway and suddenly the landscape changes. Greece, located at the southeast corner of Europe, is considered the southernmost country in the Balkan Peninsula.
Soon after crossing the border, perfectly lined up and trimmed fields of olive trees are revealed before the eye. Interestingly enough, every kilometer has a small chapel with candles and fresh flowers. ‘The people here are keen on this; everything has to be bright, clean, and ordered,’ says our travel guide George.
The houses are no more than three to four meters tall. Only in the big cities can one see high rise buildings. The style however, is the same everywhere–white houses with sunshades and flowers hanging out of windows and over terraces.
Salonica—Tucked Away in a Corner of the Aegean Sea
Thessalonica or Salonica is the second-largest city in Greece. It is located at the corner of the Aegean Sea. My first thought after standing on the wharf in Thessalonica Bay was that the sea water looks like a lake.
In Salonica, Hemingway’s writings about everything close to the sea and in the countryside is absolutely true. The coastal streets are flooded with small coffee shops with gorgeous views of the water. Everything is complete. Beautiful, young, well dressed men and women are sitting everywhere in chairs under the outdoor heaters speaking more often than not in Bulgarian.
It turns out that from the beginning of October to the end of November, the city is full of Bulgarians, Macedonians, and Russians.
Something else is making an impression at first sight – the beautiful architecture, the numerous traffic lights, walkways, trash cans with ashtrays, and the well groomed and clean gardens…
‘Ouzo for you and money for us’
If you visited Greece and did not taste Ouzo, it is as if you haven’t touched the soul of the Greeks. This is what a man told me who visits Greece very often.
Ouzo is an anise-flavored spirit that is widely consumed in Greece. It is similar to pastis in France, or Sambuca in Italy, and other countries in the region. It can be consumed undiluted or mixed with water, but definitely cooled, and as an appetizer served with sea food. The drink is also a popular gift for friends and family.
"Ouzo for you and money for us" is the motto of a barman in one of the biggest resorts in Greece, the Paralia Katerinis. The Greek Riviera, as people call it, is packed with masses of tourists. Even when the session is over, the shops still stay open until 11p.m.
The vendors speak a mixture of Bulgarian, Russian, and Serbian, most likely dictated by the crowds of tourists form these countries. They offer prices half off the regular. Everything is illuminated by the night light and Greek music flows from every restaurant. Most of them offer seafood delicacies and of course Ouzo.
Discover ‘Meteora’ Where Human Meet the Divine
While engrossed by the Greek traditional men’s shoes with tassels and by the well pressed pleated women’s skirts in store displays, I hear exclamations around me. I raise my head and a breath taking scene is displayed before my eyes—the stone cliffs beyond the city of Kalambaka, otherwise known around the world as "The Meteora."
The Meteora translated from the Greek means "suspended rocks" or "suspended in the air" or "in the heavens above." The Meteora is also known as "The Monastic town" by the locals, and it is one of the largest and most important monastic complexes of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is built on natural sandstone rock pillars.
The monasteries attract multitudes of tourists all year round wishing to touch what is human and met by the divine. This architectural complex consisted of 24 monasteries in the past. However, there are only 6 currently in service, which are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The history of Meteora dates back to the 11th century A.D. However, the first monasteries were not built until the 14th century A.D. It was not until the 16th century A.D., when most of the monasteries were completed.
The most visited of all monasteries is The Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration (Metamorphosis) of Christ or also known by the locals as the Great-Meteoron. It is the largest and at the highest elevation. The view atop the monastery is stunning. Your soul is as if taken off by a spiritual breeze. The camera shutters and flashes are the only thing that bring one back to reality.
Eventually, you must take a deep breath and relax. Next, experience the Ouzo. The taste of the olives and persimmons is what memory remains of Greece—the cradle of civilization, land of philosophers, birthplace of the Olympic Games, and a history spanning more than 8,000 years.