Each time I return to Loutraki after either taking a day trip somewhere or exploring other parts of Greece for a few days, I feel like I am coming home. Loutraki is about 50 miles west of Athens and a couple of miles from the historic Corinth Canal, gateway to the Peloponnese.
As soon as I enter the flat where I stay in Loutraki (see “Why Greece and Italy?” above) I throw open sliding doors to an expansive deck. If it’s daytime and clear, I am greeted with views of snow-capped mountains rising above the turquoise sea in one direction, and rolling green hills rising up sharply above modern mid-story flats in the other. If it’s nighttime and clear, the lights of the city of Corinth sparkle along the distant shoreline.
Most evenings, with my computer in my day pack, I find a good taverna with free WIFI. Here I cozy up to a fireplace, order some Greek food, and connect with the world online. Occasionally I end up surrounded by football fans watching the latest game on flat-screen TV’s. Lots of smoking usually goes on around me in these places, but I’m getting used to it.
One day while my friend Norma was with me from the States, we visited the old Monastery of Agia Marina on the outskirts of town. We climbed a steep hill to the gated entrance, passing a couple of shrines along the way. There we met 90 year-old Dionysia, a charming nun who is a relative of some friends of mine from England. After proudly showing us their small, historic chapel, two nuns treated us to some traditional sweets and then sent us on our way with a plastic bottle full of fresh olive oil.
That day was wet and cold. I was a perfect day to immerse ourselves in a warm thermal spa which was next door to the monastery. The total price for two hours in Loutraki’s famous medicinal waters, including a sauna and steam bath, was US$20.
In the evening we dined with Sophie and Yiorgos, my new Greek friends who own and live in the building in which I am staying. We were the only customers in the taverna. Yiorgos told us that the place used to be full nearly every night, but due to the deteriorating economic conditions in Greece, this has changed.
I was pleasantly surprised by the creativity and enthusiasm of the locals when Carnival was celebrated one weekend. Carnival is a festive season which occurs immediately before he Christian Liturgical time of Lent. The people of Loutraki celebrated this holiday on a Saturday evening with dancing in the streets to live folk music. Many wore traditional dress. The following afternoon a colorful parade of people in a spectrum of outlandish costumes celebrated in the streets, while Greek pop music blasted from nearby megaphones. Many lined the boardwalk at sunset in anticipation of fireworks which were later launched over the water. They packed the nearby cafes and restaurants afterwards.
One morning I woke up to the sound of church bells clanging in the monastery next door. On my way to the bus station I stopped at the weekend street market which was bursting with fresh local produce. I then headed out on a day trip to the historic town of Nafplio.
Day tripping from Loutraki – I love it! (more about this in my next posting)