Sunday afternoon, June 18
Yesterday was the wedding – and the day was lovely. It was hot, but clear and not rainy (which some feared). At 6:30 p.m. or so, we processed from the hotel to the church and sat down after taking photographs. Eventually the bride arrived, and the wedding began.
Controlled chaos might be a better way to describe the wedding. An Orthodox ceremony is beautiful to watch and the men’s religious chanting was an extra bonus. The bridal party stood for the entire wedding.
There wasn’t a procession in the way Americans might be used to: the party sort of entered, not to any musical accompaniment. The music was the religious chanting that accompanied the priests reading/chanting/singing of the liturgy.
Instead of the kind of hushed quiet of an American wedding, here you could hear whispers of entire conversations taking place during the ceremony. We also watched as one of the little flower girls dragged her stuffed lamb with her up and down the steps, at one point even wandering behind the priest. Even the photographer moved to capture her travels, but eventually someone (a mother, an aunt?) corralled her and got her to stay put.
The bride’s aunts were a bit taken aback at just how informal a formal wedding can be here. There were people in jeans, and people dressed up. People sat, but others just walked around and kind of jostled for a good location.
The best man and maid of honor were there in part to help with the stephania, the wedding crowns, that symbolize the union of bride and groom. Separate, the two are linked by ribbon, tied together in a bow. After the bride and groom are crowned, they are led around in what is known as the wedding dance, or the priest leading them in several circles. The maid of honor holds the ribbons of the stephania during this, following them in their slow circling.
Once the wedding was over, there was a kind of receiving line right there at the church in front of us. Then we all moved outside and many more photographs were taken. Then it was time to head to the reception, held outside on the patio of a restaurant in the city park. The view beyond us was sloping hillsides, green trees, and a sky that soon began to fade into twilight.
As we entered, we were given a table number and went to our table. Almost immediately servers started their jobs. Soon we had bread, water, wine and appetizers. Our feast continued through a salad course and a huge selection of beef, pork, and lamb. All this was washed down by more water and wine.
The music at first was provided by a band – and before too long, many of us were up and dancing. Eventually, the band was replaced by mix music. Dancing continued throughout the night. I think some of us left about 2 and walked back to the hotel. I slept till about 8:30 a.m., and then got up and packed my suitcases. Some of the group got in about 4, I think.
Today we left Naoussa and took a charter bus to the airport in Thessaloniki. There I rented one car and the mother of the bride rented another. A third car for another part of the group joined us. By the time we got our cars and got out of the airport, we had a caravan of three. Within a few minutes of hitting the road down to Chalkidiki, our caravan had dropped to two. We persevered! We had a map. We had a destination.
I have rented a Jeep Compass, stick shift. Loaded with so much luggage that the view out the back window was blocked, it was easy to drive—on flat land. However, going uphill with four people and a ton of luggage meant that we had a bit more difficulty accelerating. Once more, though, we persevered.
Getting to the area where our hotel was didn’t take terribly long. It was 45 kilometers from Thessaloniki airport to Nea Moudani. Another 15 or 20 kilometers and we were in the resort town of Afitos. Finding the hotel, though, was another story.
We drove past it. Didn’t see the sign. Couldn’t see the sign. Not clearly marked. But the other problem, once we actually located the place (after a phone call) was the parking. One thing the hotel failed to tell us: there was an all-day party. My first thought was that it was a wedding reception: lots of bunting, flowers, music. At checking in, though, we found out that it was not a wedding reception but a child’s birthday party. A very elaborate child’s birthday party.
Finally checked in, I am now sitting on my small patio right outside my room. I am not going with the crew – I am ready to sit and relax. Someone else has taken the keys and all I want is some ice, a diet Coke, and time by the pool. Later, I’d like an adult beverage and food. I may have to drive to the LIDL grocery store just a couple hundred meters away.
Back here, not far from the pool, it is relatively quiet. The birthday party is over. Instead of being bombarded by the bass of pop music, I am instead surrounded by nature: a cypress tree, some pine trees, an olive tree, orange tree, and roses and geraniums right around me. Just behind my two-story room suite (living room/bath downstairs, loft sleeping area up) is the stone wall of the back of this property. Behind it, fields stretch out. Apparently the beach is about two kilometers away, and because I know just how crazy it will be there, I think I’ll skip it.
I’ll sit here, listen to the crickets and the birds, and feel my blood pressure drop. Not bad. And it’s just now 4:30 p.m.
Tuesday June 19
It’s just almost 11 a.m., and I’m sitting by the pool, waiting for others to return.
We’ll spend another day here and then head back to Thessaloniki. Not sure what we’ll do after we drop the car off, but we’ll figure it out.
It’s been a very lazy time here for me – I slept, read, and enjoyed my small patio.
Yesterday we went to the little town near our hotel, returned after a little while, and then ate dinner at the tavern here at the hotel. It was a lovely, lazy day. I’m looking forward to more of them.
There were only a couple of minor problems, and one involved sea urchins — a kind of nasty discovery without benefit of water shoes. But the local doctor even came to the hotel and picked people up, drove them to his office, and returned them. What a switch from the U.S.!
From this point on, the various parts of the group go different ways. The bride and groom and some of their friends will go on to Skiathos. The mother of the bride and some aunts and an uncle will head to Thessaloniki. Two aunts and I stay here a day more. The groom’s parents will return to Naoussa. Two of the friends of the bride and groom are heading to Istanbul from here.
On Thursday, my friend and her sisters and relations will fly back to Houston via Zurich. I’ll catch a slightly later flight on Thursday morning to Athens, and by noon I hope to be in my own apartment for the first time since early December.
I’m ready to wash clothes and stock up the refrigerator. I will meet friends for drinks. I will be home. And in my own bed. Or at least one of them.