Friday, July 20, 2018

Amalia and Harry Potter Travel Through Greece


 We are on our annual family summer trip to Greece.  “We” includes Nick and myself, also known as “Papou” and “Yiayia”, daughter Eleni and her husband Emilio Baltodano, and their two kids, Amalia, 6, and Nico, 3.

As always, we are visiting significant family destinations—Nick’s native village of Lia, the island of Corfu where we saw relatives, attended a wedding, and where, eight years ago, Eleni and Emilio were married in two ceremonies (Catholic and Orthodox).  This summer, as often happens, we also get to visit a previously unknown place in Greece, because Eleni is researching and writing a travel article about it.  Two years ago it was Milos, this year it’s Syros—an island of astonishing beauty and world-class restaurants with incredibly good locavore cuisine.

But for each of the six of us, this odyssey through Greece means something different.  For Eleni it’s an exhausting list of beaches, restaurants, historical sites and hotels to research.  For Emilio, it’s a search for the most challenging beaches, underwater caves, and sea life to explore with his snorkel.  For Papou and Yiayia it’s the delight of traveling with the grandchildren (even though keeping up with Nico requires an Olympic class sprinter to catch him before he throws himself off a cliff or into the pool) and also a continuous series of amazing meals, starring exotic seafood (sea urchin salad, squid cooked in its own ink).

But for Amalia, who became obsessed with Harry Potter a few weeks ago, and is doggedly reading her way through JK Rowling’s books about the young wizard, the trip through Greece is simply an opportunity to read in a series of scenic spots.  Her mother won’t let her watch the films based on each book until she’s read the book first. Meanwhile Eleni keeps trying to get Amalia to exercise her Greek language skills when meeting people, and to record her travels in her “Travel Journal for Kids.”

I’ve been photographing Amalia reading at various spots, so as to remind her where we went in the summer of 2018, in case she needs to write an essay about “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” when she begins second grade in the fall.

 Amalia finished book four, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” on the Emirates flight from Newark to Athens, the next flight to Ioannina, and the journey up the mountain to her grandfather’s village of Lia.  Above she’s delving into book five, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in the village house where we stay.  She’s ignoring the wall which contains some of my collection of antique “karangiosis” shadow puppets.  On the right, she is sitting on the terrace of our neighbors Dina and Andreas, oblivious to the view of mountains behind her. 
 Amalia plowed on while ignoring her ice cream at the village general store, then sitting in the courtyard of the village inn, in the company of her grandfather, her brother and the innkeeper Elias Daflos.  And when we drove down the mountain to the swimming hole of Krioneri, to wade in the shallow river, she plunged into wizardry instead. 
From the village, we drove to Igoumenitsa, then took a ferry to Corfu, but Amalia never stopped reading.  At our Air BnB apartment on the beach of Barbati Riviera, she made great progress while perched atop a sleeping Nico.  In the taverna at Barbati, she was nearing the end of book five.
 One day in Barbati we hired a boat, driven by Emilio, to explore beaches, caves and sites on Corfu’s coast.  Amalia was intently reading while we had lunch in a beautiful tavern at Agios Stephanos, but on the way back she actually stopped reading because she was getting seasick.
By the time we left Corfu to fly to Syros, book five was finished, but Amalia’s parents said they wouldn’t hand over book six, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” until she had caught up her entries in the travel journal.  She also wanted to write some stories of her own.  On Tuesday, Amalia and her mom took a taxi to the top of the medieval town of Ano Syros and walked down.  Eleni explored while Amalia wrote.  In the photo at right you can see in the distance the town of Hermoupolis and the blue domed Church of St. Nicholas.

Later we went shopping in Hermoupolis and the grandkids sat on the step of a store while Amalia wrote:  “My name is Amalia.  My favorite things to do are to read Harry Potter and to watch scary movies and lovable grown-up movies.  My favorite colors are….”
All this industrious writing got Amalia the prize.  Her papi handed over  “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” while they were visiting Vaporia-- the section of the city that once was a center of shipbuilding.  (There’s even a cat café there to provide food and care for some of the island’s many stray cars.)  Amalia was quickly into the new book.  I wonder where she’ll be by the time it ends?

Her mother recently asked Amalia what was her favorite place in Greece so far on this trip.  Her reply, “A place where there’s nothing for you to point out to me.”

P.S.  Every time I try to tell her some tidbit of fact or fable inspired by our surroundings, Amalia says, “Yiayia, you’ve already told me that story 65,000 times.  Don’t tell it again.”  Then she’s back to Harry Potter.