Greek Orthodox Easter

4th - 8th April

Since launching on Tuesday, our days have been surprisingly busy. There are tasks and chores in and around the boat still to complete, communication technicalities, and dealing with our current and prospective tenants in Portishead. Paul found a man who may be interested in the old 8 horsepower outboard engine for the dinghy that we are still carrying around, the new 3 HP one is resting in the rear cabin for the time being. And as of today the decks are all scrubbed(!)

Our vessel turns out to be remarkably white. The teak decking and various bits of wood around the place have been scrubbed of algae and mould and all in all we appear much improved. The final purchase of the boat was the not completed until a few weeks ago. We waited for the postman the day we left but he didn't bring the registration document so Jean, our excellent Bristol based adminstrator, forwarded it by DHL. We motored over to collect it from Cleopatra Marina on Wednesday and made use of the marina showers before motoring back over to the town quay again. We are one of the early birds of the season, plenty of room at the quayside at the moment.
Mooring fees at the marina are 35 Euro, whilst at Preveza town quay it is 6 Euro, though it's extra for electricity and water. There are only a few boats in the harbour at the moment but the town is full of Greek visitors here for Easter.
Preveza is a charming and thriving town 4 hours drive west of Athens.
We have found several favourite stores. A bakery with delicious honeyed nutty pastries, a hardware store which sells everything one could possibly want (a medium sized pot, a large rubber washing bucket, nail scissors, nail brush, lightbulbs, mattress protectors, graters, a deck scrubbing brush, tape...). A shop that cuts keys. A Chinese clothes emporium for deck shoes and swim suits. Greengrocers with fresh local produce spilling onto the pavement. A rug shop (a homely way to protect the bilge boards). A fishmonger where the proprietor proudly pointed out to us how some of the fish were still alive. Suddenly we noticed the small slow gasping movements they were doing... 'Very fresh!' she proudly exclaimed.
Easter here is a week after ours this year. Focused as we have been on the launch, we had little knowledge of the local customs. On Friday however the town filled with people promenading along the quay in their finest. Young women in high heels and much make up, the men in their best jackets, and the older generation in suits and dresses. The town brass band with members both very young and very old marched along the quay.
In the evening I thought I heard a male voice choir singing and went to investigate. The sound led us through the restaurant quarter to the the church where the incantations of two priests were broadcast through loudspeakers on the top of the church tower.
A large and well dressed crowd had gathered in anticipation. Eventually some long bearded clergy with tall hats, a few altar boys and two young men carrying life-sized images of female saints emerged from the church, followed by an ornate canopied bier bedecked in red and white flowers carried by four men. Shortly afterwards a procession of people appeared from another church also carrying an ornate bier covered in flowers. Our group joined theirs and all followed in the procession through the streets.
Eventually similar processions from all Preveza's churches congregated in the town gardens where a priest was broadcast speaking to the large crowds, followed by more singing and prayers: the funeral of Christ. As the ceremony came to and end and the biers started to be carried back to their churches, a girl set off a red Chinese lantern right next to us, with a live flame and plenty of wax. When this had floated into the distant sky a whole group of white ones were let off one after the other, and right at the end again a single red lantern was sent off.
One of the lanterns came to an early stop in the wires hanging above the street and carried on burning for some time wrapped around this wire but nobody appeared unduly concerned. We followed a bief back to its church where the four bearer had to manouver it under a low arch to get it back into the church. The whole experience was like a mixture of bonfire night and Christmas, children and old people, everyone was out on the streets. In the crowd a man walked past carrying what I realised from its shape must be a whole lamb, wrapped in plastic, slung across his shoulder, on its way to the spit for the next day.
The next day we returned to the church square at 11.30pm. We were early, the streets were still empty but we knew that Saturday evening the holy flame of Christ arisen is passed from the church to the people and something was afoot for the streets were dark, deserted and silent where they had been bustling and noisy full of people the day before, the only sound was the voice of the broadcast incantations from the church tower as the day before.
Slowly the square filled with well dressed people in family groups, all holding a candle. At midnight a long robed and bearded priest with a magnificent silver tea cosy crown emerged from the church with a large lit triple candle. 'Christos Anesti' - Chris is risen! The flame was gradually passed back in the crowd from person to person till every face was lit by the light of their own candle. Easter kisses and embraces were shared between friends and family, apparentlyl without anybody's hair catching light though there was a slight whiff of burning hair in the air. Loud bangs started to be heard as we returned through in utter darkness apart from the candle light of small family groups, people returned bringing the holy flame to their homes. I barely missed stepping on a large dozing dog, saved only by the light of my iphone as I took it out to try to catch the darkened streets. Very atmospheric. As we returned to our waterborne vessel fireworks and and loud bangs erupted across the bay to celebrate the rising of Christ.
Easter Sunday is feast day, the first day when meat can be eaten after a long period of abstinence. Once again people promenade in their finery. We had heard that all restaurants were closed as people eat at home, and it's impossible to get a meal out. However Paul had met a man in 'Royal Freshness' (where you can pay to connect to water), who said that his restaurant would be open and serving roast lamb, so we sought it out and feasted on Easter dishes such as the traditional delicacy 'Kokoretsi': lamb intestines wrappped around seasoned liver, kidneys and other parts of the lamb. Delicious. We were the only non-Greek people in the restaurant.
IMG_8267-RESIZED_600-copy-RESIZED_600 Proudly displayed on the wall behind us was a photo of some of the 80 whole lambs they roast on spits each year for people to collect and bring home. They had roasted 8 whole lambs for the restaurant just this day. Traditionally roast lamb is served both Sunday and Monday, a lamb from each of your parents' villages respectively.
Tomorrow we will set sail to anchor up in a bay. It has been gloriously sunny, apparently Easter here is often rainy. In spite of the heat the Greeks are generally still bedecked in all their winter coats. The large dogs that lie around the place though already look like they are too hot.