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Halki island: a journey into a different time and space

Six thousand words about this tiny magic island are touching only the surface. I give you an insight through my eyes, through the hospitality of my local hosts and through the honest memories of a local woman of the island. Tales from the past and the present. For the ones who want to discover deeply, for the real travellers a teaser of Halki island is written here below.

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I am not obsessed only by discovering Rhodes island, but the whole Dodecanese archipelago. Although the main focus of my researches and trips were always Rhodes, I wanted (and still want) to understand more about the whole geographical, cultural environment of this island. I wanted to understand the connection and the influences between these islands of the same group. The first thing I realized after my trips, is that I would find more differences than similarities between these islands. All of them has unique identity and character based on the shape of each island, its natural flora and fauna, the location, natural phenomenons, historical events, and so on. Each island is a unique land and unique world.

It is a wonderful, exciting discovery still in front of me, because I haven’t visited yet all the 15 inhabited islands of the Dodecanese. After visiting Symi, Kastellorizo, Kalymnos (plus Telendos), Patmos, Nisyros, finally in October 2018 I took the boat to the tiny Halki – which is actually the closest island to Rhodes and according to the size it is the 4th smallest inhabited one on the Dodecanese with an area of 26,99 square kilometers.

Island Population* highest elevation (meter) area (km2)
1 Kastellorizo 492 273 11,98
2 Agathonisi 185 209 14,5
3 Lipsi 790 277 17,35
4 Chalki 478 601 26,99
5 Nysiros 1008 698 41,6
6 Patmos 3047 270 45
7 Kasos 1084 550 49
8 Symi 2590 617 58,1
9 Tilos 780 645 64,525
10 Leros 7917 320 74,172
11 Astypalaia 1334 506 97
12 Kalymnos 29452 700 134,5
13 Kos 33388 843 290,3
14 Karpathos 6226 1215 324,8
15 Rhodes 115490 1216 1400

*datas from 2011, source: wikipedia

 

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Map of the Dodecanese / source: http://www.united-hellas.com

 

My trip to Halki was probably the most unique one of all. It is mainly because I was hosted and guided by a lovely friend of mine, Irina Gaisenok (a wonderful woman from Belarus married to a Greek man from Halki) who lives on the island with her husband for 5 years now and does a lot in general to highlight the beauty of this tiny island beside guiding – which is her great passion. It is very different when you are hanging out with a local somewhere, because they will take you to the best places (restaurants, beaches, sites, whatever) according to their everyday experience. And also, you can be an insider with them participating in events that they never advertise anywhere, so tourists would never know about it and they can introduce you to some other local characters who can make you richer with their stories, memories. ONLY the simple daily everyday life behind the scenes of mass-tourism and marketing can show you the real character of a place with its own nature. If you have the chance to experience that with the help of local people, your impression about a place will be much more intense and memorable. All the experiences go to a deeper level and can give you a better understanding about the place you visit. It is a gifted situation.

Halki lays 6 kilometers away from Rhodes island on the west and you can see it from many spots on Rhodes, especially from the villages and castles of the west coast.

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Halki island from Kritinia Panorama / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Halki island from Attaviros Mountain in a winter sunset / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Alimia and Halki island from Kritinia castle / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

During the summer season boats are available between the two islands on a daily basis from Kamiros Skala or Kolona harbor (Rhodes town). And the only way to approach Halki island is via the sea since it doesn’t have an airport.

I left Rhodes from Kolona harbor on the 18th October 2018 with the boat of Dodekanisos Seaways 8:30 in the morning. And although it was end of summer season, that October was the most pleasant month for me on the Dodecanese with its gold-bronze colors, mild sunshine, perfect weather, just with a few tourist around… It was the dream month perfectly highlighted the beauty of the islands, perfect for hiking, even for swimming, sunbathing without getting burnt by the sun.

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Kolona harbour, Rhodes town – the port of Dodekanisos Seaways’ boats / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

The boat reached the shores of Halki within an hour and when we started to approach the port all the passengers on the boat were taking photos of the fairy-tale like fishing port village, Emborio (or Nimborio) with its colorful neoclassical houses with red tiled roofs built in amphitheatrical shape around the harbor. 

So we arrived to the tiny Greek island and municipality of Halki (which was incorporated to the Greek state in 1948) and which is characterized by UNESCO as the Island of Peace and Friendship.

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Harbor of Emporio village, Halki / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

Peace – it is not a question. Halki is one of the few places on Earth where humans do not dominate nature, so you have the chance to enjoy a very grounded, calm, quiet time here. First of all without traffic. Because of its small size and the fact that it has only one village, people really do not need a car or vehicle here. No car or motorbike rental is on the island. And although some locals have vehicle, they barely use them and after 19:00 traffic is prohibited in general on the island. There are 2 private minibus services that transports the tourists from the port to some other spots, but one can always hitchhike, because it is very normal here that locals transport each other up and down on the one and only road of the island. You will not hear the noise of motorbikes, cars, and this is a silent healing effect that works immediately. Your mind calms down from the first moment of your arrival.

There is no nightlife really, except a few nice taverns, cafés around Emborio’s port by the sea. Halki is a quiet place for people who respect and appreciate this tranquility. Within 6-7 minutes walking distance you find everything that you need and what the village provides: few mini-markets, grocery store, one bakery, coffee-shops, restaurants, the port office (for the boat tickets), one pharmacy, a lovely gift shop (To Louloudi) or two. The harbor has a beautiful church built in 1861 dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the protector saint of the island (and the parton saint of the sailing men in general) with the highest bell tower of the Dodecanese.

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Emporio village, Halki / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Detail of the bell tower, Halki / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

After my arrival I just wanted to have a quick impression about the harbor so I had a walk along and finally sat in the lovely Blue Marine café-gelateria for a breakfast. The service was very very friendly and I could not resist photographing the view all the time – such a charming environment… When Irina came to “pick me up” we decided to go for a swim to Pondamos beach, which is the most popular beach of the island. It was easy to walk there in 10 minutes from the port. I wanted to enjoy all the last rays of sun, and this beach was a piece of heaven to chill with its golden sand and shallow water. This time of the year only a few people were around – no crowd at all, very clean beach, crystal clear water, fine sand. (apartments by the beach at the end of this article!)

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Dear #october , I like you. I wish you could stay forever here on my beloved #dodekanisos … because this month is the most beautiful and peaceful here. Just like the last slow moments before sunset. The warm sunrays kisses you just before the chilly winter days come. Perfect Sea, bronzing Sun, warm days and cool (but not cold!) lovely starry nights. Nobody is running anywhere, people are slowing down after another busy demanding season. These are the moments of releasing and letting go. From active to passive. Slowly we change, the season changes. Love it soo much! 🤗❤️🇬🇷🌊☀️#autumn in #greece #halkiisland #dodecanese #aegeansea #mygreekislandlife #ilovenature

A post shared by 𝙈𝙖𝙧𝙞𝙖𝙣𝙣 𝙇𝙞𝙥𝙘𝙨𝙚𝙞 ~ 𝙄𝙡𝙞𝙤𝙨 𝙖𝙧𝙩 (@iliosart) on

Right next to the beach there is the two-floor beach tavern called Nick’s Taverna that belongs to Irina’s husband’s family and possesses her father-in-law’s name, Nikos who is actively working there too. The tavern (which is open since the 1930s) offers traditional Greek kitchen with an incredible view and spacious terrace and many seats everyday during summer. As I learnt, in Halki there are always very special tourists (rather travelers that tourists), some of them are really artistic ones. This time the tavern was full of painters who were working on watercolor paintings inspired by the island.

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Nick’s Taverna Pondamos Beach, Halki / photo by Mariann Lipcsei

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Decoration at Nick’s Taverna Pondamos Beach / photo credit: Nick’s Taverna

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Pondamos Beach, Halki / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

After a healthy dinner right before sunset we took the walk back to Emborio to Irina’s place through the cemetery which also has a church. The road was empty, we heard only the waves and the wind. It was so quiet that we almost heard the sunset… Huge cypress trees in the cemetery are not unusual. They are the symbols of sky, immortality, hope and mourning. You can find them often in Christian and Muslim cemeteries to help get rid of the evil spirit.

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A little chapel next to Pondamos beach / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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A moment before sunset from the cemetery / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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Cemetery on Halki / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

We saw wild chickens all around on the way back home and the three windmills on the hill above the village: Vassilakio, Aggelakio and Andrikakio.

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The three windmills of Halki / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

Finally we picked up an ice-cream from Blue Marine before sleap (just in case 😛 ) and enjoyed the lights and peaceful atmosphere of the harbor.

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Emporio in the evening, Halki / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

I was sleeping on the couch, but those were one of my best nights ever I swear to you. No noise around at all, just the songs of the birds, the mild waves and breeze. This is what we need I am telling you. Living in Rhodes town is such a challenge – in many ways. But I think that one of the most challenging thing there (especially the center) is the constant noise of traffic, the nightlife, the loud motorbikes, and music from the cars in the middle of the night – not talking about the summer nights with clubs, bars and drunk tourists. People get use to these things and they have no idea why they are so stressed. If you want to try some nights without noise pollution, then you should go to Halki and you will feel the difference even after one night!

In the morning I woke up very early to do some photo shoots during sunrise around Emborio. Although it was a bit foggy, cloudy it was a magic walk between the narrow little streets of the village. Of course one should have good shoes and strong legs, because Emborio is like a labyrinth with lots of stairs (and that’s why there is no space at all for motorbikes) between the amphitheatrical formation of the houses.

After my walk I tried to find the house (it was a bit hard in the narrow streets), because I promised Irina, that I would teach her yoga both mornings – I was very happy that I could give her something as an exchange. I have to tell you, that even without “proper” yoga mat, I had my best yoga lessons ever on her balcony. I will never forget the sound of the birds, the light breeze from the sea, the mild October Sun, and the peace that surrounded us. Nature immediately starts its healing session on you.

Before our yoga practice Irina went to ask her mother-in-law, Zaharenia if we could spend some time with her talking about the old times, traditions of the island, and some memories of her about Halki. She said yes, and finally we spent almost the whole day with her being lost in the past, and her exceptional warm loving filoxenia. She had some time to prepare for our arrival until we had yoga and picked up amazing apple pie from the single bakery of the island, Dimitris.

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The bakery of Halki island / photo by Mariann Lipcsei

Zaharenia was waiting for us in a very traditional way, like all the real Greek housewifes. She put the festive tablecloth on, the one that the local women were using for special events on Halki. And for Greeks, when somebody is visiting them in their home is always a special event. This tablecloth was made by Zaharenia’s grandmother and it is more than a hundred years old. Perfectly white, like snow. When we asked her about the secret of keeping a tablecloth white for more than a 100 years, she was really humble and said: “Well, I did not make any career, I am a mother and housewife, so this is the only thing I know how to do.” Getting married at the age of 32, Zaharenia was a bit late compared to the average age in her village. But she told us she is very happy that she was waiting till the right time with her marriage and also with the kids. (this point she gave me some hope :P)

Being the mother of three boys and being a housewife is not something that she is complaining about. I can feel that it is something that she did from the bottom of her heart. Although we all have a certain stereotype about the typical Greek mother in our head, Zaharenia goes against this picture for sure. I have never met such a delicate, sophisticated, humble, polite, peaceful and relaxed Greek woman like her. She is the type of woman who makes you feel comfortable, who makes you forget the age gap between you. Who makes you feel free to be who you are with her love and empathy. We were embraced by her soft, feminine energy all day. Beside the noise-detox, this was the second healing thing for me on Halki.

But let’s go back to the tablecloth now! The only difference between the regular and the special one is that the ceremonial one has colorful patterns on it. The everyday textiles of the house are always monochrome white in the Halki households. With the colors they expressed something unusual – to make a difference for the eyes also. They used them mainly during Easter and weddings. The everyday life of the 20th century’s man was full of symbolism, which was part of the cultural identity and represented a kind of synchronicity with nature. Zaharenia put a lot of different kind of pies on the table and water of course – which has to be in front of each guest in Greece as a basic treatment of hospitality.

Zaharenia was born in this house in 1942 when midwifes helped the mothers to assist their labor in their homes. Actually even now Halki doesn’t have a hospital, so the difference is that today women go to the hospital of Rhodes to give birth to their children. The house was built by the father of her grandmother more than 200 years ago. Of course it went through some changes during the years, especially in the last decades mainly under the influence of Zaharenia’s 3 sons, who did some modernization beside renovation (Zaharenia confessed us that she is missing the old interior very much). The original kitchen was bigger, spacious, full of open wooden plate racks with lots of handmade ceramic plates. Everywhere on each shelves and tables there were white hand crochet tablecloths, just like in all the houses of Halki. These were all made by the women of the households. Zaharenia has saved all of the needlework from her family and she showed us. They looked like brand new ones. All of them were made by her, her mother and her grandmother. She knows the stories of each tablecloth. This was one thing that women did inside the house during the afternoons, evenings by candlelight when Zaharenia was young. The patterns were fruits, mainly grapes, or pears.

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Traditional tablecloth from Halki island / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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Traditional tablecloth from Halki island / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

They did them in different sizes, for different surfaces and purposes: the small ones for drinking coffee, for smoking, and under some pottery. The big ones were made for the dining table, the center of the Greek house. This big size tablecloth took about one month everyday work for a woman. These techniques and traditional patterns are unknown by the present day women of the island. In one generation this tradition disappeared completely, since women today have complete different priorities: they study and they work outside the house. The lifestyle, the everyday practice of life, the design, the objects are so much different than few decades before. Zaharenia said, there might be a few households where until now they decorate the house with these traditional tablecloths – if the woman who made them is still alive.

When Zaharenia was a child the houses of Emporio were not colorful, like today. They were completely whitewashed or having natural stone exterior walls. The size of the houses always showed you the wealth of the family. The two or three-storey houses close to the port were the richest houses and they belonged to sponge-diver, captain, or sea-trader families. The top floor of the houses provided a safe view of the boat of the captains. That’s why also the amphyteatrical disposition: the houses should not have covered each other to ensure the clear sight of the boats in the harbour for each families.

Nowadays there are a lot of newly built houses around Emporio and only the locals know which are the original ones or the new ones. Today the difference is not visible for an outsider, because all the houses are painted with vivid colors and the new houses are being built also in neoclassical style. Zaharenia tells us that the most of the colors appeared only few decades ago on the exterior of the houses. Halki’s houses are very similar to the ones on the other wealthy sponge-trader and sea-trader islands of the Dodecanese: Kalymnos, Symi and Kastelorizo. They were the richest islands of the archipelago mainly because of the sponge-trade, so they could afford this architecture which was referring to the glorious classical period of Greece. If we look at also the Cyclades island group on the Aegean, also there we can find few examples like Syros and Andros of the neoclassical architecture because of their better economic situation. In Rhodes town also you can find some neoclassical buildings (the ones that they did not destroy yet…), but not in the villages of Rhodes island.

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Harbor of Emporios, Halki / photo by Mariann Lipcsei

All the houses of Halki were made of the stones of the island and the main walls were standard 60 cm thick which ensured a pleasant temperature inside the house all year around and protected the house from the earthquakes.

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Main wall of the house, Halki / photo by Mariann Lipcsei

On the first floor of the two-storey houses there was the spacious kitchen with an outside area and an oven. They did most of the preparations of the cooking outside to keep the interior kitchen as clean as possible. They were also eating outside whenever the weather let them. Nowadays this has changed also, and all the women are cooking only inside.

Halki also had the melekouni as the traditional wedding sweet just like Rhodes, but in Halki they prepared it in a circle-shaped bronze tray which came from the Ottoman Empire (just like all the bronze materials). On Rhodes they used a big wooden diamond-shaped frame (maybe because they were not so rich as Halki).

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Traditional bronze plate for ‘melekouni’, Halki / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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The traditional wooden trays for ‘melekouni’ on Rhodes / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

Zaharenia told us about the traditional local dishes of Halki:

  • kreas me patates sto fourno / κρέας με πατάτες στο φούρνο / meat and potato in the oven
  • chalkidikí makarónia me kremídi / χαλκιδική μακαρόνια με κρεμíδι / Halki pasta with onion and cheese – probably this is the most famous dish from the island. The women of Halki used to make the special hand-made pasta for this meal. It is a hard work and they dry it on the sun. Zaharenia remembers when she was small and doing it with her mother. Today only 3 women of the village is making the hand-made pasta, but you can taste this dish almost any of the local tavernas. Also Karpathos island has a very similar meal with a different shape of handmade pasta.
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Traditional Halki pasta by Zaharenia / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

  • fakorizo / φακόρυζο / lentils with rice
  • ta fasolia me ta makaronia / τα φασόλια με τα μακαρόνια / beans with pasta
  • arnáki kokkinistó / αρνάκι κοκκινιστό / lamb in red sauce
  • arnáki gemistó sto foúrno / αρνάκι γεμιστό στο φούρνο / stuffed lamb in the (outside) oven. It is a typical Easter meal, where they stuff the lamb with its liver and herbs like peppermint and dill
  • some meals with goat meat – because goats and lambs they have a lot on the island
  • and of course the fish and seafood plates were part of the everyday meals in every household always. Some seafood meals of Halki: fishsoup (with tomato and onion), kalamári me ton rýzi / καλαμάρι με τον ρύζι / calamari stuffed with rice and onion, soupiá me ton rýzi / σουπιά με τον ρύζι / cuttlefish with rice
  • Traditional sweets are: the melekouni for weddings, the xerotigana (with sesam, honey, cinnamon) also for weddings and baptism, and semolina halva

At this part of the conversation Zaharenia wants to cook me literally everything, but we have to remind her that I stay only one more day on the island, not a month. 🙂 She is very sweet, she wants to show me everything!

I keep asking her about the local professions on the island in the past. When Zaharenia was a child, the island had around 1800 inhabitants (today it is between 300 and 400). They were mainly sheperds, farmers working in agriculture, sponge divers, sponge traders, fishermen and sea-captains. Halki had inhabitants also in another village, called Horio (almost every island had a village called Horio or Hora, which was always the capital village built up in the hills because of the pirate threats on the Aegean until the late 19th century) up in the mountains, and also on the nearby Alimia island (which is now uninhabited) and the people did a lot of agricultural activities on these two other areas. So there were three centers, not only one port village. Horio, the old agricultural capital of the island – which is just right under the majestic medieval castle of the Knights of Saint John – became abandoned after the mid 1900s emigration wave, when the sponge-diving centers of the USA and Australia were offering jobs overseas for the talented and skilled sponge divers of the Aegean. According to Zaharenia’s memories in the 1940s, 50s the families on Halki had at least 3 children on average, and each families had their own olive trees.

Zaharenia shows us the upper part of the house, where she has her family’s heritage, all the objects and old furniture pieces that she grew up with, and of course she kept telling us stories of the past days. Zaharenia’s father – who unfortunately passed away when Zaharenia was 6 years old – was a sea-captain of sponge-diving ships, he traveled a lot and collected a lot of objects from different countries (mainly Turkey and Egypt) around the sea during his routes. What you will read now, are not exactly objects made on Halki island, but the objects that the sea-trader ships brought to the island.

The few objects that we find there:

  • λαβομάνος / lavomanos: this is the piece of furniture I am completely in love with, it is a wooden counter with a ceramic carafe. It was in the bedroom, so when they woke up, they started the day with washing the face. I saw this piece of furniture in several houses on Rhodes also, so now I put a photo of a lavomanos from Rhodes, Koskinou village:
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Lavomanos in Koskinou village, Rhodes / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

  • ceramic holder for soap of comb
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Ceramic soap holder, Halki island / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

  • baskets, which were decorations on the wall in the daily life and then during the weddings they put the sweets inside them
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Traditional baskets for sweets / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

  • textile pictures, photographs in wooden frame
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The symbols of faith, love and hope / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

  • typical wooden furniture piece with mirror and umbrella stand
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Wooden furniture on Halki island / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

And now we change room. We leave the bedroom and the lobby, and we enter the big salon, where Zaharenia is preserving many personal family objects. Her father had 6 brothers and 2 sisters, so there are some family portraits of course. Imagine 9 children in one family which was not unusual those days…

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Detail of a house on Halki / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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Inside of a Halki house / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

You have no idea what to stare, because there are so many interesting objects from the past and from another culture… I wish I could hear all the stories around these objects.

On this photo below you can see the huge sponge as a decoration and as an object for growing beans. Under the sponge on the small wooden stand another handmade tablecloth.

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Inside of a Halki house / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

And their suitcase for the travels (not suitable for low-budget airlines for sure):

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Inside of a Halki house / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

Then we sat down Zaharenia, Irina and me and we were listening Zaharenia’s memories. Irina was translating and I kept asking about different customs from her young ages and more about the everyday life.

She said, when a child was born in the family 7 days after the birth family members came to visit the baby and brought presents to the newborn. Everybody brought whatever he/she could. Common presents were golden jewels, golden coins, ceramics.  The family made a big wooden box for this occasion, that they closed after everybody put the presents inside and they opened it only on the wedding day of the child because this was finally the present for one’s wedding to start her/his new life. When they had this gathering, the women of the family made the traditional sweet xerotigana / ξεροτήγανα. After the second World War during the big poverty most of these boxes became empty unfortunately, because people had to use whatever they had to buy food. It was very rare if a family could preserve this tocher. In this big poverty after the war many traditions, customs became forgotten, because people could not afford certain ingredients of these sweets and dishes, and also there were no reality for these kind of celebrations.

While talking Zaharenia sighs and says: “I love this house so much. For me this house is like a living person. Carries so much memories…” She says that she can hardly get use to being alone here, because this was the house where generations and many family members lived together in the same time, and where the members of the family helped each other always, especially the young ones helped the elders. There was life, there were sounds and bustle always in the house. It was never empty or silent.

During her young ages the everyday life was well organized and there was always an activity that they did together. Of course the daily life of women and men was different.

The women of the house on Halki started the day very early, they woke up around 5 o’clock (or with the sun) and first of all they cleaned the courtyard in front of the house, because this was the first visible part of a home that people saw from the street. This had to be clean first. After they cleaned the inner rooms of the house and then they cooked for the whole family. But Zaharenia’s family was really big, so it took a long time and it was a big job. In the second part of the day they were fixing the clothes of the household (washing, hanging, folding) and did some needlework together. Of course not every woman of the island was talented in these works, so the talented ones did tablecloths also for the ones who asked for it. Like in every small community: people shared everything (knowledge, goods, food, etc.) Zaharenia was very talented in needlework and she wanted to be a dressmaker and study this on the neighboring Rhodes. Unfortunately her mother could not afford the expenses of her studies (it was after the war) and also (as the only daughter) she needed Zaharenia next to her in the household.

The girls and the women of the families went out to the harbor and the beach only a few times for a walk. Actually Sunday was the “official” day for them to go out and sit inside the village kafeneion /καφενείων which traditionally (all over Greece and on the Balkan in general) was a place only for men to drink coffee, socialize, play cards and tavli (backgammon), gather the news and talk about politics. So the girls were waiting for each Sunday to go out and also to eat the one and only sweet of the kafeneion: the vanilla. They were selling it with a spoon and put them into a glass of water to make it soft, and then they ate it like a lollipop.  But women could not afford going out every Sunday. If the household required more work (around special events, celebrations), then they stayed at home and did the necessary work and preparation. So the priority was the household. Only if the house was clean and everything was done there, only in this case they went out. The women were in bed already around 20:00 – 21:00 o’clock and the the biological clock woke them up around sunrise.

The routine of the men was a bit different, because they woke up even earlier than the women. Some jobs required to wake up at 02:00 o’clock in the morning! For example some agricultural jobs in the mountains, since people had to take the donkey to go up there from Emborio and they wanted to avoid the big heat during the summer. Of course men did not have only one day dedicated to leave the house, they were out all the time because of the jobs and they went regularly to the kafenion as mentioned above – but of course only after all the jobs were done. They were drinking there Greek coffee or ouzo, or wine with some mezedakia (Greek word for small plates of apetizers paired with spirits). They didn’t have beer that time.

The social meeting point for men and women together was actually limited to: 

  1. church ceremonies and services (weddings, baptism ceremonies)
  2. traditional religious festivals of certain orthodox saints and churches (in Greek they call them panigiri / πανηγύρι) – since Halki is a small place, there are only 2 panigiris around the whole year. One is on the 15th of August (δεκαπενταύγουστος) in Horio by the church of Panagia Horiani. And the other one is on the 29th of August at the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Alargas much further from Horio close to the highest peak of the island. On these festival the locals even today gather at these churches and eat, drink together, they play traditional music and dance Halkidiki sousta, which is a very old traditional “tribal” circle dance of the islands of Greece. Each island, and imagine: each village has its own typical sousta. One community = one sousta. But you will read more about this in my upcoming book. 😉
  3. So just because they wanted to gather more, they celebrated the namedays very often at each other’s houses, where they played music and were singing songs. Zaharenia told us that the traditional folk songs of Halki are beautiful ones, they talk about love mainly, and the stories of each song are always meaningful, beautiful stories. The traditional instruments of Halki were the lyra, the laouto and the mandolin. And the island had a female musician group who played the mandolin. It was mainly used by women.

Just a few words finally about these differences between men and women back in those days. I asked Zaharenia to summarize the roles, or tasks of each sex inside the community, so she said: “The women were working in the household, they took care of the children, they prepared the food for the family. Maybe there were some teachers amongst women, but mainly they were in and around the house. The husbands were working outside. *Women mesa, men exo. And this did not mean that the women were ‘closed in a cage’, only they did their duties around the house. With this set-up we protected the structure of the family. And we accepted it completely.” 

/*Women inside, men outside/

The last thing I asked from Zaharenia was about the small size of Halki. I wanted to know if she ever felt deserted or if she ever wanted to live in a bigger place. She said yes immediately. “I did not want to leave Halki, because it was a “bad” place, no. I just wanted to see the world out of Halki and see how is life on a bigger land.” When she was in Athens with her aunt in 1967 she saw the big ocean-going vessels that were transporting the Greek sponge divers from the sponge center to the USA and Australia. She really wanted to travel to the USA also, but finally she did not have the chance, because of the same reason why she did not go to Rhodes neither: her mother needed her in the household. She felt a kind of loss because of this, but she understood the reason of course and she said she would have felt guilt if she left her mother, so she accepted and was okay with staying on Halki finally.

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Emporio, Halki island / photo: Mariann Lipcsei

After our long journey to the past, we went back to Zaharenia’s kitchen, where she decided to show us how to make ‘halva’. The recipe will be available in another blog post to tell you all the details. 😉

Before we started the halva, she made us omelette and Irina prepared a quick salad from the vegetables she found.

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Omelette by Zaharenia / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Zaharenia cooks with 100% pure sea salt from Halki / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

In the household of a Greek woman you cannot avoid the special treat of the ‘spoonsweets’, or in Greek: γλυκά του κουταλιού. The name talks: they are so sweet that you can eat only one spoon and drink a lot of water after. These are the Greek marmalades from different fruits of the season. They always serve them on small glass plates with a small spoon. So did Zaharenia also after the omelette.

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Homemade spoonsweet from Zaharenia / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Zaharenia is preparing halva / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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“Fresh” hot halva with cinnamon / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

It was such an amazing time with this admirable Greek woman, she treated us like queens and she expressed her love and care towards us in many ways. She showed us her little garden (κήπος) with some fruit trees and herbs and flowers (which was – and still is – also part of the houses on Halki) and gave us a beautiful bouquet.

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Garden of Zaharenia / photo by Mariann Lipcsei

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Kitrolemono: they use the skin and white part of this fruit to make spoonsweets of it. Usual aroma of traditional cakes and sweets.

We still had time to join the boys (Irina’s husband, his brothers and some other men of the island) for a very special dinner which took place in the mountains at the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Alargas. Some local men was hunting for perdika / πέρδικα  bird (partridge) and the local women cooked a special pasta from these birds. It was a thing to celebrate, so maybe 20 people gathered up by the monastery to eat together.

I was impressed that these people go to the top of the mountain just to have a dinner there by the old church. On the way we passed Horio and saw the Panagia Horiani church and also the ruined medieval castle of the Knights of St. John. While driving on the curvy road we felt the smell of the fragrant herbs of the hills, like thyme, sage and oregano. We went up to the clouds. Literally. And because of the humidity of these clouds, in the past locals did here agricultural activities growing certain vegetables and beans.

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Halki – Horio / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Halki – on the way up to Agios Ioannis monastery / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

It was cold up there by the monastery and almost already dark. Even if I did not see the view, it was very clear to me that this place is very special. It is up there in the middle of nowhere. No people, no artificial lights, no noise at all, only you and nature.

We went inside the church to have a look inside as well and we burnt candles outside. The thing that impressed me the most was the huge huge tree in front of the church. When the island celebrates one of its biggest holidays – the festival of Agios Ioannis on the 29th of August – everybody is dancing around this old beautiful tree. It is possible to stay here overnight in one of the cells of the monastery which are really comfortable ones. That night some of the guys stayed there too, because they started hunting very early in the next morning around the area. One-two older women (local mothers) came and prepared and served the food. I have to admit that Greeks are such amazing organizers when it comes to food… 😛

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Agios Ioannis monastery Halki island / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Agios Ioannis monastery Halki island / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Agios Ioannis monastery Halki island / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Agios Ioannis monastery Halki island / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Agios Ioannis monastery Halki island / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

Our next morning started again with yoga and then a nice walk in the harbor. The fishermen were busy down there…

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After our morning walk we had a visit at Zaharenia’s house, where she offered us halva. She already started to prepare the Halki pasta for us.

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Semolina halva by Zaharenia /photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

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Traditional handmade pasta from Halki / photo credit: Mariann Lipcsei

Then we left for another amazing swim at Pondamos and sunbathing under the last sunrays of summer 2018. After this rest we had a little hike to Giali beach, which is not an organized one. It is such a wild area and has turquise water with a view on the high mountains. Wild and beautiful. Of course it was completely empty when we went there, except the one and only old fisherman who lives a 100% self-sustaining life just next to the bay with his sheeps. There were fragrant herbs on the way again and unbeliveable view.

Then we had a little time to run up to the castle in Horio before the Sun went down. 😉 Or at least we approached the castle, because Irina did not let me to leave the island without seeing the stone throne of Zeus and Hecate. Although we had to run up and I couldn’t breath, it was really worth it.

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Throne of Zeus and Hekate / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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Up, close to the caste in Horio, Halki / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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Throne of Zeus and Hekate / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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View from the throne / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

To crown the day we were the guests of Zaharenia for bean soup and traditional Halki pasta for dinner.

I have no words for the filoxenia, for the tastes and all the wonderful nature and sights of this island. I did not see everything of course, but I saw more than I ever thought. This tiny island has so much to offer especially for people who admire tranquility, simplicity, quality and nature. Of course I will continue my discoveries on this tiny island, because there are so many things to visit yet…

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Zaharenia’s dinner / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

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Tha famous Halki pasta by Zaharenia / Photo: Mariann Lipcsei

For the ones, who would like to spend more days on the paradise of Halki I highly recommend the following accommodation at Pondamos beach, which is operated by Irina and her husband’s family just like Nick’s taverna.

More information and bookings HERE.

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Pondamos Beach / Photo credit by Taverna Pondamos 

See you on Halki! ❤

 

 

This entry was posted in: Blog ENG, Culture & Travel, Greece, Nature & Food

by

Hungarian woman using writing and photos as an expression. Researching about authenticity, integrity, human values, cultures, rituals, Nature’s wisdom and diversity, women's health, self-awareness, self-healing. Working on her first book on Rhodes island. ~ Főként az írás és a fotó nyelvén közlő önálló utat kijárni próbáló gondolkodó embernek, nonkonformistának tartom magam. Témáim a különböző kultúrák, emberi sorsok és motivációk mélyebb szinten történő megismerése és megértése, természet törvényszerűségeinek és diverzitásának megismerése és megértése, nőiség megértése, kibontása, valamint saját magam felfedezése, egy belső-külső tudatosság és az önazonosság fokozása ameddig csak lehet. Jelenleg első könyvemen dolgozom Rodosz szigetén.

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