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Greek translation Greek dictionariesEleni Vainas [ CV ]
Tolo, Athens Playground

I sit on a jasmine-scented balcony in Tolo, Greece, a small village seven kilometers past Napflion on the Peloponnese, overlooking a hillside that runs down to the sea. Before me in the Bay of Tolo, rock-mounds that are tiny islands, Romvi and Koronisi, seem large, floating, touchable from shore. It is as if the Gods closed their eyes and strew rocky outcroppings: some green, habitable, some not.

At night, a monastery and the tiny island it is on is covered with lights, a miniature fairy castle in the night; another island to the right is so dark, so close I feel its looming presence.

There are no known ruins here, no museums or famous works of art to draw in hordes of people. Tolo has other attractions that make it sought-after as an Athenian and tourist playground. A two-plus hour drive from Athens, it holds beauty, a sun- and water-oriented day life centered around its exquisite sandy beach; a night life replete with visiting, eating, talking, laughter, dancing. Many city-dwellers keep apartments here and the weekend population swells on Friday nights. This is a good, small-scale party town!

Proximity to Athens helped solidify its discovery by other Europeans as well: Italians, French, Germans, Austrians and English all have made this area their destination, with easy day trips out to museums and historical sites in the Peloponnese such as Mycenae, Nemea, Epidauros, Corinth, or out to Athens and other areas on the mainland: Delphi, Mystras. Several tourists I met at my hotel were repeat visitors to Tolo; indeed, it was my second time! There is a large year-round English population here as well. It's a wonderful place to combine water sports and true relaxation in the sunshine with the option of sightseeing.

With water to the left, you enter the long, thin, village on Boubalinas Street which juts sharply to the right then left to become Sekeri Street. This is the main street in the village, with everything centered around it, either growing up the hillside for a block or two or moving down one street to the water. In daytime Tolo, male and female bikini clad tourists walk this main street to and from beaches, restaurants and lodging. At night, the same street becomes a carnival of sorts, flooded with people walking to see and be seen. Transformed into well-dressed, sun-kissed tourists, they vie for attention with the most stylish women and men of the world.

The shops cater to a varied clientele; there is lots of gold and silver, clothing; beach rafts and sand pails: tourist fare next to shops with goods as exquisite as any in Paris, Rome, New York, London.

In one store at the end of Sekeri Street, there is entertainment along with your shopping: a carver stands in the window and works at his lathe, making everything from Olive wood: cups smaller than one-half inch, pencil cups, frames, spectacular crosses and larger wall carvings. The work is beautifully done, with not a tiny piece wasted. Half a block away on the other side of the street there is a store carrying hand-crafted Olive wood pipes. The workshop itself is in a nearby village.

The majority of accommodations, campgrounds, hotels and motels, are on Sekeri Street. My hotel, The John and George, sits on the hillside above, near the end of Sekeri Street and is family owned and run. It has a white marble facade and stunning view and boasts a swimming pool as well as its own section of beach complete with cabanas and wind surfing boards. Though a little pricier than other Tolo hotels, it was recommended by a friend and, welcomed warmly on my second visit, feels like home. Besides, the food is great, the people friendly; you're treated well.

Many traditional Greek restaurants are located on the main street, some serving fresh barrel wine. On the waterfront the more tourist-oriented restaurants serve
both Greek and international foods.

Night time is party time: Tolo is well-known locally for its discotheques. The roads into the village have several clubs where dancing extends well into the morning; in the village itself there are more. American-style discos open at 11 PM; the Greek clubs, with traditional bouzoukee music and folk dancing, at 1 AM. This is, after all Greece, where hot, sultry days are the norm, where the summer sun shines unendingly, making the siesta a necessity, turning the night into a second day. And that is a wonderful thing at any time, but especially here, for the night-time scents of Greece are subtler yet more consuming, the absence of light filling the other senses more fully. The night sky is star-laden, sweet with laughter, aromatics, life.

At the same time, this is still a village; the natives on the whole simple people, living their daily lives as they have for decades: working, visiting each other, enjoying life, glad for the financial transformation that has overcome them due to the tourist trade, somewhat dazed by their success. Somehow, in the living of their daily lives, what they do to live their lives has made them very successful and in some cases, very rich.

One of my favorite places to eat in this village was recommended by an Englishwoman who has made Tolo her year-round home. The Butcher Shop is a restaurant as well as a traditional Greek butcher shop, with whole and half- carcasses hanging in front, a refrigerated case with sausages and meat parts, and a meat cooler. You can buy meat to take home and cook, as in a regular butcher shop, or you can have your meal prepared for you in the restaurant kitchen. Tables are in back under a covered balcony or on a covered porch beside the street where you can watch the nightly parade. This is a family operation, with tables often served by the teen-aged son who speaks some English. The fare is simple and straightforward Butcher's fare: Beef, Veal, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, sausages and souvlaki.

A Butcher first and foremost, the owner knows quality meats. The meat he serves is ordered by the kilo, as it is in restaurants throughout Greece, freshly cut, grilled on charcoal, served simply with lemon.

In the year since I was here the first time, I thought often of the lamb chops I had eaten here before: char-broiled perfectly, liberally covered with oregano, salt and lemon juice. There I go again obsessing about lamb chops, indeed a simply cooked meal. That the owners understand the proper way to grill meats is only one element in this equation; the knowledge that I could never find them fresher and more perfectly selected is another; and the third? Novelty: during my first visit I was astonished to hear the thwack thwack of the cleaver as the chops I had ordered were freshly cut from the carcass. This is getting close to your food!
Barrel wine is available here and in many Tavernas, restaurants and grocery stores in this village. Bring your own bottle and have it filled!

Tolo is extremely proud of its reputation for making excellent wines for family consumption. I am told that many villagers make their own wines or someone in their extended family makes it for them. They learned from their fathers who passed the knowledge down to them; they will do the same for their sons. It is how it has been done in this and surrounding villages for a long time, and it will continue to be a skill lovingly taught. Having tried several of the local wines, I can attest to their quality.

Wherever I find barrel wine in Greece, I usually find good traditional food of the region. I have found that where the restaurateur makes the additional effort that keeping young, chemical-free wine incurs, he usually takes the same care with the food. In many parts of Greece modernization and ease of storage have taken over; the majority of restaurants, particularly those with a mainly tourist clientele, serve only bottled wines. I am happy to find it readily available in Tolo.
Another nice thing about Tolo is that it is small, everything is convenient; a nightly walk up and down the main street several times is typical early evening entertainment. There is often a traffic jam: too many people taking their evening "volta" crowd the streets. Cars often have to wait!

If you are easily bored with small villages, take a bus (hourly) to Naplion, where there is culture, art, many more restaurants and tourist shops and boat tours to nearby islands are readily available.


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