This Time Last Year – Part 12: Kalamata to Pyrgos

Part of a series of posts that cover my travel to Greece and the USA in April/May 2016.

April 29 2016 – Last Day in Kalamata

I get up at 5.30am. It was about this time on the 29th April 1941 that the thousands of Allied solders still in Kalamata, including my Dad, had no option but to surrender as agreed by the Brigadier. The account in To Greece by WG McClymont states: ” … swastikas were spread out on the beaches as a warning to the Luftwaffe to cease its bombing; the troops were assembled by the now exultant Germans; and for several days trainloads of prisoners were taken north to Corinth and to four unhappy years as prisoners of war.”

I quietly take the bicycle out of the hotel and cycle to the end of the mole, one of the battle scenes from the night before. Seventy five years after the battle, it was serene.

Panorama of Kalamata from the end of the mole.

Sitting at the end of the mole waiting for the sun to rise
Slight breeze
Glad I have my jacket.
It’s Good Friday
Town is quiet
Sea slaps against the rock wall
Gull caws and squees in the distance
Fisherman motors out in his boat.
It’s smells briny.
I hear footsteps behind me
A man and his dog
Kalimera yahsas
Kalimera and a smile
Church bells ring
A bus rumbles, the gentle breeze carrying the town waking up noise across the bay
out to me.

Tom and Rowena are leaving for Athens on the midday bus. But first we are meeting one of the historians at 10am outside the main Kalamata library. They take their luggage. I take my bike. It’s a chance to explore the rest of the cycle trail and the ‘old town’. I get the shock of my life when every time the cycle trail crosses the road – on the pedestrian crossings – the cars stop to give the bicycles priority. I wonder why humans don’t matter.

Depsite being Good Friday, it’s Greek Orthodox Easter and the town is buzzing. Shops are open and cafes are overflowing. There is another surprise when Nick Zervis arrives. His English is excellent. Nick is a historian with special emphasis on the war years in Kalamata, where he has lived all his life. His works have grown to 7 volumes with the first one including the Battle of Kalamata. Unfortunately the library is closed and we cannot see the books. We find an empty table at a nearby cafe. His story is fascinating.

Nick was born in 1927 and was 14 years old in April 1941. His initials are NZ. How thrilled he was when a NZ soldier gave him a hat badge with his initials on. Nick kept it secretly until the Germans came two years later and took 1000 men aged 15 and over, including Nick’s father, to work for the German war effort. Nick, then 16, lied about his age. Fortunately he looked like a 14-year-old and was able to stay. But he was too scared to keep the NZ hat badge in his possession. He never saw it again.

Nick Zervis and Sue, Kalamata, 29 April 2016

My bus to Pyrgos is at 4 pm. I reluctantly leave Kalamata behind me.

What a dirty town Pyrgos is. Rubbish bags are piled on corner after corner.  The hotel I’ve booked into is a long walk away from the bus station. I have to haul my trolley case over kerbs that are 20 cm above the road. But there is a consolation. After settling into my room I hear a knock on the door. It is the owner with a complimentary bottle of wine and a few nibbles. What a nice surprise.

Tsantali white wine from Macedonia in Northern Greece

Later I walk to the town centre to try and find somewhere to eat. But it is now the evening of Greek Orthodox Good Friday. There are hundreds of people sitting at cafes in the town square but it seems everyone is fasting until after the Church Services later.  I eventually find a subway-like sandwich place. I order bacon and salads without the bread.

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