What a historical day for our family. Today we visited Kritou Tera, the village where Zorba’s grandfather was born which is quite close to Pafos in Cyprus, inland in the mountains. When we googled Kritou Tera it said the population was 85. In fact, the population is just 50. It is not a tourist town, and sadly, it’ll probably end up being a ghost town once the elderly residents pass away.
The houses in Kritou Tera, mostly made of limestone, were boarded up, closed, shut. Some were abandoned and crumbling in disrepair, others had signs of life with pot plants out the front. The streets were narrow and winded up and down the hill. Suddenly the road ended. It just stopped in front of trees and what looked liked someone’s property with a dirt track and a water-starved fig tree ahead. Zorba did extremely well to reverse our hire car out of there.
It was 36 degrees in the shade. Ten of us got out of two cars and immediately added 20 per cent to the population. A Sri Lankan carer of an elderly (and presumably wealthy) Cypriot came out and Zorba’s mother Katie asked her if she knew of her father. We wanted to see the house where he was born and grew up. No luck with the friendly Sri Lankan, but she advised us to walk up the hill to the Mayor’s office to ask there.
Windows and doors opened as we made our way up the hill – a hunched over man who must’ve been in 90s gave us a weary nod, a nosey lady peered through the window then moved out of sight. The church, which was quite impressive for a town of this size, was closed. A skinny cat scampered to the shade of a tree. And the Mayor’s office was closed.
Katie walked into the home of an elderly couple whose front door was open. In Greek, she spoke to them, they invited us in, offered us plums from their tree and engaged in conversation with Katie. Using Con’s mobile, the elderly lady called the Mayor who said he would come meet us in ten minutes. He pulled up in a Mercedes, was smartly dressed in leather shoes, black pants and a white shirt with a lace-up neckline. His smile under his big white moustache said he was a friendly chap. Despite not knowing Katie’s father or the house where he grew up, he did write a book about everyone in the town that Katie got talked into buying for 50 Euro. The Mayor apologised that he couldn’t help us, but suggested we walk up another hill to the teacher’s house and ask him.
As he drove off in his Merc, we made our way up the hill to the school teacher’s house. He wasn’t home, but his wife welcomed us to sit under her pergola and offered us cool water. A blessing on such a scorching day.
Within ten minutes, Georgios (pronounced ‘Yorg-gor) entered, looking utterly perplexed at the sudden party under his pergola. Katie stood to greet him and to explain in Greek what we were doing there. As it turns out, her father’s home is just behind Georgois home and he is her cousin! Katie had heard of him, but when she visited Kritou Tera in the 1980s, Georgios wasn’t there, he was in jail for shooting rabbits. Really, he was sent to jail for shooting rabbits? It was a hard story for me to swallow, but the joy of finding a relative and Zorba’s grandfather’s home filled us all with such happiness. Even the boys, Leo, John and Matt (all 11 years old) were happy and patient, politely sitting still while their Yia Yia had time catching up with her long lost cousin.
Zorba’s grandfather’s house was merely three rooms made of stone with a roof made of sticks that was crumpling down. It was fantastic to see the simple way people used to live, and even more fantastic for the young nephews to experience.
We had Cypriot coffee and a delicious Cypriot sweet – Karidaki Glyko – a fresh whole walnut, husk, shell and nut, that’s been leached and then placed in a jar with honey syrup. When I asked, Georgios’ wife Nitsa explained how she made them. The whole walnut fruit had to be soaked in water for seven days, changing the water daily. On the eighth day, add lime powder (which contains calcium hydroxide) to fresh water. Then you have to wash the walnuts three times. You have to be very careful to rinse the walnuts very well after a day soaked in that. Then pierce the walnuts, stick a clove in each one and make the honey syrup with cinnamon and cloves. I found a recipe that is very close to the way Nitsa explained how to make these sweet delicious walnut sweets – click here.
We spent a couple of hours in Kritou Tera and all left on a family high. That’s what this trip is all about and we couldn’t be happier.
Stay tuned, with the help of my young nephews, we plan to make a clip about this unforgettable family experience.