Once more I decided to go back to Missolonghi to watch the San Simeon custom, but its winter edition this time.
The first time I was there, I was travelling on a limited budget so I had decided to go via no-tolls routes. I had started from Piraeus and on the way to Elefsina, I took the old national road that goes to Thiva, Livadia, Arachova, Itea, Galaxidi, Nafpaktos.
At some point I saw the Rio-Antirrio bridge on my left and I continued to Missolonghi where I arrived half an hour later.
By doing that itinerary I drove for more kilometers but it was much cheaper. I had avoided the tolls of the Highway and also of the bridge. Also, since the roads were pretty narrow, I could not speed so I consumed less gasoline.
That particular time, I decided to take the Highway, a more relaxed trip. It’s been many years that works are being constructed along the highway between Corinth and Patra so the road is narrow in many of its parts. I stumbled upon a truck which delayed me a lot. At about 205 klm from Athens, I arrived to Patra. One previous time I had crossed the bridge and I had paid 15 euros approximately.
That specific time, I chose to use the ferry and it cost me about 5 euros. And in less than 10 minutes I was on the other side of the Corinthian gulf. Also, it gave me another perspective of the bridge. Just before arriving in Missolonghi, I saw the sign showing the way to San Simeon monastery. I chose to check the place even if I was there one day earlier.
The route and the surroundings impressed me a lot. I was planning to sleep at the car but the place there was isolated and dark so I decided to go to Missolonghi and look for a room. After all I knew that I would pass the next evening with the people celebrating at the feast. The next morning I drove up to the monastery. There are a lot of small houses around the monastery which the people use to celebrate all night long.
One of them was already open with people preparing the interior. I approached them in order to find out more about the celebration, what time does it start, what are the main events etc. They were very friendly, they bought me coffee and food. Little by little all houses were prepared for the feast.
I visited all cause every one was different. During the evening mass nothing special happened. But then big groups of people started gathering to celebrate. Each group had its own musicians. The musicians were mainly Roma. Usually a couple of them were playing the «tsabouna» and one was playing the drum. The tables were prepared and the people had found their seats.
Plenty of food and drinks along with music were the basic elements that contributed to a great atmosphere. While dancing, some people were throwing dollars. That was their way of payment of the musicians. In the older times, they were throwing drachmas but when Euro time came, the banknote with the smallest value was the 5 Euro banknote. Since it would be too …expensive, they found another way: to use 1 dollar banknotes. Sometimes the banknotes that are thrown are so many that they swap them off the floor using a broom and a dustpan.
I spend the whole night going from house to house cause each one had its uniqueness and different protagonists. In everyone I was entering, people were offering me food and drinks. Even though the whole celebration was taking place in the winter, inside it was too hot. Each house has a fireplace and some heaters. The combination of drink, music and fire requires to be careful, since the celebration does not stop before the morning light.
The morning mass at the monastery started just after the sunrise along with the stop of the celebration inside the houses around the monastery. Some people started gathering again after the end of the mass in order for the celebration to be continued. Waiting for celebration part 2, I had some interesting discussions with the Roma musicians who had slept there. They also had preparations to do for the continuation of the celebration. It was a unique custom all in all.
Very mystifying and very “warm”. People get close to each other, certainly the place helps, the small warm houses, the food, the wine and the music that seems to come from another world. I definitely have to visit the site and the celebration again in order to get more of that feeling. Nevertheless I had a wonderful time and I saw something I had never seen before in my life although I had heard a lot.