The shepherd gave us detailed directions to the pass, pointing with his crook, and emphatically repeating one phrase: pouthena aristera. We nodded as though we understood every word. We thanked him and strode off. My walking partner immediately said, “So, we have to head left?” “No!” I corrected. “We must absolutely not go left: pouthena aristera means ‘nowhere go left—in no case, go left’.” Once again, I thanked the gods that I’d studied at Omilo.
This was last November 2016, and we were on a multi-day walk on the Peloponnese, a homage to a similar walk I’d done 40 years before, over Christmas 1975. (There’s much more about these two trips at https://walkgreece.wordpress.com.) I studied at Omilo, in Athens, for two weeks before heading for the hills. I took private lessons the first week, and a group class the second.
When I was planning this trip, I knew I wanted to take some Greek lessons in Athens, but I wasn’t sure where. Someone I knew suggested The Athens Center, and I looked closely at this school on the web. It was appealing in certain ways, but I decided to keep looking. My Google search took me to Omilo.
Although Omilo says—quite correctly—that they do not provide a homestay option, my experience was in fact very close to a homestay. The school arranged for me to stay with a very welcoming older woman in her large apartment, less than a ten-minute walk to the school. Kyria Ioanna made me breakfast every morning, and we chatted a little in my rudimentary Greek as I ate—and she was usually home in the evenings, so I would exchange a few words with her again then. She had many friends and family who visited often. I found the experience perfect for me—I could retreat to the privacy of my room whenever I wanted, but I had some opportunity every day to practice my Greek.
Another thing I loved about this arrangement was the proximity to Syngrou—the very large park in Marousi. This was a five-minute walk from Kyria Ioanna’s apartment. What I usually did was walk there for an hour before class in the morning, and an hour after class (just before sunset) in the evening. (I love to walk!) When I needed to buy a special something (a parting gift for Kyria Ioanna, for example), I walked through Syngrou to Kifissia, one of the wealthiest suburbs of Athens, where there are plenty of boutiques and high-end cafes. The walk to Kifissia from where I lived, through Syngrou, took about 45 minutes. Or sometimes I took the metro—just one stop.
One evening in the mountains, we were at a café in a small village. Everyone there was very simply dressed, but suddenly a man in expensive outdoor gear came in. He immediately came to our table and asked us, in fluent English, if he could help us in any way. We chatted for a bit, and—as we were chatting—I ordered something to eat. He then excused himself, and said, “You don’t need me! Manolis called because he thought you needed a translator—but your Greek is fine.”
I felt I had graduated! Thank you, everyone at Omilo—I’ll be back!
Peter Thomas, USA