2290 – Two young Dutch men witnessed the festivities of Lavra’s 1000 years existence. Part 1

It’s 1963. Sixty years ago. Two friends from the Dutch city of The Hague, Ger (23) and Jan (25), plan to travel to Greece by moped. They had previously gone to Spain by moped. They wanted to experience such an adventure again. The young furniture makers had each saved 1,000 guilders for the trip, which would last three months, and they had bought a new Zündapp.

At home in The Hague one evening, Ger ate a peach and to his surprise he found a note in the peach, which was hidden in the split pit of the peach. It was a note with a Greek text. But they did not understand any Greek. Ger’s father who was a tobacconist talked about this strange finding to a customer who responded that his wife was Greek and she would be happy to translate. So the travelers went to that woman for a translation.

The note that was hidden in the peach. Photographed during the interview we had with Ger in November 2023 in Haarlem, The Netherlands

The note contained the name and address of a Greek girl. That gave their trip a first destiny. To visit the mysterious writer of the note in her home country. The translator also talked about Athos, that the two men absolutely had to go there because it is so special. The woman also wrote a letter of recommendation for the two young men. These more or less coincidental events gave their journey a direction that would change their lives.

They slept every night in the tent they brought with them. They camped in the wild, often on a farmer’s land.

Ger (r) and Jan (l) and the Zündapps on their way after reaching the highest point at an alpine pass in Austria.

Via Germany, Austria and Italy they reached Greece by boat and after wandering in the Peloponnese they went to Athens.

In addition to the antiquities, they also obtained permission to go to Athos there. They obtained a letter of recommendation at a Ministry. Then they headed north to find the girl who put a note in the peach. They found the family where they could stay for a few days. She had written the note in the hope of a meeting that could bring her a better life. But unfortunately there were no romantic feelings.

Eventually the young adults ended up in Ierissos, close to the border with Athos on the eastern side of the peninsula. They were able to park their mopeds in an empty cell at the police station. They could also leave things there that they did not need on their journey across Athos. Ger’s camera did come along. The photos in this blog are by Ger Dommerholt, who told us this story recently and showed his slides and black-and white photographs. In Ierissos they could go on a boat to the Holy Mountain. The small boat could carry about 7 passengers. They were on board with a few monks.

A similar boat with which Ger and Jan sailed to Athos. On the left the skipper with two monks. See also the fishing nets in the boat.
View of Esfigmenou from the boat. In 1963 still without the banner: Orthodoxy or death.

The boat sailed to Iviron monastery. The first monastery they could see from the water was Esfigmenou, where it did not stop then, just as the ferry still does not stop there today.

View of Iviron in 1963

They left the boat at Iviron. They spent the first night in that monastery.

In Karyes Ger took this picture of a bare-footed boy who was happy to pose for him

The next day they walked to Karyes. They needed to collect their diamoniterion for a seven day stay at the Holy Mountain. The recommendation from Athens was essential for that.

This is the map that Ger and Jan had available in 1963

From Karyes they wanted to walk towards Lavra, via Filotheou and Karakalou. The signage was absent and their map not too detailed and so they began to wander in the network of donkey paths and dirt roads.

Eventually they arrived back in Iviron, where they were allowed to spend a second night. The next day they walked along the coast, partly on a dirt road and partly on a donkey path, to the Great Lavra where they would celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Athos that day.

To be continued.

Bas Kamps

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