Off the Beaten Trail: In Search of St. Nicholas in Russia

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Velikoretsky St. Nicholas icon, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow



Santa Claus is not from the North Pole. He is based on Nicholas, the Greek Orthodox Bishop of Myra, Lycia. This Greek/Byzantine city today is called Demre, in the Antalya province of Turkey.

            I had the unique opportunity of visiting Russia in late September through early October 2015, seeing the Byzantine Orthodox civilization of the North.  I visited sites of  Byzantine civilization in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Novgorod, the birthplace of Russian Orthodox Christianity. At Christmas 2015, there is a worldwide travel alert to Russia for a possible risk of travel due to increased terrorist threat (November 23, 2015).1   I managed to get out of Russia in safety.

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The Tretyakov Gallery has a St. Nicholas icon from the 12th-early 13th century.

A whopping 72% of the  Russian adult population identified themselves as Orthodox Christians in 2008.Every Greek family has a member or friend called Nick. Russian iconography that stems back to the 10th century gave me a new perception of this ethnically Greek saint.

My search for St. Nicholas began at St. Basil’s Cathedral (Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat)  Museum in Red Square, Moscow.  St. Nicholas of Velikoretskoye was in an illuminated case. It is a 16th century tempera on wood icon It shows St. Nicholas with scenes of his life.  In 1555 the icon was brought from Vyatka to Moscow. The name Velikoretsky  means “of the big rivers”.  St. Basils Cathedral is divided into ten inner churches. The southern church was consecrated in honor of  the Velikoretsky  St. Nicholas  icon.

St. Nicholas of Zaraisk, Tretyakov Gallery

We did not have the time to visit St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is associated with the Russian Navy and has two churches. The lower St. Nicholas church is located on the first floor. The main shrine has a 17th century Greek icon of St. Nicholas with a relic.8  The Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood has an 1890’s St. Nicholas the Wonder worker icon. Our main focus in St. Petersburg was the Hermitage, Peterhof Gardens and Catherine the Great’s Palace.

The Tretyakov Gallery has a St. Nicholas icon from the 12th-early 13th century, Tempera on Wood. This is the earliest surviving Russian icon. This is the Novgorod icon painting style, when Christianity was beginning. St. Nicholas of Zaraisk with scenes of his life is of the Rostov-Suzdal School of the late 13th-early 14th centuries. The only full length fresco of St. Nicholas with an open gospel, 1108-1113 A. D.  is displayed in the Tretyakov Gallery.

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Only full length fresco of St. Nicholas with open gospel, 1108-1113 A. D., Tretyakov Gallery.

On a visit to the “Decorated Icon Exhibit” at Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow, and jeweled St. Nicholas icon was exhibited at the Fine Arts Center. The Cathedral is the largest Orthodox Church in the world. There is a side chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker with a prominent wall icon. “It is located in the south part of the gallery, for the country where St. Nicholas lived. Christianity came to Russia from the south, so the paintings in St. Nicholas’ side chapel illustrate the history of Christianity from the 3rd to the 9th centuries AD, before Russia’s’ conversion to it. It is here that one can see…..the theme of the Seven ecumenical Councils. St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, an ardent defender of Orthodox Christian doctrines, took part in the first Ecumenical council. That’s why these subjects are to be found next to those concerned with his pious life and Christian virtues in his chapel.”3         

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A jeweled St. Nicholas icon, Fine Arts Center, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

  The art of the Moscow goldsmiths in the 16th century is displayed in the Armory, Moscow Kremlin Museum. The art of fine enameling with large uncut stones is displayed in icons. “The folding icon of St. Nicholas the Miracle-Worker…is silver, but its cover is gold decorated with gems and pearls.”4

                We did not have the time to visit St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St. Petersburg. It is associated with the Russian Navy and has two churches. The lower St. Nicholas church is located on the first floor. The main shrine has a 17th century Greek icon of St. Nicholas with a relic.5  The Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood has an 1890’s St. Nicholas the Wonder worker icon. Our main focus in St. Petersburg was the Hermitage, Peterho  Gardens and Catherine the Great’s Palace.

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Side chapel of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow.

            An eight hour round trip from St. Petersburg took us to Novgorod, near the Swedish border. “The Novgorod State Museum’s collection of early Russian painting is unquestionably one of the finest in the world…Highlights from the earliest period (11th to 13th centuries) include ..St. Nicolas of Myra in Lycia (St. Nicholas of Lipno). These are prototypical images of the 14th and 15th centuries. ‘St. Nicholas of Lipno’ icon painted by Aleksa Petrov in 1294 is the earliest dated Russian icon. The fact that it bears the artists’s signature gives it unique historical significance.” 6  A circular icon of St. Nicholas that is dated 13th-14th century? possibly 16th century is the first icon that came into view when we entered the icon section.The site shows St. Nicholas icons from the middle 13th to end of 16th century.

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Folding St. Nicholas icon, 16th century, Armory, Moscow

            Early Russian painting was one of the most significant achievement of this civilization. Byzantium with its capital in Constantinople had a unique splendor of artistic Christian art that impressed the Slavic tribes. The early Russians believed that they “knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere on earth. We know not how to describe to you. The only thing we are certain about if that God makes His dwelling among the people there and their service is better than in any other country. We can not forget the beauty.”7 The Russian icon for centuries has been striving to reflect the ideal beauty of the heavenly world. 8

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Circular icon of St. Nicholas that is dated 13th-14th century, possibly 16th century, Novgorod State Museum.

Nicolas, Bishop of Myra, has always been the most admired saint, according to the book, “The Russian Icon” by the editorial Board of the Russian Orthodox Church. He prays for all Christians, helps people in misfortunes, protects travelers and quickly defends those to whom injustice has been made. His veneration in Early Russia was almost as great as that of Christ and Mary. Numerous churches were dedicated to St. Nicholas. A large quantity of icons were created in his memory. Russian proverbs show a deep faith in his power.9 Our roots are in Greece, a country plundered by conquests. My 2015 Russian trip showed me that our Byzantine inheritance lived on after the fall of Constantinople with, as the next generation of my family says, “with the Greeks of the North”.


  3. “Cathedral Of Christ The Savior (Ivan Fiodorov Printing Company: Russia, 2005), pp. 25-9.
  4. S. Goncharenko and V.I. Narozhnaya, “THE ARMORY: A guide” (Red Square Publishers:Moscow, 2012), PP.36-9.
  6. N, Grinev, “NOVGOROD THE GREAT” (Ivan Fiodorov Art Publishers: St. Petersburg,2004), pp. 48-50.
  7. Editorial Board of the Russian Orthodox Church, “Russian Icon” (P-2 Art Publishers: St. Petersburg,, 2011) p. 1,
  8. “Russian Icon”, pp. 2-3.
  9. “Russian Icon” p. 9.

Links: Tretyakov gallery


Remembering the Asia Minor Catastrophe:  2010 Christos Papoutsy Lecture at the Stathakion

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

― Barack Obama


Remembering the Asia Minor Catastrophe:
2010 Christos Papoutsy Lecture at the Stathakion

by Catherine Tsounis

“A great man who has changed the lives of many is coming to the Stathakion,” said Michael Christodoulou, President of the Mytilene Society. “We must all come to this unforgettable lecture.” The excitement spread across Astoria and the New York Metropolitan area. Christos Papoutsy has made his mark on the international community. He is a unique person, inspired by his wife, Mary, a classics professor. He is preserving his Byzantine heritage and the lost civilization of Greek Ionia in Asia Minor. On May 15th, Saturday evening, at the Stathakion Culture Center, over three hundred persons attended.The “Ships of Mercy” book reveals the true heroes of Smyrna, later forgotten by history. The book is based on more than 10 years of research by the Papoutsys, who traveled around the globe in their quest to uncover and document the truth about the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees from Smyrna. They discovered a compelling story and found previously unpublished materials. Vintage photographs, exhibits, naval war diaries, and captains’ logs appear for the first time in the pages of this volume.“Ships of Mercy” dispels common myths about the evacuation of the refugees and clearly documents the real heroes in this enormous tragedy. Surprising and powerful, it is a story that needs to be told. Mr. Papoutsy held a 45 minute power point presentation, followed by Q&A, and book signing at a culture event for free. The publisher donated 40% of books sold at the event to host church or organization. For more information, contact Hellenic Communication Service, PO Box 710, Rye Beach, New Hampshire 03871 U.S.A., Fax: 603-379-8141, .

Christos Papoutsy said” Turkey did not have a navy. Fifty Greek ships escorted by six American Naval Cruisers went into Smyrna for the refugee evacuation. This was a major risk to Greek National Security. If the Turks were able to acquire the ships, they would have had the means to invade Greece and get the Greek islands.” The Greek mercantile fleet played a major role in the export and import life of the Ottoman Turks. The annihilation of its Greek population removed it as a player in the international mercantile community.

“We heard that the Japanese saved Greeks in Smyrna,” said Papoutsy. “We wanted to find out which Japanese so we could honor them. Our documentation indicates the opposite, showing a non-existence of a Japanese presence and Japanese support of Turkish policy. The loss of Smyrna and infamous exodus of Ionian Greeks from their homeland is explained in Ships of Mercy. It is the only book with primary sources on this subject. The Great Depression of the 30’s and WWII eclipsed this disaster.” Mary Papoutsy recited a moving poem called “Fire” showing the martyrdom of the Queen City Smyrna. In my opinion, the first Greek Exodus in 1914 and the 1922 Catastrophe is not discussed because it hurts too much. We lost our civilization. Who wants to remember a time that is painful? We think positive, move on and rebuild from the ashes, remembering our roots.

Christos Papoutsy with his latest books
“Ships of Mercy” and 
“Under Siege,”
assisted by Mary Papoutsy

The author has acknowledged the assistance of Mary Papoutsy in the writing of “Ships of Mercy”. “I have a living room piled to the ceiling with Captains’ logs and documents detailing the days surrounding the evacuation of Smyrna,” he said. His smile, love of the Greek language in simple phrases, communicated warmth seldom seen in a presentation of this tragic era. Mary Papoutsy conversed in fluent Greek, mingling with persons of all ages with grace and humility. Mary Papoutsy is a former Classics instructor at Rutgers University and the University of Maine. She has also founded the Hellenic Historical and Genealogical Association which promotes interest in Hellenic ancestry, offers support for genealogical research, and conducts free lectures and workshops throughout the nation on Hellenic genealogy. “Rev. Alexander Karloutsos of Southampton is the only priest who said a prayer in memory of those lost at one of our lectures,” said Mary Papoutsy. The late Rev. Michael Karloutsos, his father, was from Smyrna, of Ionian Greek descent.

“Humanity has no ethnic favorites or political affiliations,” said Roger Jennings, grandson of Asa K. Jennings, who saved the Greeks of Smyrna and hero of Christos Papoutsis book. “Asa K. Jennings worked for humanity by avoiding prejudice and politics. He was able to secure an agreement from Mustapha Kemal to allow the Greeks, Armenians and Jews to leave Turkey peacefully. He secured 55 Greek ships to remove these refugees despite the fears of the Greek Prime Minister. He and his Cabinet feared the Turks would capture the ships and invade the Greek islands. Asa’s success with the Greek government was made possible by Captain Ioannis Theofanides of the battleship Kilkis. He is a true Greek hero who is unknown today by the Greek people.” Christos Papoutsy is to be commended for discovering this American hero and explains his mission.

Roger Jennings stated “Asa was then appointed as the diplomat representing Greece and Turkey at the Treaty of Lausanne for the repatriation of POW’s. Asa is the highest decorated person in Modern Greek history with the Medal of Military Merit and the Golden Cross of St. Xavier (religious). The Patriarch credited Asa with saving 1,250,000 Christians in 1922-23.” Asa Jennings was a YMCA employee with a double curvature of the spine, suffering from the effects of Tuberculosis. For more information, contact

Mr. Christos Papoutsy (4th from left) presented
award from his village of Vatousa, Mytilene, as
Michael Christodoulou 
(left to right), President of
Mytilenean Society, Elizabeth Kamviselis
Verwoert and her daughter Sophia and
Mary Papoutsy look on.

Rev. Milton Efthimiou, whose father Rev. Basil Efthimiou was the chief homilist for Archbishop Chrysostomos of Smyrna, said “Papoutsy must be a scholar to be reckoned with. His Sources are Primary material for anyone who wishes to get the real authentic story of the catastrophe of Smyrna in 1922.”

Oil painting “Destruction of Smyrna, 1922” from the
Pinakothiki (National Art Gallery and Alexander
Soutzos Museum), 
Athens, Greece.

A filled audience listened to the historical lecture.

Christos Papoutsy showed Mytilene is a unique island that welcomed their refugee neighbors ten miles away from Aivali, Smyrna, Tseme and the coast of Asia Minor. My grandmothers, Despina Gagas Pappas and Catherine Tsounis were born on an island seven miles from Mytilene: the lost island of Mosconisi. The1898 baptismal certificate of Despina is on a letterhead that states “The Holy Archdiocese of Mosconisi”. The island had a significant Greek population to have its own Greek Archdiocese documents. “There was constant movement with Mytilene, Limnos, Mosconisi, the cities of Asia Minor by the maritime community,” explained Mr. Papoutsy. “The Greek middle class maritime community would follow trade opportunities having homes in different areas, bringing economic opportunities to their families. Free movement between the islands and Asia Minor was common.” “There is a ferry from Mytilene that goes to Mosconisi,” said Elaine Papantinas of Delaware whose Mother was from Mosconisi. “We made the trip with cousins. We walked through Sts.Taxiarchi’s church in Mosconisi. We visited the remains of that church. Oh, the feeling I had in there, I could almost see the beauty and elegance it had in its day.” The statue of the Mikrasiatic Mother with her three children clinging to her at Mytilene’s harbor evokes the real misery of uprooting. Cypriots from Kyrenia and Ammochostos (Famagusta) understand.

1898 baptismal certificate of Despina Gagas Pappas
letterhead that states:”The Holy Archdiocese of
Mosconisi.” The 
island had a significant Greek
population to have its own Greek 

In front of the gulf of Aivali and north is the complex of islands known as Mosconisi,” as recorded in the Travelogue “Asia Minor” in the Explorer series, 2004, Athens, compiled by Vasilis Minakakis, p. 72, in Modern Greek. “According to the ancient historian, Strabo, one hundred small islands made up Mosconisi. Today there are twenty-two small islands and a large island To Mosconisi. The Old Turkish name was Cunda, but was renamed Alibey Aidasi after the name of the commander who expelled the Greek inhabitants during the tragedy of 1922. The old city of Mosconisi lies opposite Aivali. From the 19th century, they were known for their hospitality with beautiful homes and gardens. In the past few years, the Turkish population has summer homes in Mosconisi. The Old architecture has been preserved. A beautiful harbor with fish restaurants is a tourist attraction.”

Christos Papoutsy’s lectures are important. They are inspiring the new generation to think, explore and remember. “I am moved by the icons of the 1821 Greek Revolution in the Stathakion,” said Koula Sophianou, Consul General of Cyprus, at the Papoutsy lecture. “Mytilene and Cyprus had similar fates. In 1821, Cyprus and Mytilene attempted to rebel and gain their freedom. In 1974, three Mytilineous gave their life during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. My family immigrated to Cyprus in 1922 from Constantinople. We must be united as Hellenes. Cyprus needs a strong Greece to support us.” Evangelos Kyriakopoulos, Consul of Greece added “Ships of Mercy describes a time period that is undiscussed. It is a real tragedy that must be studied.” Another youth took a photo of the oil painting “The Destruction of Smyrna, 1922” from the Pinakothiki (National Art Gallery) in Athens. She posted on her face book album. This is the legacy of Christos and Mary Papoutsy.

Christos and Mary Papoutsy (left to right) greeted by
Koula Sophianou, Consul General of Cyprus and
Evangelos Kyriakopoulos, 
Consul of Greece.

Links: – Hellenic Communication Service: The Premier Website for Greeks – and – – Christos Papoutsy Dispels Myth on 1922 – One Man Changed Greece and Turkey Forever” – 
Ninety Years after the First Expulsion of Greeks from Tseme

The Lost 
Hellenic Tsesme Province Communities –

(Posting date 23 September 20010)


2000 © Hellenic Communication Service, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.

On the Road in Italy: An Emilia Romagna Wedding

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Emilia-Romagna is one of the wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe, with the third highest GDP per capita in Italy.[3] Bologna, its capital, has one of Italy’s highest quality of life indices[4] and advanced social services. Emilia-Romagna is also a cultural and tourist center, being the home of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world,[5] containing Romanesque and Renaissance cities (such as ModenaParma and Ferrara), being a Centre for food and automobile production (home of automotive companies such as FerrariLamborghiniMaseratiPaganiDe Tomaso and Ducati) and having popular coastal resorts such as CervixCesenaticoRimini and Riccione.

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The name Emilia-Romagna is a legacy of Ancient Rome. Emilia derives from the via Emilia, the Roman road connecting Rome to northern Italy, completed in 187 B.C. and named after the consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.[6]Romagna derives from Romania, the name of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) applied to Ravenna by the Lombards when the western Empire had ceased to exist and Ravenna was an outpost of the east (540–751).1photo3.jpg

We had the pleasure of enjoying tours of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy. with guide Marta Chirico in Late October 2017. She was married one month prior to our tour with Gianni Molinario. Traditional Italian weddings are masterpieces of elegance. New York City weddings try to replicate Old European customs. Despinasiolas, Md./Ph.D. arranged our private tour of Ravenna’s UNESCO sites with Marta. She shared with us the highlights of her wedding.

“The name of the Church is Pieve di Santo Stefano Protomartire, she said. “It’s in Pisignano, a small village near Cervia.”According to some historical sources, the current parish church was rebuilt during the seventeenth century [1] on the remains of a pre-existing building dating back to 1324 [1] and in turn rebuilt on the foundations of an ancient Romanesque religious settlement of the medieval period..2

Pieve di Santo Stefano Protomartire Church

“We went to the Osteria dei Noci, in Meldola for the reception,” Marta explained. In the heart of Emilia Romagna, a land of strong culinary flavors and traditions, L ‘ Osteria dei Noci offers you an innovative yet authentic cuisine in the green hills of Meldola 3 All interested in the wedding photos can visit

Our two-day tour with this expert guide ended with a greeting. Thank you again for everything! she said. “It’s been a great pleasure to meet and guide you in Ravenna! I hope we’ll keep in touch!” Seeing photos and listening to a description of her wedding was a unique insight into a Northern Italian wedding.


  3., – reception
  4. Pieve di Santo Stefano Protomartire church4
  5. L’Osteria dei Noci catering establishment –

Links: – email of guide Marta Chirico

On the Road in Greece: the Kimisis Church and Bell Tower of Palaiopyrgos, Greece


Christmas means Snow in the bell tower, Snow in the Bell Tower woke up the village,

…And everyone goes to church to worship Christ – Hionia Sto Kapanario (Snow in the Bell Tower), Greek Christmas Carol1

The Kimisis tis Theotokou Church, Palaiopyrgos, Arcadia, Greece.

The Holiday season is a time to remember where we came from. We embarked on a day trip to Palaiopyrgos (Bodia), Arcadia, Greece. We visited the historic church of Kimisis Tis Theotokou (Dormition) Church with its Bell Tower. With retired philologist Pitsa Gerou Macarounis and her husband Christo Macarounis, we experienced a spiritual visit to the souls of an Arcadian village.

1898 Icon

“We are visiting the church built by our parents, grandparents and great grandparents,” said Pitsa. “They were poor farmers and shepherds who built a Byzantine house of worship with elaborate chandeliers and iconography. A church was created to be a place better than their humble homes. A beautiful escape from their hard life to the world of God.”

Dr. John Siolas and retired Telephone Company administrator Christos Macarounis visited the Kapanario (Bell Tower) of the Kimisis tis Theotokou Church. Dr. Siolas’ grandmother’s brother, Peter Sianis and his cousin William Sianis of the Chicago “Billy Goat Curse”2, sent funds to build the Kapanario and the elementary school.

Icon, Kimisis tis Theotokou Church, Palaiopyrgos, Arcadia.

John Chronis, a Kimisis Church Board member, who lives next to the church, opened it. “I am from the village of Kakouri, he said. I live in Palaiopyrgos now. I will open the church, so you can revisit your Byzantine roots.” God, church and patriotism is strong in the Peloponnese who were the first to rebel in the Revolution of 1821, against four centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule and slavery. Modern villas now surround the church, built by villagers from overseas. They dream of returning home to live.

A painting of the Christ Pantocrator is in the interior, Iviron Monastery, Mount Athos.

The church interior has a unique hand carved altar with intricate designs. Icons of St. Constantine and St. Helen, the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire and his Mother, the Panagia and Child, St. Barbara and other major saints decorate the interior and ceiling. Mr. Chronis pointed out a painted ancient icon of Jesus Christ with the following inscription: Rev. Timoleon Papaspiridis from Chavari, province of Ilias, donated to the village of Bodia of the province of Orchomenos, on Friday, 25th of September 1898, a work of the monk Victor.”


Evangelos Filis, President Palaiopyrgos Association/Editor of “Ta Nea Tou Palaiopyrgos” newspaper writes “the Kimisis tis Theotokou Church is in the center of the village. The modern church is different than the original. It was a smaller church with a cemetery surrounding it. The Greeks overseas contributed the funding to create the present Byzantine church. A painting of the Christ Pantocrator is in the interior. It is the iconographic work of the monk Markianou of Iviron Monastery. Iviron or Iveron is an Eastern Orthodox monastery in the monastic state of Mount Athos in northern Greece. The altar is carved from walnut wood. This is rarely seen today.”3 For further information, email

Dr. John Siolas and retired Telephone Company administrator Christos Macarounis visited the Kapanario (Bell Tower) of the Kimisis tis Theotokou Church.


“The blessing we received today was like a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” said Pitsa Gerou Macarounis. “This is the Land of our Roots. Our land is our ‘Holy Land’. We have an emotional tie. Every place has an ancient history. The time today has changed for the better. New houses are seen throughout the countryside. We must keep alive the self-sacrifice of our ancestors who built the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Church with beautiful carvings and iconography.”



  1. – Greek Christmas Carol “Hionia Sto Kapanario
  3. Filis, Evangelos, “O Palaiopyrgos Arkadias”. Athens, 1995, p. 72.

Links: – “Hionia Sto Kapanario” Christmas Carol

Links- Town Chavari, Region of Ilias (Elis).









Greek Soul Music and Cuisine at Eleftheria Batha’s Holiday Party


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Eleftheria “Ariana” Batha

“Pente Ellines Ston Adi”1 Greek soul music and excellent cuisine at Gyro World in Pleasantville, New York was enjoyed by all at Eleftheria “Ariana” Batha’s Holiday Party. Everyone danced and enjoyed themselves. Maria Anna Kassomenakis of welcomed all. The calamari, steak, souvlaki was unique. The music had the best Greek soul music from Manoli Aggelopoulos and others. The cheerfulness and hospitality of all present made this a memorable partyIMG_0984IMG_0999


  1. Pente Ellines Ston Adi Greek blues Soul Music


Links: and/or email us at

An exceptional translation company of Maria Anna Kassomenakis

Songs-  -tha spaso koupes karaoke Ta mavra matia sou

On the Road in Italy: A Travel Adventure in Venice


Regan Purkaistho

“Be Prepared to Walk”, That was the understatement of the year. Venice is surrounded by water canals, bridges, stairs that can be slippery and few ramps for dragging suitcases. Our last evening on Sunday Oct. 22, 2017 in Venice was rainy. We selected a hotel near the train station. Venezia Santa Lucia is the central station of Venice, northeast of Italy. It is a terminus and located at the northern edge of Venice’s historic city.1

Trip advisor said the Olimpia Hotel was a ten-minute walk. Again, an understatement. Double the time if you are tired of walking with two luggage per person. We found a certified porter in the union. Regan Purkaistho is college educated and in late 20’s from Bangladesh. “Look at my information,” he said. “I am part of the union”. We negotiated a price below market value.

Walking and talking with Regan, who was transporting four luggage and a backpack on his cart gave us an insight into the life of the immigrant worker. Regan on slippery stairs without ramps pushed his cart. “Don’t go on metal ramps. Tourists slip in the rain,” he said. We felt sorry for Regan’s laborious work. He saved our lives.

View of our travel route the next day.

“I will give you 30 euros and a $7.00 American dollar tip with a sharpie pen as a souvenir,” I said. Europeans love sharpies of all varieties. Regan, who had excellent manners and a pleasant personality is one of many porters.Venice is losing its population every year because of poor quality of life caused by excessive tourism., boat regattas, exhibitions and culture events. Some Venetians believe 30 million tourists visit a year. This was my introduction to the wealthy North that, carries most of the financial burden of Rome, Italy. Bangladesh immigrants, who are fluent in English because of England’s colonial rule, are seen in all service industries. “I am not an illegal alien,” said Regan. “I have my license on my neck for all to see.” Email Regan Purkaistho on Facebook for services.

My experience with a water taxi introduced us to the porter industry. Tourists should bring only one airport luggage was some advice. This is impossible! The result: a thriving porter industry that gives jobs to hard working legal and probably illegal immigrants. Our water taxi from Bisanzio Hotel at San Zaccaria vaporato stop to San Lucia railroad stop cost 70 euros. When we arrived on the pier, legal porters grabbed our luggage without asking us. They charged us 30 euros to walk a couple of yards to the train stop. I was shocked by this ‘rip off”. As one person said, “This is Venice. Everyone wants to be here.” I tole the courteous porters and their boss “No business. I will carry my luggage.” We took our luggage and walked 30 feet to Santa Lucia train station.

Venice route we traveled with Regan on a sunny day.

How can you visit a foreign country with an airline carryon luggage?  If he/she wants to see Venice, be prepared to pay porters that are a needed service. Three and a half euros are charges to sit. I saw such a charge in a Queens, New York café. Local businesses must survive.

Seeing Venice will remain a “once in a lifetime experience.” Politeness, a real interest in the safety of the tourist is a feature of Venetian life.


  1. photos by Despina Siolas, MD/Ph.D.


Facebook: Regan Purkaistho, baggage handler.

On the Road in Greece: The Haunting Dimitrios Shipwreck

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             Memories of sandy beaches are pleasant during the winter. I have never seen unsubmerged ship wrecks. We were traveling along a south road to Western Monemvasia of the Peloponnese recently. Beautiful, sandy beaches and coves gave the tourist a feeling of peace. An unforgettable sight is the shipwreck of the Dimitrios. “It has been stranded here since 1981. The rumor is that it was involved in cigarette smuggling between Turkey and Italy, though how it ended up here is shrouded in mystery.”1IMG_0291 (1280x1280) - Copy
             The shipwreck is impressive on the clear, blue sea near Gythio. There are many rumors about the ship′s origins and how it got stranded on the beach. Most relate that the ship was used to smuggle cigarettes between Turkey and Italy. She was seized by the port authorities of Gythio and then deliberately released from the port and left to be dragged by the sea to the beach at Valtaki, about 5 kilometers (2.7 nautical miles; 3.1 miles) from the port of Gythio. She was then set on fire to hide the evidence of cigarette smuggling. Another, less common rumor speaks of a ghost ship of unknown origins.2 The owners never tried to salvage it. Only they know why.
1.      Bostock, Andrew, Greece: The Peloponnese (USA: The Globe Pequot Press, 2013), p. 106.
Photo 1 and 2 – Dimitrios Shipwreck

On The Road in Italy: Amerigo Vespucci Ship in Venice

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“Veinice is the place everyone wants to be”, is the theme I heard in my four day stay.

Amerigo Vespucci ship excited the imagination of Venitians and tourists. “Look at the Ship Amerigo Vespucci that is here with us,” Venitians would point out in the sea. It was moored along Riva San Biasio from October 14 to October 20 2017.

“The ship, named after the Italian explorer and navigator, is the training ship of the Italian navy and it is considered one of the most beautiful ships still in service. In 1962 the US aircraft carrier USS Independence was sailing in the Mediterranean sea when saw the Vespucci and through light signals asked “Who are you?” . The captain of the Vespucci promptly replied “Amerigo Vespucci, training ship of the Italian Navy” and the USS Independece replied “You are the most beautiful ship in the world”.

Nowadays the ship with its 26 sails can host a large number of people. In particular during the training season it hosts: 16 officers, 70 non-commissioned officers and 190 sailors. In summer, when she embarks the midshipmen of the Naval Academy, the crew’s members are 450.”1

“The Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian ship that was officially launched on the 22nd of February 1931 is now sailing in the Mediterranean sea and will be soon crossing the Atlantinc ocean to achieve the coasts of North America by the summer.

The ship, named after the Italian explorer and navigator, is the training ship of the Italian navy and it is considered one of the most beautiful ships still in service. In 1962 the US aircraft carrier USS Independence was sailing in the Mediterranean sea when saw the Vespucci and through light signals asked “Who are you?” . The captain of the Vespucci promptly replied “Amerigo Vespucci, training ship of the Italian Navy” and the USS Independece replied “You are the most beautiful ship in the world”.

Nowadays the ship with its 26 sails can host a large number of people. In particular during the training season it hosts: 16 officers, 70 non-commissioned officers and 190 sailors. In summer, when she embarks the midshipmen of the Naval Academy, the crew’s members are 450”.2

“In 1507, some scholars at Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in northern France were working on a geography book called Cosmographiæ Introductio, which contained large cut-out maps that the reader could use to create his or her own globes. German cartographer Martin Waldseemüler, one of the book’s authors, proposed that the newly discovered Brazilian portion of the New World be labeled America, the feminine version of the name Amerigo, after Amerigo Vespucci. The gesture was his means of honoring the person who discovered it, and indeed granted Vespucci the legacy of being America’s namesake.

Decades later, in 1538, the mapmaker Mercator, working off the maps created at St-Dié, chose to mark the name America on both the northern and the southern parts of the continent, instead of just the southern portion. While the definition of America expanded to include more territory, Vespucci seemed to gain credit for areas that most would agree were actually first discovered by Christopher Columbus”3 Watching the ship from a Venetian vaporetto was memorable.3



On the Road in Italy: Enjoying a Local Venetian Café

During Christmas, we recall edible treasures . I enjoyed exceptional pastry treasures in late October 2017 in Venice. We went to a local café called “Bar Pasticceria di Chiusso Pierino” near San Giorgio dei Greci Church (St. George of the Greeks) in Castello. We sat in front of the Bar/Café and enjoyed the view of cobblestone streets and medieval buildings.

Pastry display.

The flaky sweet bread melted in our mouths, meaning it was very fresh. I enjoyed viewing every Venetian pastry in the display case. It was like a Christmas display in New York City cafe. The cholesterol, dairy free almond cookies was something to remember. Maria showed us her pastry delights. A framed award for excellence was prominently seen on counter

Almond paste cookies

In New York, we say “Lets have a cup of coffee.” In Venice, everyone says “Lets have a spritz and socialize.” Maria created an orange flavored liqueur  sparkling soda drink. That’s what you call living the Venetian social scene.

Maria, the hostess.
flaky bread


Dr. Despina enjoying Spritz, the national beverage of Venice.

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Photos by Despina Siolas, MD/Ph.D.





Byzantine Nativity Icon Seen throughout Holiday Season


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Simplicity without gaudiness. The icon of the Nativity is seen on Christmas cards, newspapers and documentaries during the holiday season. Mary reclining on a red background with Jesus next to her says it all. Who painted this haunting, medieval image?

In Fall 2015, our guide Irina Chetina opened the “Legacy of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire” to us through art and architecture in modern Russia. We went to the Tretyakov Gallery and saw the “Nativity of Jesus” by Andrei Rublev. He was a monk.

The first mention of Rublev is in 1405 when he decorated icons and frescos for the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin in company with Theophanes the Greek and Prokhor of Gorodets. His name was the last of the list of masters as the junior both by rank and by age. Theophanes the Greek was an important Byzantine master who moved to Russia, and is considered to have trained Rublev. In Rublev’s art two traditions are combined: the highest asceticism and the classic harmony of Byzantine mannerism. The characters of his paintings are always peaceful and calm. After some time, his art came to be perceived as the ideal of Eastern Church painting and of Orthodox iconography.1

He is one of the greatest and most celebrated artists of early Russia. His life and career are sparse. It is unknown what was his name in baptism. Andrei is his monastic name. He died in 1430 in the Andronicus Monastery and was buried in a cemetery near the Savior Cathedral. Andrei was considered an illustrious painter, surpassing all the others in his great wisdom. The Russian Orthodox church canonized him as a saint in 1988 for his holy life and iconography accomplishments.2


Photo: Nativity of Jesus, 1405 (Cathedral of the AnnunciationMoscow Kremlin)


  2. Editorial Board of the Russian Orthodox Church, THE RUSSIAN ICON.  Petersburg, 2011. Print, p. 124.

Links: Nativity icon

2017 Andrew Stype Realty Christmas Party

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Christmas in a setting of greenery, evergreens and deer darting across the highway was my experience in 2017. The Christmas Annual Party of Andrew Stype Realty of Mattituck, NY was the highlight of my 2017 Holiday season. The event was held Tuesday, December 12th at the North Fork Country Club in the aristocratic environment of the North Fork Country Club, Main Road, Cutchogue, NY.IMG_0971 (1280x925) (450x325) (400x289)

Christmas trees decorated the entrance, hallways and dining areas. I was impressed with the evergreen wreath in the bathroom. I arrived early with my Greek pastry gifts. The staff was courteous, with a big smile. “What refreshment can we offer you?” Only in a relaxed, country environment can a person enjoy drinking a cup of coffee overlooking the golf fields.

The Stype family are active members. The cuisine, desserts and wine were excellent. The cappuccino reminded me of the type I had in Northern Italy.

“We are happy to welcome all,” said Eric Roe, Dining Room Manager. For more information, contact (1280x944) (450x332) (400x295)