Greg and Effie Kalevas, who have been married for 30 years, count it a blessing that they have been able to travel for as long as they have. For their family, visiting Greece is more a way of life than a vacation.
“We travel to visit relatives and friends. Our roots are there, and most of our family. It is more of a lifestyle than a vacation, and our children look forward to their summers in Greece,” Effie Kalevas says.
Effie, which is short for Efthimia, is from Karpenisi Evrytania, which is centrally located on the Greek mainland about 3 1/2 hours north of Athens. It’s in the mountains and just a few hours away from the ocean.
“It is known for its beautiful skiing in the winter months,” says Effie.
Greg, who owns Chris’ Steakhouse on Raeford Road, immigrated to the United States at age 14 with his parents and three brothers from Stenoma, which is close to where Effie’s family immigrated from in 1955.
“I was born in Newark, New Jersey, after my father immigrated to America. We moved back to Greece in 1978 for three years, but in 1981 we moved back to the United States for a better life,” says Effie.
Effie met Greg, whose given name is Grigorios, at a Greek-themed convention in New Orleans in 1993. They married shortly thereafter at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Winston-Salem.
“I grew up in the restaurant business with my parents and married into the restaurant business,” Effie says.
The couple built a second home in Karpenisi in Greece on property given to them by Greg’s father in 2007. They traveled there every summer until the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, they have resumed those visits, especially in the summer.
“Summer is our favorite time to travel with the family as it is easy to meet up with others with the beautiful weather. We typically stay in our village in Karpenisi but also pick a different island to visit for a vacation on vacation,” Effie says.
Their children — Petroula, 27; Vasili, 24; and Athanasia, 20 — were raised in Fayetteville but went to Greece every summer while growing up.
“Each of my children loves going each summer as they get to visit cousins and friends they have made over the years. They speak Greek fluently and love the opportunity to go back to their roots as it expands their perspective of the world. They have an appreciation of their culture and the beautiful scenery,” says Effie.
Their life in Greece is simpler than it is in America.
“To pick up eggs from the chickens and the vegetables in the garden for lunch or even hanging clothes outside to dry on the clothesline, the simple lifestyle has always been an attraction. Our children look forward to going as much as Greg and I do,” Effie says.
Her best friend, Angelica Kourebanas Pantelakos, also loves to visit family and friends in Greece in summer.
“We go every year. We have a home on the southwest island in Greece on the water in a place known for Kalamata olives and olive oil. It’s a typical, white-washed Greek town with churches and beaches all around us. My homeland is there, and you always go back to your past,” says Angelica.
Her husband, Jamie Pantelakos, was born and raised in Fayetteville. They met in 1992 after attending a wedding. Her aunt and uncle were guests, and because they were older, she was asked to drive them there.
“I met my husband as a wedding crasher,” Angelica jokes. “We got married in a Greek church in Burlington, Vermont, where I am from, and had a Greek reception.”
Angelica met Effie Kalevas when she moved to Fayetteville.
“Our husbands grew up together. Our mothers are friends. Our children are the same age and have been roommates. Our daughters were roommates in Boston and now live in Charlotte, although separately. Our sons are roommates now. We have a lot of ties and a lot in common,” says Angelica.
Her travels to Greece enable her to reconnect with family.
“I had grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins living there. When I married my husband, we used to go as newlyweds and continued taking our children there. I have fond memories of my siblings’ children and my children growing up bonding with our customs and traditions in Greece,” she says.
The Pantelakoses’ second home is in Pylos in Messinia, Greece, where her father is from.
“Our home overlooks the Bay of Navarino. We visit every year, as my mom has retired there. We usually go in July for a month, but this year we will be going in September for three weeks,” Angelica says.
Their daughter, Vivian, will graduate as a nurse practitioner from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte this summer, so their trip was postponed to the fall.
Their 23-year-old son, Constantine, often joins them on their trips.
“They visit their yiayia (Greek for grandmother), eat Greek food and swim at the beautiful beaches.”
Like the Kalevases and Pantelakoses, Peter and Maria Kalogerinis are first-generation Greek Americans who still have family in their homeland, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
“In both our families, our parents were the only siblings to come to the United States. Over the years, we have enjoyed visiting our families and spending time with them,” says Maria.
Their daughters — Nia, 6, and Leina, 4 — first visited Greece in 2021.
“We feel it is important for our children to know their extended family and their roots. That was a memorable trip for us,” says Maria.
The children now look forward to an annual trip to see their cousins and other relatives.
“The smaller villages of Greece allow them to run free and safely explore and play with other children. They swim at the beach and have ice cream in the evenings,” Maria says.
The Kalogerinis family stays in the family home in Athens in the neighborhood of Theseio, named for the mythical king of Athens.
Peter Kalogerinis says the area is rich in history.
“This neighborhood is a few blocks away from the Parthenon and Acropolis and from the large shopping agora called Monastiraki. We also stay in family homes in Crete and Neapoli,” Peter says. “Maria also has a family home in Athens and Chania. We love to frequent our favorite beaches, outdoor restaurants and cafes. We tend to have late-night dinners and gelatos.”
The family visits Athens as well as areas of Greece where their ancestors lived.
Peter’s family is from an area south of Sparta called Neapoli in Laconia in the Peloponnese peninsula. It is a seaside city with quaint mountain villages. Her family is from the island of Crete.
The Kalogerinises love to explore Greece.
“We like to visit a new island or area we have not been to, as Greece offers a diverse culture and every area or island may have a unique dialogue, cuisine or customs,” says Peter. “We also have a tradition of visiting well-known churches when we go, some of which have saints that are entombed on site with shrines dedicated to them.”
The family has visited churches such as St. Theodora, which has a tree growing out of the building, and a series of monasteries in central Greece called Meteora.
“Those are built on top of large mountains and have been used in television shows like ‘Game of Thrones,’” says Peter Kalogerinis.
They indulge in sweets at local zaxaroplasteios, Greek for patisseries.
“There are many baked goods, desserts and dishes that are difficult to come by in the United States unless you live in a city with a large Greek population like New York or Chicago,” says Maria. “This gives us a chance to enjoy these dishes.”
All of the families say they bring back patisserie treats that represent respective regions of Greece.
The Kalevas family picks fresh oregano and tea leaves in the mountains of their hometown.
The Pantelakoses bring back Greek spices, honey mountain tea, olive oil and olives.
“We have olive orchards and get the first press of olive oil before selling to a co-op. When you first press olive oil, it is green, not the yellow you see in stores. The green is the meat of the olives. It is liquid gold,” says Angelica Pantelakos.
The Kalogerinis family also treasures Greek olive oil.
“Peter’s uncles care for his familial olive groves and provide us with oil. Likewise, my family also provides oil from our familial groves. We also like to bring back cheeses, wines, honey and spirits that are either made locally by our families or regions or that are difficult to find in the United States. My cousin sent us back with a wheel of cheese he made from his sheep, and Peter’s cousin sent us back with pistachios from her husband’s island of Aegina,” says Maria Kalogerinis.
All three families are active members of Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Fayetteville. They celebrate their Greek heritage through the annual Greek Fest and Athena Night.
“Our kids get a taste of our traditions through our church. They went to Greek school. They speak the language but are completely immersed in our culture when they are in Greece. They are comfortable here, so they don’t feel different there,” says Angelica Pantelakos.
For Maria Kalogerinis, Greece should be on everyone’s itinerary.
“Greece and her people are always warm and welcoming,” she says. “Everyone should try to visit at least once.”