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Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall:

Anestis Stais and Aggeliki Soumala

Anestis Stais and Aggeliki Soumala
Anestis Stais with his beer collection, Gavalochori. Luka Tica, Foundation for Gavalochori

Who would ever guess that Gavalochori is home to a world-class collection of beer bottles? Meet long-time Gavalochori residents Anestis Stais and Aggeliki Soumala, Anestis is the owner and curator of the collection, which contains approximately 3,500 bottles from 225 different countries, including some where alcohol is prohibited. Anestis began collecting beer bottles in 1988 when he was traveling in Milan, Italy. After enjoying a local beer, he decided to take the bottle home. Because “collecting is like a virus,” Anestis explains, his hobby grew, and he now adds to his collection not just when he is traveling. He buys beer bottles on eBay, for example, and his friends bring back bottles for him when they travel. He sometimes uses creative methods to secure beer bottles that he doesn’t have. For example, he really wanted a beer bottle from Palau, so he contacted the owner of a rental car agency there and asked him if he would send him a bottle. He did, so Palau is now represented in the collection.

Anestis has a special room in his house devoted to his collection. The bottles are displayed on shelves that fill two walls of the room, floor to ceiling, with bottles behind bottles on each shelf. They are organized by parts of the world and within each section, they are organized by country and labeled with the flags of the countries. He keeps careful notes on each of the bottles and can offer in-depth information on his bottles. And what is Aggeliki’s role in the beer-bottle collection? She stays away. “I never go into that room!” she exclaims.

Anestis and Aggeliki are both teachers in Vamos. He is a first grade teacher, and she teaches modern Greek, ancient Greek, literature, and history to high school students. She is from Athens and studied at Ioannina University, and Anestis is from Thessaloniki and studied at the Pedagogic Academy of Thessaloniki. They met while they were both working in Athens. She was teaching high school, and he was working in a bar there, eventually buying a bar in Athens and one in Hydra. Toward the end of this period, he began volunteering as a teacher and decided he wanted to begin a teacher’s life.In 1997, he sold everything and got a job teaching at the primary school in Kalyves. When he returned to Athens, he decided he didn’t want to live there anymore. Aggeliki agreed, and they decided to move to Gavalochori because her grandmother is from the village, and Aggeliki spent many happy summers there. They made the move in 2000 and both got jobs teaching in Vamos—the positions they still hold. They were also looking for a good place to raise their children—a daughter and twin sons, all of whom were born within 14 months. Their children are now grown—their daughter is working in the hospitality industry in Barcelona while completing a master’s degree. One of their sons is starting a business in Athens, and the other just opened a restaurant, Italian Corner in Kalyves, and now has a son of his own—their first grandchild.

Anestis and Aggeliki built their house in Gavalochori in 2003. They built the house in a traditional style, evoking the look of houses from 200 years ago. As much as possible, they tried to use traditional methods of building as well. “People thought we were crazy,” says Anestis, laughing.

When Anestis and Aggeliki came to Gavalochori, it was much smaller. There were only three houses owned by expats in the hills then. But much of what drew them to Gavalochori has remained unchanged. It is peaceful, has lovely paths for walking, still retains the traditional style of architecture, and has a museum. They like the fact that Gavalochori lies between two nice cities—Chania and Rethymno—and that an airport is nearby. They also appreciate the spirit of the island and the fact that they can take small trips and explore new places close to home.

Anestis and Aggeliki are active in the village and try to contribute to it however they can. Anestis is a former member of the Cultural Association of Gavalochori, and he is now involved in the activities of the folklore museum. He created a program for children who visit the museum and also designed a game for children that focuses on the sites and architecture of Gavalochori. Anestis and Aggeliki’s biggest dream for Gavalochori is to see the main square revamped. They would like to see a fountain or a large tree in the middle of the square with benches all around it where people can sit and talk. They would like to see the square paved with stones to match the street in front of the museum, and they also would like a separate area created apart from the square in which cars can park.

Anestis is thinking of retiring in another year or so and would like to open a pub/cafe/kafeneio in Gavalochori where he can sell beer and mezes that go well with beer (like pizza and burgers). And, of course, it would be a place where he could display his beer-bottle collection!

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