Posted by: honorarygreek | March 31, 2020

Reasons to be Cheerful, Maybe Also to be Pensive

On the way back from last evening’s walk. If you look really closely, you can see the lane we followed running right up the middle of this photo.

Last evening’s walk was as lovely as ever, and the subtly changing plant life tells us that summer is around the corner. It follows the same pattern every spring. You get to this stage and start thinking, “I’m a bit fed up with changeable weather now, I could do with some reliable, warm sunny days.” Then, as if a switch had been thrown, you wake up one morning to clear skies, go outside and think “Ooh, that sun’s warm,” and that’s it until October/November. And you realise the truth of the words “be careful what you wish for.”

So, here are last night’s photos…

In the centre of this shot is a clump of flowering margaritas, trying to make a collective stand together!
This tumble-down old place fascinates me. I’m sure that many years ago it would have been lived in. There is evidence within the walls to support my theory too. It just looks so attractive now though. More photos of this below…
The gorse is really coming into its own, and it smells gorgeous.
Dotted all across the hillsides are these clusters of water meters. They’re rather ugly, but look how this wonderful little plant (which was over a foot tall actually) juxtaposes with them. Is it a crocosmia? Perhaps someone will tell me. Must admit, we’re tempted to go back another day with a trowel…

I’ll just add one more thought this time, and it’s to do with garden centres, not only here, but in the UK (and elsewhere of course). This morning, as we were listening to BBC Radio 4 on our smart speaker, they interviewed horticulturalist and UK TV personality Alan Titchmarsh about the possibly catastrophic effect that the lockdown is likely to have on gardens, garden centres, but also wildlife and plant survival.

This is the time of year is when many plant nurseries and garden centres make the kind of money that keeps them going throughout the rest of the year, not to mention the fact that, if they aren’t allowed to open very soon, millions of healthy annuals and bedding plants will have to be rubbished. The effect that this will have on bees, as just one example, would be horrendous, and the poor bees are having a tough enough time as it is, with the way we humans are running this planet. Titchmarsh said that he fails to understand why garden centres, at least their outdoor sections, can’t be allowed to open in much the same way as are supermarkets. I must say, I see where he’s coming from. He said that gardening is one of the few ways in which people can cope and get through this mess with a degree of sanity. He’s right.

Now, I’m no fan of that emotionally-still-a-child world leader that is Donald Trump, but I have to admit to agreeing with something he said yesterday. I know, it even amazes me! But he said this: “It’s no sense having a cure that’s worse than the disease.” In other words, if the lockdowns go on for such a time that the economy and businesses are left in a devastated state after this is all over, not to mention the plant life and wildlife that depend on it, then more people will suffer than did so from Covid-19.

Discuss!

Posted by: honorarygreek | March 29, 2020

Heartless

We went on one of our twice-weekly shopping outings yesterday, primarily to replenish the larder. At 9.30am I sent the required text, received the reply, and we were off. While the beloved was traipsing around the local Lidl store, I took off into the town centre, because friends had told us that two of the smaller stores we regularly frequent were, thankfully, open. They’re both in the same street, just a few metres along the road from the main ELTA office. One is the cheese emporium, and the other the herb store.

Normally I never take the car into the town, since parking on the outskirts, just near to where the road from the village joins the periferiako (ring road), is much easier and it’s only a five minute walk from there to the centre. It’s a small town. Parking in the centre is a near impossibility anyway – normally. But not so yesterday. I was able to park in the desired street, right across the road from the Post office (ELTA), which would normally be out of the question.

Although no one in their right mind would question the wisdom of the ‘lockdown’, it nevertheless makes one feel sad to be in the centre of a town in Greece and see hardly anyone about. As I walked along the centre of the road, passing closed shops of all description, I was able to keep at least the required distance from two men who were having a conversation on the pavement, each wearing masks and both staying away from each other. In fact, I only saw five people on the street, these two and another three who were quite evidently flouting the ‘two metre’ rule and were sitting next to each other in a row on the front window shelf of a closed clothing store. They were evidently migrant workers, but not doing their compatriots any favours in the ‘how to make a good impression’ stakes.

As I approached the herb store, it looked from the outside as if it was operating normally, all the packs of various dried herbs and spices, mountain tea and suchlike all hanging outside, advertising the fact that they were open for business. This store is no bigger than the cheese store, just along the street, being of such a size that if two customers were to enter at the same time, they’d instantly break the two-metre rule. So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I put my foot on the doorstep and then discovered that only a couple of feet inside the doorway there was a piece of what I’d called “Police Incident Tape” stretched across the store at chest-height preventing anyone from going right inside. It was positioned at just the right distance from the till so that one could be handed one’s purchases by the fella who runs the store while handing him your cash. Anything you want to buy, he goes and gets for you. No browsing for the time being.

I knew what I was after, some fennel seeds (they make delicious and very beneficial tea) and some dried peppermint, which we also use for tea after breakfast in the mornings. Both here and in the cheese store, where I purchased our usual half kilo of Graviera (goats milk cheese, strong flavoured and delicious), I partook of the now normal brief conversation about how awful the situation is, and yet how grateful we are that the government here acted swiftly, bringing in draconian measures that have kept the spread of the dread Corona Virus significantly below the levels suffered by some countries. As to when things are likely to be able to return to something resembling normality – well, no one expects anything to change soon.

And that’s what prompted the title of this post. Anyone who knows Greece (and this would apply to all the countries bordering the Mediterranean, in all fairness) also knows that the very heart, the lifeblood of society here, is the outdoor café. Passing through the centre of a town that’s brimming over with cafés, all of which are closed up, or at least have their tables and chairs piled up to show the Police that they’re complying with the law that they only sell take-aways, one is struck by how the heart has been knocked out of the place.

Meeting up for an outdoor coffee is such a way of life here that you feel truly disconsolate, downcast, disheartened when there is no one, literally no one, doing what everyone does on a daily basis when the world is functioning normally. The tables and chairs that are stacked up shout to you – “This is what a microscopic virus can do to a community. And we don’t like it.” And because of the strict instruction countrywide to “stay at home”, the town is without its heartbeat.

To cheer ourselves up a little, once I’d collected the better half from outside the supermarket, and we’d loaded the shopping into the back of the car, we stopped off at our favourite coffee bar, Likoudies, to pick up a couple of takeout Freddo Espressos and a slice of bougatsa. Yay! They had bougatsa!! Despoina, while preparing our take-outs, sprinkled the cinnamon and icing sugar over a warm slice of the most delicious accompaniment to a coffee that exists in the world, and once again we partook of the same conversation that I’d had earlier in both the herb and cheese shops. It’s the only conversation anyone is having at the moment, sadly. But we also added the fact that, since it was a truly beautiful day, it was a crying shame that no one could make good use of it by sitting outside for a coffee with friends.

But at least we had the next-best thing. Our home may be modest in size, but the veranda is vast and affords us an excellent environment in which to enjoy an iced coffee and slice of bougatsa. The only thing lacking was the potential to people-watch.

On the way home, the local shepherdess was herding her sheep and goats across the road. It was such a lovely scene that I wanted to photograph it. Of course, by the time I got the phone out and ready to take a shot, they’d all disappeared apart from this lone recalcitrant goat! I’ll try another time, because the shepherdess in question carries a crook that’s straight out of “Little Bo Peep!”
Takeout Freddos and bougatsa. OK, so no people-watching, but we really haven’t much to complain about.
Never leave your iPad around when stuffing your face. Not if you have a trigger-happy wife anyway! The gaping rectangle bottom right, is the top of a new planter that’s awaiting a plant, but the garden centre that sells the one we want is closed for business right now.
These are the same planters as the empty one in the shot above this one. These are either side of our French Windows, which I guess is a bit obvious really!
As you can see, I’m not starving. These are the few remaining tuna rissoles that the beloved made for lunch yesterday. In Greek they’re tonokeftedes and contain (among other stuff) tuna, fresh parsley, garlic, onion, egg, oregano, some cheese or other (I think she’s using a vegan cheese these days). The exact recipe I’m not at liberty to explain here, for fear of my life!

That’s about all I can report on for yesterday, Saturday March 28th. By the way, the clocks have gone forward during the night. Yes, you are running late for that appointment with the sofa today.

(PS: Don’t forget, you can either right-click, or tap and hold for the drop-down menu on phones or tablets, and view the photos in a new tab, with the added facility to enlarge them further.)

Posted by: honorarygreek | March 26, 2020

Sagacity?

On last evening’s walk in the hills behind the village, we were struck by the abundance and the beauty of the purple-flowering sage at this time of the year. With this much growing wild, we won’t need to plant any in the garden when we want to dry some for the kitchen.

New life is everywhere now. As we sat on the veranda today eating lunch (after a very wet morning) we watched as a hooded crow flew over carrying a twig that was almost too big for its beak. Up in the hills behind the village, last evening, we also enjoyed watching the kids at play…

As we were leaving the village on our walk, our neighbour Sofia was coming the other way. She’s about five foot nothing, dressed entirely in black, including a babushka tied tightly under her leathery chin, and she gave us a broad smile from her toothless lips. Her gnarled walking stick helps as she does her regular ‘constitutional’ every evening around the village perimeter, even though she’s probably nearer to 90 now than she is to 80. I’d love to have photographed her, but it would have shown disrespect. So a word-description will have to suffice.

We’ve encountered Kyria Sofia several times and each time she struggles to recall exactly who we are. She still lives alone in a small village house just a few metres up the steep street from our gate, and survives on horta and soft foods that she always prepares herself. Having no teeth, she says she has to prepare separate meals when her children visit, of which she has five. She can’t eat anything that needs chewing. The fact that her short-term memory occasionally deserts her means that we often have the same conversation, and we each time have to have it as though we were doing so for the first time. This time there was an added challenge, because she evidently doesn’t really understand all that’s currently going on in the world. As we talk, she takes small steps to come closer, and so we have to step further away. It’s obvious she can’t quite grasp what we’re doing and probably puts it down to us being “those crazy foreigners.”

Once again (for the fourth or fifth time no doubt) she asks us where we live, and we explain that we’re the new owners of Anifantaki’s house. When speaking in such terms, no pronoun is ever used. She tells us that he’s her second cousin, which we already knew, of course. But then, in small Greek villages you can bet your bottom dollar that everyone’s related to someone anyway. Adopting expressions that transmit the idea that we’re fascinated to hear that, we continue to listen while she then embarks once again on the list of her five children and what each is doing and where each one lives. One’s in Chania, one’s in Athens, One’s in Herakion and two are down in Ierapetra. Sadly, right now they can’t come and see her, a fact which she seems to puzzle over, yet adopts a stoic tone and says, as much for her own benefit as ours, that they’re very busy with their jobs and families.

As we explained that we ‘must get on’ and took a further step back in an attempt to keep two metres distance, she waved her walking stick at no one in particular, and thanked us for our ‘parea.’ As we strolled on up the lane and out into ‘Dingly Dell’ we agreed that to take a few moments to talk with her probably made her day. To have thanked us for our ‘parea‘ after a five minute conversation, seemed to us a tad poignant.

Walking the dirt lanes between the olive groves, looking at the flora and fauna, infuses us with hope for a better time to come. Quite how soon that will be, who knows?

Posted by: honorarygreek | March 24, 2020

Bearing up without bougatsa

I truly do never take our situation here for granted. To live where we do, with a lovely spacious veranda looking out over mountains and, between them, the sea, is truly a blessing I could never cease to appreciate. In view of what the world is going through right now, especially, we saw our favoured situation brought into sharp focus as we left the house for some essential food shopping this morning.

Despite what many of our friends and relatives in the UK may think, we know what’s going on there. We keep abreast of the news daily. We watched Mr. Johnson’s address to the nation last night and thanked God we don’t live in the UK right now. The Greek government has been way ahead of the British all the way through, and this morning threw that into sharp focus. We’ve been in lockdown here already for several days, and the government, taking a leaf out of Italy’s book, haven’t just told the populace not to go out, they’ve made arrangements for us to do so officially if needed.

It’s funny how generally we still often harbour this illusion that Greece is quaintly out of date with so many modern developments, especially in the field of technology. The facts show otherwise. Yes, much of daily life is still governed by an antiquated bureaucracy, but in other ways we’re very well organised. The lockdown arrangements are a good example of this. If anyone wants to go out, they have two choices of how to do so legally. They can either download a form (which is now also available in English) from a government web site, or they can simply send a text to a specified number, stating briefly their name, where they live, where they’re going and for how long. There is an instant text received back as response and off you go, out the door. If the Police stop you, all you need to do is show them the text on your phone. Now tell me that’s not efficient.

This morning we tried the system out for the first time. Just before leaving the house I sent the text, received the response instantly, and off we went. It’s much easier and quicker than printing out the form, filling it in and then taking that with you too. Plus it’s greener (as one of my friends from Rhodes pointed out to me) since it doesn’t waste paper or toner. It was interesting hearing Mr. Johnson’s speech to the nation, because he listed the reasons why someone would be allowed to go out, and it was exactly the same, and in the same order, as the list the government here had already put on the downloadable form.

But the real plus-point for us is the difference in experience for us going to the supermarkets over what’s happening in the UK right now. I am in communication with many friends and relatives over there, and they all say the same (as indeed do the daily TV news bulletins) – it’s like the end of the world has arrived. So many queues (fights even) to get into supermarkets, only to find once you’re in there that the shelves are empty. Why are they empty? Not because there is any problem with the supply chain, that’s all working normally. No, it’s because of selfish cretinous people going quite crazily insane and panic buying without any logical reason whatsoever. What IS the matter with people? At times like this you need to see the best come out in people, and thank goodness in many cases it does, but unfortunately the worst also surfaces, among those whose IQ must be about 3.

Here, we arrived at the local branch of Lidl this morning to see the bloke who’s supposed to give customers who don’t already have them rubber or plastic gloves, plus a ticket for entry, sitting outside having a cigarette. My wife just walked in, took her own card and didn’t need the gloves because we already have a box of surgical rubber gloves in the car and she already had a pair on. While she did the necessary at Lidl, I went on along the road to another supermarket, Halkidiakis, where a cheerful young lady in the lobby area told me to take a card and enter. She also took my plastic bag of recyclable bottle tops to dispose of for me. Inside, every shelf was stocked to capacity and no one was showing any sign of panic. If it weren’t for the face masks, you’d have thought all was right with the world. It couldn’t have been more different from the scenes we’ve seen on UK TV news lately.

I forgot to mention too, that when you go out you need to have your ID with you, which for a UK ex-pat living here means your passport and your residency permit. You’ll only need them if the Police turn up and decide to do spot checks, but you need to have them with you just in case. It’s no big deal, and not difficult to comply with. The only fly in the ointment for me was the fact that I rather fancied a slice of bougatsa with my coffee once we got home and the zaccheroplasteions were all out of it. I suppose they’re not making much, if any, right now, since they’re only allowed to serve take-outs. I could hardly complain at such an inconvenience though, now, could I?

We were back home scarcely an hour after we’d gone out and then took our filter coffee out on to the veranda, where my mobile phone rang. Funny isn’t it, the only people who ought to be working right now are those in essential industries. The number showing on my phone’s screen was an Athens number, so I didn’t answer it. I already knew what it was. Googling the number on my iPad (which I always recommend if it’s a number you don’t recognise) it turned out to be yet another energy company doing telesales. Essential industry? Open to debate I’d say.

As we drank our coffees we watched as both a Red Admiral and a Painted Lady butterfly landed on the flowering margaritas just below us and spread their wings to warm themselves in the sun. Before long twelve Griffon vultures were circling high above us and we took great delight in watching them through the binoculars. OK, so we were without bougatsa, but all in all, boy were we grateful for all we have.

Posted by: honorarygreek | March 21, 2020

Slow, but Sure

Well, as of right now the cases of Coronavirus here in Greece have reached 530, with so far 12 fatalities. Still it continues to look like the government acted quickly enough to keep Greece well down on other countries, but it remains to be seen just how much worse the situation gets. Another good web site for the latest information is this one.

And we continue to keep to ourselves, although a good friend came by yesterday and we sat on the veranda to chew the fat, as it were. But first, just a few photos from last evening’s most pleasant country walk…

A pretty plant that’s coming out in flower beside the roads and paths is Vetch, which is also found in the UK. It’s a climber and so likes this chainlink fence beside the footpath to facilitate its growth.
We were delighted to see these too. We’re fairly confident that they’re yellow poppies, although at first they looked like giant buttercups. I don’t remember seeing yellow poppies where we lived on Rhodes. I also thought they may have been a variety of anemone, but the stalks and leaves looked much more like those of a poppy.
And finally, another lovely example of the native orchids to this part of the world. This one was about a foot tall.

Finally, I have news for my correspondent Kathy Smyth, who wrote to me a while back to tell me about Taki Proistaki, who runs a very well-organised refuge for dogs not all that far from our house. When Kathy wrote, I had no idea who he was or where he was, only that his surname was the same as that of one of our new friends in Ierapetra. So, since our friend Mihalis Proistakis came over yesterday, I had the opportunity to ask him if he knew about this Taki fellow.

As we ought to have expected, when I asked if he knew about Taki’s place, he laughed and said, “Of course, he’s my second cousin!” Anyone familiar with Greece will find that response rather familiar, right? He’d very soon shown me Taki’s Facebook page and expressed admiration for the way in which the place is run. It seems his second cousin is passionate about his cause and has something around 400 dogs living there, all of which have their own comfy kennels and plenty of room to get enough exercise.

Lots of people familiar with Greece will also know that the locals’ reputation regarding the treatment of domestic animals hasn’t been the most exemplary over the years. Mihalis told us (and I seem to remember having heard about this) that the previous government of Alexi Sipras had brought in some new laws, involving very heavy fines and even imprisonment for people found guilty of keeping animals in inhumane conditions. For instance, dogs kept chained up now have to be given at least two metres of chain/rope and must have a decent enough shelter from the sun/rain. By and large, things have been improving, albeit slowly, but Takis is one of those who demonstrates that not all Greeks are indifferent to the plight of their animals.

So that’s why I’m very happy to flag up Taki Proistaki and his dog refuge here on this post. If you’re at all interested in his cause, you’ll find all you need to know on that Facebook page. We don’t know if and when we’ll get to pay him a visit, but it seems his place is just off the road between our village and Ierapatra town, although the house is some way from the road itself. He also has a web site, click HERE to go take a look.

We also had a brief chat with our neighbour Maria, from just across the lane yesterday afternoon. With the current difficulties, there’s no shortage of conversation, even though it’s carried on from a distance of a couple of metres. Here in the village, we’re kind of sheltered from most of what’s going on in the outside world for the present. Village life continues according to its usual routine, and we all hope that’s how it stays.

Another completely unexpected and rather exciting surprise awaited me too when I opened our mailbox in the village, on Thursday morning. Back in December I’d ordered a new knife-sharpener for the kitchen from eBay. The supplier is based in Hong Kong (no surprises there, then), and came with a 99.5% approval rating from other buyers. The estimated time for the item’s arrival had been the middle of February and, yup, you guessed it, it hadn’t arrived. My better half theorised that, with the advent of CoronaVirus, maybe all packages from Hong Kong were being quarantined! I thought that was a bit far-fetched, but, as time went on, the idea began to take on slightly more attraction to me.

I’d been in correspondence with the sender, who promised that, if it hadn’t arrived within another week or so, they’d send another. So, in view of the fact that we’d kind of lost hope on this one, it was a complete surprise when I pulled the package out from the mailbox, saw that it had some Chinese writing on the outside, and we tore it open to find…

They do a version with some parts highlighted in red too. I thought this one looked more sophisticated.

That knife sharpener only cost me the princely sum of around £3.50, including carriage. I’d have bought one locally, but can you find that type around here? As rare as hen’s teeth. But it works superbly and feels pretty robust too.

Wey-hey! We may not be able to go out for a meal or a coffee, we may not be able to gather with a group of friends for a pleasant spot of social intercourse, but boy do we have sharp knives in our kitchen drawer. It’s almost like that knife-sharpener and its voyage from Hong Kong to Crete is a metaphor for the country’s journey through the current crisis. Things are moving mighty slowly, but it just might be that we’re getting there.

Posted by: honorarygreek | March 16, 2020

Thinking Positive(ly)

You know, it’s very easy to get depressed about the current situation. And it’s infuriating to see the plain selfishness and needless panic that’s happening in some supermarkets in the UK, but getting through successfully is helped enormously by a positive attitude. A friend here in Greece just posted this little cartoon on a Viber chat group, and I rather liked it…

The title says: “Same situation, different viewpoint/attitude.” The comment beneath says: “It’s not always the situation you find yourself in that’s negative, you have the option to choose how you’ll confront it.”

I don’t want to spend this post going on again about the rights and wrongs of whether tourists should come here this season, but I will just say this, which adds to the complication of the issue: People I’ve talked to here, those who have businesses that depend on tourism, they want the guests to come. They’ll go under if the people don’t come and that’s a fact. It’s still also a fact that more people will die on the roads today than from the Coronavirus. So, yes, there is a strong case for extreme caution on the subject of people flying in willy-nilly to small Greek islands where there are no facilities for screening for the virus, or indeed treating patients who contract it, but equally, if sensible measures are employed, the situation could still be manageable. But then, with the way things are going, the choice about whether to come or not may well be taken out of peoples’ hands by government restrictions on travel anyway. We’ll just have to wait and see and hope for the best.

What I really wanted to do with this post, is to celebrate how wonderfully nature puts on its regular show at this time of the year. Apart from the cacophony of birdsong that we’re privileged to enjoy from our veranda here in the village, the wild flowers we see on our evening walks are a pure delight. So, here are a few photos taken in the past couple of evenings, on our walks in the countryside…

Next, some views from those walks, including a few studies in the village…

And, finally, a few shots around home…

Well, I do hope that lot cheered you up. The March weather is proving to be every bit as capricious as usual. As I mentioned in the caption to that photo of the thermometer, we had 25ºC over the weekend. Today, as I type this post up, it’s drizzling outside and only just beginning to clear up, plus it’s 15ºC. Still, time I put some coffee on I’d say.

Keep smiling.

Posted by: honorarygreek | March 13, 2020

Sitting it Out

Well, I was planning just to write a short piece about our newly-purchased Briki and how we’ve finally made ourselves a couple of Ellinikos with some degree of success this past week, but the ‘elephant in the room’ cannot be ignored any more.

I’ve had mixed feelings and changed my ideas about this whole Corona-virus situation lately. Whilst I still believe it’s important to remember that the vast majority of people who get it will only be slightly unwell for a short while, it has to be acknowledged that anyone of us could be responsible for serious consequences for elderly friends or relatives, were we to contract it and pass it on to them.

So far there have still been relatively few cases here in Greece compared to other European countries, and we’ve yet to see any confirmed cases here on Crete, but that’s almost certain to change at some point. My underlying feeling up until now has been that we’re all rather over-reacting, but I read a piece on-line yesterday that really made a very valid point and altered my perspective quite a lot. It was posted by my fellow indie author Daphne Kapsali on her Facebook page and she came at this whole thing from an angle I hadn’t previously considered.

In essence, what she said was that, despite Greece and many of her islands being still corona-free, if masses of tourists come here this summer, many of which will not have been tested for the virus, they could unwittingly place the Greek health system and its infrastructure under an unbearable strain, not to mention placing lives under threat. OK, so some of the things she wrote were put very bluntly, maybe dispassionately would be a better word, but what she said makes a deal of sense. I quote some of her words (and although she’s talking about Sifnos, the island she lives on, it applies to all the Greek islands bar none really) – “PLEASE do not think of Sifnos (or your island of choice) as a safe haven to escape the virus; think of it as a place that needs to be protected from contamination, and DO NOT take the risk of being the one to bring it in.”

You have to admit, she makes a valid point. Imagine if visiting holidaymakers were to bring the virus here, to communities where the facilities for testing are non-existent and the greater percentage of the population is elderly. I think about our own newly-adopted village, which has a population of only around 75, probably 80% of which are old and on some kind of medication or other. If someone with Corona were to come here and infect a local, it could quite literally wipe out this village as a going concern. Yes, basically, we’re talking lives. We’re talking communities.

It’s such a tough one because, of course, Greece depends on tourism. The economy here would be seriously damaged if the visitors were not to come at all. So what’s the solution? I have to admit I don’t know. If it were possible for everyone coming here for a holiday this summer to be tested before they got on a plane, that would go a long way to avoiding disaster, but whether that’s a feasible proposition? Probably not.

I suppose the only thing I can say is, if you do come to Greece, please be constantly aware of keeping your distance from people who could be seriously under threat for their lives if they were to catch this thing. All of us have to accept that at some point we may become carriers and not realise it because we’ll be in the incubation period at first. That’s why it’s spreading so fast, after all. Meanwhile, whilst the answer to the question “How long will this go on?” is the same as “How long’s a piece of string?” All we can do is try and follow all the safety instructions we receive from the authorities, and sit it out.

Finally, without wishing to make light of the foregoing and the situation our world is facing right now, at least us two here, following our brief lesson on how to make one from our open-hearted neighbour Angla’i’a, can sit it out over a fairly good cup of Greek coffee.

PS. I’ve now added a ‘Search’ widgit to the right hand column. So, if you’re looking for something you may have read previously, or are wondering whether I’ve mentioned in older posts, you can use that field to go and look for it.

Keep safe, keep healthy.

Posted by: honorarygreek | March 5, 2020

One March Morning

Yesterday, March 5th, was yet another wonderful day, both for light and for temperature. So we got out and dug the patch of garden that’s hopefully going to produce some vegetables this year. It was while the beloved was busy pulling out weeds that I whipped out the iPad and took a few photos, not only in the garden, but just up the lane behind the house. Hope you like them…

This is the westerly-most section of our garden. The olive tree is centuries old, so we were so glad that it was retained when the house and garden were constructed in circa 2003.
The crag in the background is home to the local colony of Griffon Vultures.
This section of garden is accessed by the wooden steps you can just see bottom right. The view from under the olive tree is in the photo below this one. Not half bad, eh?
Posted by: honorarygreek | March 4, 2020

Snow Patrol?

Amiron, Kefalovrysiou Dimou Viannou – There, try saying that after a few Rakis.

On Monday we were invited by a bunch of friends to go for a hike and a picnic.

“It’s not too far,” they said, “only a few kilometres past Myrtos, and up in the forest. It’s a beauty spot, you’ll love it.”

They were right, of course, the place, once we eventually got there, one could hardly do anything else but love. The expedition getting up there, however, was anything but something to love! Barely half an hour after heading west from Ierapetra, you arrive at the ‘new agey’ kind of coastal village/resort called Mirtos. Been there a few times now, and it’s lovely. From there the road veers inland at almost 90º and climbs noticeably. A few km up the road from Mirtos you take a sharp right, almost a hairpin really, and start climbing considerably steeper lanes as you ascend towards the delightful village of Kato Symi. I’ve no idea where ‘Pano Symi’ must be, but if Kato Symi’s truly Kato,’ then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

Only a couple more steep hairpins above the village the road stops being hard-surfaced and becomes dirt and stones. OK, for the next couple of km you think, ‘This is OK, I can handle this.” But it’s having a laugh at your expense. We were in convoy with the friends in eight or nine vehicles, only a couple of which were 4×4, the rest of us poor deluded mortals were driving regular road cars, oops. After we’d well passed the stage at which the road was easily negotiable and become much more rutted, pitted and with rather alarming steep drops off to one side into the impenetrable pine forest, we stopped and asked Tasso, our friend in the car behind us, just how much further it was going to be, because we’d already gone past the stage at which we enjoyed it as a bit of an adventure and were seriously wondering how much it was going to cost to repair the car.

Yes, OK, I’ll admit that the occasional flashes of view we were afforded as we climbed were becoming more breathtaking each time, but I was soon believing that we’d somehow been spirited into one of those hair-raising documentaries you see about people driving up through the upper reaches of the Himalayas. Each time we rounded a kind of ridge, there was yet another kilometre or so of forest, ridges, and steep drops, and the road was beginning to suggest that to turn back would have been the better option. Only there were precious few places where one could hope to turn a car around by now.

Finally, after around 45 minutes of this, since leaving Kato Symi, the land levelled out on to a kind of plateau, the area known as Amiron, district of Viannou, at one end of which is a rather beautiful lake. By this time we were well above the snow line , after already having stopped while some of the friends got out and had a snowball fight.

Our heads full of dread at the thought of the return journey back down the mountain, were nevertheless awed by what we saw around us. Here are some photos of the excursion, once we’d reached our destination…

And here it is folks, evidence of yours truly actually kicking a football for the first time in a couple of decades…

It’s not discernible here, but at the far end of that plateau is the lake.

The temperatures were fresh, but not at all cold up there, and, despite the ridiculous nature of the road to get there, we had a fantastic time. The only things that remained, as it approached 4.00pm, was to set forth and endure the descent back to Kato Symi village. The photo below gives some kind of idea as to the trail we had to drive back down, and you can see the beloved, who got out on many occasions to clear the track of boulders or tree branches. In fact, I forgot to say that, on the ascent, we actually did pass a couple of local agrotes in their 4×4 pickups coming the other way (how we managed to pass them, God only knows) who must have been thinking, “Where the devil did all these lunatics come from?” after having passed the eighth or ninth vehicle coming the other way, up a lane that the locals probably never see anything on for months at a time.

Tell you what, though, as we finally (45 minutes after leaving the plateau) approached Kato Symi, with the sun going behind the mountain, we did feel rather sated with fantastic weather, amazing scenery, and the icing on the cake, the fact that we’d seen (for the first time ever in Greece) a Nuthatch going from tree trunk to tree trunk, not feet from our car window as we slowly made our descent around one of the zillions of hairpins. Up there we hadn’t seen a cloud all day, but as we descended, saw quite a lot of it beneath us…

Kato Symi village. yes, that’s the same road as we’re on in the foreground, just below the next hairpin on the descent.

All in all it had been a fantastic day, but in view of the access road to get up there, I rather think it’ll be quite a while before we attempt it again. Plus, we’d walked on real snow for the first time in probably 20 years!

Posted by: honorarygreek | February 28, 2020

More of the Same and a Mystery too

Lunch time in February, Brrr, eh?

It cannot have escaped your notice, if you’re daft enough to follow my ramblings, that I’m rather taken with our new life here on a Cretan hillside. We were sitting out there on the veranda a day or two ago, enjoying a lunch of chopped salad and pittas, washed down with a little retsina for me and a medium red wine for her (medicinal purposes [burp] you understand), when we couldn’t help but begin counting our blessings. Like I’ve already harped on about quite recently, the birdsong here is a cacophony at this time of the year, and the peace here is simply delicious too.

If you look at the hillside opposite us in the photo above, you’ll be able to make out the track that ascends seemingly from the middle of the base of the hill. That’s been crying out for us to include in one of our walks for a while, and so, yesterday, we decided to hang the DIY and take that walk after breakfast. We hoped that it would lead us all the way to the top, although the extent to which it ascends that hill does become somewhat doubtful from what one can see from our veranda. Still, nothing like a good adventure, eh? After all, the prospect of gazing down across the entire town of Ierapetra from such a height has to excite the soul of anyone remotely normal, right?

Within half an hour of leaving our front door, we were walking up that very section of path, the lower part that’s visible in the photo at the top of this post. When we got to the highest point at which it’s visible from here, it took a turn sharply to the left, then fizzled out into nothing more than a narrow goat-track among the olive trees. After a further hundred metres or so, even that disappeared and we were walking simply in lush, green, terraced olive groves. Undeterred, we thought, “We’re intrepid. We don’t let anything like the mere lack of a definite path deter us easily,” and so set off along the terraced groves among the trees, chaffinches and warblers burbling in our ears and birds of prey circling above as we sought a way upwards.

After a further half an hour or so, during which we’d had to scramble up steep, crumbly banks from one grove to the next, and been well deceived by false hopes brought on by the apparent proximity to the top (one’s perspective when one is clinging to a steep, terraced hillside is greatly distorted, take it from me), we began to realise that it wasn’t going to be as straightforward as we’d expected. Never mind. Since we’d thought to pack a flask of coffee, a bottle of water and a small plastic box containing a few biscuits into a compact shoulder bag, we found a suitable rocky crag with a pretty awesome view back across the valley to the village, sat down and broke out the refreshments.

Thus it was that I whipped out the phone and took the photos below, while we once again expressed awe at the six or seven pairs of griffon vultures soaring hundreds of feet above. What really delighted us was, not only the wonderful almond blossom that’s adorning the trees everywhere now, even amongst the olive groves, but also the butterflies that we began to spot as we sat there and gawped at the beauty of it all. We saw, among several other species, both Red Admirals and Painted Ladies – in February! We may not have made it to the top this time around (but it’s only a matter of time, trust me), but we did spend a blissful half-hour sipping hot coffee and cold water, while taking in the magnificence of the environment surrounding the village that’s been our home now for five months and counting.

So, as if you weren’t expecting it, here are the photos I took while we were poised on a rock half-way up that hill. Hope you like this batch (right-click to ‘open image in larger view.’ Or simply touch and hold for the same submenu on a phone or tablet)…

If you track your eye up from my beloved’s head, you can make out the village on the far mountainside, a little above the farther almond tree.
My rather poor attempt at a selfie. Evidently my hand moved. The village is centre right. The clouds over the far mountains were moving all the time, affording us the occasional glimpse of the ‘kourabiethes,’ as we call them, which are already exhibiting more rock and less snow than just a few days ago.
Let’s face it, one would tend to want to sit there a while with a view like that. The two-dimensional nature of photos gives one a deceptive perception of the steepness of the hillside.
Ok, so the definition’s not great, but you can see the Red Admiral sunning itself on the bough if you look closely enough.
The anemones are everywhere at the moment. What we’ve noticed though, which we can only theorise has something to do with the soil here, is that the vast majority are blue or mauve, whereas, where we lived on Rhodes, they were predominantly pink and white. No doubt someone out there’s an expert and will advise on the subject.

Tearing ourselves away and negotiating our way back through the groves (they always look different from the opposite direction, don’t they?) in search of the lane, which we did eventually find, although not without a few u-turns, we finally found ourselves back on the road about a kilometre below the village. We hadn’t walked a few metres when a car drew up, on its way to the village from the direction of the town below. The window wound down to reveal our new friend and village ‘mama’ Angla’i’a. Taking one look at Yvonne-Maria’s empty hands, she asked with a wide grin, “What, no horta?”

Before we could answer, she insisted that we drop in for a coffee when we got back to the village, since she couldn’t give us a lift (always assuming we’d have wanted one) because she had an old ya ya in the passenger seat and the back seats were piled high with cardboard boxes. We had no option but to agree. It wasn’t a hard decision.

Once ensconced in her kitchen, her hubby Giorgos at the table beside us, there began a conversation about all kinds of things, including how to make a good Elliniko, which I asked about because when Greek friends drop in, it’s invariably the kind of coffee they prefer, rather than a filtro, or – perish the thought – instant (very bad for you, they tell us unceasingly!). Before long, as is usually the case, her screen door was opening and neighbours were coming and going, including, we were glad to see, old Manolis, who’d had a fall a couple of months back and fractured his hip. He’s only pushing ninety, after all, a good five years older than Giorgo, a mere child by comparison. He’d been in hospital for a couple of weeks, but was evidently now getting about pretty well with a rather posh-looking carved wooden bastouni (walking stick).

The beloved asked widower Manoli if he was managing OK at home. Did he, for example, cook for himself? His response was to nod towards his philanthropic neighbour Angla’i’a, and she turned to give us a knowing smile, nodded her head and said,

“It’s what you do. That’s all.”

She was right, of course. The kind of community that we’d enjoyed in the village of Tunley, where I’d grown up, in the west Country, six miles from Bath, back in the 1950’s, is still alive and well here, thankfully. We were soon wending our way the hundred metres or so home from Angla’i’a and Giorgo’s, clutching a gift of half a dozen freshly lain eggs and a bag of near-perfect beef-tomatoes in our sweaty hands, both feeling well thankful for the life we’re apparently falling into since moving here.

OK, so before we run away with the idea that everything here is perfect (although it’s a very high percentage, I have to admit), we’ve been expecting a package from the UK for a few weeks now, posted by my ever-thoughtful sister Jane. After she’d begun to worry about the mystery as to why it hadn’t yet arrived, she contacted Parcelforce UK about where it might be. Their response was that someone had attempted to deliver it on January 29th and not succeeded. Very odd, since we haven’t even received a note to say that the delivery man had been, and would we now please drop into the depot in town to collect it. That would be par for the course. But we’ve seen nothing.

Since no one in any village out here has a house number, and precious few even a street name, the usual form is for the courier to have one’s phone number and the driver then calls you when he’s approaching the village. You then go out into the road and meet him, easy. Or, if the package is coming through the regular postal service, that’s when you get the little form advising of the attempted delivery, usually left in your postal box in the centre of the village, which probably proved too small to accept the package. So, that little mystery remains to be solved. When we moved here we expected our mail to arrive with a little more despatch than it did on Rhodes, and in some cases that’s proven true, but there are in fact two other packages, both of which are stuff I ordered on line, that haven’t arrived yet. Ooer.

There you go, eh? Like I said, nowhere’s perfect. Mind you, if that’s all we have to worry about, I’m still not complaining.

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Kritsa, at the heart of it all

Author of Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa and Rodanthe's Gift

Adriana Shum

Living and writing on a remote Greek island.