Thursday 30 June 2016

Midsummers Eve and St John the Baptist

The end of June. Finally the sea water is warm enough for me to venture in.

My favourite swimming place

Summer in Greece has offically begun.  June 23rd was the eve of the feast of St John the Baptist and a time to light bonfires and burn the May Day wreath.   On June 24th greeks celebrate the birth date of St John with church services in the small churches dedicated to the saint.

 The bonfires should be lit at  crossroads.  In the 90's we always lit a small bonfire on this eve and burnt our wreaths, turning the event into a street party with everyone bringing meat to be bbqed and some beer or wine.  Children and adults alike jumped the fire three times to be rid of fleas for the rest of the year and also to bring good luck.   The street party was extremely popular and we had to move it from the street to some waste ground nearby.  Then the Council took over the festivities.

  We organised our own small street party again but our visiting Athenian neighbours complained about the smoke from the bbq and the noise so we moved it into my sister-in-laws yard and finally this year it petered out.  Great pity.  Any excuse for a celebration!  This lively midsummer  fiesta ended up with singing and dancing and late night hilarity, not to mention bags of beer cans (not recycled back then.  They had to be off loaded around the neighbourhood so we didn't get a bad name from the rubbishmen) and mountains of pointy souvlaki sticks.

Building the fire out in the street

Let the party begin

In other countries it is the summer solstice, midsummer, a time to dance round Stonehenge or the midsummer-eve's-pole.  Greece celebrates every year on June 24th but the solstice itself may take place from the 20th to the 24th June.  This year it was on Monday the 20th.  For us it is the longest day of the year and this year coincides with full moon.  These two events only come together once every 70 years.  

In the Northern hemisphere this full moon is known as the Strawberry Moon, so I read, because it signals the beginning of the strawberry season.  Not here folks.  Strawberry season finished over a month ago.   In the Southern Hemisphere it is known at the Long Night Moon.
Mid winter down-under.

Sunday 26 June 2016

greek news - summer of 2016

We don't watch much news in the summertime.  It is too hot to sit inside and watch the television.  Yesterday we set up our outdoor TV on the balcony, a little old set, flat screens being still a thing of the future for us.  This is for sitting out after 9pm and watching the Euro 2016 soccor matches, maybe Wimbledon in a few weeks and then the Olympics.  

  Parliament will vote for our economic destruction whether we watch or not and then the MPs will all go for summer holidays to their villas on Myconos.  

 I look at the weather forecast now and again, heaven knows why.  Every day will be hot, hot and hotter till September.

However, always there is a 'however'.  I have been aware of a few events.

We welcomed Pope Francis, we saw Putin close up.  Latest big-wig to visit was Head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon.  He visited refugees on the island of Lesvos.  The UN Refugee Agency says one in 122 persons are now a refugee or seeking asylum.  Incredible.

Archeology -

Tablets were found in an ancient grave near Athens engraved with curses aimed at four tavern keepers.  A drunk kicked out for making mayhem?  Five tablets were found pierced with an iron nail and asking the underworld Gods to 'put the plague' on those named.  Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble.  

The above quote is of course from Shakespeare's MacBeth.  And I decided to check it online.  The quote is wrong.  It is -

Double, double toil and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

I'm always learning.

A partly sunken port has been found in Piraeus harbour.  These ruins, lying in heavily polluted waters,  played a vital role in the Battle of Salamis in which the Athenian fleet  beat the Persians and saved the city of Athens.  2,500 year old naval bases and fortifications have been identified, showing just how great was the Athenian Navy back then.  Archeologists seem to think these finds are as important as the Parthenon.

Matala Festival - Matala is a small town in Crete  where hippies gathered in the 60's and 70's living in caves carved out of the rock.  It was a sleepy fishing village till the hippies congregated there and is now a modern tourist attraction.  This modern festival  took place on the beach near the caves. As of old the music and dancing continued for days.

Joni Mitchell, the Canadian folk singer wrote her 1971 song 'Carey' about her time with the Matala hippies.

And Br-exit.  I'm beginning to wish there had been a Gr-exit when we were first threatened.  We might be on our way out of this mess by now.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Visitors from the homeland

I haven't been 'home' (where is home now) for ten years.  When we have visitors from New Zealand I have a short list of 'necessities'  to bring with them.  Kiwis abroad will understand completely.  Others may be a little puzzled.  We have learnt to make  own meat pies, anzac biscuits, pavlovas,  fish'n chips and even ginger nuts.  No way we can make the iconic hoky-poky ice-cream.  But what they can, and do, lug around in their suitcases are jars of marmite (or vegemite), pineapple lumps (the chewest most gorgeous chocolate covered pineapple sweet you can imagine), mallowpuffs (marshmallow and chocolate with a biscuit base), a copy of the latest NZ Woman's weekly  and all sorts of  Maori and All Black trinkets.  The Greek children and grandchildren love all those souvenirs more than I do.  

It goes without saying that I will be just as pleased with a big bottle of gin, some toblerone and  duty free Baileys.

This summer's bounty

An introduction to Greek hospitality.  A large loaf of homemade sourdough bread, a huge tray of stuffed tomatoes and peppers, greek salad, feta cheese and very cold local wine and beer.
Greek hospitality around here means you never dare to have an empty plate or a half filled glass in front of you.  The plate will be filled with all the food you have been seen to enjoy most, the choicest pieces will be passed to you with cries of 'faei, paidi mou, faei' (eat, my child, eat).  No guest must leave hungry.  That phrase 'a groaning table' must be greek in origin.  

The very happy hosts

No Amstel and Heineken.  When in Greece everyone drinks Greek beer.

A visiting yacht flying three NZ flags (you can see two in this photo).  The Silver Fern on a black background is immediately recognised as the NZ emblem.  The old flag with the Union Jack and  four stars of the southern cross is too much like the Australian flag which is exactly the same except it has five stars.  Who remembers?

Cafe culture.  At the 'green chairs'.  Katy and Sam.

A leisurely afternoon drink and some kalamari at Olga's taverna right by the water at the end of Askeli Bay. Nikos and Niki. 
 Morning coffee and some sort of hot pastry in the town, maybe a walk around, a short swim and it is time for lunch.  Then siesta for some, more swimming for others and then there is some serious eating to be done.  Relax.  You must try everything.  And this is only the summer menu.  Ask those in the family who have come in the winter.  There are giant beans and pork casseroles, lamb with a head of garlic, salted cod, great oven trays of potatoes cooked in the wood fire oven.  And this is a time of severe austerity!

Greeks and NZers.  The first night at Neorion, another typical taverna by the sea.  So much to catch up on.  So many new members of the family to meet.  So much new food to taste and so much local wine and beer to be quaffed!

At home in the hills above Poros.  A long table for a big family.  Roast pig on the spit and kokoretsi (offal wrapped in intenstines on the spit).  Believe me, a good time was had by all.

Yet another memorable meal under the jasmine.  This is definitely a 'before pic'.  An empty table.  Rainy and K prepare for the onslaught.

Seafood on the roof as the sun goes down over the mountain range called the 'Sleeping Lady'

A view of the neighbourhood.  White and blue houses built right up against each other with small lanes and steps for access.

Off on a cruise around the harbour in the water taxi 'Socrates' with the most genial captain on the island (actually, my son-in-law lol)

A NZ soldier gets a short back and sides from his Greek cousin.  Danae and Nikos.

What the kids liked best.  Water sports.  A bumpy ride on the 'banana' with screams of joy and an inevitable dunking at the end.

Sam gets a lesson from the master.  K shows him how to prepare the kokoretsi.  Here he is pushing chunks of liver, heart, kidney and other offal onto the spit.

The Maestro and his trainee admiring their creation.  Pig and kokoretsi turning into a succulent meze.

The aftermath!  No-one had room for the ears.  They had to be eaten the next day.

A sad time for us all.  The 'children' leaving the island. BUT, they shall return.

And a small taste of NZ for those who have not visited.

One of the long sandy beaches that go for miles along the coast in the Bay of Plenty. Great waves for surfing.  Great for surf casting.  Pipis and tua-tuas just waiting to be dug out by the toes at low tide.  Driftwood, carpets of  seashells.  Oystercatchers, black backed gulls and kittiwakes.  A walk along the beach is full of small pleasures

Kyriakos meets the maoris.  On the tourist marae at Rotorua where the earth literally boils.  Geysers, a strong sulphur smell and boiling mud pools are just some of the attractions.

And the fishing!  These are fish from the Pacific ocean.   A couple of goodish size snapper.  Enough to fill up even a small family of greeks lol

Monday 20 June 2016

Vayonia by night

The first heatwave of summer.  Sweltering days of fiery sun.  Breathless afternoons, skin slick with sweat, evenings without even a leaf astir.  How much can a person take, without turning on the aircon.  Much cheaper to go downhill to the  bay below.
It is unbelievable how cool it is beside the waves listening to the soft 'plop' of the 'surf', being enveloped by the cool draft of air coming down the ravine.  Slowly the mind and body recovers and you feel that maybe life will go on.

This weekend is a long weekend and a public holiday for most.  Sunday is Whitsunday I believe in English.   The Holy Ghost descended upon the 12 Apostles and they became preachers and martyrs.  

 Poros is filled to the brim.  We have a full moon, a long weekend and a heatwave.  A good time to avoid the main port.  All those big Range Rovers, Mercedes and BMWs create havoc on the roads.  They don't know where they want to go, they stop  in the middle of the road to admire the scenery and inevitably cause traffic jams and a huge parking problem.  The wop-wops, the back of beyond, the boondocks, the outback, that's the only place to be this weekend.  Or Vagionia Bay.

An evening view.  Time for a frosty drink and a grilled souvlaki.  The waft of smoke coming from the grill, that intense aroma of searing meat is enough to make even a vegetarian hungry.

Friend and neighbor Giorgios enjoying the cool wine and a souvlaki after a hard days work with his trucking business

When in Greece do as the Greeks do.  Ouzo and ice, ouzo and Coca-Cola, a small meze (with home salted sardines and local olives) and as this is Europe you can still enjoy a cigarette.  On that plate of meze are two small cubes of bread.  The boys at the bar put a dab of taramousalata (fish roe) on the bread, my favourite.  I scrape off the pink, creamy roe and K eats the bread.

Darkness is slowly falling.  Most people have gone home to have a shower and get ready for the evening stroll along the harbor, a leisurely late dinner and an even later late-night drink.

For the few visitors who remain Markos turns on the spotlight and they can have a magical swim in the shimmering water

The bar by night.  There is always someone to keep you company over a whisky or long cold G and T.  It has been a busy day down here, the sunchairs, the tables, the bar stools were full from early morning to late afternoon.  We missed the crowds and the noise of the happy holiday makers.  You want a swinging beach scene you come early.  We arrive late and enjoy the conversation and friendly banter with those around us.

Summer has begun with a bang. 

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Vayonia Bay

Vayonia Bay is just below our house and it is our local watering and swimming hole.  It is to this exotic looking bay that we bring all our foreign visitors and then find it so difficult to tear them away to some other of Poros island's delights.  Good coffee, a swim in the calm blue waters and a good book or maybe an ouzo and debate on the latest  political development or the size of tuna this summer.   What else does one need.  Perhaps a cool breeze is what makes it all near perfect.

Vagionia is where I learned to drink ouzo and coca-cola.  Thanks Betsy.  Vagionia is where we meet friends and stay on for souvlaki and really ice cold beer in the late afternoon.  Vagionia is where we go at 7am when the grandkids have a sleep over.  We break that  early morning tranquility with shrill screams and dive into the unruffled waters disturbing the wild life, the natives and all the fishes in the sea.

a small sea cave to explore

Vagionia is where we come in the winter after a good northerly blow to look for treasure washed up on the beach.  Vagionia is where  Jamie fell out of a tree.  Vagionia is where the kids go wild chasing the chooks, feeding the cats and playing with whatever animal is this year's mascot.  One year it was Rocky the sausage dog and then Paraskevas the big fat cat.  Last year it was Ghika the goat.

Ghika the goat keeps us company while he eyes up the next beach towel to chew on

If you want a little more peace and quiet there are  smaller bays on either side. Our favourite has a  tree giving shade right over the water.  You can step in gingerly without being splashed.  A short way out the seabed is sandy and it is easy to make a graceful entrance.  There is a jetty for diving and a place to tether your boat although most of the yachts anchor a short way out and the crew swims in for a beer or beaches their zodiac right below the bar.

The service is quick, Manolis, Marko, Irene, the boys and girls serving are friendly and chatty.  I'll just spit on them three times so I don't give them the evil eye,  ftoo ftoo ftoo.  They've turned a dusty beach into a trendy watering place, palm trees to shelter you from the sun, wooden bar and floors and they keep the beach clean and scoop up any rubbish brought in by the 'tide'.

Ridiculous regulations  have stopped them putting up shade umbrellas and sunchairs until 14th June.  Authorities often don't seem to realise that  Greeks on islands make most of their money from tourism.  1st of April should mean the opening of the summer season, especially  this year  as most of the world celebrated easter a month earlier than us and were here hoping to find everything up and running and somewhere to spend their money.  Money spent is money in the bank and money in the government's coffers to pay our pensions, wages, social security and of course those pesky people at the IMF the european bank and Herr Schauble.

Vagionia beach and bar are ready now and revving up for this first heat wave.  Go down and have a swim and cool off.  You'll love it.

This years beach.  Hopefully soon it will look more like the next photos.

Summer season 2015

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Spiros swims for children in need

Local Poros boy, Spiros Rois, swam almost 80 kilometres from Piraeus (the harbour of Athens) to the island of Poros  to raise money for the foundation 'Pisti' (faith) which helps young children with cancer and their families.

The marathon swim started from Piraeus harbour and continued for five days as he swam from island to island in the Saronic Gulf.
 The first leg of the journey was 17ks from Piraeus to the island of Salamina. Next day Salamina to  the island of Aegina 18ks.
Third day Aegina to the small island of Agistri 8ks
Then Agistri to Methana 10ks.
And finally Methana to Poros where he got a well deserved heroes welcome.

We were lucky enough to be on one of the boats which escorted him into the harbour where a red carpet awaited him along with hundreds of cheering locals.  It was a festive occasion with all of Poros celebrating our own superstar.  There were flares being sent skywards, boats tooting, 'You are My Hero' blasting out of the loudspeaker, a flotilla of local boats, all the island's young  rowers and kayakers and a dozen children that Spiros had taught to swim, my grandaughter Nelli being one of the girls who dived in to accompany him on the last hundred metres of the marathon. Above all was the sound of a cheering crowd, whistling and yelling.

Getting ready to 'cruise' out to the lighthouse and get our first glimpse of Spiros and his bobbing orange buoy.

All the family were on board to cheer

Captain Kyriakos

A celebratory flare from Yianni's fishing boat

Some of the fleet of escort boats

Yianni in his fishing boat the Orion with the two youngest girls

The girls jump mid 'ocean' from fishing boat to water taxi.  They know no fear.

Spiros  swims with an orange buoy. You can see him to the right of the yacht which holds his back-up crew.

Jamie celebrating as little boys will do

Swimmers preparing to dive, Nelli second from the left

Reception 'committee'

Congratulations Spiro.  That was one hell of an achievement.