Friday 30 March 2018

Patrick Leigh Fermor

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermour

Travel writer, traveller, scholar and greek hero.  At age 18, in 1930s he walked from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul.  During the war he helped the greek resistance in Crete and daringly captured a german general and abducted him to Egypt. 

In the 1960s Paddy and his wife Joan built a hideaway in the southern Peloponese in Greece where he lived till his death in 2011.  He wanted the house to become a retreat for artists, writers, and scholars.  The Benaki Museum and the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Foundation are restoring the buildings and Aria Hotels will provide the services.

There are three stone buildings surrounded by gardens of olive and cypress trees.  The perfect place to 'create' during the day and spend evenings discussing and arguing with other artistes over glasses of local Manian wine.

His book 'A Time of Gifts' is an enchanting tale of his travels through Europe as far as Hungary.  The second volume in the series is 'Between the Woods and the Water' appeared in 1986 and the third volume taking him close to the Turkish border 'The Broken Road' was published after his death.

My mother read all his books, especially those on Greece, 'Mani' and 'Roumeli' and often wondered if he would finish the trilogy of his walk through Europe before her death.  Alas she died before he did and so never read the last volume.   I did however, many years ago, write a letter to him asking on her behalf when the book would be published.  He replied, not mentioning the book, but telling me about his stay near the watermill opposite Poros with his Roumanian lover Balasha Cantacuzene.  I sent the letter to my mother who of course was thrilled.  I wish now I had made a copy of it, though it probably still exists somewhere amongst her papers.

Painting by John Craxton

An exhibition is being held at the British Museum from March to July this year focusing on the friendships of greek painter Nikos Ghikas, english artist John Craxton and Fermor.   The exhibition is titled 'Charmed Lives in Greece' and records their love of greece and their lives on the island of Hydra, Corfu, Crete and at Fermors villa at Kardamyli.

Wednesday 28 March 2018

What's up Doc...

The Greek High Court has upheld the ban on e-cigarettes.  There will be no vaping, well not legally anyway, in public places and no advertising allowed.  They are to be treated the same as an ordinary cigarette.  Around here that doesn't mean much at all.  Most cafeterias and tavernas have large outdoor seating areas where everyone smokes to their hearts (or lungs) content.  On cold, wet days inside space will usually be covered by a fog of smoke.  If you don't like it you sit outside.  Vaping has become popular and smokers of e-cigs buy chocolate flavoured 'smokes' or tzatziki, strawberry, just about any flavour you can dream up. 

Quad Bikes 
Two wheels good, four wheels bad

The next things that could be banned are quad bikes.  They will be banned from all roads but allowed as recreational vehicles on sandy beaches and mountain tracks.  Quad bikes are called 'gourounes' here, female pigs in fact. No I don't know why.

I don't know what I'll do without mine.  It will mean going back to driving a boiling hot car in the middle of summer and trying in vain to find a parking spot down in the town in the tourist season.

Quad bikes are popular all over the islands and quad bike hire to tourists brings in a lot of money.  Yesterday there was a protest 'march' of bikes in Athens against the ban.  Rental stores in the last few years have being adding to their ATV fleet and are in for a big loss if the ban takes place.

One of the thickest  dust clouds ever has covered most of southern greece.  The  orange dust cloud which came sweeping up from the Sahara desert was so thick that in Crete schools closed and the elderly were warned not to venture outside.  Here it was dull and 'foggy' and the sun hardly pierced the dust cloud.

Some years ago 'they' told us this dust was full of nutriments and good for plants and trees.  Now it seems the dust is full of heavy metals and we should stay inside or wear masks.

When it rains the dust settles and stays.  Cars and outside furniture have to be scrubbed clean.  A jet of water from the hose does not remove the orange sediment.

We planted our first basil plants of the summer today.

Some photos from the National Day celebrations

School children parade on the waterfront

Grandaughter, in traditional local costume, lays wreath on behalf of the Secondary School

And here she is taking part in the dancing after the parade

Monday 26 March 2018

Happiness is ..... ?

Greece has slipped down to no 79 on the list of the Happiest Countries in the world to live.  No longer do we sing, dance and party the night away it seems as though tomorrow never comes

The 2018 World Happiness Report is scored on income, life expectancy, trust, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption.

Political corruption and economic ruin would have sunk this country way down the list.  Social support must have kicked us down a further few places too.

Finland came in  first followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.  New Zealand came in at number 8.
Canada no 7
Australia no 10
US no 18
Britain no 19
France no 23
Greece no 79
Tajikistan no 80 (where the hell....)

How do you judge happiness? 


These rogue goats are happy, roaming free.  One of them isn't so happy anymore but he made our neighbour Vaso and her son extremely happy.  One of the younger goats made the big mistake of trespassing on Vaso's land.
20 kilos of goat meat just in time for the Easter spit

K went over to eye-up the 'trophy' and have a smell.  It didn't have any goaty rank bouquet about it so he accepted the present of a leg of the goat.  It's in V's freezer at the moment so we'll have to be good neighbours, run a few erands first before she gets around to handing it over.  One hand feeds the other.   Then K shall be a happy camper.  Me less so to have a bit of free range goat boiling in my kitchen.  If our english friends J and S were here then they could make a rich, spicy, goaty curry.  That would make some of us happy.  
Boiled goat soup makes traditional people happier

Friday 23 March 2018

To Freedom

25th March  .....  

We celebrate the successful Greek War of Independence waged against  the Ottoman Empire (the Turks) between 1821 and 1832.  Byron became a national hero here fighting this good fight.  Unfortunately he died from fever contracted in the swamps of Messalonghi in 1824, but he became a greek hero nevertheless.  He has a suburb named after him in Athens.

25th March is also, naturally enough, a church festival.  On 25th March, 9 months before Christmas, Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she would become the, virgin, mother of Jesus Christ, Son of God.

The brave greek fighters are blessed by Bishop Germanos

My grandchildren are taking part in a small theatrical production at school heralding the bravery of the Greeks, the sacrifice of the women and the brutality of the Turks.  One of my grandsons will be a turk again for the second time, to the disgust of his Papou.  But Turks stand in the background, don't have to say much and can't be seen when they fidget, wiggle and squirm.

Young turks

On Sunday there will be a church service, laying of wreaths and a parade of school children along the waterfront.   We will be hoisting our large Greek flag at the front gate where it will fly with pride for the next week.

After the parade we will all troop onto the car ferry and decamp to Galatas to celebrate the name day of our inlaw Vangelis with salt cod, garlic sauce and lashings of wine and beer.

In 2017 Google saluted Greece and its National day with a waving greek flag.  A google doodle is the logo on its home page.  I had never really noticed it before this.  Now I see the logo changes every day.  Today (March 21) it seems to be something to do with star alignments.  No, I googled the doodle.  It is celebrating the 105th birthday of Guillermo Haro.  Now I'll have to google Mr Haro.

Wednesday 21 March 2018


I love my mountains, fresh and cool and green all year round..

Zagorohoria - 46 traditional villages in the Pindus Mountains

Way up north, close to the Albanian border there are 46 mountain villages, their houses built in local stone,  smoke drifting up from their chimneys.  Houses are perched on the sides of mountains in villages where the streets are paved with cobble stones and spreading plane trees shade the tiny central square where the old men gather to drink tsikoudia and watch their women clattering past with bags of greens gathered fresh for their dinner.   

One of our cousins has built a luxury hotel in the tiny village of Aristi.    Aristi sits above the Vikos Gorge, the deepest gorge in the world, carved  out by the Voidomatis river.  

Here I am sitting on one of the 60 stone arched bridges 

The zig-zagging mountain road to the two traditional villages of Papigo and Little Papigo

Mountain village of Aristi. Population around 200

Cow in the road.  An unusual sight for us who encounter sheep and goats everyday but rarely cows

Down below the village on the banks of the Voidomato river.  Freezing cold water, 9oC, but our cousin used to swim here daily in the summer.  It is from this delightful shaded beach that rafts are launched for a one hour trip down the river through dense natural forest, ending up under one of those magnificent stone bridges

Or you can visit one of the other villages and try a piece of the pies, cheese, chicken or greens, that are famous here. With a beer or raki

This was the hotel in 2009 when we first visited

Now a luxury boutique hotel.  Aberratio Hotel Aristi
Thick stone walls, open fireplace in every room, a huge fireplace in the reception area and a sunny terrace with an incredible view over the mountains and Vikos Gorge

Coffee time in the silence and beauty of the Zagorohoria

Our second visit was for a family wedding.  It was a three day wedding celebration, a gathering of the Tzanos clan, endless laughter, tall tales, remembrances, music and food.  

The following year younger members of the family went up for a visit and to try out some of the sports.  Besides rafting you can hike the Vikos gorge, a 7 hour hike through wild thyme, oregano and birdsong,  go horse riding, canoeing, mountain climbing or just plain walking through nature.

Monday 19 March 2018

Old and Ancient

How did you bring your automobile across the 250 metre channel from the mainland in days gone by?

You got it rowed across to the island by two muscular greeks.  This is a wonderful photo, taken sometime in the 30s or 40s I would say.  Two water taxis hitched together carrying, is it a volkswagon? 

I'm sure it is one of those invincible volkswagens.  It would need to have been invincible to travel over the roads from the capitol, Athens, to the tiny coastal outpost of Galatas.  The road in those days wound along the coast from Athens, up into the dusty hills and into the rural hinterland of the Peloponese, through scattered agricultural settlements (think sheep and goats), over the mountains and finally down to the coast opposite Poros.  We are now two hours from Athens by road.  It must have taken most of a day back then

This Mycenean bridge was built over 3,000 years ago.  No cement used, just an impressive knowledge of engineering. There are even curbs to prevent fast moving chariots falling off.  It is part of a network of roads and bridges only an hour from us, presumably leading to the ancient theatre and healing centre at Epidavros, the citadel of Tiryns (said to be the birth place of Hercules), the ancient palace and military stronghold of Mycenae and other  castles and temples in this area.  There are four of these bridges still in excellent condition, all part of the same 'highway' and still used by locals.

The olive tree of Vouves in Crete.  It has been estimated to be between 3-4,000 years old and still produces olives.    There are equally ancient olive trees in al Badawi, Bethlehem ( 4-5,000 years old), Lebanon, Montengro, Croatia, Spain and Italy.

Near the tree in Bethlehem archeologists have found pottery with traces of olive oil dating back 8,000 years.   
8,000 years ago the climate was starting to get warmer after the end of the Ice Age and people began to domesticate animals, grow crops, and harvest olives. 

A plane tree on the island of Kos is thought to be the descendant of the tree under which Hippocrates, the father of medicine taught his pupils 2,400 years ago.  The present tree is  about 500 years old.

You can't sit under it anymore.  It is surrounded by a wall and railings.  The tree has become hollowed out over the years and is in danger from wood eating fungus.  A Japanese business man has offered to pay for research to save the tree. 

Sunday 18 March 2018

Spring 'Garden'

I really can't call this post, gardening.    It is not the conventional garden, as in flowers, vegetables and assorted orderly plantings.

This is what our 'garden' looks like at the end of winter.  Now we have three weeks to clean it up and prepare for our easter gathering of the clans.

Front entrance.  A fridge, a washing machine and a vaccum cleaner.  The fridge is going to be an extra as our fridge is over 35 years old, and still working I might add.  It is waiting for a young, strong lad to move it inside.  The washing machine is awaiting its owner and the vaccum cleaner?    I hope it disappears very soon

The generation of Greeks after WW11 never threw out anything.  They  collected old bits of timber, doors, windows, pieces of corrugated iron because, well, you just never know when it might come in handy.  My sis-in-law stores paper bags, plastic bags, bits of ribbon and string, boxes, odd bits of paper, tins, cupboards of jars and plastic bottles.  

My traditional person does the same.  Our back yard is full, at least around the edges, off -cuts of timber, lengths of piping, old washing machines in case we need a spare part,  tables of various size and condition, a clutter of digging tools and more, much more.  My part of the house is the front and when the electrical appliances disappear and the pile of wood is removed to the rear it will be an inviting and appealing entryway.  No rubbish or 'treasures' allowed

This is my winter garden.  Green everywhere.  The lemon trees are bursting with growth this year and beautiful in green and yellow.  Same goes for the clover/oxalis, whatever it is.  It has formed a forest of green under the trees and now is in full flower.  The nasturtiums are slowly taking hold and I hope one day may rival the clover.  On the right a grape vine trails along the railings.  This has been severely pruned but green shoots and leaves have already appeared.  My lettuces and rocket are  free of weeds but the rocket has taken off and is in full flower too, its white petals reaching up the wall.

In two months the clover will have dried up and I'll pile it around the lemon trees for mulch.  The grape vine will have formed a curtain of green, the lettuces will be replaced by tomatoes and the nasturtiums will be just surviving the aridity of summer

The back 'garden'.  Over grown with weeds 2 metres high (almost)

Our friend and neighbour the weed-whacker man arrived and those tall weeds have been hacked back.  By the beginning of May they'll need whacking again. At least the yard will be respectable for easter and we can whitewash the walls

Still a lot of work to be done

One bundle of grape vine prunings drying out so they can be used on the BBQ. 

Red anemones.  The fields are full of these now and soon they will die out and be replaced by the poppy

The 'flanders' poppy

Thursday 15 March 2018

On the Sea

These photos were taken by my son-in-law Kyriakos, Captain of the water taxi Socrates.

This is typical of some of the luxury yachts that anchor offshore for a few hours or a few days. Rumours gallop around the island that the Sheik of Araby-k, Charles and Camilla, even dear friend of affluent politicians, George Bush the Elder , or nowadays a Russian tycoon and his entourage have come ashore and are chowing down on lobster and caviar at one of the seaside tavernas

Sunrise over the 'Modi' on an early morning fishing trip

The blue, blue Aegean

A small church on the headland.  Opened up on its fiesta when crowds arrive by small boat to light a candle or maybe for a baptism or private wedding

The lighthouse at the entrance to Poros harbour.  This is accessed by a hike overland following a narrow goat track 

from the sea by small boat
The lighthouse is no longer operational but still serves as a beacon for those arriving on the island.  We pass the lighthouse, cruise round the headland and there is the picturesque white island harbour town on the horizon

Approaching Poros.
Rounding the headland

Chief Observing Officer

Tuesday 13 March 2018

Pictorial Poros (2

A  visual stroll through the back streets from  long time island resident Therese Byrne

A narrow lane leading off 'High Street' Poros

Picturesque back street

The old kindergarten on the left.  Two of my grandchildren spent a couple of years here.  Fortunately their teacher, Maria, was inspired and her enthusiasm and flair made up for the dark cramped school-room.  Poros has three kindergartens (pre-school) and this one has moved around to a bright new building where the children can see the sun and have room to play

Typical street scene.  White cube-like houses, blue shutters, narrow passages between them.  In the summer the balconies have pots of basil and geraniums and the women sit out on the street

These steps take you from the harbour up to St George's Square and the big church.  Steps, steps everywhere

Looking out from the Post Office.  Blue shutters and doors of the Harbour Police Headquarters

Artistic clay pot  in front of the Post Office