Tuesday 28 March 2023
Saturday 25 March 2023
25th March Greek Independence Day
Greece celebrates the start of the war of Independence, from Turkey, back in 1821'
Since the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey. when Greek rescue teams were some of the first to offer assistance in searching for survivors, the two countries have become friendly neighbours instead of deadly enemies. The Turkish Foreign Minister even sent a letter of congratulations to Greece (for throwing off the yoke of the Ottoman Empire?) emphasising 'good neighbourly ties'.
But Greece doesn't call itself 'Greece'. The country is known to the Greeks as Ellada or Ellas or the Hellenic Republic.
'The name of Greece differs in Greek. The ancient and modern name of the country is Ellas (or Hellas) or Ellada and it's official name is the Hellenic Republic. However, the country is usually called Greece which comes from the Latin 'Graecia' as used by the Romans'
Paraphrased from Wikipedia
Is it Holland, Netherlands, Nederland or Le Pas Bas?
How about Britain, or is that the United Kingdom? Never mind that it's made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Why isn't Germany called Deutschland?
Will New Zealand ever change it's name to Aotearoa?
All very interesting if you have time to jump down the rabbit hole.
Did I mention that it's a church fiesta today too?
'The Feast of the Annunciation marks the visit of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary during which he told her that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ, Son of God'
Tuesday 21 March 2023
OKTO-PODI ( from the greek meaning eight-feet)
Plural, octopii, octopodia or octopuses
- Recipe below -
Having a soft body, a strong beak like jaw and eight tentacles with suckers. According to Wikipedia ‘Octopuses are among the most intelligent behaviorally diverse of all invertebrates’ - remember Paul the Octopus who predicted the winners of the 2010 World Soccer cup matches? Paul was saved from being turned into octopus salad because of his psychic abilities but many of his species turn up on plates at tavernas, ristorantes and bistros all over the med.
Catching your octopus is an art learnt over the years by small boys with sticks who turn into tanned bare foot fishermen fishing for more fatale ‘prey’ in those same tavernas, ristorantes and bistros all over that same Mediterranean coast.
Jiggling a stick under its rock is a good way to make it leave its nest of stones on the seabed. Keep your eyes wide open because they are hard to spot. An octopus can change colour and blend very nicely into its surroundings. If you’re lucky it will wrap the tentacles around your arm and suck onto your skin. If you’re unlucky it will cover you in a blast of sticky black ink and launch itself like a rocket into the depths never to be seen again.
Be brave, grab it quickly by the ‘neck’ and bite it between the eyes to kill it. Swim to the nearest beach and ‘beat’ the octopus 100 times by slamming it on the rocks. This will tenderize it. Then swirl it around for a few minutes in the juices it produces. The octopus can also be softened by putting it in the freezer for a few days.
It's still common to see a fisherman beating an octopus on the rocks at the edge of the sea or the end of a jetty.
Or go to your local fishmonger and beg them to find one for you. Most of the world seems to know octopus only from a vaccum packeted tentacle in the gourmet section of the deli.
If you can’t find a fresh or frozen octopus then buy a ticket to Greece and make your way to the nearest small island ‘Ouzeri’. Order an aniseed ouzo with lots of ice and you’ll be given grilled ‘octpodi’ as a meze. You’ll be served a tentacle of octopus doused with lemon juice and also a toothpick. Spear a small slice of octopus which has been bbqed over the coals on the pavement next to you. Sip from your glass of milky ouzo, nibble on a slice of cucumber and chew your octopus tentacle while watching the brilliant sunset over the Aegean sea.
- Preparation and Recipe -
When you find an octopus to cook then this is the way to do it. If the octopus is frozen then let it defrost. If it’s fresh put it in the freezer for a couple of days to tenderize it.
Slit the *hood of the octopus and clean out the ink sac and any brown stuff. Wash the octopus well in cold water, especially if it feels slimy. Turn the hood inside out and cut out out the sharp ball-like projections, called the 'beak'.
*It’s simpler to cut off the hood and just use the tentacles. The hood tends to be tougher.
A traditional greek prefers it grilled but it will be chewy. Most online instructions for grilled octopus call for boiling it first to make it tender. That’s for others. Don't suggest that here in Greece. Here they will hang it out to dry before it goes on the grill, tentacle by tentacle.
If you're a reader of my blog you will have seen many photos of octopus hanging out to dry on my clothesline.
- To cook the most tender octopus you slowly stew it, more or less in its own juices.
- Boil the octopus in a little water for about an hour till it is soft. Add more water as is needed.
- Add a bay leaf as well. When it is ready and the juices/water have boiled down then add a good dash of vinegar, half a small wine glass of fresh olive oil and a smattering of oregano. Your saucepan will need a good scrub afterwards but the purple stains do disappear eventually.
My father-in-law insisted you should never add water to the pot but let it stew slowly in its own juices. None of the octopii I have cooked ever had enough juice to cook it that way.
- NB It does not need any salt (unless your name is Rainy)
- Cut the octopus into slices . Serve on a plate with the vinegar and oil. Maybe sprinkle a little dried oregano over it. The oil and vinegar make the sauce that you mop up with bread. Make sure the bread is not too fresh, and cut thick.
Follow up with sliced apples sprinkled with honey cinnamon and walnuts.
Traditional Greeks like a small sweet after a fish dish.
- Variations -
- You can also bake the octopus. K loves it with small macaroni shells, a tomato sauce made from fresh grated tomatoes, lots of olive oil and a couple of cinnamon sticks.
- To use in a salad boil it first till tender and then cut into the size you want and add the salad items you like. I've never seen this on a Greek menu.
- Grilled octopus. Some say grill it till it almost turns black. Others say grill it a few minutes and serve. You'll have to try each way and see which you prefer. With or without boiling it first. Slice into very thin pieces and eat with a squeeze of lemon juice and a scattering of dried oregano
- Octopus balls. If it's still tough after boiling, the cat won't eat it and you don't know what on earth to do with it then turn it into octopus keftethes. I made these once but can't remember the recipe exactly. You'll need a high power blender to chop it up. Probably the mixture needs breadcrumbs, parsley, maybe basil, pepper, spring onion, lemon juice, maybe an egg to bind the mix and oil to fry the walnut size balls. Use Google for the exact recipe
Thursday 16 March 2023
From the east of northern Greece we travelled west, 650 kilometres, to visit one of K's cousins. In 2008 he was building a luxury hotel up in the mountains near the city of Ioannina. At this higher elevation it was green and cool. We stayed four more days than we had intended, visiting wonderful little villages built out of stone, the roads cobbled and paved. Deep gorges, rivers that were actually full of water. It was really relaxing, especially when we knew the rest of Greece was having a heat wave. It was a relief after the dryness and dirt of the east.
The roads up there were terrific, much the best we've seen in Greece. Six lanes, straight, a speed limit of 130 kms and no tolls. They are still working on them but are more or less like this right up to the borders.
I don't remember much about this road trip. I know we did it in one day and marvelled at the long straight roads. We could see huge viaducts, bridges and tunnels being built alongside the road we were on. It must be a super highway now. Once we got into the mountains the roads became narrow, steep and twisty again. These have mostly been bypassed and that trip can be done in half the time.
We spent many hours closed together in that car. Somehow we made it there and back. Small things on the road added up to moments of great stress but once we arrived all was well again. Seeing the cousin brought smiles of joy for K.
I do remember one stop for coffee at a small, mainly Muslim, village. That must have been at the beginning of the trek. Over towards Turkey in the region known as Thrace (where we had been) there are large Muslim communities. Once again I tried not to stare and would have loved to explore more. The women wore long dresses and head scarves and there was a minaret instead of an orthodox bell tower. There were only men in the cafeteria but we/I didnt feel an intruder. The capuccino was hot and the ladies toilet was very clean. Mostly unused I suppose.
We sat in the village square and had coffee under the chestnut tree. Drove through ravines of green forest and dined in the next village right on the edge of a very deep canyon.
2nd biggest in the world after the Grand Canyon
Drove back to Aristi again for the local raki, called tsipoura, sampled the local cheese pies, no comparison to the greasy fast food version of Athens, and lapped up the peace and stillness.
Just a note about the pies. Pies of all sorts are part of the local cuisine, big round baking dishes of pies with greens, cheese or chicken and thick handmade pastry.
Our cousin got an old friend, a village woman, to make one specially for us . It was half a metre across, a very thin layer without pastry. The flour is incorporated into the cheese and eggs. By gosh it was good. The three of us managed to eat it all and drink a few beers. No wonder I was the size I was.
There are 46 small villages in these mountains and they are very busy in the winter when snow calls for roaring fires, litres of raki (strong spirit) and roasted wild boar. Summertime they are quieter, popular with river rafters and hikers but wonderful for a holiday away from the crowds that surround you by the sea and on the islands.
We sat at an outside bar till one or two a.m. most nights talking and drinking with the cousin and family and most of the village. Then we walked home, guided by the fireflies - called 'picolo-bithes' in greek!
We stayed at a pension run by an Albanian couple. It was beautifully decorated, lots of wood and natural stone and impeccably maintained. She made a breakfast of champions for us with eggs and fruit, good coffee and piles of fried cakes with lots of local honey. Everything is 'local' around here which is just what we, and tourists, want.
Once we met our cousin much of our days were spent eating and drinking in the picturesque mountain villages. But that's how a holiday should be, shouldn't it?
Nowadays I'd take the time to hike some of the trails and visit the monasteries and churches of which there are many and most are very old. Not religious tourism. These old places are fascinating.
We could have visited Albania from here. We were only 65 kilometres from the border. Another time. Perhaps
There are a lot of trout in the streams and rivers but fishing is forbidden. We found and brought back a few kilos of smoked trout for everyone, bought straight from the place it was smoked and vaccum packed. There were stalls all along the roads out of Ioannina with tanks of fresh trout and we bought some of those too. It has been many years since I've tasted fresh trout. Since I was last in NZ and my brothers returned with their catch from a fishing trip.
Tuesday 14 March 2023
Monday, July 21, 2008
We are sweltering now (July 2008). I have the air conditioning on and am still hot and sweaty at 9pm. It is
about 39 today but very sticky too.
We have just come back from ten days in northern Greece. We went way up north near the Turkish and Bulgarian border and over the border for a quick visit to Bulgaria. After staying a few days in the east we then drove across to the west of Greece near the Albanian border.
Bulgaria was not a place I would revisit quickly. There are many thousands of Bulgarian refugees in Greece and you can see why. A lot of the transport was still horse and cart - though there were a few BMWs too. The houses were poorly built, red bricks with no plastering and in bad condition- broken windows, tiles falling off roofs and although everything was very cheap there wasn't much worth buying. It seemed to me, back then, dirty and grimy and the loos, literally a smelly hole in the ground, down the end of the garden path. We were thinking of going over into Turkey too but after the poverty of this area we decided not to. It was enough for one trip. The Turkish city of Adrianopolis (called Erdine by the Turks) is only an hour away from here.
This part of Bulgaria seemed to be mostly agricultural. There were roadside stalls near every small village selling tomatoes and zucchinis, alongside toilet rolls and bottles of lurid coloured drink. We travelled into Bulgaria with another couple, friends of Poros friends who lived in a small northern village. We met them briefly and they kindly invited us to join them on a quick visit to relatives the next day. The wife was Bulgarian so we got the inside deal. We were very appreciative of their hospitality. If we had visited by ourselves we would only have seen the view from the car and the inside of a restaurant.
She took us to her sister's house, where we used the hole in the ground down the garden path and also to the house of a cousin. All very friendly people with whom we did not share a language. The houses were full of crocheted doilies and cheap bric brac. Comfortable but basic family homes. At one house we sat out in the garden all squashed into a garden gazebo. I was at my biggest then and it was painfully obvious they were pointing out my size and laughing as we squeezed up to each other. It just washed over me but it's surprising what you understand without having that common language. We drank flourescent coloured orangeade and listened to the small birds in a quite fancy aviary next to us. Outside on the road there were a few old cars but mostly agricultural equipment and there was a shack/store from where we saw the bright orange-ade being carried.
Our first stop a few kilometres over the border was at a money exchange desk at a hotel. 'Hotel' I wondered, and still wonder 'who stays here' or maybe 'who does what here'. With our pockets full of 'lev' we walked along rough roadsides without a pavement to a big market for everything from clothes to birds in cages, local sausages, cheese and farm animals. Our new greek friend took us to a stall selling grilled kebabs and we had a few of them with a couple of bulgarian beers. All very good, the kebabs were wonderful and spicy, lamb I should think. We had a look at the clothes but didn't buy anything. They were cheap and gaudy.
The Bulgarian wife had some work to do in the town so we went to a small taverna, a shack which had a gas stove with a big pot on it, plates in a glass fronted cabinet, old wooden chairs and tables with stained plastic cloths. Like Greek tavernas 40 years ago. K and greek friend had tripe soup and more beer. I had a meatball soup. And very nice it was too. Both the tripe and the soup are popular dishes all over Greece. Nothing strange to us . Then toilet time again. These were the normal kind but we had to pay to use them and get a piece of toilet paper and use the sink afterwards. There were doilies in the loo too. The state of the loos? Useable.
The second town was much larger with open squares, newer cars, a big covered market and a large supermarket.
We went to the covered market and I bought a large ceramic snail which I still have in the garden and some clothes for grandchildren.
Looking back now I cannot imagine what clothes I bought. They were all cheap nylon and bright colours. I doubt if any grandchild actually wore them but it was all so cheap I had to buy something.
From there we went to the supermarket which was very similar to what we had on Poros but half the price. The Greek bought long rolls of salami, blocks of cheese and crates of beer. He only had a very small car where we were already squashed so we refrained from doing any more shopping.
Somewhere there I also bought a thick ceramic plate which I was told was for cooking pancakes (tiganites) over a gas flame. I've still got that too though I've never used it. It's sitting on our wood stove now. Time to experiment I think. We do have an outside gas stove but the top of the wood stove gets hot enough to cook a pancake.
We visited 2 towns. Harmonli, population 9,000 and Huskovo, population 28,000.
We didn't need a passport, simply used our Greek ID cards and were told we could do the same if we went into Turkey. Its no longer so simple. The towns in southern Bulgaria are now full of miserable Syrian refugee camps. But back then crossing into Bulgaria we didn't even get out of the car or see a policeman or soldier. Our friend took the ID cards in to a small office and came back 2 minutes later. We then drove into Bulgaria.
I must emphasise that this is My description of south east Bulgaria in 2008. The tourist areas up around the Black Sea and the ski resorts close to greece over on the western border crossing are very different, upscale and luxurious.
Back in Greece again.....
The farming in northern greece reminded me a little of NZ. They were bailing hay though it was much, much drier . There were fields and fields of sunflowers, all facing in the same direction. And storks! The powerpoles had platforms around the tops of them and the storks build huge nests up there. In the evening there would be two or three of the stork family standing up there, and they would call with a loud 'clack-clack'.
This must have been the first time we booked a hotel online. In the photographs it looked new and clean and appealing. Up close it was shoddy and the bathroom in our room was 'grotty'. I won't use a worse word but I wore jandals (flip flops ) even in the shower. The sheets were clean! Unfortunately it also had a swimming pool attached to it. A swimming pool open to all and sundry, the sundry being groups of loud youths who swam and splashed and yelled till early morning. After dark it became a bar, a very popular bar.
From then on when booking accomodation I took a sharp look at the critical reviews. 3 stars is not a sign of a good hotel and never believe the photos you see.
Our Poros friend was from a tiny village which we found along very dusty narrow roads and went there to eat a couple of times and have a coffee. It was peaceful and was literally in spitting distance of Turkey. The lights on the hill opposite were from a Turkish village. There was only the wide river Evros in between the two countries.
NB Nowadays there's a 5 metre high fence running many kilometres along the banks of that river keeping the illegal migrants out.
The village, 'Praggi', population 304, had a tiny square surrounded by the village houses and 2 cafenions. The coffee was good, the beer was cold and we sat under the plane tree and watched village life while the villagers checked us out. Only men were sitting at the cafés. The owner of 'our' cafenion did more business than the other because his wife, the waitress, was blonde and busty and extremely friendly.
A kilometre away beside the river was a taverna where the owner, a farmer during the day, grilled pork from his farm. We sat under lights strung through the trees and I marvelled at the sight of those Turkish village lights and now and again the dull 'thud' from a far away gunshot. Gunshot probably from hunters but still, it could have been from the nearby army base or some small conflict, I thought.
The mosquitoes came out at dusk in clouds and the owner provided mosquito spray. Thankfully they disappeared once darkness settled.
The meat was very good, the Greek salads huge and it was unbelievably cheap.
Earlier in the year we were planning a trip to Bulgaria, going up through a different border crossing to some towns near the greek border which are known for their natural hot water spas. Since then we've heard that these towns specialise in 'porno-tourism'. Better than Thailand - anything your 'heart' desires plus a bit of natural spa therapy thrown in as well.
There is so much more to see and do. There are orthodox monasteries, picturesque mountain villages, spectacular scenery, delicious cuisine and wonderful ski fields. I would definitely visit this part of Bulgaria if I could, along with North Macedonia and Albania. The added advantage of these countries is that you can drive there. When you have your own transport you can drive straight to the accomodation and then tour at ease. But we never did make that trip. 2 years later the economic crisis began and all trips were put on hold and are still very much 'on hold'.
There was a reason for this visit, so many kilometres away. K had just retired from the Navy and he gave his new residence as that town in Northern Greece. The travel to your new permanent residence was subsidised by the kilometre. We signed in at the Army base up north, no questions asked, and got a free holiday.
No longer applicable by the way. Rules have changed.
Next installment, the mountains of Northern Greece
Oddly enough I only took one photo during the first half of the trip. One photo of the storks and none at all of Bulgaria. In 2008 I had a phone which had no camera. I had two cameras with me but I hadn't yet turned into today's photo reporter.
Wednesday 8 March 2023
Sunday 5 March 2023
A wonderful sculpture in the main square of Argos, one of our closest big towns
Two girls, bare foot, sitting on a bench looking at a book.
Photos of fish and vegetables.