Category Archives: Crete

New Blog

As mentioned in my previous Post, we are about to start a new Blog, which can be found at:

https://daftdaysincrete.wordpress.com

Sheila will shortly publish the first Post. It is possible that you may be alerted automatically but just in case, we are taking the precaution of making this announcement!

Thanks for following us on this Blog and we hope you will continue to do so on the new one.

John

Kavousi Stargazers and other matters

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Well over a month has gone by since the last Post and although when I check my diary I can see that much has been going on in our lives, it is nevertheless hard to believe that so much time has passed and that neither of us has found time to put pen to paper or in our case to hammer at the keyboard!

There are reasons for our tardiness but whilst these may seem valid to us, I fear that for those who are still working they will sound rather weak. However, speaking solely for myself, I can blame the start of a new season of Greek lessons, an unexpected trip to the UK for a family funeral, an important birthday and entertaining various visitors, combined with an Indian Summer which has forced us to concentrate on other more important matters such as cycling and swimming!

img_20161023_1235161Greek has taken a rather different turn this new ‘school’ year. Manolis, our teacher, quite rightly believes that three years of grammar should have left us in a good place as regards the basics (although whether this corresponds with reality is a different matter!). So (or λοιπόν as I should say), we have moved on and now spend our time reading basic books, the first one of which we have just finished.

The idea is that for homework, we translate a couple of chapters and then write a summary in Greek, together with a list of critical words. At the lesson we are questioned in Greek about the text and answer questions using out ‘trigger’ words but without reference to the text. This means that we have to listen to the question (in Greek) and then respond, again in Greek. It should be easy but actually is quite difficult and it does mean a lot more homework than we are used to because you really do need to know the text as Manolis’ questions are quite detailed and sometimes he engages you in a dialogue! I find it quite a challenge being someone who likes  a more structured and exercise orientated approach to homework!

Now on to the next one.

In addition, we are also being given links to various popular Greek songs where we get  a youtube video plus the lyrics in both Greek and English. the idea is, I think, that we learn the words in Greek so that we can sing along when the hear the song on the radio or at a concert!

This is one of our favourites – we went to see Γιάννης Χαρούηλς back in the Summer ……

Greek lessons had only been running for a week or so when I heard that one of my cousins had died. She was also my godmother and my presence in the UK was definitely required so I combined the trip with a visit to see our sons in London and my other cousin (sister of the deceased) in Wiltshire.

London was great with a deal of Young’s beer consumed on the Friday night with the ‘boys’. I was soon on halves being unable to keep up! Wiltshire was fine too with some good weather and jaunts out and about with Liz, including a number of excellent pub lunches and a visit to Littlecote to see the Roman mosaic.

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And I need to include a photo of Liz’s new cat, Toby who arrived from a rescue home back in the Summer. As you can tell he has already made himself at home!

The funeral itself was the usual mix of sadness at a life being over but also pleasure at seeing relatives and catching up on their lives, news etc.  The following day, it was back to Crete to enjoy that Indian Summer!

But then we had a car crash – our first in Greece! Well without wishing to over dramatise, it really was little more than a bump and left the car with a small dent in the front wing and some new scratches to add to those already there.

A car came out of a side turning in the village and didn’t see us but the fellow was charming and immediately accepted responsibility and as things turned out the garage banged out the dent for only a small charge so we didn’t bother to claim.

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Still, a new experience for us here and one Sheila won’t want to repeat as she was the one nearest the point of impact!

Then we were invited to supper by Eleni from our Greek class and her husband Bernard. Readers who have been paying attention to previous Posts will recall that they hail from Brittany and Eleni is a star cook. On this occasion, the meal started with Crudités swiftly followed by a huge plate of fresh langoustines which had arrived from Brittany the day before. The next course was a selection of French cheeses and the feast was rounded off by cakes and pastries from the local Ζαχαροπλαστείο (Confectioner) all washed down by a selection of French wines, which Bernard serves with some panache. Follow that! (Sorry but no photos – we were too busy over-indulging!)

img_20161027_1108591The terrace is looking good with the flowers and trees which Sheila has watered assiduously during the hot summer months, doing well and it looks like we may have a few oranges this year although the bananas may alas come to nothing as it is probably now too late in the year fro them to fill out and ripen. Still, there’s always next year!

Clear skies at night mean that we are often blessed with the most magnificent views of the planets, stars and the Milky Way. Sheila gave me a telescope for Christmas because I had had a Patrick Moore moment but for various reasons, I have not got past looking at the Full Moon which often seems to rise directly above the gorge, giving us yet another stunning Kavousi tableau. Stars and planets are a different matter however because of ambient light in the village and in any event I know very little about the sky at night.

Enter Stan stage left, who claims to be a bit of an expert and Gary stage right, who has a large telescope and lives out in the country where there is no light. So, Kavousi Stargazers is up and running! It ticks the box that Sheila thinks it would be good for me to have an interest but it has to be admitted that we have not yet met! However, we have talked about it  and we did try last week but there was too much cloud, so we drank champagne instead!. That said, the rumours that it is just an excuse for a Gentleman’s drinking club are most definitely false and malicious and we have instructed our lawyers to take appropriate action.

img_20161027_1110311Now I did mention at the outset an important birthday and various visitors. I can now report that these items will be dealt with in the next Post which my co-author, I am assured, is thinking about! But first things first, there is still the washing-up to be done!

Finally, I need to report that this will be the last Post on this Blog but before you all start howling in protest, let me re-assure you that there will be a new one starting very soon and I will let you know the details in due course.

The reason for a new Blog is simply technical. We have no media space left on our ‘free’ platform with WordPress, which has meant deleting photos from the early Posts from three years ago. This means that anyone reading that material cannot see the photos which makes the whole process rather pointless. So being mean, we have gone for the option of starting a new Blog rather than buying additional space!

John

 

Beaches, a new bathroom and at long last, some bananas!

I was told officially this morning by my neighbour Nikos, that summer is over and it is now autumn. Today, I was supposed to be on the island of Spinalonga today with his wife Maria but I woke up to thunder and rain so the trip was postponed. This is the first rain since the end of May and badly needed but for me, I wish it had waited until tomorrow! However the rain is very much needed, so I am not complaining.

I start with the fun. Throughout the summer, we have had some very invigorating cycle rides to Tholos and a nice walk up our local gorge.

We celebrated a birthday.  Birgitte lives nearby and invited us and many others on the local boat for the day.

and we went to the island of Pseira,

and then onto the beautiful beach of Agriomandris. It was the first time, John and I had arrived there by boat and it is such a lovely experience to see this beach from a different angle.

There were a few random people at the beach already but they were quickly included in the proceedings – bubbly, wine, a wonderful barbecue produced by the captain of the boat and a lot of chat, plus this magnificent salad.

This beach is the first contender for paradise in this post.  The trip back was pretty dramatic however, with a very wild sea and rocks to avoid.

It reminded me of being in a funfair where you have complete faith that you will survive, but on the other hand my body does not like the sensation and I did feel a bit queasy. But it was a wonderful day.

John and I celebrated 33 years of marriage in our favourite local spots – Bobo’s taverna in Pachia Ammos

on Tholos beach where our friend Tasos bought us a glass of wine each

and in Mochlos for some lovely food.

More recently we booked an apartment 50 metres from Kouremenos beach, near Palekastro on the east coast, only 20 minutes from Siteia. The beach is lovely and has some human interest too as it is a prime spot for those who enjoy watching windsurfers.

Palekastro, a village of over 1000 people,  is only 5 minutes away in the car and given the very narrow streets, John parked the car in a small car park on the edge of the town. I got out of the car and my first view was of pomegranates,

which are beautiful to look at but hard work to eat!

Then we visited the local Folk Museum, set up by the local Cultural Σύλλογος which was a real joy, partly because of the interesting and well displayed exhibits but also because our guide Δήμητρα, proved to be an excellent communicator.

She has a degree in social work but cannot find a job and is considering her future. In the meantime, we benefited from her knowledge and her very friendly personality.

We learned that Palekastro was a very small place until the 1940’s and then people started coming there to live instead of in villages in the hills.

The museum was set up like a house with different rooms to display the traditional clothes, tools, bedding, furniture etc.

I would really recommend a visit.

On the wall of the school, there were some murals which were very nice. Some were pictures of well known Cretan men and another of Kouremenos Bay.

On the following day, we went to the Minoan archaeological site at the settlement of Roussolakos.

We had gone there before with our friends Vince and Rosie. It was a lot warmer this time and so nice to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. The archaeologists have hoped to find a Minoan palace there but as yet, it has not yet been unearthed. However, like many Minoan sites, the setting is so wonderful that  sitting amongst the ruins is enough.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe visit also encouraged me to think of a winter project, starting in Sitia Museum where I could look at what was discovered in Roussolakos.

We were staying only a quarter an hour way from another beach which I also put in the ‘paradise’ category – Itanos.  We drove past Vai, where bananas are grown on a large scale and then a huge area of melons (the car had to be stopped so that I could appreciate fully the sight)

and then to Itanos,

where all we did was sunbathe and enjoy the wonderful clear sea (not our boat though!)

But the important development this summer, apart from buying a flat in Cornwall has been the new bathroom in our house here in Crete. It is very beautiful and well worth the wait.  There was a scary change early on when the old bathroom was demolished.

And then, there was some delay. Some of the appliance ordered, like the wash hand basin, were late because of Greek holidays in August and the electrician was on holiday when the electrics were ready for his attention. During this time, John and I decided the living room and dining room paint looked distinctly grey so decided to show we still could something in the DIY stakes and painted both rooms.

Άλκης, who was in charge of all the work, kept smiling in all the adversity and in the end coped with the pressures and now we have a beautiful bathroom!

The bath has some jets and with some bubble bath (το αφρόλουτρο), you can sink into a wonderful whirlpool of froth (ο αφρός)! This new Greek vocabulary arose during our first Greek lesson on the new session when I tried to describe my new bath!!!

And finally the best news is left to the end!  John’s banana plant is producing some bananas.

Ever since we arrived in Kavousi over two years ago with the plant, there has been some expectation that we would have bananas. However there has been increasing resignation over the last few months that nothing was going to materialise! But a few days ago before we went on the small break to Palekastro, there was an indication that what at first had seemed to be yet another leaf was in fact, something else. Four days later we returned and we can now see the bananas. Every five minutes we look at the plant and the bananas are bigger! Just keeping fingers crossed now that we can actually eat one eventually!

Sheila

 

An update on the Crisis – rape and pillage.

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We are often asked by visitors and friends from abroad about what is happening here in Greece as regards the economic situation and related economic and social conditions and rather embarrassingly, the truth is that we don’t know! Living where we do in a small village in relatively prosperous Crete, we have only anecdotal evidence to go on and so we end up giving a rather lame response.

I was reminded of this last week when we met up with a young Greek friend, his wife and their very young son, for coffee in Ierapetra. The purpose of the meeting was to check out the new baby, offer up the presents and see how our friends were coping. Well, in that respect all seems to be well. The young lad is a very good baby, appears to have two of everything he should have and ten of everything else, sleeps a lot at the right times and the parents are very proud, as indeed they should be!

After the initial baby talk, the conversation turned to politics and the economy. Our friend is trained as a teacher of Greek but has been told that it will be 2025 before there is a job for him within the State sector! As a family, they get by financially but life is clearly difficult and their situation sums up life here for the young professional. If you have transferable skills, the temptation is to emigrate because in Greece, there is little work but Greeks are generally proud and understandably, want to stay and bring up their families among their own culture.

Our friend is of the left but clearly disillusioned both with politics and the EU and in this respect, he seems to reflect what we see about us. The Greeks see little hope for improvement, no way out of the mess and irritated that the increased taxes (as they see it) go straight to Germany without doing any good to help anything improve here!

Anyway, as a result of this conversation, I decided to find out more about the current situation, so in future I can answer the perennial question more informatively!

Facts and figures (Source: FOCUSECONOMICS)

Greece Economic Outlook

July 26, 2016

Greece’s GDP contracted significantly in the first quarter of the year and recent economic indicators suggest that a recovery remains elusive. While some improvements have been recorded in economic data—the manufacturing PMI returned to expansionary territory in June—overall the picture is bleak as high unemployment persists and austerity dampens consumption. In addition, the Brexit vote has sparked concerns over the implications for one of the Eurozone’s shakiest economies. A large share of incoming tourists to Greece are from the UK, which is expected to face weaker growth prospects following the vote. On a positive note, fears of a near-term Grexit have been dispelled as the country has made over EUR 2.5 billion in debt repayments in recent weeks and its international creditors gave the green light to ease capital controls in mid-July.

 

Greece Economy Data

                                                                                2011       2012       2013       2014       2015

Population (million)                                               11.1       11.1        11.1         11.0       11.0

GDP per capita (EUR)                                        18,613   17,190    16,306     16,152  16,028

GDP (EUR bn)                                                           207        191         180           178       176

Economic Growth (GDP, annual variation in %) -9.1        -7.3        -3.2             0.7       -0.2

 

Exports (G&S, annual variation in %)                     0.0         1.2         2.2             7.5      -3.8

Imports (G&S, annual variation in %)                   -9.4        -9.1        -1.9             7.7      -6.9

Unemployment Rate                                              17.9        24.6      27.5           26.6     25.0

Public Debt (% of GDP)                                            172        160       178            180      177

 

Greece Economic Growth

July 26, 2016

The economy is expected to remain in a deep recession this year amid fiscal tightening and poor confidence levels. On top of this, downside risks to the outlook have increased against the uncertain European backdrop following the Brexit vote. The FocusEconomics panel sees the economy contracting 0.8% in 2016, which is down 0.2 percentage points from last month’s outlook. For next year, the panel sees the economy rebounding to a 1.2% expansion.

So there you have it! I am not an economist but even I can see that these figures do not make good reading and whilst there some indications of a small improvement, as the commentator concludes, the outlook is bleak.

Is the medicine working then? Well, even the IMF who were and remain, one of the instigators of the bail-out apparently accept that they knew from the outset that the programme would not work, at least for Greece!

Commenting on a recently published report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office, the Telegraph journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writes:

“While the Fund’s actions were understandable in the white heat of the crisis, the harsh truth is that the bail-out sacrificed Greece in a “holding action” to save the euro and north European banks. Greece endured the traditional IMF shock of austerity, without the offsetting IMF cure of debt relief and devaluation to restore viability.”

 “The International Monetary Fund’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.”

So what of the future? If one reads Yannis Varoufakis, the ex-Finance Minister then more of the same just means that things get worse.

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Understandably he is bitter that the Troika refused to listen to him and finally forced his resignation but he argues forcibly that debt relief for Greece and extended terms of debt repayment are the only solution.

But and here is the rub, it seems that unless and until Greece rejects its left-wing Government, a Government, it must be remembered, which is heavily criticised by its erstwhile supporters here in Greece, for slavishly following Troika demands for more cuts and discounted privatisations, there can be no such debt relief available to the Greek people. This is an intensely political decision on the part of the power brokers in Europe to support the right wing administrations (particularly in Spain) who support the Schauble line. Evidence for this less than even-handed approach is shown in the ‘relief’ allowed by the German Finance Minister recently, to Spain and Portugal who were in breach of EU budgetary deficits and liable for a fine. German magazine Der Spiegel criticized Schauble for his double standard approach: treating Spain and Portugal mildly, while he pushed for tough austerity measures that strangled Greece’s economy and people. “In case of Greece, Schauble vehemently rejected any proposal for mild treatment.” The reason? Mariano Rajoy is one of Schauble’s political allies and he is at the moment facing difficulties in forming a government in Spain. On the other hand Greece’s SYRIZA government is not favoured by Schauble who has openly expressed hostility against it.

Our new bougainvillea

Our new bougainvillea

How is all this gloom reflected in lives of ordinary folk in Kavousi, Crete, you may well ask? Bear in mind firstly that Kavousi is a fairly traditional Greek village with an ageing population. Most people have some land on which they grow fruit and vegetables, largely for their own consumption. They are not self-sufficient but with their pensions can get by. However, their pensions have been cut by upwards of 25% and taxes have gone up too. Everything in the shops including food has gone up in price. Belts are being tightened and there is less money around but here in Kavousi at least, it does not seem that folk are starving or losing their houses.

Contrast this situation with Athens and other large cities and there is a stark contrast however, assuming that press reports can be believed. Here there have been huge increases in unemployment and resultant hardship but we have no direct experience of this except to see on TV the crates of fruit and veg being sent to the Capital from generous farmers in Crete. OK this is probably surplus produce but it would not be going unless it were needed.

Greece has largely disappeared as a news item on foreign TV screens because it is no longer news. The German and French banks have been saved, largely at a cost to the Greek National debt and so the richer countries of Northern Europe have lost interest. Those responsible at the IMF have been promoted or have moved on but none of this means that the problem for Greece has been solved. It has not!

IMG_20160729_132951Don’t let anyone tell you that the European capitalists have done anything good for Greece. They have not. The country has literally been raped and with the forced privatisations is now being effectively pillaged in a blatant exhibition of mainly German economic imperialism. Perhaps the worst example of this that I read about somewhere, is the case of the Greek State Oil Company which apparently the Germans are trying to get their hands on. As yet unproven reserves of oil and gas have been identified under the Aegean which if reports are correct, would more than clear the Greek debt. Such assets are held by the State Oil Company and Schauble and his chums are apparently trying to buy it for a song as part of the privatisation process! How true this is, I don’t know but based on the last eight years, anything is believable of these people.

On a lighter note, the sun continues to shine, the sea is warm, the food delicious and the wine tasty. The Greeks as always, argue good-naturedly with one another, are interested in the wider world and drive erratically. Oh and the beer is cold!  We love it.

John

It really is summer!

It is really summer now  and we are eating our own grapes from our terrace.  For those of us born and bred in the UK, this is seriously exciting!

The temperature for the past two or three weeks has soared well above 30 degrees and one of the biggest challenges is to keep cool. John and I have implemented one or two pieces of action. The first occurs first thing in the morning. We get out of our already hot house, take the bikes out of the shed, fill the water bottles, resist the temptation of coffee and off we go downhill to a little beach at Tholos.

At 9am in the morning, the sea feels particularly wonderfully cool and refreshing. I wake up properly when I am in the water and am aware early in my day that life is good!

There is, of course, the return journey, which is uphill.  But because we are attempting to be a bit fitter and do this on as regular basis as we can, it is not such a difficult prospect as it was. Added to that, John has done some work on my bike and it does feel like it moves better than it did. I am hot by the time I get back but after a cold shower and breakfast, there is no doubt that this is a great way to start a day.

Another important improvement in our lives in the attempt to keep cool, is the new air conditioning unit in the bedroom. Occasionally, it is put on during the day with the outside doors closed and is always put on before reading in bed at night.  One of our chairs outside is kept in a shady area so the afternoon siesta or reading time can be outside, particularly if there is a breeze. All this being said, it is very hot, day after day, after day.

John and I did decide to have three days away for a change of scene. We went to Xerokambos on the south east coast, a long time favourite of ours. We stayed in the Fytrolakis             Apartments, about 50 metres from the beach,

and had a nice view of the sea.

We met up with Mikali and Eleni, whom we have talked about in previous posts, and who run a taverna there. We caught up with their family news.  We had not thought to look at the weather forecast as every day seemed to be same but Manolis, our Greek teacher did give us a little warning of what was to come which was an extremely strong wind, only I think in Xerokambos! The first night, staff in a local taverna had to pull the down the plastic windows to protect us all from blowing away. But the beaches were as beautiful as ever.

And John looks particularly fetching, wearing his favourite pink tshirt.

On one of the days, we decided to forego the beach, because of the wind and we went to the nearby village of Zakros.  For us, Zakros has always been a place to go through to somewhere else or to start the walk through the gorge to Lower Zakros. So this time, we wandered into the centre of the village where we were surprised to find a new tourist development. We walked into the Digital Museum,

met a very pleasant young lady who told us we could buy a ticket for 5 euros to visit 3 museums. We bought a ticket and on finding out that we spoke some Greek and lived in Kavousi, she gave us a bottle of Zakros olive oil. I suspect that everybody who signed up to the deal, got this gift but it was a nice gesture. We then watched a film about the attractions of Zakros wearing 3D spectacles. We learned about the Minoan Palace and the Zakros gorge with which we were familiar and also about  a cave and information about the importance of water to the area.

After this input, we set off going up the narrow streets to the water museum and to the source of the water. I was struck by how well kept the buildings, the paths and the gardens were.

There was even an opportunity for a new development!

We looked on the water museum and were treated to a number of old pieces of equipment relating to the pressing of olives/grapes?

We arrived at the top of the village and had a quiet moment outside the church.

The signage and information were great too and now I know where the next part of the long distance path, the E4, is.

Finally we looked into the Natural History Museum before having a beer and lunch. The taverna owner said he was part of the committee that had developed this package of interesting information and way of seeing much more of a very beautiful village. John and I congratulated him and now tell everybody that we meet about how Zakros is such a nice place to go.

One of the highlights of the last two weeks was meeting up with our first Greek tutor, Nikos, his wife Efi and their two month old son, Konstantinos. I gave Konstantinos a nice rattle so that he can join his fathers band and he seemed immediately to work out what you had to do! I also found a bath book with the numbers in English on it. I felt some early English input would be educational for this lovely small chap!

Because it really is summer, there is a lot of music about. Last Saturday, John and I went to the nearby Pachia Ammos to hear the Greek singer, Melina Aslanidou,

and her accompanying band. She is very well known in Greece and after buying a CD of hers, I realised that I knew a few of the songs from listening to the radio. There were huge numbers of people there, with many families enjoying the music. Again, as in so many of the concerts we have been too, the audience knew the words of the songs, to the extent that Melina let the audience sing on their own.  The band were very good with a particularly impressive fiddle player. I wondered if he had ever met Aly Bain! The lighting was very atmospheric,

and what a joy to sit outside, beside the sea at midnight, still feeling warm!

The next night we met our friends, Shona and Rich in Koutsoras, ate a nice meal at Robinsons taverna, right beside the sea and then went to a nearby park to listen to a Cretan band,

who were there to provide dance music for the many  people in the audience who wanted to show off their skills.

Again, it may me think that I would like some lessons so that I could participate in this.

Because it is summer, John and I have been getting pretty tired at times because of the heat and this has meant searching for shade and a view of the sea and where better to find it than in a Creta taverna at lunchtime and an increased beer,

tzaziki and Greek salad consumption than usual!  However it has also meant that we see some of the issues that face people working in the tourist industry at this time.  It is not a soft option for people running a taverna, working huge long hours and sometimes not appreciated that much. We saw a group of Russian tourists come into a taverna, where we were sitting and who seem to feel they could treat the people who worked there with contempt and rudeness. Basic rules of civility did not seem to apply and because the owner did not speak Russian they walked out.  The owner was sanguine about the experience. We were very angry on his behalf.

An important part  of our summer is that John and I are about to exchange contracts on a flat in Newquay next week. The process of buying a flat without seeing it, has not been so difficult, given modern communication and the fact that Rosie, our daughter, who will live in the flat, has been doing a fine job, being our eyes and ears. It was a little tense though yesterday as John and I needed to sign the documents and then go to Ierapetra Post Office to send the package. Unfortunately, the electricity supply went off at 9am and as we needed to photocopy some stuff, this was an issue. I found out from Maria that it would come on again at 12 but as the Post Office shut at 2pm, there was a bit of pressure added to the proceedings. Then our neighbour, who had agreed to be a witness to our signatures, wasn’t in when we went round with the papers. Eventually, we located Roger, who lives a mile or so away, who very kindly signed the forms.  Also we discovered that the name, Sheila Helen Burt, had crept into one of the forms that needed to be signed. My name is Sheila Helen Wood so this wouldn’t do!  After a phonecall to Newquay, our solicitor had the change made and sent the form back by email which of course we couldn’t open because the electricity was off. However at 12.30, the sound of the washing machine (having been stopped at 9am) alerted us to the good news that we had electricity and after some photocopying, we finally left for Ierapetra. The documents were posted ‘express’ and all we can hope now is they arrive safely in Newquay at the beginning of next week.

Summer has also meant watching a few films – Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, In the Loop and What we did on our Holiday – and reading some lighter material. Reading about the politics in Cambodia  was making me pretty depressed so I made the decision to go in for a bit of escapism (because it really is summer and holiday time), reading some of my favourite detective authors such as Ian Rankin, Elizabeth George and Robert Galbraith.

Now I think I deserve a few of these grapes………………….

Sheila

 

Fruits, Flowers and a Pigeon War – it must be Summer!

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Last week we had my son James come to stay. In many ways, he is the ideal guest. He made his agenda clear from the outset – sun, sea, a modicum of exercise and plenty of beer! He read, sunbathed, swam, slept and was generally very self-contained. We enjoyed his company, conversation and good humour. It was a great week and we miss him now he has returned to London.

He and Sheila did the two gorges walk to the top of Kastro

and returned via the ancient olive tree where the small taverna has now opened, so I joined them for a celebratory beer.

We had already cycled to the ‘secret’ beach earlier in the week which was fabulous.

Later he borrowed my electric bike to put it through its paces with a trip to Mochlos and then back to Tholos. He covered nearly 30k which is not bad considering there are two major climbs,. He was impressed with the bike and I was pleased that he enjoyed it too!

A further highlight of his stay was a battle which we had with a flock of determined pigeons who suddenly showed a perverse interest in our grapes! It has to be said that said grapes are still far from being ripe but that did not seem to be the issue. The grapes were there and the Greek pigeon clearly has no respect for the property of foreigners!

We tried just about everything – water pistols, hand clapping, shouting, even the use of a high powered water jet but to no avail. As soon as our backs were turned, they would fly in from their vantage points on nearby telegraph wires and posts, land on the pergola and attack the fruit!

Finally, I had the idea of buying some green netting so James and I turned to, spread this over the vines and ‘wrapped’ the grapes so that the pigeons would be thwarted.

Then we sat back and waited. Sure enough, back they came, landed as before but clearly found the netting uncomfortable and retired to re-think their tactics. They still occasionally engineer a fly past just to check whether things have not changed but for the time being at least, they appear to have turned their attention to easier pickings elsewhere!

In a week when the European Football Championship was at its height, I felt that we had managed a narrow victory, perhaps 2-1 but on the other hand, the reality is that it is still only half-time!

Ripening grapes illustrates what a marvellous time it is here in Crete at present as fruits and flowers burst forth to brighten our lives.

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IMG_20160711_185528My banana plants are looking splendid but as yet have not produced any bananas! Imagine my dismay then, when our neighbour Christopher announced last week that his one plant now had bananas! So we walked round later to have a look and sure enough, there they are!

My ‘plantation’ is now looking quite good, so I live in hope.

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The ‘mother’ plant is splendid in appearance but a disappointment, so far …..

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Christopher gave us a gift of one of his aubergines

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and on the walk to his house we saw some pomegranates ripening up nicely.

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Our neighbour’s fig tree is loaded with fruit so August should see us well provided because we can reach over and pick them from our terrace! That said, I am not that keen on figs.

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Sheila’s hibiscus has produced some beautiful flowers of late (see cover photo) and the new bougainvillea is looking beautiful.

The ‘old’ one, we discovered, was actually a bush variety and therefore it was not surprising that it refused to climb and additionally, it hated the windy corner where we had put it. Now it has been moved, it has perked up no end and we now look forward to it flowering later in the year.

And the red chilli plant which Pauline and Chris gave us last year is producing extremely hot fruit, to the extent that we need rubber gloves to pick them!

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Last but not least, is my latest avocado pear plant. They always seem to look OK at this stage of their development but at the end of the summer, they lose their leaves and never seem to recover. However, my cousin Liz tells me to be patient and they will come again next year. We shall see….

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And finally, it is almost two years to the day that our beloved collie, Bonnie had to be put down. I still miss her and here is one of my favourite photos of her, taken at Sunnyside when she was still little more than a puppy.

Bonnie 2003 in heather

But to end on a lighter note, Andy won again at Wimbledon which is about the only good ‘Summer’ news to come out of Britain for the past few weeks. Now, is he Scottish or British???

John

EU blues, summer hues and good times in paradise

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People ask how the referendum result will affect us and I just say that I don’t know. And more worryingly, I don’t know that anybody knows what it is going to mean for individuals and communities in the UK. But I don’t think it is going to be good!  I voted for the UK to stay in the  European Union. I never thought David Cameron should have agreed to a referendum on this issue. I hated the Brexit arguments which seemed mainly to do with immigration, not about what it actually means to be in or out of Europe. I am an immigrant in Greece, and I have been treated by another European country with kindness and respect. Kindness and respect are not part of Mr Farage’s or the Sun’s vocabulary .

But I was sad also because a lot of people in the UK clearly don’t acknowledge any financial or social benefit from being part of Europe. That could be because there is still a view in the UK that it runs the world or it could be that the political parties have essentially ignored the lives and the views of many of its own people.

But we are where we are and I am trying hard not to get too involved in discussions about UK politics. One of the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease which I now have, is anxiety. It is an extremely unpleasant feeling and so I try to avoid issues or situations which exacerbate this feeling. Accordingly, I continue with simpler and more positive observations!

Back in Kavousi, there has been a lot to be positive about.  The temperature is at a constant high and it is a joy to sit outside in the evening on our terrace and watch the light on the mountains,

the moon coming over the hill

and admire our bunches of grapes in the darkness.

The down side is that there is a lot of plant watering to be done but last week I was rewarded by the flowering of the hibiscus plant.

And to be honest, I find it extremely pleasant focusing on the needs of our plants, rather than considering the bigger issues of the day!

As John said, in the last post, we now have a Greek Will for our possessions here. But what he didn’t include was a picture of our dear friend and neighbour, Maria who came to Sitia with us as a witness for the Will.

After the signing of the Will, we went to a taverna on the waterfront of Sitia and enjoyed lunch of kalamares. It was the first time that we have spent time with her out of Kavousi. She has many family responsibilities here and so it was a real treat to go for a little adventure with her. Recently, she indicated that she would like to go to Spinalonga as she has never been there. It will be arranged!

On the 11th June, 2016, my parents would have been married for 70 years. I had a reflective moment thinking of them and wondering what they would think of my life here. I know my Dad really liked coming to our small-holding in the north east of Scotland from their home in Linlithgow but Crete might have been a step too far for him. On the other hand, he and Mum had holidays in Greece and there was one, in particular, when they came to Crete. The holiday was advertised through ‘The Scotsman’ (it is funny how my very erratic memory comes up with a detail like that!) and they spent a week in Hania and a week in Sitia. They enjoyed it hugely. My father was a not a fan of ‘fancy food’ and really liked souvlaki and chips and grilled chicken. So while I know he wouldn’t enjoy the heat in the summer, he might well have made the journey at other times of the year.

Our friends, Hans, Hanneke, Walter and Brigitte and ourselves had a day out to the island of Koufonisi, south of Makrialos.

It was a well organised, delightful day with good friends. First we sailed east along the Crete coast. The wind blew down from the hills and the waves were big.

We turned right towards Koufonisi and it was calm. We swam in this beautiful bay,

looked into a cave and then had a nice picnic on another wonderful beach.

There was a bar and music on the boat and on the way back, some dancing on the rough seas! I would recommend highly the cruise. The website is http://www.cretandailycruises.com

Our good friends, Sarah and Mark came for the week that co-incided with the referendum. They were looking for relaxation

and so we enjoyed lying on a number of beaches, swimming in the nice warm sea and going to nearby tavernas, including the ones at our plateia in Kavousi.

Some of the children in the village were just round the corner from us, minding their own business.

One day I played tennis at Mochlos and afterwards we ate and admired the light of the dying sun.

The relaxation was interrupted by the referendum result but that was completely out of our control, unfortunately. But on the last night we did have some food with Walter and Brigitte

and music to lighten the gloom when we went to Μύρτος to see our good friend, Nikos, play with his band, Φε’ρ το Φοκο (Hand me the lighter!).

Nikos has just become a father so there was much to celebrate. The band had to contend with very strong winds but provided some great, uplifting, rock music

Another highlight of the month was the final lesson of the Greek classes before the summer. Helene and Bernard, from Brittany hosted it at their house and it consisted of checking our homework, conversation and then eating Breton crepes and drinking wine.

It was delightful. Lessons start again in September but Μανώλης, our teacher, has agreed to meet just John and me, once a week in July for speaking practice. Hopefully with this and the fact that our little part of the village is now very lively because our neighbours families have returned to Kavousi for July and August so there is plenty opportunity for practice!

The month has slipped by with John doing some DIY, making fly screens for the windows,

and picking up the guitar again.

I have been playing tennis and meeting up with my friend, Margarita who gave me helpful advice about living with Hashimoto’s disease. I also finished reading the Odyssey by Homer (not in Greek though) which I enjoyed and a book by an English travel journalist, Christopher Somerville called ‘The Golden Step’ which is a very interesting read of his walk across Crete and the people he met and the culture he encountered.  John and I have ventured into the world of considering a new bathroom for the house and bought a new microwave and kettle for the kitchen.

What was more exciting was that on Saturday we travelled to Exo Lakonia,near Ag Nik, to hear the very well known Γιάννης Χαρούλης (Yannis Xaroulis) and his band play. We have heard them before and enjoyed them but this time, the band were playing in the place where Γιάννης Χαρούλης grew up.

It was held in a stadium with thousands of people there. It was wonderful to be there and the music was just fantastic.

But I finish with politics and immigration. There was much publicity about the referendum here, comments even reaching the front page of the local paper in Ierapetra. But maybe of more concern to the people of Greece was a report by the Bank of Greece, announced on Saturday, saying that since 2008, half a million Greeks have left the country in search of work. The population of Greece is only 10.9 million people now and this is a very worrying trend for the country. Apparently the current exodus is being led by young professionals and graduates, going to Germany, the UK and the United Arab Emirates. Discuss!

Sheila