Monday, 21 December 2009

It was on the eve of Christmas... Well Nearly

Well it's all over bar the shouting so to speak. Sandra and I helped decorate the church in Blacktoft on Saturday and clear all the snow from the path so people could get in with out breaking multiple limbs en route. It was the Christingle service last night for all the kids Sandra took 4 of our Grand children and they really enjoyed singing carols and generally having a good time, this was followed by a party supper and a chance to talk to people who she hadn't met for a long time. I stayed at home and watched The eagle has landed for the umpteenth time and Top Gear which is the funniest thing on TV. May have a couple of Photos to add later when I find a lead for my camera as it's with the rest of the kit in Assos.

I Think we are all prepared now for the festive event we are having Chris (our middle son) and his three kids for Christmas dinner and Sandra's dad. Sandra's dad still isn't driving after dislocating his shoulder three months ago but hopefully they will clear him to do so when Sandra takes him to the specialist in early January, in the mean time we are using his car to get out and about so it's saved us having to hire one while we are home so it's not all bad news.

Three weeks today we will be on the plane back to Athens. We have decided to stay near Gatwick airport overnight on the 10th as this means that we will be more alive when we finally get back to our beloved Assos. This current cold spell, although magical to look at through the window is just making us realise more why we are really at home in Greece.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Christmas is coming.....

Well it's almost that time of year again and all the prezzies have been bought and wrapped. Sandra had the grand kids in York at the weekend to get them all measured up for new shoes and coats etc. so the old bank account is now at an all time low, well nothing changes there then!

Saw 3 of the grand kids in their Christmas plays last week and they were brilliant but nothing more than you would expect from their lineage, OK perhaps not, but in truth it was the best pair of Christmas plays I have ever seen put on so congratulations to Gilberdyke Primary Sch
ool and of course all the children.

I went out with a few of the OLD guys from work last Friday night organised by Graham Copley, I had a great night out, it's nice to see good friends from a former life and we didn't talk shop all night (well nearly).
Back Row: Dave Bryce, Rob Watson, Neil Collingwood, Graham Copley, Paul Boocock
Me and Alan Cochrane at the front.
There was one absentee from the usual crowd, Ron Spence who I really missed seeing, probably because he's the only one to go for a ciggy break with!! Although Rob did oblige by bumming one in order to have the excuse to go outside and shiver. Anyway a great night had by all I think and good food and drink at a reasonable price.
We are now within four weeks of returning to Greece and I'm looking forward to it immensely. We have decided that to make the journey back a little more comfortable time wise we are going down to Gatwick the night before we fly and having a night in a travel lodge, this also has the advantage that we can hire the car for one day instead of two. We fly on a Monday morning and we were having to hire the car on Saturday, the hire company not opening on Sundays, and although they could deliver the car to us on Saturday for Sunday hire this would have cost us nearly as much again as the hire. So we are hiring from Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon and will deliver the car to their office at Gatwick airport and stop overnight and thus be refreshed for our 7am booking in time. We still don't expect getting back to Assos until around midnight local time so it'll be another long day.

We have someone coming tomorrow to have a look at our house here to assess what may be needed to put it on the rental market and also to give us some idea of what we expect to get for it. It just seems pointless having to pay Council Tax, Water Rates and Electricity DD's when you are not in the place. The electricity board won't take your word for it that the power is turned off and thus nothing being used so they keep sending you estimated bills which you have to pay albeit that you'll get reimbursed at some point in the future. The rates won't be reduced unless the house is not lived in and furniture removed and then I think they are stopped for six months and there after it is a reduced single occupancy charge which seems a bit strange when you aren't using any of the council services, but hey ho I don't make the rules.

In Greece the situation is much better if you have an electricity supply you pay all your local taxes as part of the bill, if you can get your supply via a generator or telegraph pole you get it free!!

Anyway Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (in Greek
Kalo Christouyena & Hronia Polla)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Back in Blighty

Well, nearly a week back in the good old UK and it's not been fit to be outside since I got here. Came back to a few problems with my central heating, washing machine and hoover but I think that they are all sorted now although I have yet to get the back off the washing machine as No. one son has decided he has more right to my Torx Screwdrivers than I have but I'm sure I'll get them back anyway. He has found me a nearly new washing machine to replace the one he broke anyway but I'm hoping to mend this one and take the other out to Greece with a bit of luck.

All the Grandchildren were really pleased to see us when we got home, I thought that Adam (8 on Xmas day) wasn't going to let go of me when I first saw him although he's probably the closest to his Grand dad. Sandra's dad was also really pleased to have things back to his version of normality. That said he's hardly been at home to see us since our return!

The weather has been diabolical since our return, either extremely cold or foggy and damp. I would really like to get my garden back into some kind of order but I'm afraid that I'm not going to risk catching my death out there at the moments but I'll soon have to do because it's only 5 and a half more weeks before we return.

The journey from Thesprotiko to Athens was very nice from a scenery point of view and Patras looks like a place we shall be visiting again along with Corinth but the bus journey was 6 hours to Athens although the driver did stop for a short break at Patras. We then had another hours ride on the bus to the airport and because we caught the early bus from from Thesprotiko rather than the 11 o'clock from Arta we than had five hours to kill at the airport. At Gatwick we were ages queued up for passport control and despite the fact the we had no hold luggage to collect we were nearly 2 hours before we were on the road home to Yorkshire arriving home at 4:30 am. on Saturday morning, it was a long day as we had been up since 5am Greek time so a 26 hour day. I think we'll avoid coming home at that time in the future and try and avoid the southern airports by trying to get flights to Manchester or wherever.

Thanks to all the people who have been kind enough to ask us about what we're doing and going to be doing in the future. I have put a few photo's and video on a DVD if anyone wants to see it.

Sandra and I have put up a few Christmas deco's this morning but to be honest I think I wold rather be doing it there than here. Catch you all again soon when the weather has improved and hopefully I'm not so miserable.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Last week before we come home for Christmas

Well as far as we're concerned the Olive harvest is over but there are still the noises and smells coming from every direction of other people getting theirs in. Sorry about the lack of pictures from the pressing but they went while we were in Lefkas for the day. We have however got our payment for the harvest a 15ltr tin of olives would you believe. These have to be steeped in water for about a week changing the water every day, this is to get rid of any impurities and make the bloody things edible, olives straight from the tree are really disgusting. After this they are then kept until required in a saline solution of about 75 grams of sea salt to 1 ltr of water cover the olives again and float a good layer of olive oil over the top to seal, after five weeks they are ready to be eaten but will last for months.

As mentioned earlier we had a day in Lefkas with our friends Tony and Liz, we went to deliver Christmas cards and pass on seasonal greetings which seems really strange with the temperature being in the high 20s all day. Anyway that all done we went out for a delicious meal at a taverna on the quay side in Lefkas town, very old and atmospheric but smashing grub!

On Friday Sandra went to pay a bill at the bank in Thesprotiko our local town. She was stood in the queue waiting to pay (no online banking in this country pal!) and an elderly woman in traditional black garb, started to hoist her dress half way up to her chest and then started secreting money in various pockets sown into her old fashioned long bloomers she must have had about 500 euros in all and obviously wanted it in the safest place she had available. When Sandra asked why all the old people where drawing money out that day she was told that they had to pay their heating oil bills so our friend George would be looking forward to them getting home.

George, Mantha and Sandra in the Taverna up above Soulia.

Sunday we had another mystery tour in the mountains with George and Mantha, he took us to a taverna high up in the mountains in an area which has two claims to fame. I. when the Turks ruled Greece this area, Soulia, withstood all attempts to subjugate them and thus became the only area in mainland Greece not to be ruled by the Turks. 2. the area is the home to breed of wild horses, we could see any of them but will return at sometime in the future to try and get a glimpse. Near the taverna they have built shelters and feeding stations for the horses as the area has considerable snowfall in December and January and soon there are going to be an hotel and apartments built for people to go up there on sort of alternative holidays. It will be a cold old place in winter though at over 1500 Mts. The view from the other side of the mountain is truly stunning the river that can be seen starts near Assos and travels underground and emerges near this photograph. This is taken from about 100 mts up. After this we went to Parga to say Merry Christmas to some friends we met on holiday there last year and then onto a fish Taverna down the coast for our meal. Beautiful setting next to a fishing harbour and very reasonably priced this is a place where we shall return when we get visitors to stay. We then finished the day with an evening visit to Lake Zorro where we had a nightcap at the restaurant there, again this is well worth a visit to walk around the lake and have a bevvy or two.

Monday and time to start thinking about getting ready for the trip home. In this picture Sandra is doing the laundry Greek style on the balcony at the back with our little camping twin tub washer. It's 8:30 in the morning and about 20 degrees so the clothes hung out under the veranda are all dry in no time flat.
We have got the bus tickets for our journey on Friday morning from Thesprotiko to Athens, the bus leaves about 8 o'clock and takes 4 to 5 hours, so we'll be leaving here about 7:15 to make sure we have plenty of time as we don't want to miss it. From the bus station in Athens we get another bus out to the airport ready for our flight which leaves at 9:20 in the evening. This gets us to London Gatwick at about 11:15 UK time Friday evening from where we have arranged an hire car to drive home. Hopefully we should be back in Yorkshire by 2:30 - to 3 am.

I guess the next update will be from the cold, icy, windy and wet northern regions.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Olive Harvest

Last week after a I wrote last blog, we had a ride around the valley and down into the wetlands at the bottom around the Amvraty gulf. This is a marvelous area and we spent quite some time watching the pelicans and egrets feeding. the area is teaming with wildlife. Again the pictures don't really do it justice but they never do. While we were at the other side of the valley we took some photographs of Assos from across the valley, in the first I have circled the village and in the second is our house.

The Olive harvest is now in full swing in some areas of Greece this will still be happening well into next year but that will only be for the inferior olives which are used for standard olive oil and industrial processes. This area is apparently world reknowned for it's olives (akin to Kalamata olives) and for it's Feta cheese (Epirus Feta) which is as far removed from the stuff you get in England as it's possible to believe. The general olives are harvested by knocking them off the trees with big sticks and catching them in nets, it doesn't matter that they get bruised as they are pressed into oil within a short period of time. The ones which are currently being harvested in this area are hand picked and the trees are pruned at the same time, pruning is not a subtle affair as the secateurs have an engine and revolving chain and it's often carried out pirouetting from a makeshift ladder or steps, dangerous occupation and not for the faint hearted. For the last two days I have been helping Jorgos with his harvest not hard work but it made me very stiff with all exercise of bending and reaching but to paraphrase someone, in the land a short men the medium sized one is king, or at least I could reach the parts that they couldn't, perhaps I should be called Heineken. There were four of us as well as Jorgos and me there was his son Christos and his Mother who they call yaya (grand mother). Yaya is 77 years old and goes up the side of the slope like a mountain goat although shes only about 5ft tall, she would be taller but she's very bow legged and "couldn't stop a pig in a ginnel". She works like a Trojan though and never stopped from morning until night. Anyway they are all in now and there is enough to supply Jorgos' family and the Kafenion which serves mezeai (mixed snacks with drinks) for the next year, there are also enough inferior and small olives to take to be pressed into oil for the business. Jorgos says that he may have enough oil for three months or so which doesn't sound much but the cafe uses 3 to 4 litres of the stuff every day in cooking and with the snacks. He said in 2005 they had enough oil to last 2 years after a very good harvest but now they have to buy oil to supplement their own. I am going to the pressing either this afternoon or tomorrow and will try and get some photographs of the process and add them to this page before posting it.

Note, not going to press Olives until Friday now so I'll post this and add pressing photos later.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

First Snow of the winter

Well the first snow is now visible on the top of the mountains as you will be able to see in the picture taken from our balcony below but fortunately not down in Assos despite the fact the we are quite high up. In fact I'm sat outside writing this in the sun. Today is the first very warm day for nearly two weeks and on virtually every day we have had thunder and rain sometimes very hard rain. The people in the village say that this is very unusual and they can't remember the last time that they had so much rain over such a prolonged period. Our answer to that is that is because we are here but it's nothing that we can't cope with. Any water clears very quickly here and despite the fact that we have had so much there is very little sign of it on the land although we are on a steep slope so I suppose that's hardly surprising.

Here is another picture taken from the South side of the balcony

Had to buy another five gallons of heating oil this week because the last five has been used it's 61.5 cents per litre here that's about 55.7P /ltr at the current exchange rate so it's a wee bit more expensive than UK but of course you don't use that much of it. Having said that the houses have no insulation and once the heating goes off the heat escapes very quickly, we can put up with that though. Car fuel is cheaper than UK I'm currently buying diesel at 93.8 Cents a litre that's about 85P per litre and we use more of that than the heating oil so I'm pleased that it's that way around.

We are now preparing for going back to England for Christmas, we have found out that we can catch a bus to Athens from out Local town, Thesprotiko, which is about as far away as Newport from home, we need to change at Athens bus station and get the airport special.

Sandra sat out this morning reading her book in the sun.

Sandra spent half of yesterday Baking for the kafenion in the village they don't seem to be able to get enough of her baking. She did Apple pie, Quiche and Chocolate buns, paw, paw, paw, is all they say with a gleam in their eyes. Pastry in Greece is all flaky pastry not like we have in the UK the locals had never tried it before. Their English is beginning to improve as Sandra teaches them her version of it, "aye happen lad!" and our Greek is coming on a treat but perhaps not as fast as we would like. I am using a web site to translate written English to Greek and vice versa. In case anyone is interested here the web address it is very good.

Oh well that's about it for this week we shall be going to Levkas on Saturday for some Christmas cards to leave for people here and probably stay over at Tony's if they are not too tied up with other things.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Wet week in paradise

We have been having very wet weather now for about ten days well for eight of the last ten anyway, George (our Greek oracle) says he can’t remember when they last had so much rain over such a long time and it’s forecast to last until Friday as well. It didn’t stop us from going out to Thessalonica on Saturday though, it’s 3.5 hours away although the first hour is only about 35 miles just windy roads. We went there over the top of the mountains as my Sat Nav thought the motorway wasn’t there however it was worth it even though it added an hour to the journey as we went through all the ski resorts and stunning mountain scenery no snow yet though. On the way back we came via the motorway which apart from a couple of little bits still under construction is all the way from coast to coast although we leave it at Ioaninna, there are signs all along the motorway to go slowly and be aware of bears although I would love to see a bear in the wild but I think if I did the last thing I would do is go slowly!!

We went to IKEA in Thessalonica to get a new bed seeing as the other bedroom only had an old bed frame and a single put-me-up chair bed in it. While we were there we bought some other bits and pieces we needed, lampshades, mirror etc. Thessalonica is a beautiful city with all the multinational stores in it including Makro of all things and a fantastic frontage along the Aegean, it’s really well worth the visit and we shall be going back there to see it better when the weather is warmer next year.

George has also said about us going to Turkey for a few days which is quite near when you get to Thessalonica. We took George and Martha (although we have now found out her name is Manthra) out for a drive yesterday into the mountains north of Ioannina to a place called Papingo which is all national park and untouched, they are not allowed to use concrete as a building material so all the houses are made of Stone really pretty. (Sorry no piccies forgot the camera AGAIN!) There is a huge gorge there rather like a Samaria gorge in Crete and equally as beautiful. We went in our car as it’s not easy travelling with four people in a petrol tanker (Georges vehicle) up some of the hills although Sanny could ride shotgun for ballast. He took us to a restaurant for tea and also another one for coffee earlier and would not take a penny for it and we had a right feast. You would love it!

Tony (from the villa in Levkas) has asked me to consider being crew in his J24 class yacht. He’s going to teach me obviously and I did make it clear to him that I am a novice sailor and only did the theory bit of the day skipper course !!! He did the round island race last Saturday and got knocked flat in a squall he was telling me on the phone that he was doing over 10 knots on just the jib as his main got ripped in the squall, he said only two finished out of all the starters and the weather was very unpredictable with thunder storms etc. Sounds pretty exciting to me!

Sorry again for the lack of photo's I really must stick a camera in the car.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Real life Greek style

On the Sunday after Sandra's birthday we had been invited to a Greek christening. In fact we were billed as the guests of honour although I doubt it very much but it was fascinating. It is very different to our version of doing things. It quite a long service, about an hour, the priest greets the baby and god parent at the door and chants at them for several minutes occasionally blowing at the baby (I assume to get rid of evil spirits) they then enter the church proper to more chanting and praying. The baby is then undressed and totally naked, is completely anointed from head to foot three times with olive oil and then fully immersed three times in a font which is like a huge brass and copper cauldron he is then washed off whilst in the font. The single god parent plays a big part in all this doing most of the anointing and washing along with the priest. The priest finishes by cutting a lock of hair from the child and placing it into a locket. All the people who attend are given a small broach thing and a sweet cake when they leave the church. This is followed by a Greek meal and traditional dancing in a taverna, there must have been about 100 people there. It was a spectacular event but I must admit I did feel sorry for little Dimitri (the baby) who just couldn't understand what all these people were doing to him, at times he was very distressed. At the moment I don't have any pictures because being to useless old sod I am I forget to take the camera. I shall get a couple of picture from Christos and post them here later.

Last Wednesday the “technician” came to try and make our heating appliance work, I think I have explained before that it’s a huge thing that burns diesel supplied from a small tank bolted to the rear of the device. Anyway, he turned up on an old Honda 50 which really was just a bike frame with an engine in no mudguards it did have a light at the front but it was hung down on the wires no back light ‘cos there wasn’t a mudguard to bolt it onto. All his tools (two adjustable wrenches, a few screwdrivers and a lump hammer) and a few bits of rag were in a milk crate with the dividers removed and strapped on the back seat. Anyway the heater got taken out onto the from lawn and totally stripped it looked like someone had been trying to burn olive oil in it rather than diesel and this had clogged up the entire works. To cut a 5 hour storey short we got it all back in and gave the guy, Niko, a couple of beers and he charged us 20 Euros, I gave him 40 because he had been working solid for 5 hours and we were grateful for the heater being available for use. And god does it stick out some heat ½ hour and the house is roasting. I have had to do a couple of mods since to make it quieter and I have extended the flue because it was under the veranda roof and it’s a very mucky and hot output so I want it going outside completely to reduce the muck and fire risk. I think Niko must have used the money wisely as I saw him yesterday and his headlight was back in it's case but still no back lights.

We finally got into our spare bedroom yesterday and found to our surprise that there was not that much stuff hoarded away in it. We found quite a few carpets rolled up in the top of the wardrobes which we have liberated to use as tiled floor are great in summer but they need carpets on them once the temperatures start to drop at night. The rest of Spiro's' stuff (including a shotgun and lots of tools) we have secreted away into the huge built in wardrobes. There was a bed frame and a single chair/bed both of which we have left in the room the put-me-up for occasional use and the bed frame just for somewhere to put it as it's knackered. We are going to Thessaloniki tomorrow (Saturday) to buy a new bed from IKEA along with a few other bits and pieces, it's a three hour drive but it'll be a day out and we haven't yet been to Thessaloniki. There is talk of an IKEA opening in Ioannina but it's not there at the moment so that's of no use. Sunday will no doubt be spent moving moving the beds out of our room into the spare and then getting the new bed up and running which means we can share the bed again for the first time in five weeks.

This brings us up to date (Friday 6th November 2009) hope everyone's had a good bonfire night!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Back to Elleniki - the return

We got to our house in Assos at about 11 o’clock Thursday morning and had problems finding the key in the place where it had been secreted, however it turned up lodged behind some trim amongst some masonry, we had to borrow a ladder (well a thing made from two large Olive branches for the rails with lumps a 2x2 nailed to the branches for treads) from Yanni who lives below us to get at the aluminium trims behind which the key was located. It took us a couple of days to get the place hospital clean the way Sandra likes it to be! We had no hot water as it was supplied from a solar heater and was only sufficient for the maisonette below us so the guy had turned it off but after a couple of phone calls (via George) to the guy who owns the place, he arranged for a “technician” to visit. He had said that we would need an electric boiler fitting in the attic. On Saturday tea time two guys turned up with some pipe and electrical gear and a boiler and set about fitting it up and by 8 o’clock we had hot water. They also fitted an Electricity meter so we can pay for what we use but as the Greeks pay council tax and TV licence via the electricity payment it's not duplicated. It not right that things can’t get done quickly here.

The only other problem that we have at the moment is we only have one bedroom, the owner has loads of stuff stored in the other and it’s locked so we can’t see if there is another bed in there or not. We do need a bed as the two beds which are in our bedroom are really not suitable for adults, one is a single and the other is a ¾ width double but it’s short and my feet hang over the end by six inches which is damned uncomfortable. So I’m in the single and Sandra's in the ¾ . We may have a trip to IKEA in Thessaloniki and buy a new one after the owner has shifted all his stuff out of the other bedroom. We also have a bed – settee in the kitchen so there will be no problems with enough sleeping space for visitors.

Picture the view from our Lounge window sorry a bit misty when it was taken.

We have been bowled over by the kindness shown to us by the people we have had people come to the house with beans, eggs, pomegranates, grapes, walnuts, passion fruit, apples and peppers so far and several invitations for coffee at their houses, I think there may just be a trace of wanting to know what the foreigners are doing in their village!! But never the less they are all very talkative despite the language problems.

Had a little trouble getting a modem dongle on contract as we had to register with a Greek tax number first which meant going to the tax office in Preveza first and filling in some forms in Greek, good old George helped with that as well, he really is a splendid chap. My Internet connection is too slow to Skype with although it is adequate for blog updates and emailing and to keep an eye on the net. It only runs at about 1.3 G although I have had the computer at Lefkas town and had a full 3G signal there. You can switch on windows messenger and/or Skype when you are online and use them to IM people.

For Sandra's Birthday on October 20th, we were invited to the Kafenion for a birthday meal. They killed a lamb especially for the occasion and prepared a lamb stiffado which is sort of a stew and onion speciality, it was the best stiffado we have ever had. We spent the weekend after Sandra's birthday, in Levkas with all the Friends we had met earlier in the year when we stayed at Tony's Villa. We had a really good night out at the Mystrali Taverna in the town with plenty to eat and drink and then stayed overnight with Tony and Liz at the villa. Thanks Tony.

Picture - Me, George with baby Dimitry and George's daughter Effi in the Kafenion

That almost brings us up to date my next posting will be about the heating system and the Greek christening of Dimitry, which happened last week.

Roll on September...

On our return to Yorkshire we were of course delighted to see friends and family again but naturally after a few weeks thoughts started to turn again to Greece and to our new place in Assos in particular. We knew that there was to be work done at the house in our absence like a separate electricity supply, it's currently just tapped off "dads" in the lower part of the building and the same for the water. There was also painting to be done and for the owner to take out of the property the things he didn't want us to have.

By the same reckoning we had to get things in order to take back. There was no cooker, fridge, freezer or washing machine in the place, also
the curtains were no particularly to our taste so this had to be organised. White and electrical goods in Greece are at least 50% more expensive than in the UK (the current weakness of the Pound against the Euro doesn't help this at all) so we determined that whatever we could carry from the UK we would. To this end we bought a baby belling cooker, which is sufficient for our use, on EBay, we already had a spare fridge freezer and a caravan twin tub washer, the camp kitchen was also designated as going for the extra work space it provided. We decided that with only two rings on the cooker we would take a veg steamer and the George Foreman with us. In addition to this we have a device called a "Bravoska" which is like an electric pan which you can use upside down as a small oven or right way up as a large electric pan with lid. It's brilliant you can even roast a chicken or joint in it!

During the summer we also had Christenings for Melissa and Findley, and a none family christening for Grace, the grand daughter of our very good friends Allen and Jean. An 85th birthday party for Sandra's dad Geoff, another milestone reached and of course we had to get dad a passport so that he could come out and visit us.

The first picture
shows Geoff with Libby on his knee me at the far side with John & Jo at the near side. Taken behind our house to keep Geoff in the shade on one of the few hot day we experience in dear old Blighty.

The second Picture shows Allen and I in Gary's back garden, cooking for the
multitude at the "bit of a do" after the joint christenings of Melissa and Findley. Between us is Chris boozing and eating as is the way of these events.

September was now upon us and we had spent, spent, spent.... got all the things we intended taking with us and it was now just a case of going. We decided to wait until after Melissa had her first birthday on 28th September as we had missed her being born the year previous while we were in Parga.

So it was that on 28th September at 21:00 GMT we set off for Greece once more with the car packed so tightly it was impossible to get anything more in or on it, we even had a new IKEA dinner service sat on the arm rest.

As mentioned earlier we got stung by not booking the channel tunnel but that aside the now familiar journey through Europe was uneventful and in two day after an overnight stay at Grafenhausen once more we were in Ancona awaiting the ferry. This time we had a brilliant crossing and Sandra enjoyed the cruise feel more than she had done on the two previous occasions.

Coming up... Back to Ellaniki

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Stay in Lefkas

As mentioned in earlier posts we rented a villa in the small village of Apolpena in the hills just above Lefkas City (sounds very grand for a town). Tony the villa owner was there to meet us on our arrival bearing gifts well there was a fantastic welcome pack in the villa anyway. He gave us another tour of the place and showed us how to operate the various appliances washing machine etc. and was generally very helpful. The villa was equipped with everything you could wish even a pair of binoculars for admiring the view, there were also lots of books and Cd's in case you had forgotten to bring anything but your kossie. Just in case anyone missed it earlier here is a link to Tony's booking site. I cannot recommend his villa too highly and if you come for a long stay out of season he is open to negotiation.

The picture shows Mark (from the yacht Options) Liz (Tony's partner) and Tony with the streamers all over his head.

In our stay at Apolpena Tony & Liz introduced us to many of the expats who live in and around the area, mostly on live aboard yachts in the marina. Many of these have become firm friends, Kev & Linda, Mark & Maureen, Flash, and John Chips deserve a special mention but there are many more who I'm afraid must continue to be anonymous.

It was our intention to use the trip primarily to find some long term accommodation, preferably to rent but not ruling out any options. Renting is preferred because it's much easier to get out of if you have made a mistake and it also means that if for some reason you fancy moving to a different area all you have to do is get on yer bike and find somewhere, no need to wait for a buyer etc.

We looked at many properties on Lefkas Island and also on the mainland but we kept going back to Assos to see George and Martha who we met when we were at Parga. George found us several places local to him to have a look at including the place where we now are living. We picked this up for about a third of the cost of a similar apartment in a tourist area.

This picture shows Sandra with Martha & George our very special Greek friends. George is a bit of a Danny Devito look alike bearing in mind Sandra is only 5ft 5 and she's stooping here!! We love them dearly and could never have been where we are now without their help. All this started from just stopping at a filling station for a Frappe and talking to them about our plans to live for long periods in Greece, even though they have very little English and we have very little Greek it's amazing how you can communicate with the odd reference to your well thumbed phrase book.

Anyway towards the end of our stay George got us in touch with the owner of the maisonette we now have and we agreed on a one year deal with the option to extend if we are mutually happy with the arrangement.

Not much but we call it Home - Our Assos house has two decent sized double bedrooms a large dining kitchen and good sized lounge. And the bathroom has a bath as well as shower. The wonderful thing about it though it that it has 180 degree panoramic views mountains east and west and straight down the valley north and south.

Our Stay in Lefkas was a truly wonderful time we went to parties, got invited as crew in a yacht race (thanks to flash for taking on the handicap), witnessed a fantastic soap box derby down a huge hill behind Nidre with the carts reaching speeds of 30 mph and whats more the road wasn't closed to traffic (brave lads and lass'). The Greek people are the hospitable people in the world, in my opinion anyway, if you ever come out here just ask around and you can find people who will help you with anything.

We returned home full of hope for the future as well as a notebook full of measurements for curtains etc with which to return in late September. We took two days going home after disembarking the Ferry at Ancona in Italy one overnight stop at Grafenhausen and then back to dear old Yorkshire with the wind and the rain and the rain and the rain and the rain....

Next, roll on September

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

"D Day"

January 28th 2009 - We set off from home for a leisurely drive down to Folkstone where we were booked into the travel lodge just outside the Channel Tunnel terminal. Accomodation was fine and with an evening meal cost about £60.

Early start next morning to catch the 4am train to Sangatte. The travel Lodge provided us with a packed Breakfast as we were starting out before their restaurant opened, this was acceptable although nothing to write home about. The Tunnel for anyone who has not been on it, is fantastic, it quick and efficient and you have no idea you're really moving when you are on it. The return cost on it for this trip was £96 but be warned when I came back in September I thought rather than book I would see if you could get it cheaper by turning up and just paying at the terminal, you can't it cost me £160 quid, put that down as a lesson learnt!! Total time taken from arriving at the terminal to departing from Sangatte terminal 55 minutes with about 40 minutes moving.

Next stop Germany, we had sort of planned stopping at around Saarbruken but had not booked anywhere as we were expecting to find some Formule 1 hotels adjacent to the motorways, never saw one! In the end we stopped at a place called Grafenhausen which was about 60 or 70 miles further than we had intended but as the roads were so good despite temperatures of -8 outside, this did not worry us much. Euro Hotel was a good overnight stop as it was literally 1/4 mile from the motorway. Good Quality room and good continental Breakfast in the morning about £70. Went into the small town for an evening meal which was smashing but I couldn't tell you what we had it was a local speciality excellent!

Set off at 8:30 for Italy via Switzerland. The Swiss don't have tolls on their motorways the have a Vignette which you stick in the window. It doesn't matter when you buy it it runs out in January. Our therefore lasted us for three trips through Switzerland January, May and September. The cost is 27 Euros which isn't bad if you get your use out of them and they also cover you for the alpine tunnels including Gottard which we went through.

Looking back toward Gottard Tunnel when we stopped for a cupper and a wee!!

When we reached Milan in Italy my sat nav told us to go on the southern orbital motorway, the road signs indicted the Northern Hhhhmmmmm time for a decision. The road signs are the most efficient way arn't they - we'll go around the North of Milan NNNoooooo!!!! it's much easier around the South, there is one place were a couple of Motorways merge were you end up joining traffic in the fast lane not that I mind mixing it with Ferrari's and Lamborghini's but them buggers are 120MPH. oh well have 4X4 and keep nosing in!!. Again we intended staying near Milan but went probably 100 miles or so further to Modena. As we had quite liked the Travel Lodge at Folkestone we saw saw one at Modena and thought we would go with it. Another expensive foe par. Good quality but £120 for BB and Evening meal. Hey ho... Next stop Ancona were the ferry terminal is.

We had a very steady ride to Ancona as we were already over 100 miles nearer than we planned although we needed to be there for 2pm to book in for the ferry. Northern Italy with the exception of the lakes above Milan, is a bit boring but the scenery improves as you get towards the east coast coat. We got there with plenty of time to spare and embarked on the Ferry for Igoumenitsa in Greece.

Sandra and I on the Ferry to Greece just before it started to get choppy and Sandra was confined to her bunk.

Arrived Safely next morning with just a 60 mile drive left to Lefkas. Grand trip with lots to see on the way.

Lessons learnt from this trip was you can do it with only one stop which we did on the way back at the same place in Gafenhausen which we stayed on the outward journey. It does mean a couple of 700 mile trips but as the roads are generally all good and not in general busy apart from around major urban areas this is not a problem easily done in 10 hours per trip. Book the tunnel save £100 quid on a single trip. Don't book the ferry you can get a better deal at the ferry terminal, coming back this September to book online would have cost me £120 more than at the terminal, this also has the advantage of if you miss the planned ferry you can go to another operator and get another ferry which runs later. Check accommodation is available in the area you intend stopping, our stop at Modena cost must more than we had budgeted.

Coming up Stay in Lefkas...

Monday, 26 October 2009

Preparing for the trial run...

On our return home from Parga back home we started to realise the magnitude of all what we needed to plan and only three months in which to achieve it. There were lists to write of what was needed, routes to plan through Europe, ferries and hotels to book etc. As we had never driven in mainland Europe in our own car before (other than a booze and fag run). We had to find out what we needed to do for the car hi viz vests, spare bulbs, warning triangle, car recovery insurance, the list goes on and on.

In addition there was the not insubstantial work of getting the house and garden into some sort of state so it could withstand three months of neglect without taking too much harm.

We looked at various routes through Europe down to Ancona in Central Italy from where we would catch the ferry for Igumenitsa in Greece finally deciding to go through Belgium, Germany and Switzerland rather than through France which is in fact the quickest and slightly shortest route. The reason for this choice is that the Belgian and German motorways are not tolled whereas the French ones are and quite heavily. This we weighed up against the possibility of the none tolled roads probably being in worse condition and also perhaps more heavily used due to the cheaper cost. As we had not travel overland from Yorkshire to Greece we decided that it would be a three stop trip, once a Folkstone before taking the chunnel, then somewhere in between Saarbruken and Strasbourg and a third stop somewhere near Milan with obviously a forth night on the ferry across to Greece. We thought the cost would be something like £800 to £900 for the round trip including ferries accommodation and Diesel. You can get these thing quite horribly wrong!!!

We borrowed a Satellite dish which with look would fit into the car 1.2 Meters. We had asked in Parga what the Expats there were using for UK TV. They said that you could get most of it with a smallish dish although most web site say 2.5 to 3 meters which is bloody huge. Anyway, being the prudent sort I though I would take this 1.2 meter dish and try before you buy rather than drop a cobbler and find I couldn't get anything. I also borrowed a Joker decoder in case my Sky+ decoder didn't work, I hoped it would because the two hour time differential means that many things which you would like to watch are on at silly o'clock.

Anyway, with the preparation work done, well as near done as you can when it's all new to you, we sat back and awaited January 28th 2009 which was "D" day (departure day) for us.

Coming soon "D Day"

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Time for decisions

Late July 2007, I got paid off from work so we spent a short time paying off anything we owed, Mortgage etc. and invested the little money we had left. As it turned out this wasn't such a good idea as Northern Rock went down a few weeks later and we all know what happened after that. However, we had decided that any money invested was sacrosanct for at least five years, now October 2009 it's nearly back to were it was!

We had friends who spend their winters in southern Spain so we booked some accommodation at Conil De la Frontera near Cadiz in February to see if this would be for us. But also went to our beloved Greece in late September to Arilas in north west Corfu. We have been to Corfu a couple of times before and it's a splendid Island provided you avoid the tourist traps and the typical holiday makers who are only there for the sun, beach and booze.

Anyway suffice to say we thoroughly enjoyed Greece and didn't care too much for Spain, but to be fair there are some really fine historic sights there and for a Napoleonic war story enthusiast like me the chance to visit Trafalgar was something not to be missed. The old town of Cadiz is totally amazing as is Gibraltar, however the Spanish people seem to be fed up with "tourists" and the place is absolutely heaving with expat Brits, Dutch and Germans. This can be an advantage if you want to speak as at home but in general there appears to be little foreign ghetto's cropping up all over the place and with the greatest of respect they are tending to create little Britain in the sun, not really our idea of integrating into a new lifestyle.

When we returned from Spain we immediately booked the cheapest holiday we could find on mainland Greece for September 2008 and started looking for something we could rent over the winter to try it completely out of season. We got a package deal to Parga and provisionally booked a villa above Lefkas town in a village called Apolpena for three months from February to the end of April 2009, Villa owners direct is the web site

Parga is a beautiful place on the Northwestern mainland coast almost opposite the island of Paxos. This region of Greece has stunning mountain scenery inland and a coastline to die for. And although we had spent many many weeks in the Greek islands we had hitherto only seen the mainland in passing through to ferries ans transfers from airports and this did not prepare us at all for the sights which were to lie before us.

Our provisional booking for the villa meant that while we were at Parga we could drive to Lefkas (as it's connected to the mainland via a causeway and bridge) and pay a visit to the villa thus enabling us to see 1. if it was what we wanted, and 2. what we would need to bring to Greece for our three months stay expecting that the villa would be only kitted out for people in Summer ie. perhaps not warm enough to live in through winter, so some heating appliances and carpets etc may be needed. We need not have worried to any extent whatsoever as the villas (there are two of them) are absolutely superbly kitted out. The smaller of the two even has central heating for out of season use.

Tony Dudley, the villa owner met us at a taverna on the quay side in Lefkas town and after a coffee and introductions he took us up to the villas in Apolpena. The views from the villa across the valley and over Lefkas City and the marina are out of this world. It took us all of 20 seconds to decide that our booking was confirmed and that we would be spending February to March in Tony's villa with a view for looking for a more permanent place to live somewhere in Epirus (The northwest mainland).

The rest of our holiday in Parga was spent touring the area to see what it had to offer us in terms of authentic "Greekness". We Drove to Igoumentitsa to suss out the ferries as this was were we would land if we drove across from England and also to see how accessible the port was and what sort of costs would be involved. Then we drove straight across to Ioannina, the capitol city of Epirus. This is a truly stunning medieval town with a huge lake high in the mountains and well worth a visit for anyone who likes great scenery and history. We also visited Arta and Preveza which are the other two major towns in the area.

One day we took a drive up through the mountains above the town of Lauros and discovered the place where we now have a house Assos. This is real Greece. and I think this one thing above all others made us realise that the decision had actually been made.

Coming up preparing for the trial run...
It all started six or seven years ago when Sandra was diagnosed with Cervical cancer at the tender age of 46. Luckily after the usual trips around specialists and hospitals she had to have an hysterectomy. All went well and she made a marvelous recovery but these things have a tendency to focus you mind on what you want out of life. But of course you have to pay the mortgage and bills and even if you have a pension you can't get your hands on it when you are in your forties.

Sandra had worked for years in Nursing homes and caring in the community, and I had worked as a computer engineer so we always managed to have at least one holiday a year. Over the years we have been to many places from the Caribbean to most of the Mediterranean places but we fell in love with the Greek Islands and the people who lived there.

For several years we tried to visit as many islands as we possibly could (53 to date) by various means. Cheap flights to Athens and then island hopping via the ferries, cheap package holidays and going off and doing our own thing when we got there and flotilla holidays where we could just call in at any island which happened to be in the area.

A few of years after Sandra's cancer scare I had a serious back injury which was very debilitating, I couldn't walk more than a few yards without being totally out of it. Again minds started being focused.... After major back surgery (what a star that guy was)I was repaired or at least back to 80% of what I used to be and at least we could do things again. While I was recuperating from my operation I found out that my company was asking for volunteers to take early retirement and if you were over 50 (I was 51)you could get your hands on your pension. I asked for the figures and even though we would not be very well off we would be able to manage especially as the redundancy payment would pay off the mortgage and we didn't owe anything else other than the bills. Well we did it and we are managing still 2 years later.

With this kick in the bum we made the decision that we were going to enjoy our retirement as we didn't know (as none of us do) how long it would last.