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. http://www.systranet.com

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