Friday, 29 January 2010

Up into the snow and beyond

Well the festival that we thought we going to ended up being in the words of Monty Python "something completely different", but more of that in a moment because the trip to Ioaninna was an interesting place to start. Before we set off last Friday Sandra went down to Thesprotiko to have her hair done, you may remember last year when she had it done it ended up costing me 140 euros well not this time. Because Jorgos was out delivering oil Mantha couldn't leave the kafenion until he got back and being a a typical Greek man this didn't seem that important to him so when he eventually got back Mantha was running 3/4 hr late for their hair appointment, this still didn't mean that she hadn't time for a shower and getting changed before she went, so Sandra ended up taking them down to the hairdressing appointment an hour late and thus there was no time to do her hair. At least it was cheaper this time for me! Anyway when she got back of course she had to set about and do it herself and to my mind she made an altogether better job of it. We were to pick up Jorgos and Mantha at epta ke misi ora (half past seven) but we found them still getting ready so after another 15 minutes wait we were all seated in the car when Jorgos says we need to pick up a friend who has missed the bus! This was the first we had heard of there being a bus to the do, if we had known we would have gone on it and saved Sandra having to drive back!! Anyway we got to the far end of Assos and stopped at the coffee house there and picked up Lakie (I don't know what his real name is but we have spoke to him on several occasions since being here). The journey to Ioaninna is about 3/4 hr on a good day although it's not far it's over the mountain tops and a very winding road to boot in the dark this isn't helped as our English car dips the headlights to the left rather than the right so they have to be lowered so as not to blind oncoming drivers and this means you can't see so good, not a good thing with 50 meter drops off the side of the road. As we got going it started to snow quite heavily and on a sharp mountain bend we met a bus coming in the other direction this turned out to be the bus with all the villagers in which couldn't make it through the snow and then Jorgos keeps saying 4x4 Les 4x4 I said no we don't need that anyway not realising until later that we are permanently 4x4 in high ratio gears anyway. Anyway to cut a long story short we went very sedately over the tops with up to about 3 or 4 inches of snow and no gritters all the way. Sandra and I resolved that we were coming back the long way via Filipiada which is a straight(ish) main road but it goes around the mountains. We eventually arrived at the big city and Jorgos seemed to be working from guesswork to get us to the Crytal Palace, the hotel where the function was. "Sigar Sigar (slowly slowly) Les turn right up here", Thexia (Right) says I, "ohi ohi Aristera" says he, aah left - Things do get lost in translation but I'm used to Sandra holding out her right arm and saying left here!! Anyway left we turn and starts heading to wards some pig meat processing factories and other industrial building along a track without a tarmac surface, after about 1/4 of a mile I am starting to think we must be way off track here who would build an hotel in this industrial area when I spot it a huge hotel with a big Crystal Palace sign outside. The snow has turned to sleet now as we have got lower but it's still coming down. We go inside and it's like the Hilton a beautiful place with crystal chandeliers all over the place and seating for about 500. It is now that we realise that it isn't a festival or carnival at all but a dinner dance. After a bit of talking to people it seems that all villages in Epirus once a year have a village gathering for a meal and entertainment, also the villagers who have left the area organise their own do's where they live so all Assos people who live in Athens or Thesalonika also have a dinner dance in that town just for the village people quaint isn't it. Other villages do the same thing but not necessarily at the same date but always over the winter period. Anyway at our bash there was about 250 people there not a bad turn out seeing as the weather was lousy and the distance to travel in it. We had to wait for the arrival of the bus which had turned round to go the way we intended returning so in about another hour and a half we sat down to a six course meal and all you could drink and live music and dancing and all this for 25 euros a head, pretty good value actually. As the night progressed the snow started coming down with more vengeance outside so by 1:30 am we decided that we ought to go home, the event was scheduled to last until about 4 am but we didn't want to risk the weather and Sandra who hadn't been drinking was in charge as she had the ignition keys, we came home via the low road with snow most of the way although it had turned to sleet by the time we got back to Assos at around 3 in the morning.

The next morning when I got up around 9 am we had a covering of snow around our house and the mountains at either side of the valley were white over, this had gone by about 10ish at the house though.

Later that day we went to Lefkas to see the mighty giant killers Leeds United play Spurs in the FA cup with friends Tony, Liz, Kev, Linda, Mark and Maureen. This meant that Sandra had to forgo the dubious pleasures of her Greek dancing lessons on Saturday night but I am glad we went because we managed to see the game and I had set up the TV to record it and it only caught the last quarter of an hour due to the atmospheric condition on the satellite. We came away with a creditable 2 goals each, a good evening of company it's nice to be able speak English without thinking whether you are understood or not and a belly full of very nice pizza .

It's been a very cold week since then with daytime temperatures of between 3 and 10 degrees although a little warmer this last couple of days. The houses in Greece are not really designed for cold weather and they loose heat quicker than you can throw it at them when it gets really cold, earlier in the week we had the diesel burner on flat out and an electric heater going flat out just to make the lounge comfortable, thank god it's not like this for long here. Although I'll hate to see what the electricity readings going to be as it needs paying next week. Ah well I suppose everything has it's price!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Back in the swing

Well we've been back now for something just under 2 weeks and it seems like yesterday, don't know how we used to get any enjoyment from a two week holiday when we were working, the time just seems to fly by.

Thank you to all those who sent me cards and good wishes for my birthday on Saturday we had a nice quite day in knowing that Sunday was Jorgos' day off and that chances were that he would be calling on Sunday morning to say are we going upstairs for kafe (up into the mountains for a coffee). I also got a pressy from Jorgos and Mantha of a candle on a glass dish which looked very pretty but probably a bit girly for my tastes so Sandra has it now. They don't really do Birthdays as such because their name day is the important thing for them but I don't think there is a saint Les so I may be able to start a trend there!

Sure enough we were half way through washing with the twin tub when the phone rang and Jorgos says we are ready we go upstairs for Kafe! Half an hour later they all turn up at our door and we set off for the hills. The picture on the left shows the Taverna we went to in an idyllic setting up in the mountains. The guy stood up is the owner, he was a journalist for the Athens Times and bought the cafe when he retired. He's a really nice guy and of course speaks no Anglika. We had only intended having a coffee and then moving on but there were about 60 people in who were having a wake after a memorial service at the church next door. Of course they had a meal and wine laid on and insisted, Greek style that we ate and drank with them. So we had a free meal.

After we had stayed long enough to ensure we wouldn't cause any offence, the discussion turned to were we would go next. Mantha had for a few days been going on about Metsovo and how she would like to go there, I had said that we would wait for better weather in the spring as we had had more than enough of the white stuff when we were in England. However she had a strategy and had obviously arranged with Effie to get a vote going and despite my misgivings Metsovo it was.

Metsovo is like the Greek equivalent of St. Moritz a tourist town just below many ski resorts and is geared up for all the skiers. I had a feeling from when we passed it going to Thessalonika, that it would be a couple of hours driving but Christos said no it would only be one hour, he was spot on as well. Because it was sunday and many people had come to visit and the police had stopped cars going down into the town but were parking them on the road which passes above leaving about a 1km walk into the town itself. There was a free bus shuttle down but we chose to walk down rather than wait for the bus. When you get there it has the look and feel of an alpine resort rather than Greek, you could almost be in Switzerland or Austria. This photograph was taken from the road above the town near where we parked the car as you can see it's very beautiful (polly ormorphos). While in the town Jorgos met up with some people he knew (the village doctor) and he insisted that the doctor and her sister go for a coffee with us so the Mantha Effie and Sandra went to a taverna for a meal and the boys with their new guest went to a coffee house for Kafe Elleniko (Greek Coffee). After about an hour we re-met and had a look around the town before catching the shuttle bus back up to the main road. After this we returned back to our house and had Coffee and some very expensive "pasta" (small Cakes) which Sandra and Mantha had bought in Metsovo. A very nice day out for all.

On Monday we decided that as the weather was somewhat colder than it has been we would have a trip to Arta to get the new washing machine we had promised ourselves while the sales were on so we had a look around and the best deals were to be had at Kotsovolos which is owned by Dixon's. We got a automatic washer and a 26 inch television for about £500, which has had to go on the credit card to be paid off over a few months as we are skint at the moment. The washer will make it better for Sandra as she won't have to rinse out all the clothes by hand in cold water how that the weather is chilly, and now we can see the Telly from the other side of the room so we both benefit from it, just hope we don't get chucked out of the house as we can't possibly bring all this lot back to England!!!

Tonight, we are going to Ioaninna for a bit of a knees up. All the people in Assos are going it's like a festival type thing but I'll tell you more about it next week.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Return to the Land of the Gods

We had an eventful trip back to Assos, we were expecting poor traveling conditions getting down to Gatwick and as such booked a travel Lodge at Gatwick airport so we could be fully rested for Monday endeavours. As it happened, there was very little problem on the road in fact there was very little snow when you got down to Nottinghamshire and this continued to be the case right down to below the blackwall tunnel on the M25. There was more in Surrey but nothing like the amount that you would have thought from the TV reports even at the airport where according to the media there had been wholesale chaos. At the airport there was no more snow than we had in East Yorkshire in fact there was probably quite a lot less. It seems that if something happens in the London area then it's the worst affected place in the land!!

Here are a couple of picture taken at Yokefleet just before we left for the cradle of democrasy.

The accommodation at the hotel was962" border="0"> adequet although the service at the restaurant left much to be desired it took well over 2 hours to order recieve and eat a 2 course meal, I have complained to Travel Lodge. The flight which should have left at 9am didn't in fact leave until 10:30 as the plane was held up for de-iceing in Milan. This delay meant that we missed our bus connection from Athens to Arta and had to catch another at 8pm ewhich got us to Arta at 12:30am. Our friend Christos was there waiting to get us "home". " border="0">

When we arrived in Assos Christos dropped me off for my car which I had left with Jorgos at the filling station and took Sandra and the luggage up the hill to our house, unfortunately it was pouring with rain and the car wouldn't start has it hadn't been running for nearly seven weeks the alarm and immobiliser system must have flattened it. So being half one in the morning I set off trudging up the hill to get home with no coat on sopping wet! I arranged with Christos to jump start me the next day which he did and we went for a drive down to Thesprotiko our local town were things started to go wrong, the car died half way up and hill and would not start again it sounded distinctly like a fuel related problem. Christos knew a local mechanic who came out for a look and decided that the battery was, to quote him "kaput". We left the car parked in the church car park and got a Taxi back home leaving the keys with the mechanic who was to get another battery and check it over. Three hours later he turned up outside our house with the car fixed and with a charge of 200 euro for the bother it seems the battery was 120 euro plus tax. Oh well these things come to try us! The engine management light is still on but he has now computer equipment to reset it and touch wood everything seems fine now.

While waiting for the car to be returned I decided to put the Satellite dish back up, I had taken it down before returning to the UK in case there were any high winds and I wasn't there to rescue it! Got everything up and tuned in pretty quickly and then found out that Sky had been pratting about again and I could only get a message saying that my card and sky+ box were not compatible with each other, bloody hell! ; This was going to cost a fortune premium numbers from Greece on a mobile, I don't think so! I called number three son, John, who rang them pretending to be me after I had emailed all the unit serial numbers etc to him, they then said that they could not do anything unless he was in front of the machine. However I think they must have re-downloaded the codes because within a minute of him letting me know it miraculously started working again.

Anyway, it's good to be home again and the whole village was really pleased to see us they were queueing in the kafenion (Coffee Shop) to wish us Chronia Polla (Happy new year but literally "years Many") big smiles all around apart from me who's wallet has taken a bashing!

Today we have been bottling our Olives which we harvested last November they still taste a little bitter but we are assured they will improve. Sandra has been signed up for Greek Dancing classes which start in the village school this Saturday (for women only thank god!). I think that's about it for this week but I'm sure there'll be more to come.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy new year to everyone, I hope you all had a really fine Christmas and Santa brought you everything you wanted if not everything you deserved!

Although it didn't snow on Christmas day here it was a white Christmas and we have had snow on the ground for about the last three weeks barring a couple of days when it cleared temporarily. We have seen night time temperatures down to about -10 C and daytime temps bearly reaching 0C if so it probably been the coldest yuletide for some considerable years. Things look much rosier in Greece although I have just read on a friends facebook site that there have been 40 knot winds in Lefkas she says she was pleased they were in the marina with their yacht. This is quite a storm for this area of the med so I hope everyone out there managed to baton down the hatches.

We had a good Christmas with Sandra's dad and one of our sons with his wife and three kids for Xmas lunch. Had to have the telly on at 3 o'clock so Geoff (Sandra's dad) could watch the Queen! All the Grandchildren have been inundated with presents, some of which they are bored with already but I suppose this is the way of all children. Sorry I can't put any photo's in just yet but the lead for my camera is in Greece and I don't have a card reader on this computer but I'll add some next week when I get back home!

We had a bit of an old timers (some of them Octogenarians) party on New Years eve but we had a really great time as Sandra produced a marvellous spread with a mixture of British and Greek dishes as a mezze in the Greek style, and surprisingly they all seemed to enjoy it, it's not often you see old people tucking into dolmadies, stuffed peppers and Greek salads with such relish and then coming back for more.

Well we are now preparing for our return to Assos, I think we have got everything we need to take back with us although I have still the bit's I need for extending the short bed to manufacture but it's been too cold to be stuck in the garage for any length of time. I have managed to pay my Cosmote Internet bill over the Internet while I've been at home which is no mean achievement with the web site being entirely in Greek, but I also arranged for Jorgos to pay it in my absence in case I couldn't find a way of doing it so now it's been paid twice, oh well less to pay this month!

I now have to add some luggage allowance to our Easyjet booking in order to get things back which we are taking. We came home with hand luggage only but not we will need at least one case and possibly two to go back with. I think there is a charge of about 22 euros to add a item of hold baggage so it's not too bad.

We have decided that given the current bad weather that we will be setting off on Sunday morning to Gatwick and stay in a hotel overnight before catching out flight on Monday morning, at least this means that we can stay in bed four hours longer before getting booked in. Our flight arrives in Athens about 14:30 so hopefully we should be in plenty of time to catch the bus back to Arta and be home for about midnight, another long day but that's the price you pay.

Sandra's Cousin is coming out to stay with us in mid May this year and she has booked a flight to Corfu, this is probably the best bet for cheaper all round traveling ie you don't have to get from Athens etc. The ferries from Corfu to igumenitsa are cheap as a foot passenger so it shouldn't be any hassle really.

Anyway that's all for now, I'll let you know what's happening Greek side in a couple of weeks. Happy, Healthy and Prosperous new year to you all.