Thursday, 25 March 2010

"ee it's reet grand for't' time o' year..."

Just writing the title to this weeks blog reminds me of how much the local people are getting into speaking Yorkshire English as a result of Sandra and I being here among them. You'll often here a Greek dialogue going "blah, blah, blah Luvley blah, blah grand" it's really amusing. On the subject of learning the lingo, we are definitely getting better although there is still a long way to go before we can hold a debate with them over whatever Mr. Papandrayou is taking off them this week but at least we can be understood even if it means going around a bit to get there. The weather is now about what you would expect a good day in August to be mid 20's and wall to wall blue sky although we have had a couple of dull days this week with drizzle it's still been "luvley" and warm. I read in someone else's blog (Tortusville) that they have just had breakfast outside for the first time this year, we do it most days but still not had an "Al fresco" evening meal because it's still chilling in the evenings, although with the change of clocks at the weekend it may herald the first BBQ of the year for us.

Last Sunday the kafenion was "Close-ed", so it was ride out day again for the Stavroy's and us. We were going to take them around the Amvraticus Gulf for the day staying off somewhere for something to eat but when we arrived at the petrol station to pick them up Mantha had a small case packed and said she was going to stay with her Daughter, Effie, in Lefkada for a few days, so we changed our destination and went for a ride around Lefkas Island with them and dropped Mantha at her daughters late in the afternoon before setting off home. I was surprised to show them things in Lefkas which they had never seen before despite living within an hours drive of the island like this picture of the islands of Skorpios (which belongs to the Onassis family), Meganissi and in the distance Kalamos and Kastos (the latter of which is marvelous and will be remembered for ever by Sandra and I and our good friends Allen and Jean). The picture was actually taken last year in February. We then went on to have Lunch at Vasiliki, a resort at the southern end of Lefkas Island. Again Jorgos surprised us by knowing a man with a taverna, it turned out that the owner, sat at the front of the table, was from the next village to us, Polystafilio (which translates to Many Grapes). After Lunch we went to see Effie who was at work at a posh hotel near Nidre called Ionian Blue rooms are about 300 Euros a night in season here but you can see why it's really top notch and it cost us 22 euros for four coffees and a mineral water (poli costizi!). This Picture is of Sandra and Mantha stood in the coffee bar overlooking the blue Ionian sea.

Monday and with no Mantha at the Kafenion Sandra was chief cook and bottle washer well she prepared lunches for the family and mezes (snacks) for the punters, she also kept the place clean and tidy so the Mantha didn't have to come home on Tuesday evening to a tip.

We have had a death in the village this week and old lady of 90 who we didn't know but it brought some interesting things to our attention. It seems that when someone in the village dies everyone in the village, and I mean everyone, stops working until after the funeral. This lady died on Monday morning and the funeral was Tuesday afternoon so no one worked for 2 days as a mark of respect. Her family also will abide by some other traditions such as they will wear black arm bands for 40 days and the will not celebrate Easter as this will be within 40 days of the death. The men in the family will not shave for the 40 days and no one will play music of TV loudly everything kept really quite and serene. At the end of the 40 days they will have a remembrance service followed by a large meal in a taverna to celebrate the dead persons life. This service and celebration will be repeated again after 1 year again after 3 years again after 5 years and again after 10 years. There's no wonder the Greek economy is down the tubes! Most people in this village have not worked for three days this week as today, Thursday, is a bank holiday, oh well...

We went to Lefkas again yesterday to get some bits of timber and order some foam rubber for a couple of little projects and when we returned we noticed a car parked just up the road in the place where we used to park ours, this is very unusual so we were a little curious. Half an hour later, Yanni who lives below us came up and explained it was his Daughter who had come to pick him up and take him into hospital at Thessaloniki, about three hours away, he would not leave until we had come home and he could let us know where he was and also give us the key for his house as no one else could be trusted, needless to say we have ransacked it and stolen all the money now! It is very touching the way that they seem to place a great deal of faith in us even though they don't really know us that well.

We have had lunch with Jorgos and Mantha at the cafe today. We had a traditional meal of salted cod fried with rice and mashed garlic potatoes, this is the last day before Easter that anyone can eat meat, fish, dairy products or eggs and they will be sustained for the next week with Bread, pasta, rice and beans with of course salad and vegetables. On the way back home Sandra picked some wild flowers along the road side and did this little arrangement, ahhhhhh. (Excuse towels etc. but we do live here!)

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A week of two halves...

On Saturday night we went out to the village taverna where there was live Greek music and a meal on offer. The guy who played the Mandolin was amazing but they were all local guys a couple of them from Assos, just there to entertain the punters. We had spit grilled lamb and the trimmings for the meal and a couple of bottles of wine and with this inside them people started getting onto the floor to do some traditional Greek dancing. Now that Sandra has been taking lessons for a few weeks she was brave enough to join in and did a very good job too in fact as she left the dance floor there was applause and shouts of bravo to accompany her not bad for the first public viewing but I am waiting for her to improve a bit more before I can charge for her entertainment services. All in all a good night was had by all.

The weekend was dull with some rain and a touch cold you didn't want to be out without your fleece and a raincoat in case you got caught out, so with this in mind we set off for Lefkas Island on Sunday morning to witness the carnage which is the 2nd annual soap box derby down the hill into Vliho near Nidre. Some of you may remember me talking about the first such event last year held at the same time but in excellent weather, this year the first two time trials which are used to calculate grid position for the third and final race was in held in light rain which I'm sure must have made the trip even more uncomfortable. I think there were 28 entries this year but unfortunately only 19 made it to the start line, whether this was due to the inclement weather or technical problems with the carts I don't know but bearing in mind that the vehicle has to be constructed for a maximum budget of 50 euros it's probably tight for anyone. The cars have to have at least three wheels and carry two people down a course which is perhaps 2 miles long reaching speeds in excess of 60 KPH in places so they have to be robust, although some of the competitors obviously don't think like this and one machine was made of Dexion which seemed to twist and contort at the slightest excuse. I think the lap record last year was something like 2 minutes 12 seconds but this was beaten by several of the cars this year and I think the fastest car did it in something around 1 minute 50 Seconds which is much faster and there were a few who beat the 2 minute barrier. Our friends from Lefkas Marina entered again this year and with little alteration, other than the addition of extra ballast, to their vehicle managed to knock about 20 seconds off their time finished a creditable 2nd place again same as last year, although the fastest car in the time trials which almost certainly would have won the race crashed on a bend and ended up not finishing. Sandra and I would like to congratulate Maureen and Kevan on their race and also the Vliho yacht club for organising such a splendid event. I should also mention mad Robbie for his excellent entry of an old motorbike and sidecar (unpowered) which although it came last, gave us the best laugh of the day with the Nazi uniforms and machine gun mounted on top.

Monday the weather changed the sun came out and hardly a cloud in the sky since in fact it's been so good we decided that we would try and get our little garden into something like shape starting by laying a path across it to replace the somewhat precarious and wobbly bits of stone squashed into the surface. I borrowed a Mattock/Adz type thing from Jorgos as we have no real gardening tools here and Sandra went to Thesprotiko and bought a Greek style spade with a pointed end and a trowel set and off we started. The rough grass which covers the garden had got to be about 9 inches high and of course we didn't have anything to cut it with so we asked Christos to come with his brush cutter to mow down the thick of it although I've ended up having to tidy it all up with a pair of scissors and a large craft knife - oh well I suppose we have time on our hands! The soil dug out for the path is going back onto the garden to level things out a bit but I don't think it's going to be any oil painting when it's finished but it will be neat and presentable and provide us with a place to get the old barby going which will be a must in the next few days.... I HOPE!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The long drive....

It seems that the weather has taken a turn for the worse, the locals are telling me that they cannot remember so much rain ever but that's what we seem to be getting again.

Picture Mr. Cool on the lake front at Kastoria

Anyway despite this we decided that we (that is Jorgos and Mantha) would go for a ride to Kastoria which is a lake side town in northern Greece above Thessalonika in the region called Macedonia (not to be confused with FYRM (Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia)), it is literally on the border of Albania every northern turning we passed has a manned customs point so as not to let any undesirables into the country. It's beautiful countryside as you would expect up in the mountains and we duly arrived at Kastoria

Picture: tree in full bloom and a small wooden house that someone is actually living in, this is only just below the snow line in March.

Sandra and I thought that we would have a nice meal in Kastoria and then a drive around the lake after which we would set off for home, Jorgos and Mantha had different ideas. We set off for a the ski resorts up at Pisoderi near Florina and when we arrived it was packed with skiers and snow boarders all enjoying themselves on piste, mid day temperatures of around -2 degrees here. The village of Pisoderi was absolutely gridlocked with Cars buses and 4x4s all there to enjoy the winter sports.

Picture: One of the Ski slopes at Pisoderi if you zoom in on the image you'll see loads of people skiing.

We had a meal at Florina which was remarkable value for money a real belly full for four people including all drinks and a sweet for twenty seven Euros about £25. Then in another flash of inspiration Jorgos said that we would move onto Edessa. This is a place which is virtually unknown to tourists and if it wasn't for our Greek friends we would not have known about it but for anyone who happens to go to Thessaloniki for a holiday I would advise them to hire a car and go and see it.

Picture: Mantha stood under one of the falls at Edessa

There are huge waterfalls and fast running rivers which go through the town and at this time of year with the snow melt they are all running at full bore, it's really spectacular. If you do an Internet search for Edessa Greece you'll get some idea of what I mean. We had all day been driving north and east so this meant that we then had to drive back from 50 miles north of Thessaloniki and by the time we got home we had travelled more than 400 miles in the day.

Picture: Sandra on a bridge at the springs of Acheron.

Thursday, Sandra and I were fed up with the weather and decided to go to Igoumenitsa and see what the situation was with regards to Ferries for coming back to England in June. We made a good move by doing this as they have a special offer on for bookings if done by the end of this month and we booked our sailing for 8th June and our return to Greece sailing for 7th September with the car 384 Euro return trip to Venice which is a really good deal. We stopped on the way at the Springs of Acheron to see them while there was plenty of Water about they are good but not nearly as spectacular as Edesssa, but the good news was that the sun started to shine. After the ferry terminal we had a ride down the coast stopping off at a Parga for a coffee a Ligia Beach for a meal at a very good fish restaurant we know there all in glorious sunshine, a nice day out on our own for a change.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Pruning time

It's almost a different place now with the temperature now up to and even exceeding 20 degrees, although having said that it's cooler today with light drizzle making things a bit damp. Never mind that gives me an excuse to stay in and do the blog and also try and sort out some old photos for Sher in Canada which I promised a couple of weeks ago.

It's been a very busy week, our Landlord and his wife departed back to Olympia last Thursday with promises of accommodation for us if we would like to take some time out in southern Greece, which I'm sure we will be taking him up on as the Penepolese is somewhere where we have been promising to go for some years years now. An area steeped in history and natural beauty and also another box ticked in our travels.

On Friday I went out on delivery with Jorgos while Sandra helped Mantha in the Kafenion. He takes me to the most fantastic rural properties you can image, you would never find them if you didn't have insider help. While delivering at one guys place I noticed he had a couple of rabbits running about in a pen attached to a wriggly tin shed of very Heath Robinson construction, it turned out when I asked that there were seventy Rabbits all being raised for the pot, they looked very happy and well taken care of though and it was a pleasure to see the old man posturing at my interest in what he was doing.

Before he went home I asked Spiros if I could prune all the vines which surround his fathers house below us and try to get them back to something like production. (See before and after pictures which the before doesn't do it justice, also where you can see my car in the last picture all that ground in front and right down behind the car was four feet high with rubbish) Because all the vines are growing up over scaffold frame works ten feet high around the house to provide shade Yanni he is incapable of even getting to them never mind doing the pruning. They were in a right state and it has taken three days of solid graft to get them all back and also to tidy up the land at the front of his house which was covered with a myriad pruning of bushes and trees probably years old as some were rotten. I have now made all the waste wooden material into fire sized pieces and stacked them neatly against a wall for him ready for to burn on his open fire if he feels the need. I suspect however that he will leave them there forever as they had obviously not been touched for years when they were strewn around his garden (you can lead a horse to water...). I have now started parking my car in the garden below the house instead of at the roadside so we have both benefited from the general tidy up. When I had finished and enjoying a well earned Mataxa and Coke on our balcony, I heard this "paw paw paw, kalo, polu kalo, para poly kalo, moo pethia moo pethia" (something like good, very good, my children...) repeated over and over again below us, he just couldn't believe the improvement, Yanni was almost in tears with gratitude at what I had done, it made us both feel rather emotional, what an honour to be considered his children from someone we have known hardly six months!. We went down to make sure he was OK and 89 years old you just never know, and he insisted that he would take us down to one of the Kafenions in the village for a drink, dear old fellow. It was a cafe we had not been in before just at the bottom of our road in fact we didn't even know it was a cafe. They made us very welcome and although as usual there was no English spoken we managed to communicate fine, in fact they even complimented me on my Greek which absolutely made my day.

Out on a walk on Tuesday Sandra and I called in at another Kafenion in the village where she had been three weeks before with Yourta our Landlords wife. I got talking to Lakki a friend of ours from within the village and he told me there were eleven Kafenions in Assos a two Tavernas which for a village with a population of perhaps six or seven hundred people is impressive, it just goes to show what the people do most of the time, drink coffee or Tsiperou and play cards and backgammon, there really is no wonder that the Greek economy is in the state which it seems to be. Anyway again we were very well received at this cafe so I suppose it must be incumbent on us now to visit all the rest to ensure that the "Brits" are not showing any favouritism.