Monthly Archives: May 2020

We exit lock-down, have a mountain adventure and the tavernas re-open

Monday May 25th was a day we had been waiting for. It was the day that the Government had decreed that the tavernas and restaurants here in Greece could re-open and we had promised ourselves for some weeks that when the day came, we would treat ourselves to a whole week of eating out because we were so fed up with cooking every night!

But where to go with so many choices? It had to be Bobo’s of course but what to do with the rest of the day?

Sheila had scheduled two lengthy phone calls during the morning and early afternoon, so I amused myself doing odd jobs around the place, including doing a little dead-heading of the geraniums

and keeping an eye on the renovation of the neighbouring house which is quickly nearing completion.

The owner has arrived from Athens and we thought we should introduce ourselves. Maria told us that he does not speak English so it was an opportunity to practice our Greek. Sheila met him in the courtyard and exchanged a few pleasantries but he seemed shy and did not give his name so I asked Maria, who said he was called Yiorgos. When I met him later, I told him my name and addressed him as Yiorgos. He looked confused and said his name was Manolis! I tried to explain that Maria had told me his name but he look confused again and said he did not know a Maria. This was going from bad to worse and as I had exhausted my Greek, I decided to  withdraw, silently cursing Maria for giving me duff information. Such are the perils and challenges of learning Greek.

It was a lovely day so at lunchtime, we decided that we would have an adventure before eating at Bobo’s.

When we bought our new car one of the determining factors for choosing the Suzuki Ignis was that it came with a 4×4 option and we thought it would be good to explore some of the dirt roads that go through the mountains. In particular, I had my eye on the road which goes past our house, up to the ancient olive tree (allegedly the oldest in the world), past the post Minoan archaeological site of Azorias which sits in an elevated position immediately behind our house, then to village of Melisses which is only inhabited in the summer and thence by way of a steep zig-zag dirt and stony road to the mountain village of Thripti.

For various reasons we have never got around to doing this but Monday seemed like a good day to try!

In retrospect it was not an entirely sensible thing to do at this time of year because the municipal road grader is yet to appear after the winter rains so the road was not in the best of condition. Indeed, in places it was barely passable and I spent a lot of time keeping an eye open for possible turning places, should the need arise to re-trace our steps as it were.

Not only was it an exciting and challenging trip, the scenery up there in the mountains was both amazing and beautiful and we even saw a Belted Galloway goat but unfortunately there is no picture, as the goat leapt up on to a rock and disappeared as we approached!

The distance cannot be more than perhaps six miles but it took an hour and a half, mostly in first or second gear. Walking by a somewhat more direct route up the E4 path from Kavousi takes only two hours so there was really not much advantage is taking the car except that I can no longer walk the path!

It was a wonderful experience but somewhat of a relief when we met the concrete road on the outskirts of Thripti, which nestles in an upland valley/plateau below the highest mountain in the area from which it takes its name. The taverna there had re-opened on Monday too and we were tempted to stop for a beer as it was thirsty work driving up the dirt road but we wanted to get to Bobo’s. So we took the tarmac road down the other side to the main Ierapetra – Pacheia Ammos road and thence to the seafront taverna, which any readers who have visited us here, will know as being our favourite.

It was great to be back there and the family were their usual welcoming selves.

Bobo could teach Dominic Cummings something about sticking to the rules whilst managing to introduce a fair degree of humour into the situation, which no doubt Mr Tsiodras, an infectious disease specialist here who has fronted up the nightly Government coronavirus TV presentation would approve of. He is now stepping back from the limelight but having become a modern national hero, signed off with an excerpt from a poem by Odysseus Elytis, which I rather feel Mr Cummings and his boss might like to reflect on.

“I’ve always told the truth. The truth can’t be lied to and the lie can be told the truth.”

Of course, we drank too much at Bobo’s and Tuesday saw both of us a little worse for wear! So regrettably, we decided that that we would not go out again but have a quiet night in. It’s a hard life!

In the past few weeks, we have been allowed to meet with friends, so we have had a socially distanced dinner party here in Kavousi,

a picnic at Xerokambos with Rich and Shona,

lunch on the South coast with Hans and Hanneke

and a day out on a remote beach at Itanos where we got rather sunburned.

We also had a pop-up virtual party to celebrate a rather important birthday of Pat, a friend in the UK.

Goodbye from my lock-down curls, now sadly consigned to the hairdresser’s floor!


The coronavirus strategy in Greece


John and I are well and safe. We should have been in Uzbekistan on a 2 week tour ‘doing The Silk Road’  at present but of course, that has not been possible. Instead, we have stayed at home and the days have gone by peacefully. We keep in touch with family and friends and even had a family meeting last week, courtesy of Zoom. Most days I have a walk, admired the empty Tholos beach (see picture above) and John has a bike ride. We watch series and films on TV and last night watched an old BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre on Greek TV. Our hair is getting longer and we complain sometimes about the amount of cooking we have to do. We speak to our neighbours at a distance and are now enjoying warmer and sunnier weather. There is not much more to be said!  But, I would like to write about the general coronavirus strategy in Greece because for us, this has been the reason that we have kept healthy and safe.

The death rate and the number of cases of corona virus in Greece is comparatively very low in relation to the rest of Europe. With a population of nearly 11 million, there have been 2,620 cases of coronavirus, the first case diagnosed on 26th February.  Contact tracing was introduced on the first and all subsequent confirmed cases with all contacts being tested and isolated. 143 people have died, with the first death on 12th March.  In the last 24 hours there has been 3 deaths and 21 new cases reported. These figures are very low in European terms.  In Crete, there has been one coronavirus death reported.

The Government coronavirus strategy has been based on the need, first and foremost, to  prevent the disease from spreading. Greece’s health service and, in particular, hospital resources were severely damaged during the Crisis.  It doesn’t have the resources in hospitals to care for large numbers of seriously ill people.  So, the Greek strategy was about prevention of the disease and also developing good communication with the whole nation. Social distancing was crucial and public goodwill was key to the success of the approach.

From the start, there has been a scientific committee advising the government.  It appears that science was and still is being prioritised over politics.  Sotiras Tsiodras, an infectious disease specialist, is in charge of Greece’s management of coronavirus.

His advice has been at the heart of the  government coronavirus strategy and he is also the main communicator with the Greek nation on television.   The Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis

announces the main policy changes. Nikos Hardalias was upgraded to the post of deputy minister of civil defence and crisis management and is the state co-ordinator to deal with the virus.   Every night at 6pm, Mr Hardalias and Mr Tsiodras are on TV to provide information and answer questions. Mr Tsiodras reads a prepared statement with up to date statistics, the reasons behind Government policies, explains how they will affect individuals and all the time emphasises the seriousness of the virus and importantly, the need for people to do as they are told. There is no spin.  He tells it how it is. He answers questions and never has good news!  He is serious, honest, respected and trusted. Apparently now, he is the most popular man in Greece. Public goodwill has been  nurtured by honest, clear, evidence based communication which has been a key factor of the coronavirus strategy here.

Action was taken early and swiftly by the Government and its advisers to ensure that small and large gatherings of people were cancelled. The first case of coronavirus , reported on 26th February was a woman who had returned from a visit to Northern Italy. The next day, after 3 cases had been diagnosed, the Government cancelled all the traditional carnival events, in Greece, due to take place over the weekend of 30th March. Greece’s Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said “Based on the experts’ recommendation, and to protect public health, we have decided to cancel carnival events in all of Greece, as other European countries have done,”   All schools were closed on the 11th March and  important soccer games were postponed.

On the 13th March, it was agreed to close all cafes, bars, museums, shopping centres, sports facilities, archaeological sites and restaurants. There were serious fines for those businesses carrying on trading. We arrived back in Greece on the 16th March and soon after air travel became much more limited. Travel restrictions are in place now. On 18 and 19 March, the government announced a series of measures of more than 10 billion euros to support the economy, businesses and employees.

On 23rd March, the Government announced lockdown, restricting all non-essential movement.  Essential movement was defined as going to work,  visiting the doctor, pharmacy, supermarket, bank, assisting someone in need of help, go to a funeral,  walked your dog or going out for some exercise.  The Government also introduced a system of control.  Anybody wishing to go out must inform the authorities with a sms or a signed form, giving the reason for leaving your house and some form of identification must be taken with you. If this isn’t done and a policeman stops you. the fine is 50 euros.  There were stiffer fines in place over the Easter period as the authorities attempted to prevent people from travelling to their relatives in other parts of the country.

There was fairness in the government decisions. Basically no-one or no institution, was exempt from the Government actions.  The Greek Orthodox Church wanted to be exempt but the Prime Minister himself ordered them to close their churches. And when individual priests disobeyed, they were arrested. The message was that the virus does not respect religion or class or colour or gender or age and so everybody must obey the rules which are in place to protect each individual.

The Government have introduced new digital reforms, in order that people can access serves online. This has meant that repeat prescriptions have been accessed without having to go to the doctor. These reforms were badly needed in Greece, and the virus has been the catalyst to make them happen.

The Greek people have, in the main, accepted the Government measures.  In the newspaper, the Greek Reporter, the headline of one article on the 28th April was ‘Coronavirus lockdown busts myth of Unruly Greek’. The vast majority of Greeks have stayed at home. There has been considerable revenue from fines but there appears to have been a general acceptance that  lockdown was the right thing to do. The impressive communication system has also contributed to this. The celebration of Easter usually involves a high degree of church attendance but this year it took place at home.  There were concerns beforehand but in general people kept to the rules.

In Greece there are few residential homes. It is, in the main, the responsibility of the family to care for the elderly. The daughter of our elderly neighbour has stayed with her since February. The daughter lives on the mainland but family responsibility includes this support. The chances of catching the virus are higher in a residential home. The Government have provided more funding to a Help at Home scheme, employing 3000 permanent employees to support vulnerable groups. Refugees in camps, where conditions are tough, have, as yet, not been a target for the virus.

Last Tuesday, 37 days after Greece went into full lockdown, the Greek Government announced that it was moving into a new phase of the battle against the coronavirus. This second phase will start tomorrow on Monday 4th May and there will be a gradual implementation of measures which will enable people to work, go to school and socialise.  Here, the motto of the first stage was μένουμε σπίτι (stay at home) to μένουμε ασπηαλής (stay safe). It is a risky decision but the Government feels that it is now in a position to introduce this.

The focus here has so far been on the health of the nation with its slogan μένουμε σπίτι. Now, other needs of the nation such as education and work will be given more of a priority. Hopefully, this can be managed as well as the first stage.