Author Archives: sheilahwood

What a wonderful world

At the end of May, John and I travelled from Kavousi to London and then on to Cornwall where we stayed at our flat in Newquay.  In spite of covid restrictions, we spent socially distanced time with our daughter, Rosie and her partner, Ed over the next few weeks and then on June 28th, Rosie gave birth to their daughter, Isla Rose Broom. 10 days later, we were present at the wedding of our son Graham, to Rhiannon at Islington Town Hall, London. As you can imagine, we are incredibly happy about all of this!!!

Isla was born in Truro Hospital at 7.30 am. She was 9lbs 7ozs (4.28kg) at birth and looked completely adorable from the start.

For some days, we had been expecting the baby to be born and I put my phone on immediately when I woke up. But no news for days. And then on the Monday morning, about 8am, I looked at my phone and saw three pictures of a baby. It was a wonderful feeling and I still feel emotional when I think of that moment. Excitement, relief, wonder, pure happiness, tearful ….

Ed, Rosie and the new baby (with no name at that point) were home at their flat by 3pm that day which seemed amazing to me, given that I remember spending some days in hospital after childbirth.  John and I took flowers round to their flat and we couldn’t believe how well the baby, Rosie and Ed were.  I felt very nervous picking her up as her head seemed so wobbly and she seemed so small. But holding my granddaughter was a wonderful feeling and brought tears to my eyes.

After a couple of days, the baby was named Isla Rose.  John and I thought these were lovely names and they suited our precious granddaughter. For the next week, we saw Isla most days and on the last day, John and I were in charge for an hour as her parents went shopping.  Isla had the good sense to stay asleep!!! . Both parents are very relaxed and so happy with their new daughter.

It was difficult to leave Rosie, Ed and Isla but we did have another family celebration to attend.

Graham and Rhiannon married on July 8th.  When I first heard about the wedding, I was delighted but had selfish worries about what I was going to wear as I realised that shorts and a  t shirt  would not be appropriate! I went to a shop in Agios Nikolaos and the staff there, helped me choose a very comfortable, suitable and colourful outfit and they even took me to another shop where I could buy shoes! After months of lockdown and casual dress , I looked at myself in the mirror in some wonder that I looked so smart!!! The material survived the travel and I bought another dress in Truro, when I was in Cornwall, for the evening. My wardrobe has improved no end!!!

Graham and Rhiannon’s wedding was a delight.  A small group of us attended the ceremony at Islington Town Hall – parents, grandparents, James and Rhiannon’s brother, Nye.  In the circumstances, Rosie decided sensibly not to come.

The bride and groom were very happy.

as were all the relatives.

Afterwards, we went to a restaurant nearby, where we were joined by a few friends of Graham and Rhiannon. The company and the food were wonderful.

 Speeches were made by the bride and groom as well as their fathers. Graham’s friend, Neil, introduced some music into the occasion, including ‘The bonnie banks of Loch Lomond’ which we all had to sing, of course. The evening was spent at the St Pancras Rennaissance Hotel where conversations continued until eventually the young folk went off to a karaoke session and the parents continued to drink and chat. Graham and Rhiannon had arranged for their parents to stay overnight at the hotel which was another treat. Whilst I ate a good breakfast, the next morning, I did not feel so well later on. But it was all well worth it!!!

A few days later, Graham and Rhiannon invited us and our friend, Jane, for dinner at their flat. It was quite dramatic as we arrived by taxi in a huge deluge of rain. They cooked us a lovely meal and we talked about their plans for the next two years. They leave for Mexico City on August 8th and Graham starts work as a chemistry teacher at Greengates School there later in the month. They sounded so excited and all set for adventure!. They are renting out their flat and putting their furniture into storage. We had a lovely evening and we felt very happy for them both.

Recently, Graham and Rhiannon met Isla in Newquay (see cover picture).

While they were there they checked out the new, superb  Airbnb accommodation and they helped to organise Isla’s first barbeque experience which included some rain!

During the four weeks before Isla’s birth, we were unfortunately and reluctantly in quarantine  for 10 days in the flat, so it was good to have a project for that period and then up until the baby was born!  Now Rosie is no longer living in our flat, she had the good idea of renting it out on Airbnb.  There is great demand in Cornwall at present for such accommodation.  But the flat needed some work done to it before this could happen. By the time we arrived, Ed had laid a new floor and he and Rosie had painted much of it. So our job was to finish the painting and complete some other jobs.

We decided also to update some of the appliances – the boiler, cooker and dishwasher – as our contribution to the venture. These were bought and installed so that they would be completely reliable when people came to stay. By the time we left Newquay, the new boiler would not work which was the reverse of what was intended!  However, it was not such a big problem and was fixed after we left, although we had to use cold water for a couple of days!

John and I were also given the task of taking pictures of the flat for Airbnb advertising.  This was a bit of a challenge, not only do we have limited photographic skills but the flat is quite small. The living room/kitchen was easy,

the rest was more tricky.

The second bedroom is quite small!  Fortunately, Ed’s mother, Sue, reassured us that the photos were not so important!  In fact,  Rosie has had no trouble in renting it out for August and September so we are taking some credit for this! The first group of people have arrived and all is good so far.

We also had time for some fun in Cornwall, which is just so beautiful especially in the good weather which we were fortunate to enjoy. Rosie took us to the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan which were lovely and it was especially good to have a professional gardener as our guide!

and I particularly enjoyed the flowers,

the trees

and the Mud Maid sculpture.

On another occasion with Ed and Rosie we had lunch at the Bowgie Inn, near Newquay and were stunned by the most spectacular panorama. I think that the blues of the Cretan seas are unbeatable but actually the view that day of the Cornish coastline was, without doubt, in close competition.

There was another pub outing to meet Graham and Sally  We met Graham in Kavousi, but he lives in Camborne and it was so nice to catch up with them again.

We also went further afield for 4 days. We spent a couple of nights with John’s cousin, Liz and enjoyed her hospitality,

her flowers,

and the wonderful green countryside of Wiltshire

We visited Tim and Liz in Devon and later they also came to see us and Isla in Newquay. While they were there, we enjoyed a local walk showing off the wonderful coastline around Newquay,

  and on another excursion sat watching the ferry from Rock to Padstow

Tim brought with him two local pictures which now are features of our flat. Apparently, John and Tim’s parents went to Newquay for their honeymoon in 1937 and bought these pictures by a local artist. Rosie and all of us were delighted to have something so personal to display in the flat.

It was then time to move on to London for the wedding. At first, we stayed with our friends Sarah and Mark, who with their son, Tom, coped very well with our comings and goings  regarding the wedding and confirmed that we looked fine as parents of the groom!  The next day when we returned, we brought some flowers which had been on a table at the restaurant.

One day I walked with Sarah in Battersea (we used to work together there in the 1980’s) and we went to an Arts community project in which Sarah is involved which was very interesting.

Later we watched England play Denmark in the semifinal of the European Cup which had a good ending!

Then we moved to stay with Jane for three days. She had moved since we saw her last so we were curious to see her new house and garden as well as catching up with her news.  We visited the nearby old Rookery which is one of London’s many wonderful parks!) and Jane was keen to show me West Norwood cemetery.  In 1842, a section of it was acquired by the London Greek community for a Greek Orthodox cemetery.  There are many impressive looking monuments and mausoleums there.

The highlight of the visit was a barbecue with her daughter Chloe, Felipe and their children. Felix, aged nearly two, managed to say my name and Lila was very good at games and cheating at them! It was such good fun!

We watched the football final which was going well until Italy scored and then there was a certain inevitability about the result!  On the final day, we had a good chat and pint,

with Jane, John and Maureen in the County Arms on Wandsworth Common and we then spent our last night catching up with news with our friend Phil in Bracknell in her lovely mobile home

and the beautiful garden she has created.

It was a very nice end to our trip.

The journey there and the journey home had moments of stress, particularly at Heathrow Airport, both going into the UK and coming out of it. But, we feel very lucky that we made the trip!

We arrived home safely by taxi from Heraklion Airport. All was well at home and it was a good feeling to be here. I also like to tell as many people I can that I am a grandmother and a mother in law!!!!  Since then, we have recovered from our trip, enjoyed meeting friends and going to tavernas. I played a game of tennis which was a treat as was swimming in the sea!

Do we miss Isla? Yes, of course but we do get regular reports of her and we receive photos and videos. It is delightful to see the changes in her. I just love her expressions and general development and everything about her!

We hope to see her before long!!!

Sheila

Spring in Kavousi

When I think back on the last couple of months, John and I have both moaned about the movement restrictions, tavernas not being open and being unable to buy a cup of coffee in Ierapetra. But we also feel very fortunate to live where we do, as I hope the following text and pictures will illustrate. 

In March, we gained new neighbours, Anca and Mark. They have bought a house which is close enough for me to speak to Anca from our patio! 

Anca is from Romania and Mark is from England and they have lived in England for many years. 

Their house has been empty for some time but the previous owners left a lot of their possessions behind.

So, it was arranged that Alkis and his men would paint both the outside and inside of the house. Then, our neighbour, Maria cleaned and tidied the house and by the time that she had finished, it looked very smart. 

Anca arrived here on the 22nd March after a long journey and Mark will join her later, after he has had his second vaccination. Anca was in quarantine in her house for 10 days after she arrived and she took a covid test before she ventured out into the village.

Since then, she has organised banking and communication essentials, bought a new fridge/freezer

and experienced the delights of our local supermarket and the larger one in Ierapetra.  She and I have enjoyed a number of walks round the area including one to the archaeological sites at Vrontas and Azorias, to the sea at Tholos and to the Agriomandra gorge.

She loves Greece and is enthusiastic about living in the village. She is quickly getting to know her neighbours and her ability to communicate in Greek is impressive.  John and I (and our neighbours, I think) are enjoying her company a lot and it was great to get her text message encouraging me to look at the wonderful sky and rainbow from our patio. She had a similar view from hers!

We have had a mixed bag of weather over the last two months with a few days of warmth and sunshine which is quickly followed by cool temperatures, wind, rain and even snow on the hills.

Recently, it was very warm but the wind came from the south and brought with it a lot of dust in the air which is particularly horrible. John in particular and I to some extent, have been bothered by dust settling in our eyes. But now we have warmth and sunshine, so we are very happy. Either by foot or by bicycle, we have enjoyed seeing the spring flowers which are a great treat. These are some of my favourites from when I have been out walking.

        

But also there are beautiful flowers in our garden.

The picture below was taken from the roof of the house after lunch!

And also signs of oranges and musmula (medlar) fruit

Very near to our very clean car,there is a wonderful bush, which has been a great delight to us for weeks.

As everybody knows, I just love the varying shades of blue in the sky and the sea, and it has been particularly dramatic recently

In the last post, John and I had completed the new biometric Greek residence card process. A few weeks later, we picked up the cards from Agios Nikolaus police station. John has been asked for the card already.  He produced it at the KEP office (similar to the Citizens Advice Bureau in the UK) and all the staff there crowded round to have a look at this completely new card. John and his card became quite the centre of attention! We are very glad to have them in these uncertain post-Brexit days. 

We have also received our new Royal Bank of Scotland cards which were sent from the UK. They took over 3 weeks to arrive on Monday. We used the tracking service, so we could see that nothing seemed to happen for a week after they left Heathrow and then nothing happened for another week when they arrived in Athens. We don’t know if the problem is anything to do with Brexit or not. Anyway, when Manolis our postman, arrived with the package, he was a very popular man! I am, however, grateful that Anca brought out my new kindle with her from the UK. I think I would be waiting for it still, had it come by post!

John is now fully vaccinated and has a certificate to prove it. The Greek Government have now called people between the ages of 65 and 70 for appointments. I had my first dose last Saturday and the second is on the 7th May. The rate of people being vaccinated in Greece has been increased recently with new centres being opened. However, the number of new covid cases continues to be high (around 3-4,000 a day) and the number of people intubated has increased significantly. But the statistics are still low in eastern Crete.

It was Easter in the UK at the beginning of April but the Orthodox Easter here is not until May 2nd. Even though it is late and central to the Greek calendar, there is still some doubt about what will be permitted by then.   The Churches are open now and we expect to see family members from Athens and other parts of Greece.

Recently, I completed a walk with friends that I have wanted to do for a long time. John drove me to Lastros, the next village towards Siteia, and I walked along the path on the other side of the mountain, Kapsas with friends. We can see can see Kapsas from our house (see the picture of it with the rainbow above). Here, I am looking down on Lastros.

After admiring the village, I looked up to my right and caught a glimpse of a church at the top of this hill. This is a walk for another day.

We came down the other side and then walked to Melisses from this gate. Some years ago, I tried to do this walk from Melisses, but failed to find the path. There is a good path as seen below 

and it goes all the way to Melisses with red dots to help. But I found out this time, the reason why I couldn’t find it in Melisses – the path ends up in someone’s garden and there is no sign to indicate its existence!  Anyway, I will know now where to go. I am grateful to Kathy for showing me the way!

We have a steady input of home entertainment. We enjoyed two excellent zoom presentations by members of INCO. One was on the subject of Scouts in Crete. It was interesting to hear about the history of the Scouts and that there are Scouts and Guides groups both in Ag Nik and Ierapetra. The other was about Thomas Spratt, an English Vice-Admiral and geologist who wrote ‘Travel & Researches in Crete’ in 1865 which describes the geography, geology and natural history of the island.

Back in March, John and I attended a meeting  in Ierapetra with a notary and the owner of the land, directly  in front of us.   The meeting went well and the contract is being drawn up now. It is a little complicated because our neighbour, Giannis wants access through this piece of land to his but John met him recently

and it hopefully will be resolved soon.

Our son, Graham and his girlfriend, Rhiannon, are off to Mexico City for two years at the beginning of August. This was a surprise but John and I are both excited by it. Graham is going to teach Chemistry at Greengates International School there. We are certainly looking forward to visiting them!

I am hoping that by the next Post, the tavernas will be open. The need for a meal out, is reaching crisis point!!!!  I have added a few more recipes to my limited range including a very nice blueberry and lemon cake by Ottolenghi, but I do miss the fun and atmosphere of going to a taverna. And not having to cook will be absolutely wonderful!!!

There may be changes locally soon. While I was walking back from Tholos beach one day I saw this sign.

It indicates the start of the development of a luxury tourist resort on the hillside to the left of Tholos Beach. John is grumbling! I expect there will be more information about this soon.

Sheila

 

 

Happy New Year

A Happy and Healthy New Year to everybody. I toast you all with an orange juice,

made with our own oranges!

We are also enjoying mandarins from our garden.

2020 ended in lock-down.  The Greek Government announced  a national lock-down in Greece on Saturday, November 7th, for three weeks because of the high rates of covid in the country. We are still in lock-down nine weeks later. Because of the lock-down  John could not host a gathering to celebrate his 75th birthday celebrations on November 21st.  However, there was an impromptu celebration as Pauline, Chris and Maria joined us in the afternoon for an appropriately socially distanced glass of fizzy wine!

and Maria also brought a cake which was delicious.

Then, we had a family zoom session with James, Claire, Iman, Graham and Rosie which was fun and In the evening, John and I ate steak and chips

and I made a trifle,

the first for a long time. It involved making my own sponge and custard. Impressive for me!!! My present to John of a selection of DVD’s was not so exciting but it suited lock-down! My brother Sandy’s present of a DVD of ‘Doctor Finlay’s Casebook’ was inspired, which will be watched once we have finished from the many, many episodes of Taggart.  This Scottish nostalgia would not have happened without lock-down!!!!

November is the time for me to have annual medical tests and I prepared this year by abstaining from wine for a number of weeks before. Whilst this may have had nothing to do with the outcome, I was pleased with the results and it meant that I can continue with the pills that I was already taking. That seems a success at my age!!! I did inevitably celebrate and started to have a glass or two of wine again!

I did need a glass of wine when I found out that I needed a new UK passport. My passport was supposed to expire in December 2021 but when I put the information into a UK Government website, it told me it wasn’t valid. I felt that this wasn’t fair but I was not arguing!  Now, you can apply for a passport on-line.  John helped me by taking photos of me and one of them eventually was accepted as of good enough standard for the document. The photo is horrible with my hair all back and no nice smile!  At the end of the process, I was asked to send my old passport back to the UK. I panicked a little at this. I did not like the idea of having no passport, particularly in these covid days where it is important that you can prove your identity as required. Eventually, I photocopied the relevant pages of the old passport and I hope this, with my Greek residence card and Greek driving licence, will be enough to prove who I am, if required.  Then I put the old passport in a jiffy bag and sent it to Belfast by registered post. It arrived there in 8 days but I am not optimistic about getting the new one back so quickly!

We have good memories of going to Athens to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre to watch the Greek National Opera Company performing ‘Lucia di Lammermuir’. This year, whilst we couldn’t go to Athens, we watched  ‘Madame Butterfly’, performed by the same company but on-line. It was wonderful with an excellent performance by Ermonelo Jaho as Madame Butterfly and whilst live performances are the best, it was such a treat to have the opportunity to see such high quality opera.

Early last year, John wrote about his four grandparents and what he knew about them. He then circulated this to his family.  Before Christmas, he finished writing up the family history of the first of his grandparents – his paternal grandfather. It consists of a table outlining the births and deaths of his grandfather’s parents, grandparents and great grandparents and beyond. What makes it come to life is that he provides a lot of information about the individuals, speculates on the reasons for some of their actions and gives some background as to what was going on in that part of the country at the time. There is a lot of detail about some of the individuals and they come to life as John reflects on their characters and what he feels about them. It is a great piece of writing and all members of his family now have a copy of it. Now, he is writing about the ancestors of another of the three remaining grandparents.

Christmas approached and shopping was tricky as the shops were essentially closed except for a few days before Christmas. Even then it was not so easy to buy much but we did manage to buy a new Christmas tree (a little bigger than the last one!).

We were really sorry not to have other members of the family with us at Christmas, but we did have a wonderful piece of family news. Our daughter Rosie and her boyfriend, Ed are going to have a baby in June. As you can imagine, John and I are very delighted and looking forward to becoming grandparents. Rosie is very well and happy and a trip to the UK is high on the agenda for us now.

Christmas was highly enjoyable. Many people had sent cards which decorated the living room. We opened our parcels.

John bought me a new outfit on-line from Next, who have an online shop in Greece. The Body Shop, too, have a base in Greece so my favourite hand-cream and perfume could be replenished. We had a swim at Tholos Beach which was surprisingly OK!

We drank a bottle of lovely white Santorini wine from the mixed case which Graham had sent as a Christmas present. There are another five bottles to drink, which is, in my opinion, a very good present.  Graham had bought the wine from a Greek company and it is one of the features of this year that there are many more Greek on-line businesses. We talked to Graham, Rhiannon and Rosie during the day and later ate some turkeyvand Christmas pudding.

Please note my lovely new ‘Next’ top.  We ended the day watching the first engaging episode on Netflix of the Queen’s Gambit, recommended by Rhiannon, about a female chess player.

After Christmas, I enjoyed a rush of phone calls to friends before the New Year.  The weather was good so it was also a pleasure to go for walks.  One of the best was a walk to Chrisokamino on a beautiful day. John met me there on his bike. I sat and looked at this view below for a long time.  The sea has so many shades of blue and the light is so beautiful.

And now the anemones are out and what a pleasure to stop and look at them, close up or further away.

On another day, John and I walked near Mochlos.

There was rain in November/December and the colours, especially the greens were just so vibrant!

We have visited Tholos a few times on bike or by foot and I am back to gazing at the sea, as well as John!

Another day, John and I walked over to the next bay near Tholos and you can tell that I am enjoying being out in the fresh air.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the year has been watching many more films, documentaries and series, recommended by other people.  In particular, we both enjoyed and learnt a lot about the planets from Brian Cox. At present, at lunchtime, we are watching a Christmas present series, some of which I have seen before, called ‘As Time Goes By’ with Judy Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. It is a good way to describe 2020 and maybe 2021!  Every day at lunchtime, we sit down to another amusing episode.

Just before New Year, John and I finished reading (to each other) the novel Σοφία by Ζωρζ Σαρή, aimed at young people. We enjoyed it a lot and while the expressions and vocabulary were tricky at times, we were enthused enough for John to buy another novel of hers.

We spent Hogmanay watching a feel good film, eating pizza, bringing in the New Year with a Greek TV programme, singing along to Scottish favourites and playing cards. It was a fun way to bring in 2021. I thought about Brexit the next day and felt sad but the weather was lovely and I sat happily outside reading a good book on our roof.

2021 started with a load of wood being delivered by Alkis, which looks like it will last for a couple of years!

The schools are going back next week and there is a possibility of the restrictions being lessened generally on January 18th.  We wait and see. We are eligible for the vaccine here and I am optimistic that we will get it in February/March. Whilst we would like generally to be able to travel again, the news from Cornwall has made it even more important!

Sheila

 

 

 

Happy moments

Whilst John and I read about  the reality and horror of Covid 19 throughout the world and we worry about our family and friends, life for us continues quietly here in Crete. We see no sign of the virus around here but we know the importance of obeying the rules and keeping safe.

Our life this autumn would have been a little different as we had planned to meet up with our Canadian friends, Cathy and Bruce and visit Northern Greece. And we would have had at least one of our children here over the summer. We might have tried a little island hopping if there had been time and certainly booked flights to go the UK in October/November. For a few days, we were tempted to get the ferry from Siteia and visit the island of Karpathos but decided that on many grounds that it was better to stay here.

It was a good decision because there have been many happy moments over the last 6 weeks. John and I celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary in Mochlos on September 12 with the usual, unbeatable ingredients of cocktails,

wonderful fish

and friendly environment.

That day, we had returned from a five day trip. First, we spent two days at Mikali’s studios in Tsoutsouros,

which we had visited in June. Sadly, we did not see Maria, who was in Athens because her mother had died but her husband, daughter and son in law did a great job looking after us.

We decided to go on an excursion to the small village of Treis Ekklisies (Τρεις Εκκλησίες), which we had heard was very lovely. On the way there, we went on a route which involved a dirt road and a stop at Μουρνιά, a village in the mountains, to check with some friendly locals as to whether we should carry on or turn back. They assured him that our car was fit for purpose and it was. It led to one of these amazing, unbelievable,  twisty, steep and now covered with tarmac roads in Crete which take your breath away in terms of the engineering involved.

Treis Ekklisies was at the bottom of the hill in the most stunning location.

We swam there,

ate a leisurely lunch

found one of the three churches,

and stuck to tarmac all the way back to Tsoutsouros,  I am used to seeing lots of small churches in Crete but on this journey we passed so many beautiful ones with no obvious signs of a village nearby.

The next day, we arrived at a taverna called Agia Fotia,where we stayed for 3 nights.

It is situated right by the sea and is many kilometres from the main road.  When we arrived at lunchtime, we were surprised at how  busy it was, given its location . There was no big town around about but the reason soon became clear. The food was wonderful and it is in a very lovely location. In the evening, I chose red snapper, which was the dish of the day. It was so delicious and will remain in my memory for a long time. And the prawns and the chicken on the other two nights we were there, were also fantastic.

On one day, we drove to Preveli and went to the famous monument, dedicated to the brave Allied soldiers and the priests of the Cretan resistance in World War 2.

I had seen it before but you cannot help but be moved by it. We decided not to visit the beach,

or the monastery. There were too many cars there for comfort and we drove on to Damnoni beach. In 1983, just before John and I were married, we had a two week holiday in Plakias. We arrived by bus, found ourselves a room and walked to Damoni beach, of which we have find memories. So 37 years later, We went to have a look at our old haunt and whilst it is still pretty

in my view the  sunbeds and terracing  spoil it a little bit (John thought rather a lot). When we arrived in Plakias, we found a cafe and then went back in time, looking for signs of Plakias in 1983. It has grown a lot!!!  We think our room from that time, might have been up there!

and we found a bus stop

but I think it was not where we arrived in 1983!  Eventually we just admired the beach!

The roads around Plakias and Preveli have improved a lot in the last 37 years and there were no worries now about dirt roads!

The next day we found another beach and enjoyed a morning there.

It was beautiful, empty and there were wonderful stones there.

I wanted to take them all home!

We moved onto Triopetra for lunch, which is one of our favourite places in Crete and ate at the Taverna Apanemia and enjoyed meeting Stelios again and eating aubergine and feta cheese.

When we got back to our hotel, John found that he couldn’t close his car window. It was left like that overnight and we left early to get to Ierapetra so that a mechanic could look at it. On the way back, John realised that the two back windows wouldn’t work either. Finally, he asked me to get the manual out which is huge and we avoid having anything to do with. I read out basic instructions from the manual and it was sorted! We There was a button that I must have touched the day before which locks all the windows except the drivers. We were very relieved and happy but felt very stupid!!!

When we came back to Kavousi, we found that the water pump supplying the village had been damaged. It was 10 days before a new pump was installed. In the meantime, water was available from another source between 8 and 3 which was good but the evening shower was sorely missed. It is not until something is taken away, that you really appreciate its worth! Two days after the water in the village returned, it rained. It was the first rain for many months.

It only lasted a few hours but our neighbour, Maria, was very excited and the plants immediately looked happier!

At Christmas, I gave John a bird of paradise plant, without much expectation that it would flower. But for a few weeks there have been two stalks that did not look like they were going to be leaves. Everyday, for a week or two, I have been rushing out to check on these. Finally, it was clear that there were two flowers. One of them came out completely last Thursday (see the cover photo) and I was so excited. It is such an exotic flower and I am enjoying sitting outside admiring its beauty!!!

In the evenings as we ate outside in early September, we were lucky to see the moon rise over the mountain behind us and also to see the planets, Jupiter and Saturn (You can see Jupiter in the picture just!) . One time, our neighbour also provided a light show.

Who needs to go out for entertainment!!!

Throughout the summer, John and I have been reading to each other, a group of five books which are Greek novels about the past which have been simplified for people like us.  Most days, we are now reading the Η Φόνισσα (The Murderess) by Alexander Papadiamantis.

We have found reading them challenging at times but because they have been simplified, we have understood the basic plot and the themes of the book, without first sinking into a pool of unknown vocabulary and expressions.  These are the first books of Greek literature that are accessible to us and we are very grateful to Manolis Petasis for recommending and giving them to us.

John and I have also become addicts of ‘Judge John Deed’, a BBC series from early 2000. John picked up series 2 from the British shop and has obtained series 1,3,4 and 5 from Amazon. Both of us enjoy this immensely.

Finally, communication with family and friends  based in the UK and Crete has continued to be very important  to our general well-being.  We are lucky to be able to access the phone, Facebook, WhatsApp and Zoom. In particular, a conversation with a friend, Qaisra, comes to mind.  John and I first met her in Aberdeenshire in 1997, then later I met up with her in London and together, we climbed Scafell Pike, in the Lake District together. I have not been in touch with her for years but John and she started a Facebook group which included me and she and I arranged to speak on the phone. It was lovely to hear her voice and the phone call reminded me of how I just loved her values and her humour. We both agreed that what makes us both very happy is to chat to people, learning about them and their lives. That is what I liked most when I was a youth and community worker, as I met all kinds of interesting people. It was a very happy moment talking to Qaisra and getting an update on her life!

Sheila

Empty beaches – hospitality unchanged

It’s now the middle of July and over the past few months, it has been a great pleasure to watch the grapes grow around our patio.  My father, who grew grapes in a green house in Central Scotland would have enjoyed seeing these as well as the bouganvillea which has finally burst into flower.

When I looked at my calendar 6 weeks ago  for June and July, the majority of engagements had been crossed out.  Usually John and I  have people to stay in Kavousi, particularly in June. Last year,  we went island hopping with our friend Phil last year to Ikaria and Fourni.  But since March this year, all plans to travel have been cancelled. On June 3rd, I should have been in Edinburgh for a school reunion marking 50 years since I left.  After 10 days there, I was traveling by train to Newcastle, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, then onto Bridgend, Wales  to visit friends and fly back from Bristol.  Yesterday, Easyjet returned the fare of my cancelled flight, which was a pleasant surprise.  John was going to Somerset to meet a friend and explore churches and villages there.  When we booked all of his, we believed you could plan travel!

So what to do in June?  Lockdown had been gradually eased here in May and by the beginning of June, we were free to travel in Crete. We both love our little house in Kavousi but the thought of having a short change of scene was appealing. We also knew that in July, flights with tourists would be arriving and it seemed this was an opportunity to explore a bit and feel completely safe.   On June 17th, we set out for Tsoutsouros for three nights on the south coast. It was picked purely on the basis that we had never been there before!  We looked on booking.com for accommodation but in the end the room in the Michalis Studios was booked directly by telephone. From our room we could see the sea and  the small harbour of Tsoutouros.

We were welcomed warmly by Maria,

and we were delighted that she spoke slow and clear Greek with us. There was no-one else staying there and we enjoyed her company and her cooking. We liked particularly the selection of vegetables, grown by her husband, Michalis.  One morning, she had a surprise for us – a fresh duck egg!

Maria was sorry that the choice of food was limited because of the lack of people but we were very happy with fresh food, cooked personally for us and the friendly hospitality!

Maria had some wonderful loungers, placed underneath tamarisk  trees on the beach opposite.  There, having finished a very good biography of Leonard Cohen, I read Henry Miller’s book ‘The Colossus of Maroussi. I knew nothing of his life or his writing but this book is about Greece in 1939 and I was swept along in the book by his passion for Greece and his views on the current state of the world.

I enjoyed a lovely walk to a small village called Maridaki, which involved ambling along a coastal path, admiring the colour of the sea,

having  a brief conversation with a goat,

with a clear destination,

and even having the possibility of buying a small house!!!

The only down side was that there was no possibility of a cool beer! There was nothing open . On the way back, I got a good view of Tsoutsouras, which shows the sun beds but actually there were very few people to use them.

Later in the day we drove to nearby Kastri,  where we had a beer with our friends, Eva and Jurgen, who live nearby. We were in the same group learning Greek for many years.

As in many conversations at present, Covid19 was high on the agenda for discussion!

On the way home, we hoped to visit ancient Priansos, which is highlighted in my walking book. It has a wonderful location with the promise of a wonderful view as well as ruins and ancient churches. We had assumed there would be a dirt track that we could take the car but this was not possible so another time, I will follow the walking instructions from the Rother Walking Guide. But in our search for a road,  we did get some great views, this one of the amazing Messara Plain.

We came home for a few days but decided the following week to have another three day adventure.  This time we booked three nights at Maridatis Apartments, 3km from Palekastro at the east of the island.  It was recommended by our good friends, Walter and Brigitte.  On the way there, we went to Choni beach which was lovely.  Afterwards, we went to a taverna on Kouremenos beach, famous for surfing.  The man who served us looked and sounded very unhappy, saying there was no-one coming to the taverna during the week.

Our lunch of a Greek salad and a beer was not going to make him much happier!  The economic cost of Covid 19 was plain to see.  We arrived at Maridatis apartments and we were welcomed by Eleni. Our room was enormous and we looked out over olive trees.

The beach was only a couple of minutes away. We were the only customers again!  Manolis was a great host at dinner with lots of chat and he cooked some wonderful meals!

including  lamb chops,

and more

We looked across the olive trees from the taverna, and could see a rock where we were surprised to see a face, which someone had made some effort to paint!

On summer weekends, in previous years, there is music here on are regular basis. Eleni sings and plays the guitar with friends. We bought her latest CD.  She is also a psychotherapist and novelist and showed us her latest book. As you can imagine, it was a delight to meet her and Manolis

One day I walked to Kouremenos beach, which was quicker by foot than by car.

Another day, we went to Itanos, probably our favourite beach in Crete and very close to Maridatis. There was lots of beautiful thyme,

the sea was calm,

and there were lots of stones to admire.

John and I went back home, having experienced Greek hospitality at its best, even in bad circumstances.

International flights started arriving on July 1st. From our conversations with local people and from our trips away,  we have heard a lot of ambivalence and nervousness about the arrival of tourists on the island, even amongst people who would benefit from their income.  People on the island have felt safe because they have obeyed the rules and have kept people out over the last few months. Now, the arrival of tourists means increased health risks!

Since we came back, we have enjoyed the summer. Most mornings at 8 o’clock, John and I have swum in very calm waters at Tholos beach. We have not always been alone. Others have also enjoyed the view.

Some work has been done outside,

and john made a hard decision to throw out an old banana plant which I bought as a present for him in Ierapetra market 8 years ago for 3 euros! One year there were bananas but they didn’t ripen.  We have high hopes for the baby banana plant put in its place which is growing rapidly.

John has been cycling regularly whilst I have a series of different length walks, that I do, depending on my energy level!!!  This time, i walked to the old olive tree. The whole area had been tidied up recently by Kavousi folk and looked very smart.

On the way back, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this!

We have now a water storage tank to deal with fluctuating water pressure, which Alkis installed on our roof

and a new small freezer in our shed delivered by Kotsovolos, the local equivalent of Dixons.

This was made possible because we sent three boxes of our daughter’s possessions back to her in Cornwall.  They had languished in our shed all the time we have lived here!. They included her football medals which, her Dad reluctantly decided should be in her possession at last. They were on the piano, but here are displayed outside before they go into a box!

We eat with friends occasionally, in this picture, we are at the taverna, Alatsi, sitting on the beach with Hans and Hanneke, eating grilled kalamari. Delicious!

We read and listen daily to a selection of simple Greek books. Recently, John was saved from having to cook a meal by our neighbour, Maria, arriving with two big portions of patsitsio and we had a good laugh over two new naughty Greek words that she taught us!!!   I have had many wonderful conversations with friends and family over the last two months. And when we are not doing anything,  then John and I sit and look at our lovely view,

and be glad of what we have.

Sheila

 

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.

Sheila

Sojourn in Southern England (a pre-pandemic peregrination!)

On the 25th February, we set off from Kavousi to London Heathrow. We enjoyed a comfortable, Aegean flight, changing planes at Athens and arrived on time just after 3pm.  In order to reach our friends house in Battersea, in south west London, we decided to use the underground. However, there were no trains because of an ‘incident’ on the line and so we got a bus instead to Victoria. The driver warned us that London was full of roadworks so the journey would be slow and he was correct. Then the taxi journey from Victoria was long and expensive also because of the roadworks and the rush hour. It took 4 hours to go from Heathrow to Sarah and Mark’s house which was a similar time to that taken to fly from Athens to Heathrow!!! However, after we arrived at our destination, we immediately relaxed with our friends, and their son Tom and his girlfriend, Tiff and celebrated Shrove Tuesday with some delicious home-made pancakes.

After a day relaxing with Mark and Sarah, we travelled to north London to see our friend Rosy, who’s husband Vince died last year. Then, we went to the British Museum where we looked at the Elgin Marbles,

but thought  that  they really should be back in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.  We also saw the nicely presented exhibition about Troy. We were familiar with most of the content,

but we did not know about the excavations trying to find the actual site of the city, which was a good story in itself!

In the evening we met up with Graham and Rhiannon and Graham kindly treated us to a tasty noodle meal at Wagumama in Covent Garden and to see the opera, Carmen, by the English National Opera at the London Coleseum Theatre.

What a treat to see Graham and Rhiannon and to enjoy the wonderful opera of Bizet!

At the weekend, our friends, Brigitte and Walter, arrived from Hamburg for one of the main purposes of our trip. They wanted us to show them London over a long weekend. I met them at Victoria Station and we went by train to nearby Battersea where we stayed in an apartment,  close to where I worked as a youth worker 40 years ago! We went to the nearby Masons Arms for dinner which produced traditional fare such as fish and chips but it and the beer and wine were definitely a lot more expensive than they were in 1979! It was busy with lots of young people and definitely a good choice to experience a London pub.

The next day we returned to Victoria and found our pre-booked open top ‘hop on and off’ bus. The weather was not good and much of our day was inside the bus but even this could not hide the fact that London is a very beautiful city. Walter and Brigitta had specific requests of places that involved getting off the bus. This included Trafalgar Square where Brigitta wanted to see the fourth plinth.

John and I looked at Trafalgar Square more closely than we have done in the past and agreed it was pretty impressive!  We carried on to Westminster Abbey.  Again, this was a request from our friends.  John had never been in the Abbey before and with the help of an audio guide, he found it very interesting.  I was somewhat distracted having lost my glasses somewhere (how could I do this!!!!) but after the Abbey tour, I ran back to where we had drunk coffee and fortunately they were there!!!  In the afternoon, we went to the City, saw the Tower of London, the London Eye and so much more and finally returned to Victoria.  Sarah and Mark had met Walter and Brigitta in Crete and kindly provided a delicious dinner in the evening and also facilitated discussion on a wide range of topics including family, politics, Brexit, impressions of London……

Next day, we went on a boat trip to Greenwich from Westminster Pier.

The weather was much better (hence more pictures!) and with the help of a jolly guide, we saw the sights of London from a different angle.

 

Our final visit as a tourist in London was to go to Buckingham Palace. John was a little unwilling so there is no record that he was there!

The next day, sadly, we went our separate ways. Walter and Brigitta spent the morning at Tate Britain and then back to Gatwick Airport while we went by underground to  Paddington Station for the next stage of our adventure. We had a great time together and hope to see them again in Crete in September.

We spent the next week to the West Country.  We were lucky to be travelling by train because during this period, the airline Flybe, which served Exeter and Newquay airports, collapsed into administration. This is a serious loss in the area.  We saw the Exeter MP, Ben Bradshaw on the train to Exeter on the day after the announcement on his way to some important meeting no doubt.  We stayed with John’s brother Tim and his wife Liz. who live in Sampford Peverell in mid Devon. We enjoyed two days with them in their wonderful house and we sampled the local pub, the Globe Inn, for dinner one evening. One day, we went to Exmoor and then onto  the stunning village of Lynmouth,

where there was a terrible flood in 1952 (the year that I was born, not that the two events are related!).  There is a very nice community museum there which gave us lots of detail of how after the flood in which 34 people were killed, the community came together and rebuilt the village.  For lunch, we ate delicious pasties. I sent Rosie a message telling her about all this excitement and she commented that now we had now experienced the supreme Cornish/Devon speciality, there was little need to carry onto Cornwall to see her!!!  But we did, two days later.

After this unexpected visit to this fascinating village, there was yet more excitement to follow. We went to Westward Ho! on the coast. This is the only town in the UK, whose name comes from the title of a book Charles Kingsley wrote in 1855 and the village was built 10 years later with this name as it was thought it would encourage tourism. It is mainly known for its beach and surfing.

The next day, we travelled to Templecombe, Somerset,  to check up on the gravestone of John and Tim’s grandparents, Sidney and Edith Burt. As you can see, It is in a bad state of repair,

but now the wording has been agreed so that a new stone can be purchased. We pottered around Templecombe, visiting the church and  childhood haunts of John and Tim.Maybe the highlight of the day was lunch at a very good  cafe called Jasmine and Bay which produced delicious soup and a toasted sandwich.

Next day, we were on our way to Newquay by train and we stayed with Rosie. On the following day she was at work, so we met up at the Red Lion with Graham and Sally, who live in Camborne. We met Graham some years ago in Mochlos, Crete where he had a house.

We covered a range of topics from issues relating to our respective travel plans because of coronavirus, life in Camborne, life in Kavousi, Sally’s swimming achievements, and we finished with a desert to die for, suggested by Sally.  We did share this, you will be glad to know!!!

In the evening Rosie cooked a lovely dinner and we watched the film, ‘The Two Popes’  which was really good. The next day, Rosie drove us to Tintagel Castle in her nice blue van.

We enjoyed walking around this attractive site, associated with King Arthur, on a very grey and windy day

although, I did think English Heritage were charging too much for the pleasure!!

On the Sunday, which was International Women’s Day, Rosie and I went to St Michael’s Spa in Falmouth,  This was my Christmas present from John.  We had a fantastic day, enjoying a morning of  complete relaxation in a pool, sauna, hot tub and steam rooms. We had a lovely lunch with a glass of fizz and then, both of us, survived a massage treatment for our bodies with some wonderful scented oils. I felt really good afterwards and I couldn’t think of a nicer present than spending a spa day with my lovely daughter.

Next day, we were off again to see John’s cousin, Liz, who lives in Ogbourne Maizey, near Marlborough. I enjoyed a number of walks including one to see a plaque in memory of Bill, Liz’s husband. Bill would not have been amused at the spelling mistake!

The River Og, usually, has very little water in it but I know Bill would have loved to have seen this picture on 11th March!

We had coffee with Liz’s good friends, Angela and Dave and then went to the pub for lunch.

We are hoping that Liz will come and visit us in Crete this year (she has been every year since we came here) but circumstances out of our control may prevent it!

We arrived back in London and stayed again with Sarah and Mark for another four nights. Two of these nights were to have been with John’s son, James but unfortunately, he was ill with flu like symptoms, so we did not see him.  We were extremely grateful to Sarah and Mark for their hospitality.  On Thursday, I went to Cambridge to see my good friend, Lis, who lives in Norwich.

Our son’s have the same birthday and we met in St Thomas’ Hospital! We both arrived at about 11.15 at Cambridge railway station, coming from different directions and we left at 3.15. We went to the Fitzwilliam museum coffee shop and we talked for 4 hours. Time went by quickly, there was lots to say and it was such a pleasure to see her!  While I was in Cambridge, John went to Wivenhoe and celebrated his friend, Pat’s, 80th birthday a bit early.

The following day, we met up with John’s old colleague, Mike and his girlfriend, Val in a pub in Wimbledon and we hope that one day they will visit us in Kavousi.  On Saturday, we saw our good friend, Jane, her daughter, Chloe, and husband, Felipe, and their two children, who are staying with Jane at present until the house that they have bought is ready.  We had a delicious meal and enjoyed seeing the very agreeable baby Felix for the first time and Lila who is a bundle of fun.

In the evening, we took an Uber taxi to Denmark Hill to see our friend Barbara, who both John and I have been friends with since we lived in London in the early 1980’s.  We ate a delicious meal too with her and had a delightful evening of ‘catch up’. And to complete a perfect day, she drove us back to Battersea.

On Sunday morning, there were one or two texts checking out whether this last visit would take place because of coronavirus worries. But in the end, we were so happy we went. We saw Annie, Matt and two year old, Emerson. Annie is the daughter of our friend Nick, who lives in Edinburgh.  We drank coffee and ate delicious home-made biscuits. The conversation involved

much about family health issues but Emerson’s presence always ensured that we smiled and laughed a lot.

The last bit of this story is about getting back to Crete. After we arrived back in London for the last few days of our trip, everything felt different than when we arrived. The news was all about the virus, there was an air of expectation that things were going to change.   We were booked to go home on Tuesday 17th March, but on the Friday before, John got an email from Aegean Airways to say that they had cancelled our flight. There was little other information but eventually, we found a UK number for Aegean. After waiting for sometime, John did get through to them and he was offered a flight on Monday. We agreed to this but our anxiety did not end till the next morning when finally confirmation arrived.  At this point, we both felt that we wanted to get home to Kavousi!  But unfortunately this meant that we did not see our good friends, Richard and Jill, who we were planning to stay with on the Sunday and Monday evenings. Richard had already ordered a joint of meat so it was pretty upsetting not to see them and not to eat the joint!!!  But instead we booked into the Heathrow Travelodge on Sunday evening and after two busy flights, we arrived in Heraklion at 8pm on the Monday. Both Heathrow and Athens airports were so quiet. John and I were so happy to be home and were ready for self isolation!!!

Sheila

When the world was normal

When I look back at my diary in January and in February, I find the usual mixture of trips and social activity in our lives.  A trip to the UK followed which I will write about in another post.

Early in January after all the Christmas festivities had finished, John and I visited a local church, St Fanourios, which is on the way to Pacheia Ammos. The church, itself, is quite new and was built by a Kavousi man, commemorating his brother, Fainourios. The setting is amazing with a view over to the entrance to the Ha Gorge.

Then we went onto the harbour at Pachia Ammos and admired the power of nature!

We enjoyed a late Christmas celebration of lovely food and games at Shona and Rich’s. The view

from their house is stunning!  Of course, we also frequented local tavernas with our neighbours, Victoria and Paul, Pauline and Chris and Birgitta and Roger. We enjoyed nice evenings at home with Val and Garry, who were shortly going back to the UK, and with Pauline and Chris. We met up  with our old Greek class, Shona, Eva and Jurgen for lunch and caught up with their news.  We visited Hans and Hanneke who have transformed their living area in their house and now have a wonderful new room with with a view to die for.

The picture does not do it justice! Afterwards, we went to a taverna in Ierapetra, called Vira Potzi, which was a bit more upmarket than usual for us but the food was delicious, particularly this salad.

We picked our mandarins which have many pips but taste very good.

John tried out some new recipes, including fennel omelette, which was delicious. The fennel came from our dear neighbour, Maria.

We saw the Philip Glass opera, Akhnaten, at the Theatre Rex. This provided a big talking point, given that neither John or I knew anything about Philip Glass.  It introduced us to the superb voice of countertenor, Anthony Roth Costanzo, to the conductor, Karen Kamensek, who was clearly very comfortable with the Glass score and to music and singing which was so different to anything else that we have seen so far in our ‘beginners opera journey’!!!  It was all a bit puzzling on first impressions but for me, it is always good to experience something completely different. At the cinema, we saw Little Women, which I enjoyed although I had a little trouble at the start, with the going back and forward in time.

The weather was, in general, mixed with quite a lot of rain and also some snow on the faraway hills,

but it still allowed walks where I could admire the dramatic colours,

and the beautiful anemones, who poked their heads out, even in the rain.

I enjoyed very much a circular walk near Stavrohori, on the south coast with Cathy, Doug and Fergus and their friends.

Two of their friends live in Siteia and are friends of Susan, who was our Greek tutor, when we lived in Kirkcudbright. It is a small world! A highlight of the walk was to have a meal at the Stravodoksari taverna in Stavrohori. The meat there was to die for!!!

 

Our saddest news was that Michalis, who helped us out so much when we arrived first in Crete, died in Germany, after a terrible accident.  There was no possibility of recovery but it seemed so unfair that this should happen now, after much stress and bad health for himself and his wife Inge, in the past few years,

INCO (The Cultural Organization of the Foreign Residents of Agios Nikolaos) Annual General Meeting took place in February and the new committee were elected. There were impressive reports of the work that happened in the last year,  particularly information provided relating to Brexit and development cultural opportunities.  The AGM was held in the Lassithi Chamber of Commerce, courtesy of the Mayor ( a big change from previous AGM’s which have been held in hotels or cafes) and I think this reflects the hard professional work that the committee have done over the year to develop positive links with the council and to try to meet the needs of the foreigners in the area. John was responsible for overseeing the votes for the new committee but was not tempted to take on a bigger role!!!

John and I visited the house of our friends, Stan and Jann, throughout the winter, just to check it was OK, while they were in the UK. One day, to our delight, we saw that the path up to the house had been given a new surface of cement. Walking or driving up to the house is so much easier now!

In January and February, we were lucky that Eva, who has moved to live in Kavousi from Athens  with her husband, agreed to meet up with us twice a week for Greek conversation in return for help with her English conversation at the end. John and I both enjoyed it very much and are sorry that at present, it is not possible to continue because of the coronavirus restrictions but we hope it will restart in time.

Maria, our neighbour, came round regularly for a chat. On one occasion, she was talking to us and her phone rang. It was her sister and then we all had a chat with her, with Maria being the speaker. It worked really well!!!

Sometimes, conversations with people here are a great source of amazement.  John went to pharmacy in Ierapetra to pick up some pills.  Somehow his conversation with  Maria, the pharmacist, became focused on Wessex!  She watches the series ‘The Lost Kingdom’ with Uhtred, son of Uhtred and was very familiar with this period of English history. John was delighted to talk to her about his own part of the world!

Last year, the road where our car is parked, was damaged in a storm. Parts of the bank fell into the ‘river’ below.  The new Mayor, Maria, informed us that the road would be closed for a period of time in order that the work could proceed. We parked our car in the main car park, behind the supermarket, which was not a problem. The surface of the road was replaced and there was some strengthening of it,

but the actual bank itself remained untouched and we wait for part two of the work, when there is money to fund it. But our parking space is much improved as has the surface of the road. As you can imagine this work provided much entertainment and comment for a few days!!

When the weather wasn’t good, we came up with some ideas to improve our living room area. This involved moving bits of furniture about, throwing out an old side board, buying a new one and having our small table and TV table varnished.

We are both really pleased with the result.  The question is do we now still need a new settee and chairs???  We have also bought some new, lighter, outdoor furniture.

John continued with his family history project and circulated to his family a very interesting document ‘on line’ about the lives of his four grandparents.

It has been well received and it has encouraged him to carry on writing up research that he has already done.

In the meantime, I started reading ‘Greece, Biography of a Modern Nation’ by Roderiick Beaton and learned much, particularly about the build up and during the Greek Revolution.

Brexit date came and went, without much acknowledgement on our part (this was a moment of resignation to this inevitable crazy decision!).

Then we left on 25th February for a three week trip to the UK with no idea of how coronavirus was about to make an enormous impact on all our lives.

Sheila

 

 

Autumnal action

Tholos Beach in Autumn

After John and I returned to Crete in the middle of September, the next month flew by in a social whirl.

Gord, my second cousin, and Debbie, his wife, who live in Coldstream, British Columbia, arrived first. We saw them last year at the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver and they said then that they were keen to come to Greece. They have visited us in Scotland and spent time with us on our canal boat but they have never experienced Greece or Kavousi!   After a few days in Athens, they arrived here and then we explored the east of the island by car and by foot.  Their first day here was a special one in Kavousi as each year the village hosts an important mountain running event. We had a good view from our house of the competitors, crossing the bridge down below before they set off up the Havgas Gorge.

Of course, we ourselves did not take part but Gord, Debbie and I did manage a number of walks which included going up the Havgas gorge, visiting the impressive post Minoan site of Azoria,

admiring the ancient olive tree, whose branches were used for olive wreaths of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and finally drinking a well deserved beer at the very friendly taverna, which is situated next to the tree. We travelled further afield to walk down the Zakros gorge,

and again enjoyed lunch and a beer at the end of the walk. It is always good to choose walks with refreshments guaranteed! Our guests liked the Minoan village of Gournia, and throughout

they were full of wonder at all the evidence of the Minoan civilization, so long ago. We admired the Lassithi plateau and Zeus’s cave,

and we clearly were enjoying the sights and the company!!!

I can’t help taking photographs of blue sea (this time at Spinalonga)

or sunsets (this one taken from the wonderful ‘Panorama’ taverna and

the cocktails in Moxlos.

After a few days, we drove our lovely, newish car to the south of the island and I realised that it was a rough ride in the back seat.  Every time the car was driven over a hole or a dip in the road. Debbie and I experienced a very bad sensation. Debbie was too polite to make a fuss but after my moans,  John did raise the issue with the garage later when the car had its first service and I feel vindicated because it is being fitted with new shock absorbers so I hope that will make a more comfortable ride!  But it was all worth it to see the beauty of Phaistos, one of the Minoan palaces, where one can also view the Messsara plain and the highest mountain of Crete, Psiloritis.

We drove onto Matala for a swim,

and then to Agia Galini where we enjoyed the view from the hotel,

and sampled the tavernas and the beach. On the last couple of days of their visit to Crete, we stayed at a very nice AirB&B in Herakleion.  The main purpose was to see Knossos,

and to show Gord and Debbie the wonderful exhibits from the Minoan period which are in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. This museum presents Minoan life and culture so vividly and each time, I go, I see something  else to be dazzled by, like an amazing piece of jewellery,

or a beautiful pot,

or an old favourite, that just stuns you with the craftmanship.

And as Gord and Debbie said, these works of art were made so long ago!

John and I enjoyed our last meal with them at Amalia’s kitchen.

The next morning, they travelled by ferry to  Santorini. We hope to see them again in a couple of years in British Columbia where there is a plan for another adventure!

Sarah and Mark arrived a few days later from London for a different type of holiday. We joined them for a period of complete relaxation! We walked to Tholos beach, we swam,

we talked and we ate. And it was all centred around Kavousi. Perfect!

Then our Scottish friends Maggie and Andrew arrived for 24 hours!  Maggie and I have known each other since we were children!  They were on holiday for a week in Fodele, west of Heraklion with their family but took a day out to see us. We made the most of that time. I walked with them to Tholos beach, we all swam,  had dinner at Mochlos and the next day I walked with them to the secret beach at Agriomandra.

It was all really good fun!!!!

Then Pat and Jerry, like Gord and Debbie, also from British Columbia arrived for four days.

They had as much to tell us as we had to tell them!  John and I met them on a tour around Vietnam and Cambodia a few years ago and we visited them in their lovely house on Hardy island, British Columbia last year. We hoped they might come to Greece and we were excited when they decided to make the trip.

They flew to Athens and then explored the Peloponnese by car. Whilst they had places they wanted to go to, (some of which John and I had recommended based on our experiences there,)  they were also very flexible, exploring whatever seemed interesting to them. There were occasions when they turned up in a village and found a room, without a previous booking – real travellers!

From the mainland, they went to Santorini for a few days and then flew to Heraklion where they hired another car and explored the west of Crete, finally arriving in Kavousi (the best was left till last!!!).    We found out about their trip and enjoyed interesting discussions about their travel and their impressions. They were very enthusiastic about Greece and curious about aspects of culture that they had glimpsed.

We showed them our village,

the Havgas gorge,

and Azoria.

We went to the east of the island and Spinalonga,

before they left for the Air Transat flight home.

A few days later our friend Susan, our former Greek tutor, from Kirkcudbright, arrived from Herakion by bus on her way to Siteia for a holiday.

We ate lunch, had a nice chat and then she got on the next bus to complete her journey!!!  I hope she will come for a bit longer the next time!

Life had been hectic for a few weeks and when everyone had gone, it was a bit of a surprise for John and me to have no-one staying in the house, other than ourselves! But more of that in the next post!

Sheila

Summer 2019 Part 2 – Family, fun and celebrations

At the beginning of August, we  enjoyed, yet again, a wonderful Yiannis Xaroulis concert in Pacheia Ammos. This was followed the next day by the presentation of a book of poems, Λευκό Χαρτί written by Κωστής  Δερμιτζάκης at the  Melina Mercouri hall in Ierapetra. Κωστής is the father of our first Greek tutor, Nikos, and of Maria who is our pharmacist. John and I are great admirers of the talents of this family.  The presentation included readings of the poems by a number of people, including a well known actor, whom I recognized from watching a Greek soap opera!

There was also music from Nikos and Maria. It was a really nice evening.  A week later, there was a a lively Kavousi village party.

And we celebrated our friend, Jann’s, 60th birthday

Then, John’s son, James, his partner Claire and her two daughters, Iman and Farah arrived in Crete for a two week holiday. First, they stayed on the south of the island near Koutsouras at the Big Blue Beach Bar and Apartments for a few days and we enjoyed a lovely meal with them at the nearby Robinson taverna. Then they came to stay in our house in Kavousi for 10 days while  John and I moved to nearby Pacheia Ammos.

James and Claire are fantastic people to stay in our house. They leave it cleaner and tidier than it was before!  This arrangement suits all of us.   James has come on a regular basis to Kavousi, and like on previous occasions, many a beer was consumed while the issues of the day are discussed!!!

James’s friend, Paddy, stayed in a small house in Kavousi, owned by our friends, Pauline and Chris.  We all met up on the beach or in a taverna.

I particularly enjoyed spending a bit of time with the two teenagers, who are great company and told me a bit about their interests and their ideas about the future. And I was impressed by some of the projects in which they are involved at school.

John and I relaxed on the beach in Pacheia Ammos,

although there was a problem with plastic in the sea and on the beach. It was cleaned up every night but it does lead me to believe that plastic bottles and straws should be banned!  One day, we looked out of our apartment window and saw with some surprise a man riding a horse in the water.  I do not know the context to this but it was definitely an unusual sight!

We enjoyed a trip to nearby Istron, and visited an archaeological  site called Παρινιάτικος  Πύργος  which we had been to before. It is hard to find but so beautiful and quiet.

We then enjoyed a very nice pizza at the Italian Pizzeria Ricardo.  You can see how relaxed I felt during these days with James, Claire, Iman and Farah!

During this time, john and I went to a public lecture in Ierapetra about the Greek language by an Athenian Professor.

It was a challenge for our Greek but we understood some of the gist of it!!

After James and Claire and the girls left, we moved back to Kavousi and started to prepare for a two week trip to Scotland, to celebrate my sister-in-law, Winnie’s 70th birthday. We hired a car from Arnold Clark (after having immense difficulty hiring  car from anybody else as other firms wouldn’t accept our Greek driving licences, without a translation or wanted a credit card). Arnold Clark decided to upgrade us from a small car to a Mercedes!

Now for most people, this would be a real treat but for me, it was anxiety provoking not just because it was automatic but more important, I knew everything would be strange to me.  John was a bit shocked when one day while we were driving, a woman’s voice suddenly asked him what he wanted her to do! It took two attempts at telling her to go away before she stopped talking!

John drove in the rain from Edinburgh up to Cummingstown, on the Moray Firth coast where we stayed with Kate and Dod and also our mutual friend, Annie, who is now living more in Scotland, than in Tanzania.

We enjoyed the chat and the fantastic hospitality and whilst I have been avoiding Brexit news, I did get get caught up in the issues which are paralysing the country and was particularly impressed by the coverage on Channel 4.

John and I are proud of our grapes in Crete but we were even more impressed by Kate and Dod’s grapes and apples

and much more wonderful produce, grown in the north of Scotland! And lovely to see the hens,

reminding us of happy days at Sunnyside, Aberdeenshire.

Our next stop was Cray House, a big country house with delightful grounds near Glenshee, where Winnie’s birthday celebrations were held.

We parked the car and a few minutes later another Mercedes arrived and parked next to ours. That was a good moment!!!  The weekend was wonderful,

spending time with family, people who I usually only meet at weddings and friends of Winnie and Sandy from Dalgety Bay. In addition we had very smart accommodation to enjoy and fantastic food, including delicious langoustines, venison and glorious puddings. On top of all that, there was some wonderful countryside to admire

We saw our fiends, Maggie and Andrew briefly in Pitcairngreen, (more on them in the next post) and then we went to Aberdeenshire, in our smart, very low Mercedes.  John drove very, very slowly up a rough track to a lovely house on GlenTanar, where our friend’s Gillie and Alan live. The car was parked outside their house and did not move till we left! There were some worrying sounds from the bottom of the car as we crawled towards the house.

The house had amazing views. It was all great fun – the chat and the walks and the bathroom was one of the best I have ever had the privilege of using!!! We were introduced to the excellent Finzean Estate Farm Shop and Tea Room (not that we drank tea!)

Then a quick visit with Linda and Gordon in Lumphanan.  Gordon was about to retire the following week so it was good to toast this particular milestone in his life. We were joined by Linda’s daughter, Sarah and family, which was an added bonus. Since we left, I gather that a new collie dog has joined their household which is very exciting.

On our 36th wedding anniversary, we drove on south to Elie, Fife and there we were entertained by Mairi and Norman. They live in Edinburgh but have a holiday home in Elie, a part of Scotland  that I don’t know at all.

There are beautiful beaches there

and the beer  and fish and chips are pretty good too! John and I were very impressed by the Secret Underground Nuclear Command Bunker (obviously not so secret now), near Anstruther. It was built to help safeguard Scotland during the Cold War against a nuclear attack.

It was a scary place but a timely reminder for me of the horror of nuclear weapons (graphically shown in a film we watched in the Bunker). There was lots to see, much to reflect on and they had a very nice cafe!   With Mairi as tour guide, we explored the charming fishing villages of Anstruther, Pittenweem and St Monans.

John and I then moved onto Linlithgow where I met a friend, Joyce, who I know through being a Guide so many years ago and then John and I had a short visit to the house, where I lived until I left home aged 17,

and viewed  some of my childhood haunts. The last few days were spent in Edinburgh, staying with Sally and Robert. We met three of their grandchildren, which was so nice, we saw Europe win the Solheim Club ( I don’t usually watch golf but it was exciting!) and we learnt about impending  work on their house. We had lunch with Sandy and Winnie in Aberdour

and to get there we travelled over the Forth Railway bridge and admired the various bridges.

We went to Princes Street and met Nick, who had visited us in Kavousi earlier in the year. I did some shopping but also went to have a look at the ‘Oor Wullie’ Bucket trail which was in Edinburgh at the time.

Oor Wullie was part of my childhood and so seeing all these wonderful ‘Oor Wullie’s’  was a real treat. A friend of mine sent me an Oor Wullie calendar this year and it sits beside my computer and I look forward every month to a new picture!

We arrived home on the 17th September, after a very varied and enjoyable two weeks and for the next month, it would be our turn to look after family and friends in Kavousi.

Sheila