Category Archives: Politics

Holiday season in Kavousi

Our friends from the UK generally like to visit us in May and June (April too, but this year John and I were in the UK!) as the weather is warm but not too hot, the sea is warming up and there is some green in the landscape.

Our friends came but unfortunately the weather did not quite live up to expectations. I have heard taverna owners calling it this year, ‘παραξενο’ (strange) and that is what it has been. Each of the different sets of people who came, experienced 2 or 3 days of cloud and coolness, as well as occasional rain. Nobody seemed to worry about this but I felt I had raised expectations of what people might expect, particularly in June and felt a little responsible. More to the point, occasionally there appeared to be warmer, more settled weather in the UK which is completely unacceptable!!!!  Adaptations had to be made to holiday programmes, including sitting inside taverna’s in the evening because it was too chilly outside.

My good friend, Liz is the same age and has the same birthday as me and this and the fact that we like each other has always made her pretty special to me. We went to the same school and the same university, Aberdeen, and we shared a flat together in 1974.  My first trip abroad was with her and some other friends on a skiing holiday in the Alps in 1973 and she included me in a trip to Alaska some years later. We don’t don’t see so much of each other these days for obvious reasons (she lives near Kendal and I live in Kavousi) but I was delighted that she had booked a week here at the beginning of May. We spent much of her week chatting (John was left to his own devices) and we took the opportunity to explore Gournia,

Spinalonga,

the old olive tree

and Mochlos

and other great views

while catching up on news and gossip. After Liz retired, she embarked on a  project to extend her house and garden and is very happy with the result. I felt much more in touch with her life again and one day will enjoy a trip to the Lake District.

Liz left and I had an unexpected, unscheduled treat after an email from a friend in London who told me he was coming for a week’s all inclusive holiday to Elounda. One Sunday, I drove there, picked up Ro and brought him back to our house

and afterwards we ate at Bobo’s, where he experienced simple food, cheap wine, a lot of laughs and a beautiful view of the sea. I worked with Ron’s wife, Brenda, in my first job in London at the Bexley Council of Voluntary Service. She died a few years ago and I am very fortunate to keep in touch with her family. I was very sad to hear from Ron that there was nothing much left of the Council of Voluntary Service as funding had been withdrawn in the last couple of years. It seemed unbelievable that an organisation, which was about supporting volunteers to carry out important roles in the community, had virtually gone. Is this progress? I don’t think so!

A day or two later, Jane, from London arrived with her present of Yiannis Varoufakis’s new book ‘Adults in the room’.  John has since read it and will no doubt comment on it at some stage. Jane comes here regularly and this year brought with her two friends, Judith and John. We have only one spare bedroom so we had arranged with our friends, Pauline and Chris, that they could stay in two of their renovated buildings – one a studio, the other a two room apartment at a very reasonable price. They are situated on the west side of the village (our house being on the east). Pauline and Chris were in Holland and so John and I introduced them to their accommodation and afterwards they met the neighbours. All went well.

The first morning I walked with them to the ancient olive tree. It was a perfect start to the holiday because after admiring the tree, we went to the taverna beside it. There we had an early drink and met Vasili, the owner

and his wife, who showed Jane and Judith how to make stuffed dolmathes.   Jane hired a car and for a couple of days she took John and Judith to various places she had either been before or wanted to see, while John and I stayed at home!  Added to that,  Jane found a new excursion that we didn’t know about, which was a trip to Spinalonga on a boat from Agios Nikolaus, organised by Nostos Cruises.

It was a beautiful afternoon and we sailed past some of the expensive Elounda hotels and then we were shown where the sunken city of Olous was, (not that we could see it!). I had a swim at Kolokitha (Pumpkin) Bay

and after that we went onto Spinalonga. Included in the deal was a very interesting Spinalonga tour guide and we returned by the cave of the pirate, Barba-Rossa and Kri-kri island where apparently we might have seen some Minoan goats. This was all for 16 euros and very good value. On the last day we walked up the  gorge beside Kavousi

which was a very nice end to the trip.

Later in June, John and I went back to Spinalonga Island to watch a concert, by the Young Peoples Symphonic Orchestra of Crete, marking the 60th anniversary of the closure of the leprosy colony. It was held in the evening and attended mainly by Greeks of all ages, not the usual tourists that come to see Spinalonga. It was a very moving occasion, first with small groups of the orchestra playing in different parts of the island

and then they all came together

to play small, classical pieces from Bach, Elgar, Grieg etc.

Robert and Sally came next. Sally is from Linlithgow and we have many shared memories of our childhood, particularly in relation to guiding. Sally became the Chief Guide for Scotland and it was good to have time to talk about her experiences of that important position as well as discussing a whole range of other issues. I am not quite sure what the topic was here but it looks pretty light hearted!

She and Robert had the pleasure of being around here on the morning of the UK General Election results, when there was little chance of any sensible breakfast or plan for the day, as it emerged that Jeremy Corbyn was perhaps electable after all!!!

They coped admirably with the excitement and we did manage a trip to the east of the island later

on their holiday and and eat one of John’s excellent dishes of pork chops in the oven.

And finally Sarah and Mark arrived after a bad start, when they missed their plane, due to a series of unfortunate events. However they arrived only a few hours later and they were happy with a few days of relaxation,

including swimming at Tholos beach when I became a big kid on a lilo

a beer at the new taverna at Tholos

and a morning at Psarapoulis beach which is conveniently situated next to the venue of our Greek class in Koutsonari.

We attended Greek classes until the end of June by which time, we definitely felt we had improved during the year but were in need of a holiday!! John was assisted by Mark in putting some anti-pigeon netting in place, as his height is very useful for such jobs!

The grapes were beautiful then (although not now!)

John’s garden too looked beautiful in June

as did the geraniums

and the bougainvillea with the butterfly.

And in between our guests, John and I went on a short holiday of our own to the Εleonas Hotel in Zaros, south of Heraklion, with our friends Brigitte and Walter. it was the only weekend that we could go with them before they went back to Germany and it happened that Hanneke and Hans were also there. Unfortunately the weather was bad with some thunderstorms and torrential rain and for much of the time, it was chilly and grey. But we found a nice taverna in Zaros which had lovely mezethes

while we looked at the cloudy sky!

However, luck was on our side as Brigitte and I walked up the  Rouvas  Gorge, in 3 hours

and managed to avoid serious rain, although Brigitte and I were forced into rainwear at one stage!

John and Walter picked us up at the top and we then enjoyed a jeep ride in some spectacular countryside. We visited the Vrontisi monastery in the torrential rain but were rewarded with a raki by a monk as we hid in the shelter. The Eleonas is a lovely hotel with individual bungalows

in a wonderful setting but the weather was not on our side.

And to end with a couple of local events that were very nice to attend. Our Greek tutor invited us to a basketball final, in which he was playing. Neither John nor I know much about basketball but it is very popular here.

The wrong team won but we enjoyed it very much.

Finally, my friend Margarita was dancing in an event ‘Patchwork Dance’ organised by the Milan School of Dance in Ierapetra. There were many people there to watch adults and children participate in ballet and modern dance sequences. It was a treat to watch and in particular, Margarita and her small group were fantastic but unfortunately the pictures are on my camera which is currently being repaired!

Sheila

 

Catching up.

Impossible though it seems, we have now been back from our Easter trip to the UK for over two weeks. Good intentions of writing up our visits to Scotland and Cornwall have been lost somewhere along the line, so what follows is a very brief attempt at a catch up and to thank all those who were so kind to us while we were away.

The visit started with a degree of stress because the installation of the new kitchen went to the wire with Manolis, Adonis, Alkis and Michalis all working here during the evening before our departure to get it finished. It meant that we spent the morning of the day we left hurriedly unpacking various boxes of kitchen utensils and shoving the contents into any available space, which included the oven! The result was that when we arrived back here, there was a job to be done before we could get round to actually using any of the new appliances! However, two weeks in and we have just about found where everything is and it is all brilliant and we are very pleased. It is however, just a kitchen so no need to get too excited when there is so much else going on in the world!

We arrived in Edinburgh very early at the beginning of April and took a taxi to Dalgety Bay in Fife where we stayed a few days with Sheila’s brother, catching up with Sheila’s extended family and approving of the progress made by the four great-nephews.

It also gave us a chance to recover from all the kitchen excitement and to note progress on the new Forth Bridge.

Then we moved on to Edinburgh where we stayed with Fiona in Juniper Green and later, Sally and Robert in Currie. It was great to catch up with their news and enjoy their company.

Then we hired a car and went to Kirkcudbright where we used to live, having taken in a visit to some elderly friends of Sheila’s Mum, who live in Glasgow. It has to be said the Kirkcudbright was not looking at its best – the weather having taken a turn for the worse but we enjoyed re-visiting the town and staying with Alasdair and Yvonne, Christine and Mike and Bev and David. Again, it was good to catch up and relax with kind friends. Probably the highlight for Sheila was visiting the tennis club and seeing a number of her old colleagues who made her very welcome and she was particularly pleased at how well the Club is now doing – a fitting tribute to her past endeavours.

We visited our flat (which is now on the market) and did a little cleaning in the hope of stimulating a sale – so far to no avail! We even found time to frequent a few old haunts.

Then we flew to Cornwall where we stayed with Rose in our flat in Newquay and were blessed with some stunning Spring weather for the ten days we were there.

Sheila found time to do a little painting while I did a few odd jobs around the place. Rosie showed us the garden at the hotel where she now works full-time and treated us to a meal in the restaurant there.

It clearly is a good idea to be friends with the chef because we were given at least two extra courses and everyone was so kind and friendly because we were Rosie’s Mum and Dad, so clearly she is both popular and valued!

It was fun spending some time with her and we really enjoyed our stay.

She also took us to see Caerhays Castle grounds, which as stunning, both as regards the floral display but also the setting. Sheila even managed a paddle!

While we were in Cornwall we visited Graham Hilder, late of Mochlos in Crete and one of Sheila’s tennis pals here. He provided a packed programme for us, including a visit to St Ives and a stage to screen performance of ‘Copelia’ from the Sydney Opera House.

I also met up with my old school friend, Terry Larcombe who I had not seen for the best part of fifty years. It was great to see Joe (for such I have always known him), after all the years and to catch up on our lives and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

Then it was time to return to Crete where we found the house in good order and the flowers well-looked after by Maria, in our absence. Since returning, we have had Phil from Bracknell and Liz from the Lake District to stay and Jane from London has just arrived for a week’s walking with friends.

Judging by recent weather (it was 37.7 C the other day in the shade), they may be simply walking into the sea to cool off rather than walking in the hills but we shall see!

Since we have been back, we have also found time to see a tax accountant with a view to considering re-locating to Crete on a more permanent basis. There are some difficult decisions to be made in this respect – none more so than affordable health care but since our recent trip to the UK, we are increasingly of the view that this is something we need to consider seriously.

This is partly a result of the Brexit vote last year but also because each time we visit the UK, we find life in Britain is more and more depressing. Probably the film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ sums up what I mean. While there are of course many and notable exceptions, the generality is that many people don’t seem to care for anyone beyond their immediate family. There seems to be a lack of generosity of spirit, little value put on teachers and health workers and a growing dislike of foreigners.

As I write this, the opinion polls are still pointing to a Tory win at the General Election, a result which I find personally disturbing because it is my generation which seems prepared to vote back a Party bank-rolled by hedge funds and banks, and which cares so little for all that I value in Britain.

The main reason however is more positive. We like living in Greece. We like the people and we approve of the way they value family and community. We feel happy here and whilst there are of course problems, we feel we can deal with them.

We are not sure we want to live in the kind of society on offer from Mrs May – hence the need to look at an alternative which suits us better, at least for as long as the Greeks will allow us to stay. More to follow on this, no doubt!

John

Reflections from Hamburg, Peace and the Portals of Prina

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In her last post, Sheila touched on the destruction of Hamburg during WW2.

During the last week of July 1943, the city was largely destroyed as a result of night raids by the RAF and daytime raids by the USAAF. ‘Operation Gomorrah’ as it was codenamed, claimed the lives of over 42,000 people, many of them killed on the night of July 27 when more than 700 RAF bombers took to the skies and as a result of concentrated bombing inadvertently created a firestorm over the city.

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Wikipedia has a detailed description of exactly what happened if anyone wants the full story.

I mention it because for the two days we were in Hamburg on our recent visit to northern Germany, it was difficult to avoid being reminded of what happened to Germany’s second city. As someone who is interested in history, I wanted to find out more about why this happened and whether it did anything to shorten the war.

The stated reason given at the time by the British authorities was retaliation for the Blitz and the bombing of Coventry but it seems clear that the switch from bombing industrial targets in the Ruhr was actually a change of policy – literally an attempt to shorten the war by breaking the spirit of the civilian population. There is some evidence that had it continued, it might have been successful but for reasons which are not entirely clear, this did not happen to any significant degree, at least not until February 1945 when Dresden was reduced to ruins and an unknown number of people perished.

Sheila and I spent some time while in Hamburg visiting a memorial in the crypt of the ruined church of St Nicholas. It commemorates not just those who died but also those air crews who took part, many of whom suffered severe psychological problems when the full horror became apparent afterwards. It also deals with other cities which suffered aerial destruction, particularly Warsaw. Interestingly, it does not seek to apportion blame but deals with the issues of aerial warfare and civilian population in a reasoned and open manner. However, underlying everything is a feeling that somehow this was divine retribution for Germany having started the war and for the awful treatment of Jews, gays and other minorities.

I was left feeling uneasy about this and decided to re-read ‘Love in the Ruins’ by Harry Leslie Smith which I had first read a couple of years ago. He tells his own story of life as an RAF wireless operator stationed at Hamburg at the end of 1945 and his love affair with a young German woman who would ultimately become his wife. I thoroughly recommend the book to anyone interested in the subject. It deals with some of the issues raised but in the immediate aftermath of the war, which is probably the best time to consider them. However, it’s also fundamentally a love story and a good read too!

I think it’s easy to moralise at a later date and to reach ‘fireside’ conclusions which are all very well when survival is not at stake but all the same, it is surely worth considering how war is now increasingly waged against civilian populations and how we British, from the time of the Boer War onwards, have had a hand in the development of this unfortunate aspect of modern warfare.

But of perhaps more immediate relevance to our world today, is the fact that the institutions put in place in Europe post WW2 have in the main prevented the scourge of previous generations, ie major European wars and allowed my generation, a virtually unprecedented period of peace. We can only hope that Brexit and the rise of neo-nationalism both in Europe and worldwide, will not endanger this precious legacy.

On a lighter note, we have of course, now returned to Crete after our stay in Germany and the weather since we returned to Kavousi, has been generally warm and sunny, at least by day.

So, the week before last, freed from Greek lessons by the upcoming carnival and greeted by a beautiful spring day, we decided to have a day out and started our tour by visiting Prina, a village in the hills above Istron, which had been recommended by our fellow Cretan blogger, Yvonne Payne.

The village itself is not particularly attractive but has a fine church situated high above,

with a view to die for and an access road, on which you might just do that!

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What struck me most about the village was the wonderful variety of doorways and alleys and being a fan of alliteration, I came up with the last part of my title, which in fact probably sounds better in Greek than in English – οι πόρτες της Πρίνας.

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We had a short stop in Istron for a beer and a pie and then headed for the beach where Sheila had her first swim of 2017. Although it was warm enough to get into my dookers, I decided against a dip having picked up a cold in Athens on the way home from Germany. Nice weather though!

img_20170305_1109361And finally, my flower bed! For quite a while I have been intending to do something about the courtyard/alley in front of our house, here in Kavousi. We don’t own it – no one does apparently but it is a bit of an eyesore. Two of the ‘sheds’ are owned by folk who are no longer with us (according to Maria and Nikos) and although our elderly neighbour, Ευτυχία, occasionally pulls up a few weeds, it is clear to me that she feels that it is really my responsibility! Last year, I did manage to clear an area for my banana plants and this year, when we got back from Hamburg, I set to work on the Bermuda Buttercups, keeping a keen eye out for snakes! I am not a gardener but am pretty pleased with my small flower bed – το μικρό παρτέρι μου – which finally got some bedding plants last week and returning to my main theme, I decided to dedicate it to a peaceful and united Europe.

John

 

January blues and Spring hopes

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We’re just back in Crete after a long trip to the UK. We spent Christmas in London with Graham and Emily and her family.

img_20161225_184233Bruce and Cathy were great hosts and organised a splendid celebration. Unfortunately the wine flowed so copiously that photographic evidence is in short supply. Believe me though – we all had a great day.

Many thanks to them for all their hard work and good company and we look forward to seeing them here in September.

Thanks also to Graham and Emily for hosting Christmas Eve celebrations – especially the mulled wine and to James for the loan of his flat.

While in the London area, we visited any number of friends, who spoilt us rotten with both kindness and hospitality. Many thanks to everyone and especially to those who put us up – you are too numerous to mention but it was great seeing you all!

New Year was spent with cousin Liz in Wiltshire who looked after us in fine style despite being under the weather

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and then we moved on to Cornwall to see Rose and the new flat. We were very pleasantly surprised by how relatively spacious it is (although still quite small in truth!), warm and how much Rose had done already to make it comfortable (see cover photo). We helped out a little by doing a few jobs and supplying one or two extras and had a really good stay.

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Now we’re looking forward to going back in the Spring when hopefully the weather will be better and we can get out on the Coastal Trail and see the flowers.

It was an action packed trip and the following photos may give a feeling for some of things we got up to.

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The baby (Lila) is the first grand-daughter of our good friend Jane. She was born a week before Christmas and Chloe and Felipe could hardly have produced a better present for Grandma!

Conversation flowed with friends and family, although two topics tended to dominate – Brexit and Trump! Perhaps fortunately, we can’t do anything about either but we found few folk in the south-east who seemed enthused or excited about either. From a purely personal perspective, it is an anxious time for those of us who spend considerable amounts of time in Europe, where we expected to be able to come and go as we pleased without fear of visa restrictions or red-tape. Having just listened to the PM talking about ‘controlled rights’ for both EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, I feel no less anxious. We can however only sit back and enjoy the next two years and see how the dice fall. No point worrying! 2016 was the year when I was ‘Mr Positive’ after all. You can ask Sheila what I am for 2017!

On a lighter note, we discovered Uber taxis while we were in London. I know that they are not universally popular but as someone who rarely uses taxis whether in London or elsewhere (mainly because of cost), we were delighted to find out how cheap they were. For example, our journey back to James’ flat on Christmas evening cost only £20 for the three or four mile trip (which by the way we had walked in the morning due to the absence of public transport). Apparently Uber makes a loss and the drivers do not get paid a lot BUT in my view the black cabs drivers shouldn’t complain about loss of business because they only have themselves to blame for being so expensive. And Uber is so easy. Free ad over!

img_20170117_165224We returned to Crete to very cold weather. The previous weekend there had been snow in the village which is unusual and there was decidedly more than a nip in the air when we walked to the car at Heraklion Airport. The car started first time however but the house seemed like the inside of a fridge. It took a couple of days with the wood stove running at full tilt and the aircon working in reverse before we warmed up. Oddly, we were never so cold in the UK! However, out came the ‘long johns’ and the fleecy trousers and all was well.

Previous to the snow, they had had driving rain and storms in Crete but the house was dry when we returned so no problems there and the water will be a relief to the farmers, who were getting worried that it might be another winter without rain.

img_20170113_143727That said, now the weather here is better with blue skies and a feel of Spring in the air. My first bike ride revealed the first Spring flowers and a good crop of red peppers

img_20170117_143959and a walk later in the week gave an even better display (see below).

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So, whilst it would be premature to think that Spring is just around the corner (the woodpile is still going down alarmingly quickly – see photo below), there is

some hope that any January blues will soon be dispelled and normal service here can be resumed.

No specific New Year’s resolutions this time around but we both feel the need to get more involved in what is going on here. There are supposed to be a number of refugees being re-settled in Crete so we thought we might try to find out if there are any organisations involved in this work, where we could lend a hand. Feelers are being put out accordingly.

Sheila started back at her regular weekly tennis session over at Mochlos. The new (and very expensive racket) was in action for the first time. She is too modest to admit that there was any huge improvement but seemed quietly pleased with her performance!

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Greek lessons have re-started, although poor Manolis, our teacher, has just checked in sick so no lesson tomorrow. We intend to make a big effort in the next six months to get off the plateau where we both feel anchored at present. We don’t however have any firm plans about how to achieve this, except hard work and trying to use our Greek at every opportunity. It is coming along but so slowly – σιγά, σιγά.

Last night we went to the cinema in ierapetra. The ‘Premier’ has recently been re-opened after renovation and they were showing ‘La La Land’ in English with Greek sub-titles. It was a really good film and the sub-titles were well done too. We know that because we could read them! Now we just need to persuade the operator to have Tuesday lunchtime movies with soup and a roll at half price! I could become a regular.

We came back intent on taking forward plans for a new kitchen but on reflection, financial concerns relating to the fall in the value of the £ against the € have made us have second thoughts. So in a small way Brexit has hit home here already and our British friends are beginning to show some concern. Falling incomes brought about by the falling pound (down by over 20% since last June) with perhaps more to come must be causing anxiety in British ex-pat circles all over the EU. All those Brexiteers might wish to reflect on this before they book their next foreign holiday. It’s going to cost you all a whole lot lot more and you may also have to look after a lot of elderly folk who can’t continue to live abroad!

Finally, it was my name day while we were away, so Maria, our favourite neighbour made me a cake to celebrate and it tasted as fine as it looks!

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John