Week 70

18th April, 2010

The last leg of our journey. Get up at 6.00 am in our room in Hotel Patras Palace. Go down and settle our bill with two exhausted individuals who are obviously coming to the end of the overnight stewardship on the desk. We take our bags out to the car and then go back into the hotel to the top floor restaurant, totally glass-fronted overlooking the bay of Patras and all the ins and outs of sea traffic. We help ourselves to a hearty breakfast from the buffet tables – fresh orange juice, smoked bacon, scrambled & fried eggs, sausages, warm, crusty bread and deliciously smooth fresh coffee. To make sure that we don’t go hungry during our travels, we finish with croissants and apricot jam. All this at 7.00 am. Hard, I know, but necessary.

We drive out of the hotel’s courtyard at 7.45 am and set off to drive the 230 km from Patras on the Peloponnese to the port of Piraeus on the southern tip of the mainland. This road is known as the Attica Highway. The Greeks call it a motorway. It is the most dangerous stretch of road in Greece. If you drove it, you would soon know why. It consists of three lanes – one going each way and one that both ways fight for all the time. You can imagine the number of head-on crashes that occur. Not only that , if you try to drive at motorway speeds – 80 -120 mph, you suddenly come across a bend hidden by cypress trees that is so acute it makes your teeth rattle as you decelerate. As it is the main Attica Highway, it is full of heavy lorries. The shared, middle lane is the only way round them.

Of course, if you live through this first ordeal, there are greater things to achieve later on. From the Attica Highway one drives through the centre of Athens itself – a city where the phrases , Stop at the traffic lights and Oh no, after you Claude have never been heard. If you let someone get ahead of you, they think you are homosexual. If you stop to allow someone to cross the road, you are homosexual. And if you survive the virility test of central Athens, you descend into the Dantesque world of Piraeus where traffic lights are mere Easter decorations and left turns are death wishes

On a weekday afternoon, which is when we have normally driven this route, it takes a minimum of three hours to cover the distance. Sunday morning at 7.45 am, it took just 2.15 hours. Our hydrofoil left at 12.00 noon in boiling, hot sun. The crossing was swift and calm. We only made one stop – at Serifos – and we arrived on Sifnos by 3.15 pm. The house was decked out with wild spring flowers. They were everywhere. We lugged our luggage up the stone steps to the front door and collapsed, exhausted. It doesn’t seem to matter how enjoyable the journey, it is always exhausting.
We opened all the shutters – twenty pairs – and opened the windows, pulling down the insect nets, to allow the house to breathe the fresh mountain air after six months shut up. We put on the underfloor heating  in case there was any damp. The temperature was 26⁰C and, by the time we had unpacked the car, slotted the last bottle of the 130 I managed to fit in. I know that is not quite one a day but I am supposed to be cutting down and we will go out to eat at times so I think we will manage.


19th April, 2010

Heavy rain in the night but we woke up to a beautifully hot and sunny day. We went out to buy provisions from the supermarket (I will show you this at another time.) and to call at the Post Office to see if our parcels had arrived. Unbelievably, it spite of the flying problems, they had. We got back to the house to find that Stavros had employed a day labourer, a young Romanian called Akis to do general menial work for us round the house and grounds. It was fortunate because he was on hand to carry the boxes up to the house. We largely spent the rest of the day unpacking and putting things away. High on the list of priorities for me was phoning Nova – the Greek equivalent of Sky – and having our satellite service switched back on. At the same time, I unpacked the flat screen television we had so carefully carried across Europe and installed it. It was lucky I did because I was just in time to watch a re-run of Arsenal losing in the 94th minute to Wigan. I did laugh!


While I was watching that, Pauline did the cleaning. Seemed a fair division of labour. I am, after all, a new man. We have quite a number of lemons on our trees this year. We picked a few for the fruit bowl. You may see clues that the peaches and bananas were not from our garden


20th April, 2010

Thick, black cloud over the mountains around our house this morning when we got up at 7.00 am. By 10.00 am, it was hot and sunny and smelled so fresh you might eat it. Unfortunately, I am on a diet and I had to make do with a couple of cups of tea. We drink a Breakfast Tea mix first thing in the morning and an Assam during the rest of the day. We used to send for it especially from Whittards in Manchester but found Sainsburys sell an even better one. One of the calculations before coming away  was how much tea we would drink in six months. This is a vital assessment which, if underestimated, would reduce us to drinking those terrible yellow-packeted Liptons Teas. Tea  was one of the essential items that arrived in the boxes in the post.

In spite of fridges and freezers, it is customary on the island to go shopping for food every day. In England, we would shop once a week at Sainsburys, spending £100.00 – £150.00 and buying most things that we need during the week. The only thing we don’t buy is wine.  For two reasons, a Greek island and, possibly, the Mediterranean climate dictate different patterns. Quite a bit of the produce is locally grown. Everything that can’t be sourced on the island has to be brought in by sea – greatly adding to its cost. The weather means that fresh fruit and vegetables go off amazingly quickly. We might store potatoes and onions in Veg. Baskets in our kitchen at home and they will last at least a weak- probably two. Here they will be almost inedible in three days. The island location means that container lorries travel constantly between the island and Athens in order to supply the shops. Canny islanders know the days of the month when fresh chicken will be abundant on the shelves and when not to touch it because it has been there too long. In general, we all go shopping every day and buy what is freshest and available at the time – almost like the 1950s in Britain!

That is a long preamble to saying that we went shopping to the Supermarket yesterday, we went again today to buy fresh chicken, chicken liver, plaice, king prawns, smoked bacon, orange peppers, and lots of fresh fruit. We will almost certainly go again tomorrow.

21st April, 2010

I’ve been drinking wine since the early 1970s. Almost from that point I’ve drunk at least half a bottle each evening with a meal. One of my early memories of Greece in the early 1980s was of a delightful, lemony white wine – a staple of the Greek wine industry – called Demestika. It was so cheap, even impoverished young travellers like Pauline & I could afford it. It was certainly cheaper than anything we could buy at home. Most of my early Greek experiences are filtered through a pile of squid and chips and a bottle or two of Demestika.


I have not bought a bottle of wine in a British supermarket for over fifteen years. We have tended to make twice yearly pilgrimages to the holy grail of Carrefour in France to buy our wine there. We have never run dry. Because of this, I had lost touch with UK prices until recent price wars amongst supermarket chains brought  flagged up wines Half Price at just £4.99! hey might be worth looking at – £10.00 wines for half price. When I looked, they were the very wines I have been buying for €4.00 in France and Italy. And then the Chancellor slaps even more duty on these imports from a ‘Common Market’. It is a nonsense. Well Greek wines have improved a little since the days of rot-gut Retsina but the average price of a bottle of wine on the island is €7.00. Living on a Greek Island is an expensive business nowadays – even for Greeks. Thank goodness I brought my own wine cellar with me from Europe

22nd April, 2010

From the start of the day it has been beautiful – a cloud-free day reaching  temperature of 25⁰C.  I have been very lazy. After watching the morning news show on Greek  Skai TV, I took my coffee out on to the veranda and read my latest book,  Modern Greece by CM Woodhouse. It is not what you would call a riveting read. I don’t lean over and say to Pauline, Hey you’ve got to hear this! It does help me understand a lot about the country I am living in and its people.  CM Woodhouse’s Modern Greece starts in 324 AD so newsworthy it is not. It has helped me understand much more quickly why the Greeks have always tended towards Russia rather than America, towards the eastern, Slav states rather than western countries such as France and Britain. Essentially Greeks are Slavonic in origin.

Although present day Greece is showing real signs of disassociating Orthodox Christianity from the body politic, it is still highly visible throughout society as it was in Britain even in the first half of the last century and still appears to be in Southern Ireland today. As societies become increasingly sophisticated and post-industrial, as the common people become increasingly, if relatively, wealthy, so their need for salvation diminishes and they tend to become far more sceptical of organised religion. For current day Greeks just as for Roman Catholics, the carapace of religious authority has been severely cracked by scandals which previous generations would have acquiesced in covering up or explaining away. For the Catholics, it is paedophilia and for the Greek Orthodox it is financial scandal. Just as in the Catholic Church where the older generation of believers have invested far too many years of their lives genuflecting to the pope to accept it was based on immoral nonsense now so the old Greek ladies, veiled in black still fawn before a priest cross themselves and close their ears to court cases involving drug running and money laundering. After all, it’s nothing that confession and prayer can’t put right. It’s only a few bad apples anyway.

To change the subject, I was in the internet cafe last night and Pauline had just phoned her Mum on  Skype when a message popped up to say Ruth was on-line as well. I video phoned her and was soon in Ruth’s house looking at her and Kevan leaning over her shoulder.  I got to hear some family gossip like Bob & Jane were still stuck in Madeira five days after they were supposed to have flown home. Somehow, ‘stuck’ and ‘in Madeira’ don’t seem to go together but I’m sure Jane was desperate to get back to school. I got to hear that David & his Mum were in Ireland but that Jane (1) was struggling to join them on Wednesday. In years gone by, we would be flying from Athens to Manchester at just the time of the flight closures. I have to say, an extra five days wouldn’t have gone amiss. Ruth also told me that one of her little hooligans had broken his arm in three places at Play School or somewhere like that. That’s how a childhood should start – plenty of breakages can be really character forming. I had seven broken arms before I left school. Nice to see he is keeping up the family tradition. I challenge him to beat my record!

23rd April, 2010

We are into new territory in Greece. We have never been here this late in the Spring before and didn’t realise how hot it could be. It has been quite ferocious today. Usually, we have come for Easter when all the Spring flowers are out and there is no bare earth visible and then returned in July when there are no flowers visible and all is bare earth. The sun has burnt everything off. Well now Spring flowers are still in abundance but are beginning to wilt. Some the nice bushes which have been obscured by rampant wild growth are beginning to come in to their own. The Callistemon, for example, is looking glorious. We have one in front of our bedroom and another on the front drive. In UK they are known as Callistemon or Bottle Brush because that is what they have – flowers that look like bottle brushes. Callistemon derives from the Greek – Calli (Good or beautiful) stemon (stamen).

callistemon_2.jpg callistemon.jpg

The little Yucatan Palm is growing away beautifully now.


24th April, 2010

We went out shopping early this morning under lightly clouded skies. The temperature at 9.00 am was 25⁰C.  

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