Broiling and filthy

While we are awaiting a major heatwave in Greece, we are surrounded by piles of rubbish, since garbage collectors have decided to go on strike. In fact, they have been on strike for some time and, following days of protests, rallies, occupation of public car parks and camping outside city halls, yesterday they voted to carry on, unhappy with the terms of their employment. The government, as usual, is dithering, wavering between the country’s needs and the demands from the Troika, while every decision taken is delayed by the usual bureaucratic tape.

As neighborhoods are being asphyxiated by piles of bin bags, some cities – such as Thessaloniki, which boasts a very active mayor – are looking to hire private firms to do the job, something which is not looked upon kindly by the syndicates. The impact on tourism is incalculable.

A street in the town of Tripoli (source: Google)

Meanwhile, citizens already suffering from heatstroke and inhalation of toxic fumes are to be dealt another major blow: taxes for employees, farmers, pensioners and the self-employed are due another whopping rise, since they will now be calculated in a different, ‘new’ way. Speaking of which, the government has taken to inventing creatively named ways of fleecing the population – such as the ‘claw-back’ and the ‘solidarity tax’. I leave it to your imagination to make out their meaning.

This is the result of demands for more and more money from our lenders, which will go to paying back what we owe. But the well is running dry, and the economy, instead of being revived, is being driven underground. I know a lot of people who already use barter – the dentist putting fillings in the plumber’s teeth in return for having the shower fixed, and so on. Back to basics, I suppose…

Meteora Greece

I know I’ve written about the Meteora before (https://athensletters.com/2015/10/31/road-trip-to-meteora/) but I find this place magical, and enjoyed reading a post on the blog Kritsa, at the heart of it all, written by Yvonne, who shares her time between the U.K. and Crete. Take a look, it might inspire you to visit!

Kritsa, at the heart of it all

In early May we set off on a road trip around central Greece…what an adventure.

RICOH IMAGING

We drove aboard the overnight Minoan car ferry from Heraklion, Crete to Pireaus, the main port near Athens. Bright and early next morning  found us zooming up the excellent motorway on a four hour trip to odd peaks named Meteora. Our aim was to see the monasteries that ‘balance’ between heaven and earth.  For the Greek Orthodox faith, this Holy area is second only to Mount Athos.

After checking in to the Kastraki Hotel for two nights ‘Wow’ was a common term.

I’d pre booked asunset tour and it proved to be an excellent way to see many of the monasteries perched atop the peaks.  Hard to believe the top of the rocky towers were once the bottom of a lake. Close up you can see they’re an aggregate of mud and rocks.

RICOH IMAGINGRICOH IMAGINGRICOH IMAGINGDay Two – Meteora Hike

After a breakfast we set…

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Nice art – pity about the venue

There is plenty of art on show in Athens these days. As well as the Documenta project, which is spread all over town, from May 26 to 28 there was also Art Athina, a three-day fair open to the public.
Fifty eight galleries, mostly from Greece but quite a few from abroad (Paris, Istambul, Vienna, Zurich, and even as far away as Dubai, Australia and Mexico) offered modern art for sale in a wide range of prices.

 

Art Athina venue: the Olympic Tae Kwon Do stadium (photo from Google)

 

The fair was held at the Tae Kwon Do Stadium in Faliro, on the coast not far from the center of Athens, a venue built especially for the 2004 Athens Olympics. It is a modern and spacious structure benefiting from a wonderful location next to a marina full of yachts. Nowadays it is used for various purposes, such as concerts, and even provided shelter to refugees at the worst of the crisis.

Inside, the galleries had set up their booths, and it was fun wandering around looking at the art on offer.

The view from the top floor

 

Sadly, I was extremely dismayed, if not disgusted, by the state of the building’s interior. I decided not to post any photos, thinking it too depressing. But I was aghast at  the unpainted, stained walls, the dirty floor, the missing or broken fixtures… I don’t understand how some funds could not be raised to at least freshen it up a little.

 

Whimsical pen and ink drawing by Greek artist Leonidas Giannakopoulos

 

The whole issue of the Olympic venues is shameful. Most have been left to rot – and when I think of what Greek taxpayers forked out for them (they were grossly overpriced) it makes me grind my teeth. What’s more, the labyrinthine governmental system means that any attempt at exploiting them is resisted. Apparently the National Shooting Federation wanted to take on the Olympic Shooting complex and keep it functioning and upkept, but their offer was refused. The racetrack and equestrian centre have become totally decrepit, despite racing being a potentially profitable business. Etc, etc. – and we are talking about state-of-the-art, modern installations that could benefit Greek athletes who usually have to train in less than ideal conditions. It beggars belief.

 

Another by the same artist, called Sky Adventures

 

I can only console myself with the thought that, thanks to the Olympics, we have at least got a new, very functional airport, a good subway and a much improved road system. These had been planned for over twenty years (!) but had never materialized and would not have been finished but for the games. Part of the problem being that, wherever you dig, you find antiquities, and work has to stop until the Archaeological Society decrees what is to be done. A couple of museums were filled with what was found on these sites – but that is another story!

 

Outside, a band was tuning up for one of the performances on offer

 

If you are interested in more detail about Art Athina, pop over to the Art in Athens blog, there is a very interesting article here.

 

An altered book by a Greek artist whose name, unfortunately, I did not note. I loved his work, though

 

Medical tourism

There were storks strolling on the runway as my plane taxied to the terminal in the airport of Kavala, a town in Northern Greece to which I flew in order to catch the ferry to the lovely island of Thasos.

Seagulls accompanied the boat on the 35-minute crossing, and a gaggle of kids on a school outing ran around screeching, while I had my coffee sitting in the sunshine.

 

Arriving in Thasos

 

I came here to visit my doctor, Athina Mavromati (she was one of my Q&A subjects, read about her here) who, with her husband, decided to quit the rat race and move to this lovely spot. They took their sailing boat and their dog, and have never looked back. Athina’s family come from this island, so it was an obvious choice.

 

 

This is the picturesque old port.  Under a huge, ancient plane tree, a fisherman was mending his nets.

 

 

The island is large and green, with pine, olive and plane trees coming all the way down to the crystal clear sea. The beaches are of fine, white sand.

 

 

It was a good time of the year to come, since the season has only just started, so it was not too busy – and also not too hot yet, although the weather was beautiful. However, there were plenty of tourists already, most of them Russian.

This tiny island looked like something in a Japanese painting

 

There is one street with ‘tourist-trap’ shops selling local produce such as honey, olives and oil, sponges; as well as clothes, straw hats, and hideous articrafts made of sea-shells. The rest of the town is quiet and full of cafés and little restaurants – there’s even a shop selling frozen Greek yogurt!

Greek salad and stuffed vine leaves at a shady spot in town

There are many places to visit along the road going all around the island – lovely monasteries, and ancients ruins scattered everywhere, since Thasos was famous for its white marble and olive oil and thrived both in Ancient Greek and Roman times. There are also lovely little mountain villages and hiking trails in the forest. All this was explained to me by Athina and Yannis, who very kindly took me out to eat in a little taverna by the sea, where we had the most amazing fish, accompanied by various local delicacies. Unfortunately, I did not have much time, so I only managed to swim in the sea. But I will definitely be back!

 

 

New Q&A – The food blogger

Eleni Vonissakou’s blog, The Foodie Corner, is full of delicious recipes and mouth-watering photographs (she’s a girl of many talents!). In both English and Greek. Plus our dogs are friends and we organize play-dates. So,  how could I resist introducing her to all of you. Do go on her blog and be tempted!  http://www.thefoodiecorner.gr/en/

Tell us a little about yourself

Hmm, where to start. Well, my mum is English and my dad is Greek, I grew up in Athens, studied in northern England and now live just outside Athens near the sea. I studied social work but caught the tourism bug early on, so that’s the industry I worked in for the first part of my professional life. I have now made a complete change and managed to turn my love of food and cooking into a job. I am a full time food blogger, creating recipes, cooking, taking photos and publishing everything on my blog. And then eating it all. I live with my partner and our golden retriever Westley, who takes up most of my limited free time! I love reading about dog training and other canine science articles, and always have a crime novel at my bedside (the only way to switch my brain off).

 

 

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

The most challenging experience was going from a very structured, office working environment in a huge organisation, and living in the city, to starting my own business, working from home and living in a small seaside town. That all happened at once, and it was a bit of a shock to the system!

Did anyone in particular inspire you or help you?

I had a lot of support from my partner, and still do. In Greece when you start a business there is no financial help from banks etc (it is super difficult to get funding or loans, especially nowadays and especially for something as weird as food blogging) so I had both practical help and of course moral support from him. In fact it was his idea for me to start blogging professionally. Until then it was just a hobby and I had never dreamed it could be more than that. My mum has also been there every step of the way, and she’s the first phone call when a recipe is not working out!

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

I hope to continue with successful collaborations with large brands from the food industry, but I also hope to build the other aspects of my business, like for example the food photography side of things which I really love. I recently organised a food photography workshop on Crete, and this is something I would definitely enjoy doing again since it combines my current work with my background in tourism and event planning.

 

 

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope to see happen?

Oh goodness, there is so much I would like to see change here. First of all, the all-round unfairness. Too many people get away with things they shouldn’t. And too many others put up with things they shouldn’t have to. I would love to see procedures work like they are supposed to, in all sectors. And most of all, I would like to see an attitude change in the people of this country. To put it plainly (and sorry for the bleakness) I am hoping for less selfishness in the generations to come. It’s not looking good though.

Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why?

I consider it every single day. When I am out walking in the street with my dog and I have to battle the rubbish out of his jaws (golden retrievers will eat anything and everything), when I am driving and have to keep calm with all the inconsiderate and dangerous drivers around me, when my accountant tells me just how much tax I have to pay now, on invoices for which I myself will receive payment in 4 months if I am lucky. The easiest choice would be to move to the UK, since I have family there and have lived there in the past. I would also consider Germany or Holland, even though I don’t really know what life is like in those countries. To be honest, I just want somewhere with nice clean parks where Westley can roam happily and safely! But it’s not an easy decision to up and leave.

If you have already decided to leave what would make you stay?

I think if I got to the point where I’ve said “I’m going”, nothing would make me stay. Unless for some reason I couldn’t take Westley. That would be different.

 

 

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

The things that bother me are very deeply rooted in the mentality of this country, and that makes one feel very helpless. I can’t even imagine what I could do to help change things. As for the general state of the country, the fact that I haven’t moved my business out of it, and I don’t cheat on my taxes (which is sooo tempting) must count for something. In terms of supporting those more unfortunate than myself, I am a founding member of a team of food bloggers who have raised considerable amounts of money for charity through events. We cook yummy food and people pay a nominal fee to come and enjoy it with us. We haven’t been active for a while since our everyday lives have got in the way, but I really want to do another event soon. I might get onto that actually, thanks for the reminder!

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

Truthfully? Exactly the same as it is now. With less young scientists and professionals, since they will have all moved away.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?

Mostly I rant in group internet chats with my friends! I live too far to just pop over to any of them for a coffee, which is what I would like to be able to do. If my partner is home early enough from work we go to our local café by the sea and talk about stuff. Otherwise, I try to take Westley to his favourite park (one of the very few decent ones in Athens), where he can run free and I can feel happy with his happiness. Oh and ice cream.

 

 

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

This is a difficult question and depends on the day you ask it. As you will have surmised from all the above, things are looking bleak these days. I will try and find a bright side. A recent amazing experience was my food photography workshop. We held it at Milia, (www.milia.gr) a retreat hidden away in the mountains of Chania on Crete. Stone buildings lovingly restored by the two owners, solar electricity with limited availability (no charging phones in the rooms!), good local food with home grown veggies and herbs, fantastic people. And our group was a mix of talented people from Europe, the US and Canada. I was proud to show off the amazing landscapes and beautiful beaches, the gorgeous meals, and the hospitality of the local team. We also put together some fabulous goodie bags, with good quality products made here by young entrepreneurs with great taste. It felt good to see how much we have to offer. Then I had to come back to reality.

The upside

On Saturday, just two days after the ‘monsoon’, the day dawned bright and beautiful. Fishing boats bobbed about in the port of Rafina, near Athens,

 

 

overlooked by a picturesque chapel, white against a pure blue sky.

 

 

Motor boats and yatchs waited for their owners to take them out.

 

 

A short boat ride away is the large and beautiful island of Euboea. Euboea (or Evia, as we call it), is the second largest island in area and population in Greece, after Crete, and separated from the mainland by the narrow Euripus straight. It has stunning mountains as well as lovely beaches.

 

 

Here we indulged in a freezing but invigorating swim in the turquoise waters.

 

 

Then lunch in a nearby taverna called Platanos,

 

Where the tables were set under the plane trees.

 

 

The owner had caught this fish (a type of grouper) himself that very morning. He’s a keen fisherman and regaled us with the story of his other catch, which weighed 14 kilos! Ours was preceded by his deliciously crispy cheese pies, salad with tomatoes and feta cheese, was accompanied by hand-cut fries, and followed by yoghurt drizzled with honey.

 

 

The port of Rafina is around 30′ from the centre of Athens. For the boatless, there is a regular ferry-boat and this taverna, remote as it looks on the photos, is a few minutes away from landing.

An easily accessible day out and one of many such options for escape from Athens. It beats being downtown where two out of every three shops are shut. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why we can bear to stick it out.  (Sigh…)

 

 

Pieces in the Mosaic

I’m a great fan of nature and animals, and today is International Endangered Species Day. Well, I didn’t know that, but it seems a lot more worthy than International Cupcake Day, or some of the other Days we are bombarded with. So, having come upon this very interesting article I decided to share. As an added bonus, it is illustrated with some beautiful mosaics, something else I’m partial to. Enjoy!

champagnewhisky

Over the past few decades, we’ve grown used to campaigns imploring us to save one animal or another. Usually the photogenic or impressive species. Save The Whale, Save The Panda, and so on. Shortly after the United States’ Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, a case came along about a modest creature, the Tennessee snail darter. In keeping with its unprepossessing name, this innocuous little member of the perch family became famous for getting in the way of a construction project, the Tellico Dam.

The snail darter wasn’t considered glorious enough, in and of itself, to be a contender for ‘Save The’ status. And if the Endangered Species Act had been passed unanimously in the Senate and 390-12 in the House of Representatives, the snail darter showed the limits of congressional commitment. There were those who correctly saw that the movement to save the snail darter was not…

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