Monday, September 21, 2009

Farewell Limnos 2009

And so, the end is near. Tomorrow we fly out of Limnos. But the end of our holiday isn't marred with the usual sadness and disappointment that our time here was too short. Instead, we feel totally relaxed and content that we've had enough time to really get to know this little island called Limnos. Four weeks might sound like a long time to be spending in the one place for an overseas holiday, but it allows you to embrace the lifestyle of that place, and this is exactly what Tony and I have done. We might have gained a few kilos in the process, but we've also gained some wonderful memories that will be with us forever.

Since I last wrote, we have really made the most of our remaining days. We took the moped on two marathon rides across the island (which nearly killed the poor thing). The first ride started with a visit to Dad's friend Kostas who lives in an arched-windowed house that he built himself in the village of Kornos. He built the house entirely from rocks found on his small block of land, some of which have imprints of fossilised giant centipedes and pieces of beehive. We then rode to Moudros for lunch, and on to Fanaraki beach. It was a three-hour round trip which was a valiant effort by the moped, and an even more commendable effort by our sore bums!

The second ride took place yesterday and what intended on being a three-village adventure, ended up being a one-village exercise on "how to go for a walk and not be able to find your moped again". After about two hours exploring every possible corner and laneway of Kontias (and taking about 200 photographs), Tony came up with the brilliant idea of going back through all the photos and tracing our steps back to where we started. Thank god for digital cameras!

We've also been partaking in some domestic and handyman duties around the house and garden, including firing up the furno to cook some fabulous calzones and pizzas, the completion of my art deco coffee table restoration, and more substantially, Tony's contribution to the construction of a new roof for the outdoor laundry. This morning with Dad and Anesti, the three of them erected the framework for the roof and after we leave they will begin tiling. In the meantime, Dad has also found time to make a wooden table lamp (not the edible kind), a bookshelf and two wall-mounted chandeliers.

This morning I planned to do all my souvenir shopping, including all the gifts I intended on buying for friends and family, but I'd forgotten that in Limnos the shops are closed on Mondays. Hmm... might have to resort to the trashy airport souvenirs. Sorry everyone..

Well this is it. The end of the holiday. And the end of the blog. It's really nice to know so many of you have been enjoying reading about someone else's fun in the sun. Tony wanted to write more but he was hit with the fun in the sun bug very early in the piece and couldn't drag himself indoors for more than a few minutes at a time, and only when he absolutely had to get a beer from the fridge. But since it's his last chance to write something, he's here with me now to add to this final entry, so I'll hand the keyboard over to him.. but from me, it's Andio! - Lisa xx

Well as the holiday draws to a close, I would like to take this oportunity to share with you some of my observations about life in Limnos, just in case you ever find yourself here.

Firstly, traffic rules... there are none! Parking rules are the same as traffic rules, as long as you put your hazard lights on. This will allow you to stop your vehicle virtually anywhere. You could park your car diagonally, blocking both sides of the road, and as long as you put your hazard lights on, people will automatically drive around, over or under your car without making a fuss.

Helmet laws for motorbikes: It appears that the object of a helmet in Greece is more like an elbow bracelet than headwear. You must under NO circumstances place it on your head!!!. You can carry it under your arm, hanging from the handle bar of the bike, on the floor section, etc, so long as you do not accidentally wear it (not sure what the consequences are, but did not want to take the risk).

Roundabouts: Again, there seems to be no pattern as to how to navigate a roundabout in Limnos. After much observation, I have concluded that there are two ways. (a) drive though with your eyes shut, hoping for the best, (b) wait for 5 minutes until there is not a car/moped/ag-bike/donkey/bus/army truck in site, and then go through (the direction you traverse the roundabout also appears to be optional).

Well Tony's just disappeared again for more fun in the sun so I'll say farewell for both of us, and finish the blog with one more burst of photos, and we'll see you all soon!

Lost in Kontias.

Sanding the table.

Firing up the furno.

Kostas' arched-windowed house in Kornos.

Lunch at Moudros.

Laundry roof frame.

Anesti - strong little man.

Makings of a non-edible lamp.

Lamp delicacies - the edible kind.

Turkeys going for a Sunday drive.

Our beach.

And our cats, Giorgios and Katarina.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Moped and boat adventures

Hello again and great to hear so many of you are enjoying the blog! The last few days have been adventure-packed so there's lots to tell, including our long-awaited boat trip on the island's traditional Greek caique which FINALLY went ahead today (after three cancellations).

But first, I will go back to the weekend just gone. Saturday it rained some more but by Sunday the sun had made a welcome reappearance (along with hair's best friends: steam and humidity). Sunday is dad's day off (or more like, the day he is forced away from his workshop) so we all went down to bronze Maroulla's resting place, Kotsinas, for lunch at one of the seaside tavernas. Surrounded by endless blue sea and blue sky, feeding bread to the frenzied fish while we fed ourselves with plates of grilled vegetables, dips, sardines and salads. What more could you want from life?

The following day the sun was still shining so we thought it was time to fire up the moped again after a few days' rest, and to give the beast a real shock to the system we thought we'd bring it back to life with a gruelling and almost vertical assault up the radio transmitter mountain of Limnos on the most unmade road imaginable. And I'm not talking about a gravel road. This was a boulder road. Yes, on the 50cc moped. As you can imagine, at 8km an hour it's hard to stay upright on a moped. Particularly if you are constantly avoiding fallen (and falling) rocks on the "road". And. We were running out of petrol. I'm fairly sure the views from the top almost matched those of Santorini but we were too concerned about getting back home safely to appreciate the scenery around us. We made it back with a drop of petrol left in the tank and some whiplash, but gave the little Super Sports a really good pat on the back. We filled the tank again and took a trip to the nearby village of Kaspakas where I spotted my first black-clothed old lady! The old black-clothed ladies are in scarce supply now, it seems the tradition is not so prevalent these days, to mourn the loss of your husband in this way.

On Tuesday Tony W took us to one of the archaeological sites on the central North coast of the island, where an Italian archaeological team is restoring the ancient amphitheatre of Ifestia. We also visited the remains of the Temple of Kaviria perched high on a hill overlooking the opalesque waters below, where lies a cave that, according to mythology, housed Greek archer "Philoktitis" for ten years whilst his serpent-bitten leg healed. Also down below are some amazing rock formations which looked like petrified lava. The whole area was a photographic haven for me, and again, I can't emphasise how beautiful the yellows and olive greens of the landscape contrast with the deep blues of the sea and sky. It's totally surreal.

Despina's cousin told us about a secret beach where an ancient cemetery lies beneath the sea (the locals say you can see gravestones under the water) which can only be accessed by a scary, rocky road (almost of the boulder transmitter mountain calibre). Whilst we didn't spot any gravestones, we did find some small slabs of ancient marble and pieces of ancient pots. Tony W even found a piece of stone with what looked like a scripture section carved into it.

After all the rain of previous days, the unmade roads to the sites were still a little sludgey, which presented us with a few interesting incidents along the way like the enormous pig and her three piglets appearing out of nowhere, and plonking themselves into a mud puddle on the side of the road for a bit of a roll-around. Then down the road a little, a tortoise wading around in a large pothole filled with water in the middle of the road. It was at this stage when I realised I'd left my bag at the amphitheatre. Another scary, rocky drive back to the amphitheatre, and amazingly, the bag was still there. Last time I was in Limnos I left my camera bag with both camera and video in the supermarket, and within a minute it was gone. I thought I was going to have the same nightmare all over again.

So. The boat trip. FINALLY today, the boat trip around the north-west coast of the island went ahead. They finally had the numbers. They finally had the weather. So nothing was going to stop this boat trip that we'd been waiting for three weeks to happen. The seas were calm, the sun was beaming, the group of English tourists we shared the trip with were friendly, and the captain and his very dominating female assistant provided us with some rather hillarious entertainment. She kept screaming at him in Greek, telling him how to steer the boat, her voice echoing off all the cliff faces around us, and he would just roll his eyes and give us a look that we all knew meant "See why I no take this boat on trip? See crazy woman I have to put up with??"

We cruised all the way to the north-western tip of the island where mountain goats clung to 180-degree cliff faces. How the hell do they DO that??!! I was sure they were nailed there. We stopped at a secluded beach for an hour or so then back on the boat for a gigantic vegetarian feast (to my most pleasant surprise!!). But the highlight of the trip was seeing a dolphin swimming at the bow of the boat. It was only there for a minute or so, then dove out of the water in a spectacular arch and swam away. It was an incredible and unexpected sight, and damn it, a missed photo opportunity!

Well we have less than a week left but we plan to make the most of every single day that remains, starting with tomorrow when we fire up Dad's restored "furno". This is an old, outdoor, dome-shaped, wood-fired oven made of stone that was nothing but rubble not so long ago, and together with Anesti and local stonemason Marcos, they rebuilt the furno back to its original state - a rarity in Limnian homes these days. Tomorrow will be the first official firing of the furno and we plan to cook pizzas. Later in the day we'll take the moped to one of the lakes on the island, but in the meantime, it's photo time..

The "Great Ocean Road" of Limnos.

Garden in Kaspakas.

Sighting of black-clothed old lady in Kaspakas.
Rooftops of Kaspakas.
Amphitheatre of Ifestia.
Rock formations at Kaviria.
Tortoise taking a bath.
Our traditional Greek caique.

Cruising along.
Best friends for the day.

And one for Leopoldina.
Sorry. Another cat photo.

Until next time!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Raining cats and dogs

As we pass the half-way mark of our Limnian tale, the weather has taken a strange turn. We experienced a deluge of rain on Tuesday (the locals say it was more rain in one day than Limnos received during the whole of last winter - something like 10 inches), but today we have received another enormous deluge of rain, equal to the volume of Tuesday's rain.

The Greek news (the Greek National Exaggeration News) reported that Turkey has encountered its worst floods in 800 years (do their weather records go that far back?) (do they keep weather records at all? ... A few years ago dad needed to get a copy of his birth certificate from the Greek births and deaths registery only to find they had no record of him ever existing. Do you really think neighbouring Turkey would have 800-year-old meteorological records?)

So it's raining Greek cats and dogs today and all we can do is retreat indoors with woodwork and cooking projects, and to shake things up a bit we thought we'd have a bit of a role-reversal day - ladies in the workshop, gentlemen in the kitchen. Julia is staining a bookshelf dad made, and I'm sanding down an art-deco coffee table, while dad and Tony are preparing a lunch of baked salmon, roast potatoes and cauliflower, and reheating a beautiful stew of chickpeas, onion and tomato that Veta brought over... Right now I can hear the grocery man on his megaphone, slowly driving around the streets of Myrina in his van as he does every day at this time, loaded with potatoes, prawns, eggplants and tomatoes, his own mobile market, like the icecream man but without the wind-up music, just his monotone voice over the megaphone "patatez, yarithez, melitzanez, domatez..."

On Wednesday it was my birthday and the four of us went out for dinner with Tony and Despina at a charmingly traditional Greek taverna in the village of Sardes. The walls were adorned with farming implements and cooking utensils of a bygone era, as well as black and white photos of many of these objects in actual use - the bygone era being not so very long ago at all. We had the usual feast of way too many plates on the table but still managed to consume every bit of it.

Yesterday the skies had cleared and the warm sun made a fresh appearance to rising steam and a really bad hair day. However, I've found a hairstyle that defies all bad-hair scenarios - two ponytails with increments of elastic bands all the way down each lock to the tip. Tony thinks I look a bit like a ragdoll but I don't care. Anything to avoid the frizz.

And to finish this entry I must tell you a cat story. (Cat haters tune out now.) When we arrived here just over two weeks ago, we met shy little "Katarina" and her one-eyed brother "Yiorgos" (yet another George) - two little kittens that visit the house at the same time every day for their cat lunch (leftovers from the human lunch). In such a short time we've watched them almost double in size, and now they've invited their mother along, who is already pregnant again, so there's anything up to 10 cats we're actually feeding now every day. Needless to say, we had to buy extra bags of cat food to supplement the leftovers...

Oh, and I have a dog story too! The other day we were practicing sand tennis in the yard when three little stray dogs came trotting up the driveway. Two scruffy, brown-stained terriors and a black and white jack russell, looking like they were on some sort of serious mission to find a bit of food and a few pats. Feeding them would have been the worst thing we could do as they would immediately establish themselves in the garden as permanent residents. But we thought a bit of a pat wouldn't hurt. They couldn't get enough of our brave offerings of ear scratches (probably the most revolting animals I've ever touched, but you know me and animals) but when it was time to go (when we heard dad and Julia coming out of the house to see what was going on) we gently chased the little dogs back down the driveway. That night, Tony and I went down to Romaikos Yiallos for dinner, and on our way home, as we approached the driveway of the house, I said to Tony "wouldn't it be funny if those dogs were back in the yard". And there at the top of the driveway, guarding the grand entrance, were these three little dogs, just staring back at us. It was the funniest thing I'd seen in such a long time and I couldn't help but stand there for a good five minutes just laughing uncontrollably at these serious little guard dogs, just sitting there staring back at me like "what's so funny", and as soon as we started walking up the driveway, all three at once started barking and growling and gnarling their teeth like we were trespassing their newly-claimed property!!! And what a find they must have thought they'd scored. It didn't take much to put an end to their little fantasy and chase them back down the driveway though.

Animal stories finished, I promise. Here are some photos...

Negotiating a narrow street on the moped.

Deluge in the garden.

Dinner at Sardes.

Dinner conversation at Sardes.

Another dinner conversation at Sardes.

Lady #1 sanding the art deco table.

Lady #2 staining the bookshelf.

Gentleman #1 checking the salmon.

Gentleman #2 stirring the chickpeas.

Katarina and Yiorgos.

Pregnant mother.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eating and drinking

While our script writers are busy researching material for the next exciting sitcom episode (either a documentary on "Worry beads", or an exposé of what can be carried on a bike/trike/moped, (or how many people!), ) a disturbing issue has come to light.

It has been pointed out by a few observant viewers that my (Tony's) waist seems to be expanding on a day by day basis.
I would like to offer an explanation for this bizarre phenomena.
Please see the following for what may be the underlying cause...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Expedition to Karpasi

It's Sunday afternoon and I have a few minutes to begin the next entry for this blog before we all settle in front of the tv to watch the Greek cooking show, "Boukano ke Synghorio", which loosely translates as "excuse me while I have one bite of the food before we eat the meal" (actually, dad found this very difficult to translate so it could be completely wrong - any Greeks out there want to offer a better translation?) ...

... It is late in the evening now and we have just come home from a light dinner at one of the beachside tavernas at Romaikos Yiallos which is the main stretch of tavernas here in Myrina. The plastic windshields around the tavernas were all down tonight as it's blowing a gail out there – our boat trip on the traditional Greek caique around the island was cancelled today and it was the first day the sun decided to retreat behind an overcast sky. It's a bit of a novelty actually, to see a change in the relentless weather pattern of sun, sun and sun (it's even supposed to rain tonight) but we were disappointed about the boat trip being cancelled.

Time for bed now, but I will continue tomorrow...

The last couple of days we have had a chance to explore some more of the island. On Wednesday afternoon we took the moped to Tony and Despina Whitefield's hometown of Karpasi, about half an hour from Myrina. They usually only spend a few weeks a year here in Limnos, but this year they are taking long service leave and are here for three months. Into their third month they are well and truly part of the landscape now.

We'd just missed the sunset upon arrival at their quiet little village, their rooftop terrace having an expansive view of the Karpasian valley and distant hills, but the sky was still glowing red which was brilliant. We spent the evening nibbling on fried eggplant, sweet tomatoes, homemade village cheese and chargrilled chicken, all washed down with "fire water". I'll get to that in a moment, but first I need to explain that bottled water is a necessity in Greece as the heavily chlorinated tap water is undrinkable. So at meal times there's always a 1.5 litre bottle of water at the table, sometimes two bottles. At Tony and Despina's there were two bottles. However, one was "water" and the other was "fire water"... otherwise known as home-brewed ouzo (courtesy of Despina's cousin, yet another George). The only problem was, Tony B kept getting the two bottles mixed up - a bit of ouzo in the glass, topped with a lot of ouzo in the glass. It was a late and challenging night of getting the mix right, but a lot of fun.

The next morning Tony W and Des took us on a walking tour of their village - a largely neglected town with many abandoned ruins, surrounded by grassy fields and farmland. During the war the German soldiers took over the village and moved into the homes of the locals, including Despina's grandmother's house (the house we stayed in). I'd imagine twelve people in a two-roomed house would have been a bit tight and pretty scary.. but Despina's mother, who was a little girl at the time, remembers the Germans treated the family very well, so much so they all became good friends - they even invited the soldiers to one of the cousin's weddings! That's Greek hospitality for you!

We also visited the villages of Atsiki and Varos, ending up at the fortress of Kotsinas where the bronze statue of Maroula stands. In 1447 the Turks attacked the then thriving town of Kotsinas, which was valiantly defended by Greeks and Venetians. The peak of the battle was the appearance of heroic Maroula. When the young woman saw her father, General Isidoros, killed by the sword of a Turk, she grabbed the sword and attacked the enemy. The Greeks and Venetians took courage from her bravery and succeeded in driving the Turks off the island. From then on, Maroula became a symbol of freedom-fighting in the whole of Limnos.

Thursday afternoon it was finally time to put the sand tennis bats to the test, so off we trotted to the beach with our brand new jarrah-handled bats and "One Euro Shop" tennis balls. The beach is well populated on these warm Limnos afternoons, with plenty of sun bathers and always a large number of sand tennis players, but we managed to find some space and excitedly began our first "rally" of sand tennis. By "rally", I mean a maximum of 2 hits. One hit each that is. And as if it wasn't embarrassing enough to be playing so pathetically in front of a beach full of the national team of professional sand tennis players as they rallied at least 50 hits a go... just imagine how hillarious it all would have looked to the sun bathing spectators when our tennis balls started to split in half (yes, all three of them) and completely lose their bounce. We went home after about 10 minutes.

On Saturday Dad, Julia, Tony and I took a drive to the other side of the island to Moudros for lunch. During WWI more than 30,000 soldiers were brought to Moudros from Gallipoli to recover (or die) from their injuries. We visited the cemetery where many gravestones of Australian soliders lie. We ate at a large seaside taverna in Moudros - another table covered in food, another taverna ruled by cats, another beautiful day. Then yesterday Tony and I found a lovely family-owned little taverna in Agios Yiannis, on the coastline just north of Myrina, where we had yet another colossal lunch (we really must stop eating). The menu at this little taverna was one of the more interesting menus we've had to decipher here in Limnos, with such delicacies as "Boiled Coat", "Roast Lamps" and "Fried Scrimps". For the Limnian locals, Greek to English translation is not one of their strengths.

It's now Monday and we've had another overcast day, so it hasn't been such a chore to come in and write today. The forecast says we will have two more days like this then it will be "back to normal". In the meantime, we might visit the museum .. might also be a good idea to get ourselves some proper tennis balls.

Photo time...

Loaded and ready to head out to the vineyards of Karpasi to go grape-picking. We were wondering if they would be able to recreate such optimised stacking once the crates were full of grapes...

Contemplating life in Karpasi.

Ruins of Karpasi.

Bronze statue of Maroula.

On the roof-top terrace at Tony W and Despina's house, Karpasi.

The dreaded sand-tennis debacle.

Calm seas at our beach, Riha Nera.

"Coat" on Castro hill, Myrina.

Architecture of Romaikos Yiallos beach, Myrina

Looking over Romaikos Yiallos, from church on Castro hill.

Dad and Julia at Moudros taverna.

Family of cats waiting for lunch at Funny Menu Taverna, Agios Yiannis.

Until next time!!!
Lisa x

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ouzo day

After sitting back and letting Lisa have all the reporting glory up til now, I have decided to throw my hat into the ring and add my two cents worth.

Because every day here bears such a strong resemblance to a US sit-com, I feel that the only way to truly capture the "essence" of life in Limnos is to present my portion of this blog in a series of episodes, with each one designed to capture a small element of what makes this holiday such an entertaining experience.

Episode 1: "Ouzo Day"

It is Saturday morning, and 11:30 is fast approaching. There is a special table setup for the men folk, complete with marinated Sardines, a weird type of salty cheese and glasses ready for the mysterious event. I have been told to keep Saturday morning free for "Ouzo", and have witnessed first hand the careful preparation that goes in to such a mysterious event.
(Canned laughter as Mr "Panayotis" enters front gate, nursing a coke bottle with what looks like water as the contents (or possibly home made ouzo?)

The men all take their seats at the special table, while the women folk hover around the perimeter, awaiting permission to be accepted into such a solemn ceremony.

As every possible salty food item (sardines, cheese, nuts, and anchovies) is revealed, the clear coke bottle is opened, and poured into each glass, with 3 ice cubes and water. The contents goes a murky white color, indicating that there is something very alcoholic about what we are about to drink.

(The men's table)
I could go on and on about the peculiarities that make "ouzo day" such a Greek institution, but we are in the Mediterranean, it is 31 degrees outside without a cloud in the sky, what am i doing here on the computer? ...bye!! Tony :)