Last of the Summer Wine

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | 2 comments
With Anna - our last wine together for now

With Anna – our last wine together for now

Monday 3 August – my last night in Kastelli Kissamos for now.  Tomorrow I will return to Chania for an overnight stay before commencing the long journey back to New Zealand.  Yesterday morning I went down to the beach, just as I have done so everyday for the past week … not the most beautiful beach in the world but it suits me to have it pretty much all to myself.  Lying on my towel on the stones soaking up the sun, floating in the sea … the same sun, the same water as you will find at any of the nearby beaches where hundreds flock to during the summer months.  Balos, Falasarna, Elafonissi … three beautiful beaches on Crete’s west coast, however, I prefer my solitude.

It is very much expected on a Sunday that family members will visit and yesterday was no exception … around 1430 hours we all sat down to a feast.  Sadly, Anna left later in the afternoon with her grand-daughter Kostoula for Chania where she is staying with her daughter Kiki for a while.  We had had our last meal and wine together for now.

Vanna had invited me to their house in the evening for yet another meal … unfortunately, I find the food here hard to resist, not to mention the wine (last night Roma served an extra nice red) and Tsikoudia, 10L of which can be bought for E30.  One meal I particularly enjoyed last week was Horta (vleeta from our garden) with potatoes, beans, courgettes, sweetcorn and fresh fish.  When I discarded the head of my fish, Anna said to me in Greek “give me the head, it would be a crime to waste it”.  Nothing goes in the rubbish, if we don’t eat it, then there are the dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits to be fed.  Between meals I have been indulging in the first fresh figs of the season … the best I have ever tasted.  Apparently, where Katina goes early each morning to pick them, there are several trees, however, the local women all pick from the same tree which is known to produce a variety of exceptional taste.  Oh how I will miss them.

I have very little left to do now in Kastelli, only in the morning I will make my pilgrimage up to the Parthenona (cemetery) on the hill, to pay my respects to Costas, just as I do every visit.  If there is time then perhaps I will also take one last walk down to the beach.  A bus to Chania some time in the afternoon, an early night I hope then on Wednesday at 0920 hours my flight back to Athens, continuing on via Abu Dhabi, Perth, Auckland to Wanganui … to my home and family.

 

My Cretan Family and Me

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on My Cretan Family and Me
The Two Helen's in Bar Spetsa

The Two Helen’s in Bar Spetsa

Monday morning at 1000 hours signaled my departure yet again from Spetses and Costas … the end of eight and a half wonderful weeks together on the island.  Making the most of those last days, saw me everyday at Agios Mamas beach. Just when I thought it could not get any hotter, it did the last week … thank goodness for the meltemi (the strong, dry, north winds of the Aegean Sea which blow in the summer months).  That last week on Spetses, I also made the best of the evenings, going many times to Bar Spetsa.  With my dear friend Helen on the island from Athens with her twin boys Constantinos and Stefanos, Anna and Motty from Norway (annual visitors to the island for 19 years), as well as many of the usual suspects including Ray and Heather, Suzie and Steve … there was always someone for company.

It is never easy saying our farewells, however, as Costas once said to me in the early days … it is not like I won’t be back, only this time I am not sure when that will be.  I was tired from a relatively late night and had not slept all that well.  The Flying Cat 3 arrived in Piraeus just before 1200 hours, having stopped at Hydra only so a quick trip at a cost of E38.50 (approx. NZ$64), the ticket now reflecting the new increases in taxes.  Found a shady spot to sit and eat my Bougatsa (custard filled pastry) which Costas had bought for me at the bakery, on his way home from the bar in the early hours.  Just missed one bus to the airport, waited half an hour for the next, then a long wait albeit in air-conditioned comfort for my Check In to open.  The 50 minute flight to Chania painless, caught the bus into town, then walked to my friends Antonia and Vassiles’ house … concluding a journey of 9 hours duration.

When I left Chania yesterday morning, Antonia was working in the bakery downstairs so once again, I walked to the bus station in time to catch the 1100 hours bus to Kastelli Kissamos and my other home in Greece.  Since living here in the early 1980’s with Costas No.1, I have returned whenever possible to spend time with my Cretan family who see me as one of them … how blessed and privileged am I to have this association and acceptance.  Anna the family matriarch is now 95 and is quite possibly the finest woman I have ever met … I have so much admiration for her.  Anna, Katina and Vassiles were at the house to greet me.  It was not long before we were sitting down for lunch … Tzatziki (yoghurt and cucumber dip), Kokoras me Patates sto founo (rooster with potatoes, baked in the oven with lots of lemon), fresh, crusty bread and as always, a glass or two of wine.  Then, I could not resist a walk down to the beach … in the evening came Vana and Roma, Katerina and Yani with his son Yani, just 10 months’ old, Anna’s youngest great-grandson.  In typical Greek style, we sat around the table in the garden until late, eating mezes and drinking Tsikoudia (a very potent alcoholic drink, made from the pieces of grapes that were pressed for the winemaking process) and Krassi (wine).  With the heat and a beach party in full swing nearby until some ungodly hour this morning, sleep did not come easily to me.

However, today I went early to the beach … Vasilles told me of another road down there where I had no one within earshot of me.  The only sound, the lapping of the sea at the water’s edge … as I floated around in the warm, clear water with small fish in my company, I looked back towards the town and the mountains, reminded of how much I love Crete.  Of course, Spetses has a special place in my heart too, mainly because that is where I share my life with Costas, but for me, nowhere I know in the world compares with the north west corner of Kriti.  I love the people, the lifestyle, the climate, the landscape, the food and the wine.  Katina made Yemista (stuffed tomatoes, courgettes, capsicum, vine leaves and courgette flowers baked in the oven, served with a dollop of Greek yoghurt) for our lunch today.  So yummy, to die for … with many of the ingredients coming from the family’s own organic garden, there really is nothing to compare.

One week from today I will have commenced my long journey back to New Zealand … look for one more Blog in a few days’ time.  Now I am off for a short siesta … one can expect visitors again tonight.

 

They Thought They Were in Paradise

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on They Thought They Were in Paradise
Dave, Costas, Me and Viv in Bar Spetsa

Dave, Costas, Me and Viv in Bar Spetsa

Friday 10 July was the night of Gerald’s barbecue … the day before Vivienne and Dave were to come from Athens.  One of the first to arrive there just after 1800 hours, we sat in the downstairs courtyard drinking Moscow Mule’s, then just before sunset, Gerald summoned us all to the upstairs terrace to view the sunset and devour an overly large leaf-shaped platter of canapes, eventually returning downstairs for our main meal … Kondosouvla (imagine a large souvlaki, wrapped in paper, slow roasted on a spit over an open charcoal pit – extra crispy and extra tasty meat) accompanied by an assortment of delicious salads.  I left earlier than most that night, knowing that I would have an extremely busy eight days ahead of me.

The following day, Saturday, I went for my usual dip and sunbathe at Agios Mamas beach.  It was busier than normal down there that weekend with a three-day Regatta for youngsters aged 7 to 17 years.  At around 1620 hours the Flying Cat 6 arrived at the quay from Piraeus … I was there to meet Vivienne and Dave, along with Filippos who would take their luggage to Villa Marina, allowing us to stroll along the seafront … were they really here with me on our island paradise, it was hard to believe.  Their time in Athens had gone well, the only negative being the loss of Dave’s backpack.  They had arrived late on Monday night in Athens after a long journey, took the bus heading into Syntagma Square, got off near the Crowne Plaza Hotel where they were to stay and unfortunately, did not realize until they had reached the hotel that they had left the backpack on the bus stop seat before taking a taxi the final leg.  The loss of Dave’s passport necessitated visits to the New Zealand Consulate and police stations … this was not in their itinerary!  A new passport is now awaiting him at their airport hotel in Athens where they will stay tomorrow night (Tuesday) before commencing the long journey back to Auckland.

Before they arrived on the island, I had given some thought to what we would do their first night here.  In the afternoon they had gone for a swim at Agios Mamas beach, a mere 30m from their accommodation.  Bar Spetsa too is even closer and we arranged to meet there around 2000 hours to see Costas.  A walk through the town to The Poseidonion Grand Hotel for an aperitif on the terrace, then on to Akroyialia Restaurant in Kounoupitsa for dinner where the tables and chairs sit right on the sand (a scene from Shirley Valentine maybe).  It was 2200 hours by the time we arrived and unfortunately, I had not made a booking, however, we sat at a table inside for a while until an outside table was free … a wonderful meal, well worth waiting for.  From there, of course, it was back to Bar Spetsa for a nightcap then off to bed.

The following day, Sunday, around midday we took a horse and buggy ride down to the Old Harbour … a small mishap on the way when a horse and buggy in front clipped a roadside Moped.  Our buggy driver was not too happy and he had to quieten down his horse … fortunately, in the end, the incident amounted to very little.   We walked around to the Church of Panagia Armata and on to see Natalia Mela’s sculptures, including the wonderful mermaid, then up to the lighthouse, through the suburb of Pitioussa with its collection of expensive homes, by Garyfallo Bay, finally ending up at Agia Marina (Paradise Beach).  After a well-earned cold drink at the bar (for Viv and I it was freshly squeezed orange juice), a swim before retiring to sunbeds on the beach then when we were hungry, sat down to a shared platter of cold meats and cheeses with a salad.  A lovely walk home, meeting up in the Bar in the evening where I was able to introduce Viv and Dave to many of our friends.

On the Monday they decided to hire a Moped to go around the island, leaving me to have time out on the beach and a catch up of things at home.  Early that evening we ate wood fired pizza at Quarter in the Square then into Bar Spetsa, naturally, however, I was home by 2200 hours to take a telephone call from my mum but also very much aware that we had an early start the next day.

Tuesday saw me up at 0500 hours, meeting Viv and Dave on the quay at 0600 hours, in time to catch the 0610 hours Flying Cat 6 to the island of Poros … the start of what was to be a very long day.  After walking for a while, Dave came up with the idea that we could hire a quad bike but no, three people on one is not allowed.  Okay, then two Moped’s, Dave would ride one with me on the back and Viv would ride the other.  Alas, that was not to be either as Viv, having never ridden one before, took off a little too fast and the bike hire proprietor said no, sorry, you are going nowhere.  So we walked up to the clock tower and through the narrow streets, eventually arriving back down in the town where we had brunch before ordering a taxi to take us to the nearest beach … the taxi returning at 1415 hours to go catch the Flying Dolphin to the island of Hydra.  Once there, our first stop … for a nice cold beer, sitting in the beautiful harbor.  A do love Spetses so much, however, a great thing about Hydra is there are no motorized bikes which on Spetses, there are too many of and they annoy me to hell.  On Hydra, only donkeys and hand drawn carts.  After our beer, I took Viv and Dave on what was to be a very hot walk up into the hills to view Hydra from above.  Once back down at sea level, they had a swim off the rocks just around from the town, then we walked along to the village of Kamini where we had dinner at Kodylenia’s Taverna whilst watching the sunset … amazing!  Later that evening as we waited for our hydrofoil back to Spetses, it was a joy to watch the children playing in the street and then when the boat arrived, to witness their incredible excitement as they greeted their cousins/friends.  At 2315 hours, I finally walked in the door at home.

Wednesday, as we were going to have an early dinner at Spetsiotiko, lunch consisted of a coffee and toasted sandwich at Klimis before spending time at the beach.  That evening I introduced Dave to the “boys” who meet weekly to play Pool at Point of View.  Dave made eight of them in all and he had a ball … thoroughly enjoying his time with them.  Viv and I sat outside for a quiet drink before moving on to Bar Spetsa and I was home relatively early by Greek standards at 0130 hours.  By now Dave was saying “This has to be the best holiday of my life”!

Thursday was another very early start with Viv and Dave coming to meet me at the house at 0630 hours … I had planned a long walk for us up into the hills.  Our first stop was the bakery where I bought pastries for us to eat when we arrived at the top near the Hunters’ Refuge … a Spanakopita (spinach pie) for Viv and a Bougatsa (custard filled pastry) for Dave and I.  On the way up I pointed out to them the little house and allotment that one day I would love to own … it’s location is amazing.  Also John and Penny’s house near the little pink church of Panagia Kapsodematousa.  After a walk along the ridge, we came to the Hara Estate, a property which has always fascinated me.  As far as I can ascertain, the home was abandoned more than 50 years’ ago.  Owned by the Botasis family, the last inhabitants were the poet sisters Maria and Irini Botasis and Irini’s husband Herman, after they retired from living in Switzerland.  Also on the Estate is the small church built in 1901 in honour of Virgin Mary the Myrtle Bearer.  It is a replica of a church in the French Alps where the family often vacationed.  I am never quite sure of the path from there down to the Gorgoepikou Monastery and church, however, we found a way.  I chatted with one of the nuns who was extremely nice and friendly.  After looking inside the beautiful church, we then appeared to upset three other nuns … I think they thought we were taking pictures of them and they do not like it.  By the time we arrived back in the town, we had been walking for the best part of four hours.  Visiting the beach was then a priority before having lunch with Costas at Bouboulina Restaurant, that night time spent in the Bar, capping off another wonderful day.

On Friday Vivienne and Dave decided to hire bicycles and pretty much do their own thing, leaving me free until 2030 hours when we met with Ray and Heather and Beverley at Bar Spetsa for pre dinner drinks before going to Paxni Taverna for dinner.  Possibly my favourite restaurant on the island, it is not easy to find, located in a residential area about a 10 minute walk up from the town.  The garden setting is amazing and in the winter sitting inside where the wine (their own) is all stored in barrels … the vegetables too are from their own organic garden.  We started with mezes … Saganaki (fried cheese), Gigantes (giant beans), Fava (split yellow pea dip), Kalokithakia (courgettes) and Horiatiki Salata (Greek salad).  Then shared a kilo of barbecued lamb chops … Costas specialty being his delicious barbecued meats.  Not surprisingly, we returned to Bar Spetsa where I stayed until closing at 0415 hours (early for the time of year).  Costas and I then went to Abari Bar … Spiros was closing but he sat with us outside whilst we had a drink and we were home by 0500 hours.

Saturday was Viv and Dave’s last full day on the island.  They decided to keep their bicycles for another day and headed down to Paradise Beach with goodies from the bakery.  Just before 2030 hours they passed by the house and we walked to The Poseidonion Grand Hotel to meet once again with Ray and Heather and Beverley.  It was pretty much Moscow Mule cocktails all round, the other three went on their bikes, while Viv, Dave and I took a horse and buggy ride to Liotrivi Restaurant (The Old Olive Press) for dinner on the water’s edge.  Fine dining but, unfortunately, windy and a little cold for me … nevertheless, I enjoyed my Fish Soup, followed by Grilled Salmon.  It was the eve of Viv and Dave’s first wedding anniversary … when a rose seller came by, Dave bought a red rose for Viv and a yellow one for we other three girls.  From Liotrivi we walked to Asteria to hear what was very loud, live Greek music, ending our night as one does in Bar Spetsa.

Like they say, all good things must come to an end and yesterday I was down on the quay to see Viv and Dave leave on the 1000 hours Katerina Star ferry.  I did feel sad seeing them go, however, we have so many happy memories.  It was such a joy and a pleasure to be their “Tour Guardian” … I will miss them.

 

Greece – The Final Crossroads

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Greece – The Final Crossroads
Me at the Beach Party - Agia Marina

Me at the Beach Party – Agia Marina

Well, the referendum has been and gone with, unfortunately, a resounding win for the “No” voters, however, had it been a “Yes” win, then I am not convinced the situation now would have been any better.  Greece is just hours away from the deadline for new proposals to be submitted by Alexis Tsipras to the creditors.  By sometime on Sunday the Greek people will learn what their future will be … it is almost a foregone conclusion and not a promising look.  The best deal they could have had was back in January but that was turned down by Greece.  People are worried and angry, however, there is nothing they can do but wait and see what will unfold day by day.  I am afraid the future for this country and the Greek people is not a bright one … the years ahead are going to be fraught with difficulties.

For now, my life on Spetses continues unchallenged.  The sun continues to shine … currently it is 2100 hours and still 30 degrees C in our garden.  Both locals and visitors appear to be going about their daily lives as normal.  I continue to make the best of every day as it comes.  On Tuesday I wandered down to Agios Mamas beach at 1030 hours … early for me but I wanted to be home soon after midday so that I could get ready and make my way down to Agia Marina (more commonly known as Paradise Beach) by 1400 hours for the Beach Party, very kindly and generously hosted by Russell and Kerry who leave Spetses tomorrow – Friday.  I had thought to go on my bicycle but alas, no, I have tried it out a couple of times, the seat is uncomfortable for me and too high I feel although Costas says it is as low as it can go.  Furthermore, the bike feels incredibly heavy to me and I am not confident going out in the heat of the day, having to remember to keep right (not left) and dodging all the mad scooter, motorbike and quad riders.  I guess I am still quite happy as a walker and will most likely remain that way.

So, I walked to Paradise Beach … by the time all invitees had arrived, we were 25 people in all.  The two barmen were kept busy pouring drinks and making cocktails.  We enjoyed a delicious sit down buffet lunch, people were in and out of the sea and dancing around the bar to some great music including Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” for those of you old enough to remember way back then.  By 2100 hours, Penny was heading home and kindly agreed to give me a lift on her quad.  I had a much needed long rest until around 0300 hours then made my way down to Bar Spetsa.  It was Chris and George’s last night on the island for this year and I had promised I would go see them that night.  I stayed until closing, then just on day break, together with Costas, we four walked down to the quay to say our farewells … Chris and George, such lovely guys, were leaving on the 0610 hours hydrofoil for Piraeus.  Two Spanakopita (spinach pies) from the bakery on the way home then a sleep in until around midday.

My friend Helen from Athens has been here with her boys for a few days now but we have yet to catch up.  However, we have arranged to meet for coffee tomorrow at 1100 hours … the days pass by so quickly.  My dear friend Vivienne and her husband Dave arrived safely in Athens on Monday evening.  Now I am looking forward to meeting them here on Saturday when they arrive on the 1400 hours hydrofoil from Piraeus for an eight night stay … there will be many memorable moments ahead for us all, of that I am sure.

The Greek Odyssey

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment
With Clare and Jane in Bar Spetsa

With Clare and Jane in Bar Spetsa

Odyssey … meaning a long wandering and eventful journey.  I think one can safely give this name to the current crisis in Greece.  Events continue to unfold with no clarity as to what will happen next.  These are very worrying times for the Greek people.  Tomorrow the hastily called referendum will take place in which the people are required to answer a 72 word question with either a No or Yes answer.  Many are unclear as to what they are voting for and many will be deprived of their voting rights as with all the banks closed for a week now, they will not have the funds available to return to their remote village or island to vote which is what they are required to do.

Here on Spetses there is no real sense of anything being other than normal although I believe overall it is much quieter than at this time other years.  Last evening I only went down to the Bar at midnight, however, it was daybreak before we made our way home after having one of the best nights ever in Bar Spetsa.  It was Jane (Costas’ late wife Wendy’s daughter) and her friend Clare’s last night of their holiday before leaving to return to the U.K.  Previously, about a year ago, I had met them both albeit briefly, however, this past week we have gotten to know each other well and their company has been wonderful.  Also holidaying on the island are two friends George from Glasgow (who has a very wicked sense of humour) and Chris from Wigan … Tuesday will be their last night here for this year.  I was also surprised to see Andre and Sally, another English couple I met in the Bar last year, back for their annual island holiday.  Pavlos and George, Spetsiot George, Pandelis, Ernesto … all people I know well then Gerald popped in to show his visiting friend Paul the “hole in the wall” Bar!  Later on in the night, Ray and Heather arrived … we all had such a good time and so many laughs.

Today I have taken things easy, didn’t even venture down to the beach as the weather wasn’t that marvellous with rather a lot of clouds.  Instead I stayed home and made two large pots of Greek Fish Soup, some of which we had for our lunch but most will go into the freezer for easy meals when Costas is busy.  On Wednesday we had lunch at Kaiki Beach with Ray and Heather and Russell and Kerry … Costas rode his bicycle there, however, I walked down.  Although I do have my own bicycle now (I don’t think I have ridden a bike since I was at school) I have yet to take it on a trial run.  The bike came about when one day last week Costas asked me would I like one as he had a bike that Panayiotes wife Carol had been using which she no longer requires so I thought, why not, it will come in handy on occasion, however, I can see myself continuing to walk almost everywhere.  We have been invited to a Beach Party for Russell and Kerry on Tuesday afternoon (their last week here) at Paradise Beach (I will go, Costas will not, all too much on top of the hours he is working) … perhaps I will christen the bike then.

Today (Sunday NZ time) my dear friends Viv and Dave will be departing Auckland … destination Greece!  They are planning a five night stay in Athens before coming to Spetses on Saturday 11 July so I am hoping any potential unrest will not disrupt their stay in the capital.  I am excited and so looking forward to meeting them on the quay in a week’s time.  I am sure their 8 night stay on the island will be memorable … I have yet to meet anyone who has not had an amazing time on our Greek island paradise.  Greece needs the tourists to keep coming and I can see no good reason for why they should stay away.

Regatta Week on Spetses

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment
View of Yacht Racing from near where we swim and sunbathe

View of Yacht Racing from near where we swim and sunbathe

During the past week from 18-21 June the annual Spetses Classic Yacht Regatta was held.  Bringing millions of dollars worth of vessels … a record 75 yachts in all (classic boats, schooners and lateens), people and money to the island.  Constantine II, the ex-king of Greece was seen on the island … not that that is so unusual, he and his family are frequent visitors here.  Check out more on www.classicyachtrace.com/en/  Although we could not attend the Welcome Cocktail party at the Poseidonion Grand Hotel (for participants only), Thursday evening my new friend Evdokia and I were able to secure a table on the terrace there for a couple of drinks, before going to Bar Spetsa until late.

Saturday night was Evdokia’s last on the island so we met in the Bar around 2300 hours.  Fortunately, that night Costas had four helpers … just as well as the place was packed, especially between 2300 and 0200 hours.  Costas and I did not arrive home until 0540 hours, via Abari Bar and the bakery, with two Bougatsa (custard filled pastries, hot and fresh) which were devoured before going to bed.

I try most mornings to get myself out of bed early enough to do my 5 kilometer walk before the real heat of the day.  I had just returned to the house on Monday morning when rain accompanied by thunder arrived … it was back again that afternoon.  However, since then the weather has been stunning … cloudless blue skies, not too hot, perfect for the two of us to go down to Agios Mamas beach for a dip and to spend a little time in the sun … wonderful therapy.  My family and friends back in Wanganui, New Zealand have not fared so well this past week.  With the highest rainfall in recorded history and the Whanganui River breaking it’s banks, many homes were flooded … the city is a mess!  To add insult to injury, since then it has been extremely cold with one night a temperature of -20 degrees C being recorded somewhere in the South Island.  Yes, I am blessed and very lucky to be here.

It seems there is no end to the Greek Crisis either … I am not sure what the Government is trying to do, I doubt they know themselves.  Ann Diamond, my Canadian friend who is a writer and like me, lives between her country in Montreal and with her partner on the island of Lemnos, wrote an article on the subject earlier in the week.  I recommend you go to my last Blog “Precious Hot Summer Days and Nights” where there are 2 Comments posted.  Click on Comments and there you will find one from Ann with a link to her article … makes for very interesting and entertaining reading.

It is four weeks tonight since I arrived back on the island.  My main aim is to make the most of each and every day and I believe I am achieving that.

 

Precious Hot Summer Days and Nights

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | 2 comments
Evdokia, Costas and I - Bar Spetsa

Evdokia, Costas and I – Bar Spetsa

Here in Greece, it is only the first month of summer, however, this past week temperatures have been more akin to the month of August … by day in the low 30’s, only cooling down by a few degrees at night.  I try to leave the house early each morning to walk my 5 kilometers but even so, it can be very, very hot!  One morning last week, a dog decided to accompany me and to my surprise, he came the whole way.

My garden cleanup is complete and I must say, I feel very pleased with myself for what I have achieved.  We will go together one day to buy plants and potting mix … our small pebbled courtyard now needs colour.  On many days we are able to meet up for coffee in the Dapia then in the afternoon, spend time at the beach … our daily dose of sun and saltwater, how blessed we are to be living on this island paradise.  An afternoon siesta – that wonderful Greek institution, completes the day then most evenings I spend time in the Bar with Costas and friends.

Dave and June, together with Paul and Margaret are visiting from the U.K.  On Monday they joined us for lunch at Bouboulina Restaurant, lots of wonderful Greek food, including our favourite Babounakia (small red mullet).  That night in the Bar I met Evdokia, a young Greek Australian woman.  We arranged to meet again last night and went together to Pachni, my favourite restaurant on the island where the salad ingredients are all from their own garden and Costas cooks the most delicious barbecue meats.  They have their own wine too and I understand when that runs out, they close for the season.  Sitting there in the garden, with it’s giant sunflowers, stock, lemon verbena, mint and much more on a balmy summer’s evening, not a movement, quietness and the scents of the flowers – just amazing.

Walked back down to the Bar to keep company yet again with some of the regular suspects … Ray and Heather, Pandelis, Nikos, Roland – ended our evening at Abari Bar with Roland and Evdokia, before stopping off at the bakery on the way home to buy two Spanakopita (spinach pies) for our breakfast.  A somewhat late night/early morning … no wonder I have verged on zombie state today but looking forward to an early night.

What a Difference a Week Makes

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What a Difference a Week Makes
Lunch at Ray and Heather's

Lunch at Ray and Heather’s

Following an early night by Greek standards, this morning I was up at 0700 hours and off on my first 5km walk since arriving 11 days’ ago.  Taking the route of the annual Spetses Mini Marathon 5km Run/Walk, that early in the day, the streets are relatively quiet and the air cool.  On reaching the road heading towards Agia Marina beach, I picked up a fledgling sparrow … alive, however, quite happy to rest in my hand as I continued on towards the Old Harbour and the seafront road.  Only when birdsong could be heard did he make any effort to escape me, I held on to him all the way home where he died soon after and is now resting in our garden.

After closing the Bar last Saturday at 0530 hours, by 0600 hours Costas was on his way to Athens by taxi, returning that afternoon on the 1400 hours hydrofoil.  I took the opportunity to begin what is a massive clean up of the garden, having put in several hours that day, I have been back out there this morning, now beginning to see some reward for my efforts.  Came in around 1200 hours for a shower then off to meet Costas at Roumani in the Dapia for coffee and a read of The Times … not a daily ritual, however, a fairly regular occurence.  Then it was home for lunch … when Costas went for his siesta, for the first time this visit, I headed off to Agios Mammas beach.  For now things are very quiet on the island, all that will change in around one month’s time.  An hour in the sun, then came the moment … could I brave the cold sea or would I be like Costas last week who managed no more than a dipping of his toes!  1, 2, 3 and in … cold, yes, however, amazingly refreshing once I got used to it.

So, today has been a far cry from how I was feeling less than a week ago.  Everything came to a head on Wednesday when Costas called Dr Demetrios who came by the house to see me.  I already knew the root cause of my ill feeling, however, I just needed some reassurance that there was nothing else sinister underlying my problems.  Thursday morning I went for blood tests, picking up the results Friday evening, before Demetrios came visiting once again … all good, apparently I am as healthy as a 20 year old!  Then I know, of course, that a chemical poisoning would not have shown up in the bloods.

Through all of this, my social life has not suffered a great deal.  Wednesday evening I went to the Bar … met John and Norma from Ireland, back home after a couple of drinks.  Thursday afternoon, Ray and Heather had invited me and another seven people for lunch … delicious food, including wonderfully tender and tasty New Zealand lamb.  A great afternoon, after Ray dropped me home, I went into the Bar and stayed until closing.  On Saturday Ray picked me up around 1800 hours and took me to Gerald’s … it had been arranged that the same ten people from Thursday would meet there for drinks before going on to Nektarios for dinner.  Gerald’s home is an absolutely stunning property … he lived for 3 years in the garden cottage whilst the house was being renovated and other than a few small things, all is now completed.  No gold stars for guessing where we all ended up that night … in Bar Spetsa, other than Kevin and Kerry who said their farewells at Nektarios as they were on the 0615 hours hydrofoil the next morning beginning their journey home to England.

Tonight I am staying in, hopeful of another walk, more gardening, lunch out and a spell at the beach tomorrow afternoon if the weather holds out.  Apparently we could get some rain tomorrow then the weather is turning hot, hot, hot!

Better Late Than Never

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment
Heather and I - Abari Bar

Heather and I – Abari Bar

Over recent years, the pattern for me has repeatedly been … 4 months New Zealand, 2 months Greece.  On that basis, I should have returned to Greece by mid April, however, I only arrived back here last week on Thursday 28 May.  It will be for a slightly longer period this time (10 weeks and 2 days to be exact) as I am not scheduled to arrive back in New Zealand until Friday 7 August!

It IS wonderful to be back here on the island with Costas, although my journey and these past few days have not been quite how I would have planned them.  On the eve of my departure from Wanganui, I almost lost my voice (as the Voicemail messages I left the following morning on my mobile and landline will testify).  Earlier flight to Auckland now that Air New Zealand are operating a bigger plane in and out of Wanganui, with a reduction in the number of flights.  Fortunately, I had booked a hire car to take me over to the North Shore to see my Doctor … I had a “virus” as a result of a compromised immune system, having picked up yet another chemical.  This time 245 (nasty) so I am in for a session in the decompression chamber on the day that I return.

Once back at Auckland Airport and missing my friend Vivienne who usually comes out to see me off and share a bottle of wine … I decided to have a large (250ml) glass of wine anyway.  It was to be the first and last alcoholic drink of the trip so you will understand, this girl was not feeling her usual good self.

Because my decision to come to Greece was made at rather late notice and travelling during the high season, I had found that the airfares were rather more than I am used to paying.  However, after spending several hours online, I did manage to find two Breaking Deals with Etihad so decided to give them a go.  As they do not operate in and out of New Zealand, I flew Air New Zealand to Melbourne (not impressed with the smaller plane and so pleased that my ticket included “The Works” whereas many passengers had to either buy food or had brought their own).

The 14 hour flight from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi on a Boeing 777, again, not up to the standard of Emirates.  I understand that Etihad has won Best Airline at the Travel Awards for 6 years running … I would have to wonder how.  The comfort, food, service, everything … quite inferior to what I have become accustomed to on Emirates.  When at last we were in the skies over Abu Dhabi, we circled for what seemed an eternity (I was beginning to think the pilot did not know where the airport was), then a long wait on the tarmac for buses to arrive to take us to the terminal.  I had to forget any idea of duty-free shopping, it was a mad rush to Gate 5, making it there by “Last Call”.  THEN, one hour sitting on the tarmac and another half an hour waiting in a cue before takeoff!  At least on this sector to Athens the food and service were better.  All passengers were asked to fill in a mandatory Incoming Passenger Card for the Hellenic Ministry of Health, basically asking if you had visited a country in West Africa (Ebola).  I filled out my card and helped my fellow passenger (an older Albanian lady who spoke Greek but not English) fill out her card only to find in typical Greek fashion, the cards were NOT collected by anyone on arrival in Athens!

Much to my surprise it was seriously raining in Athens and only 17 degrees C.  Getting off the bus at the Port of Piraeus, I headed straight to the nearest kiosk to buy myself the cheapest of umbrellas … the last thing I needed now was to get myself wet through.  Eventually 1830 hours arrived and the Flying Cat 6 hydrofoil departed for Poros, Hydra, Ermioni then SPETSES where Costas was waiting on the quay (with umbrella).  He escorted me home then returned to the Bar, leaving me to unpack and settle in but would you believe, a power cut left me in pitch black darkness, fossicking around to find candles.

It is now early afternoon Tuesday and finally, I believe I may have reached a turning point with this god damned virus.  Apart from a coffee out one day with Costas and a full English breakfast “lunch” on Sunday with Costas at Klimis Hotel, Saturday night was the only other time I have left the house.  Met up with Ray and Heather and other friends at Abari for dinner where there was live Greek music, then naturally moved on to Bar Spetsa, coming home with Costas at 0500 hours (this morning it was 0600 hours before he arrived home).

As I said, I hope I am over the worst with the virus.  The beach is beckoning, walks are beckoning and people are asking in the Bar “Where is Helen”?

 

Just The Two Of Us

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By Helen Grubner | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment
Agios Dimitrios Church - Spetses

Agios Dimitrios Church – Spetses

Saturday, 29 November 2014 – just up from my afternoon siesta, a lovely institution in Greece, especially in summertime when everyone retires during the hottest hours of the day.  Costas has lit the fire, just as he has been doing for a week now.  The days and nights are cooler, although I would not say cold.  This week some light rain (not enough to cause problems with our leaking house roof), very little sun, calm … rather bleak and damp – the reality of living on a Greek island.  The fire serves to keep our home dry as much as it does to keep us warm.

My first task each morning is to pick oranges off our tree, enough to make two large glasses of freshly squeezed juice … to quote Costas “Mana from heaven”.  At 1230 hours, the newspapers arrive at the news agents (unless the hydrofoils are on strike or they have forgotten to throw the bundle off on to the jetty).  Unfortunately, Costas preferred publication The Guardian is no longer available, however, he buys The Times daily and often my first glimpses of it are over coffee in the Dapia … such civilized living.  Up until the weather changed, we were enjoying lovely afternoon walks of around two hours in duration.  One day to Kouzinos Beach, another to Garyfolos Bay and the small seaside church of Agios Dimitrios, another day up into the hills as far as Gorgoepikou Monastery.  Stinging Nettle grows prolifically on the island … that day I saw, growing under pine trees, a huge area of Stinging Nettle, lush and green, with the biggest leaves imagineable.  We pulled a handful of Throubi plants too to pot up in our garden.  Throubi, or Winter Savory, is a herb similar to oregano and thyme and is indigenous to the island.  The honey produced locally from the wild Throubi is wonderful.  I especially like a big dollop of it on my Greek yogurt.  Occasionally when we are given fresh eggs by a local who have their own chickens … I love to make them into an omelet.  We had been waiting for Olive Oil to be delivered.  It arrived yesterday … new season’s, green, thick, cloudy.  A huge can of it for 60 Euro.  Unfortunately, I cannot take either Throubi, honey, eggs or this particular olive oil back to New Zealand.

In the main, our evenings have been spent quietly at home.  Scrabble is once again our preferred past time … last night we played two games, I won both of them.  The night before three games – a win each and a draw.  With my level of skill now greatly improved, we are very evenly matched.  Friday night a week ago, we did meet Roger and Denise for dinner at Argyros Restaurant in The Square then we two went on to Balkoni for a couple of quiet drinks.  Of course, Wednesday night was Pool night at Point of View.  John and Costas were the only two players to turn up … I sat and watched them play then we left for home, via Balkoni, of course!

Last week finally saw the guys coming to clear our garden for the winter.  All the trees, excluding the orange and the lemon, have been thrashed … now the light and sun will be able to enter the house over the winter.  One of our greatest joys are our cats … Oliver, Bob, Sydney and Larissa.  All rescued from the streets around six years’ ago, there is no doubt that they all had a tough start in life, especially our little girl Larissa who has always been so timid.  However, each visit I have seen her slowly but surely making progress until now, where she comes voluntarily up on to our bed, enjoys our company and for the first time last night, I heard her purr.

Tonight we are returning to Akroyialia Restaurant for dinner … just the two of us.  We will leave Spetses late morning next Thursday on the Flying Dolphin to Piraeus for a two night stay in Athens.  Sadly, on Saturday, we will say our fare wells, Costas will return to the island and once again I will begin the long journey back to New Zealand.  As always, I am looking forward to seeing family and friends.  Hopefully the summer weather will have arrived, Christmas will not be too far away and of course, I must work, with a goal and a dream to be back here again … sooner rather than later.