Monday, 27 March 2006

Into the clouds

On the island we know some strange weather conditions, like the racing up and down of the temperatures, or the one moment there will be no wind, the other moment there will be a gale blowing your head off. The island knows tropical rains, as well as heavy hailstorms damaging the crops. A rare weather condition here is fog.

If you see a foggy landscape here your first thought will be that the dump is on fire. When I once lived on Rhodes, one day at the beach I woke up from a dog-sleep and I was really surprised: the beach was covered by an impervious white cloud. I saw people quickly grabbing their belongings and running off the beach. Just then I recognized the smell: fire. One of the bigger hotels had a fire and the thick smoke made its way to the beach reducing the visibility to less than a metre.

Another warm day we were sunbathing on a beach on Corfu. There we were surprised by a cold fog creeping out of the sea. We jumped into the car to go to another beach but there we also saw the fog crawling out of the sea. We drove further on to other beaches but then the fingers of the fog even tried to get at the car. There was no way of escaping, except for driving up into the mountains. There we found a nice taverna looking out over a sea of clouds which were hiding the whole of the island.

I never saw the island of Lesvos entirely disappear into the fog. Very rarely it can be a little foggy because of low clouds flying by. Last week we were ready to take a walk over a just discovered monopati in Plomari, but then we were chased back into our car because it started raining. The water kept on falling, so we had a nice ouzo at a friends place and went back to Eftalou which meant that we had to cross half of the island and the rain kept steady.

I have never been keen on travelling the roads on this island while rain is pouring down. When you see what enormous rocks fall down on the road during those showers you always say to yourself: am I glad that I did not just drive there. When late that afternoon the rain stopped when passing Ambelika, we drove straight into a cloud. An enormous dark cloud which would have been a nice one for a horror movie. I enjoyed this weather condition although we couldn't see further than a metre and we could hardly follow the white line in the middle of the road. It gave a kind of cozy feeling of being home: thick fog, except that we had to travel over one of the highest points of the island.

There was a kind of tension in the car and that was not due to the fog. Only when the visibility became clear in the darkening evening and we could see a few metres further than before, Jan told me that he forgot to fill up and the car could come to a stop at any moment. So we made a quick decision to go to Agiasos. The roads were then pitch dark because night fell, which was not that easy because we had to take this new road and had no idea how that was going.

But we reached Agiasos safe and sound. We filled our car up and took the road home. It is strange to drive through those pitch black woods without meeting another car or seeing the lights of a nearby house. Only at the Mytilini to Kaloni 'highway' streetlamps took away the blackness. Far away we saw the silhouette of Olympos as if it was never cloaked in a big dark cloud. No, we are no riders in the dark.

And so we have all kinds of weather. During the day a hot sun which makes you take off several layers of clothing, ice cold nights where for sure you need an extra blanket. Sometimes a freezing wind, while in the lee you could sit in a bathing suit. Rain in the south, wind in the north, one day summer, the other day a merciless return to the winter. Dolphins in a smooth sea or white caps on the waves attacking the shore. Big fishing boats whose whispering motors lull you into sleep or such bad weather that even those fishing boats do not disturb the fish.

There are people who think that the sun always shines in Greece. Well, the big amounts of water in the mountains still looking for a way to come down prove this to be untruue. There was so much water coming down this winter that our cesspool keeps on overflowing. The many roads that have been damaged or are broken because of heavy rainfall are too many to count. Here big holes and cracks keep driver busy.

The way from Skoutaros to Filia was already in a bad condition. Now it is that much worse that it looks more like an obstacle course. Maybe the worst piece of this road is in between two municipalities and nobody wants to take the responsibility of this dangerous road surface where for over a year a branch of a tree has warned drivers of a pothole at least half a metre deep. Coming closer to Mytilini there is a Ford garage which has its showroom in the middle of the new road. This is not a natural obstacle but nevertheless it will probably stay there forever because the owners refuse to tear it down for the new 4 lane highway that should easy the traffic to the capital. Today we discovered that the inland road from Vafios to Eftalou was completely destroyed. Last year we could still drive it with our faithfull Nissan Sunny, but after last winter not even a 4 wheel drive or whatever car the Greek farmers are driving here can handle that road.

Not only the hotels have to be tidied up for the new season, the roads also urgently need to be repaired. We have to wait and see if the municipalities will do that job after all this winter disasters. Fog, clouds or rain, even with good weather the Lesvian roads are full of surprises.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 20 March 2006


For people visiting Lesvos more than once, at each arrival it will be a surprise what buildings are new on the island. Also this year there will be opened plenty of new accommodations and this season tourists will see more houses than last year. The frantic building goes on, not because there are more tourists coming, but because in Greece there are a lot of subsidies to get and the Greeks finally know now where to get them.

For example. If you want to build a house, it can be cheaper to build two houses. When you design one of the two houses for tourism more than half of the costs can be subsidized. Then you have to rent out one house for several years and after that you can live in it yourself. Also in the biological tourist sector you can gain money. Although nobody on the island knows exactly what agricultural tourism is. Here you cannot put tourists on a farm because most of the farms consist of buildings made out of wreckage, thrown away refrigerators and cookers, so that you have the idea that you live on a dump. Cunning people put tourists just besides an olive grove so that they have the feeling that they live on an olive farm. Very clever. But the only activity around olive trees takes place in the winter when they harvest the trees, so an olive farm is bullshit. And the sign for biological olives that nowadays seems to hang in every tree means that it did not get its yearly chemical shower. In the earlier times there was a little plane showering all the trees on the island, but nowadays you seldom see a farmer spraying his trees.

So do not wonder that Anaxos is fully built. If you think that there is no more space left for another apartment, a Greek will always find a way to put a new studio in between. Molyvos is also trying to fill up all its gaps. Many a piece of land is sold and all Greeks now seem convinced that they have to build a house from their saving money. Well, not only Greeks do that. Many a foreigner who fell in love with the island is building like crazy as well. Not many people anymore want to live in the medieval city of Molyvos. They are chased away by the disturbing sounds of street sellers and young motorbike drivers who enjoy making as much noise as possible. Everybody wants to have a garden and the new parts of Molyvos like 'Garden village' and 'Molywood' start to look like fancy residential areas.

And then there is the expansion of tourism. Old Hotels and apartment buildings are closed because they went bankrupt (best example is Hotel Arion but also Hotel Mythimna Beach will be closed for the second summer), or because they have grown old. New accommodations grow like mushrooms and are very popular with the tour operators.

Tour operators can guarantee a certain occupancy of their rooms, but that's all because you do not want to know how much money they pay the hotel and apartment owners. It is a miracle that they can pay with that money a room maid or for a decent breakfast, but keeping their buildings in shape is quite another matter. It is very sad that a country like Greece has to compete with countries like Turkey where life is so much cheaper. Here a hotel is more a reason for a headache than a place to earn your money.

This is also the reason why there are so many overbookings on the island. A hotel owner would rather give your room to a Greek or an independent tourist because then he will earn at least ten times more money. It might be the only way to survive.

So where is your money going then? Well amongst others to your local travel office, to the tour operator, to the Greek agency, to the transfers to and from the airport and of course for your plane ticket. The small amount left will be for your accommodation owner.

The only way to make some profit is to have a huge hotel. But Lesvos is no island for big hotels. It has no very large beaches or restaurants where busloads of people can swim or eat. Lesvos is a destination for small companies and for people who like rest, nature and Greece. Also Molyvos does not like the big tourism. But there are projects for a big all-inclusive hotel.

All-inclusive seems to be the fashion in tourism and one tour operator likes to follow that trend. People in Molyvos are pretty scared about this new phenomenon. Are we getting tourists that will occupy the seats in the planes but will never show up out of their hotel? It would be a slow death for Molyvos, which is already in problems thanks to the coming of the Euro and Europe in Greek life.

And all this for people who do not mind where their hotel is, as long as the sky and the sea are blue and they've got everything in their hotel. It is a strange fashion in tourism and you are wondering why those people go abroad. Not to see Molyvos or to enjoy Greek hospitality. Not to enjoy eating fresh squid or be happy in the sunset drinking ouzo. Do we want that kind of tourism in Molyvos? No!

So if you are wondering why you have to pay so much to travel to Lesvos, know that Lesvos does not have very luxurious accommodation. Its exclusivity is in not yet being spoiled by tourism and its charm is the small-scale tourist business. And therefore you have to pay. But if you choose to do so, you will be sure to get what you want.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 13 March 2006

Green food

In Greece in the summer you eat tomatoes and green salad is hard to get, but in the winter you will find plenty of it: the green marouli salad. It is an endive-like salad and the leaves are cut in small strips. Somewhere I read that they are better torn into strips, that seems to be healthier. Torn or cut, you eat marouli with some lemon juice and olive oil or in the anámikti (mixed salad) in combination with fine cut white cabbage and carrot. According to the season it is often served with some other chorta (wild salad).

At a good vegetable shop, but also sometimes from the man who sells vegetables on his donkey, you get a bunch of marouli with a spring onion and some chorta or herbs. Most of the time that will be dill, but last week I got a bunch of flowers with it. When I came home I wondered what I would have to do with those flowers. After studying a little I realized that it must be rocket, which I thought is a salad, but in free nature it is a white- yellowish flower. Indeed their leaves are like rocket, only they are a lot smaller than those of the cultivated ones. Anyhow, their taste is spicy and nut-like and they go very well with a marouli salad. The leafless flowers I put in a pot and I hope no Greek will pass by because he will have a fit of laughter because I have salad-flowers standing in a pot.

Because of the chorta-fever which is raging over the island during lent this week I tried out some other kinds of chorta. Not that I'm abstaining from eating meat but all those chorta-pickers do make me curious. Our field is filling up with yellow flowers: white mustard. When the buds appear you take the upper part of the stem with buds, blanch them in boiling water and hoppa: mustard-chorta. The taste however has nothing to do with the spicy taste of mustard: somewhere between a cabbage and asparagus taste. Although it is very healthy and it is a good combination with marouli and rocket.

Another herb that I know already all my life but which I kept a good distance from is the nettle. It is common knowledge that nettles are very healthy. It cleans the blood, it stops bleeding, it is anti-allergic and it is full of vitamins A and C and minerals like iron, potassium and magnesium. And you do not want to know everything you can do with it in the kitchen. Best known is the nettle-soup, but also you can make a salad with it, spice cheese, make an omelet, put it through pasta or make balls with it. Just look it up on the internet and you will be amazed.

The old Greeks already ate plenty of them, Plinius gives it its prickly name (Urtica, which means a burning or itchy feeling) and the old Romans used nettles to increase their manhood.

Between the showers, and there were many yesterday, I finally decided to go for the nettles and I put thick gloves on. I dare to eat a lot, but nettles always scare me, maybe because these were painful moments when I met them in my childhood. So I carefully picked some young plants and of course got stuck by them because the gloves did not cover my wrists and I got nettle stings. As I read on the internet I put some rosemary on it (you can use for the same purpose dock, plantain, sage or mint), but it did not take the itching away.

So I threw the nettles in a pot with boiling water, while scratching my wrists and I cooked them for about ten minutes and then I had cooked nettles. I still was scared to death to taste them but I had to taste one before I mixed them with the eggs and some feta for an omelette. So I put a nettle in my mouth and eureka! It tastes like spinach! Very tasty and super healthy.

I already know how to find wild spinach, just like purslane which in the summer can taste so good in a tomato salad. Vegetables which do not grow all year long but whose time is coming soon are the wild asparagus (thin green shoots). Last week we found the first ones and the rain which has been pouring down so abundantly will only produce more of them. One was that big that it looked like a cultivated green one. It even seems to have it's own name, Thirnies, and is very good for the potency.

The weather was not so cooperative last week. One day of heavy cold and Turkey and the Lepetimnos were all covered with snow. So the snow forecast came true! Since the weekend the temperatures raised but then we got those endless heavy showers. But it is okay. We do not need to go to the grocery store anymore, all vitamins are growing in our garden.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Tuesday, 7 March 2006

Kathari Devtera

Yesterday it was Kathari Devtera in Greece. A national holiday that stands for the end of the Apokries (carnival) and the start of lent. When you already know a little bit about Greece you know that the Greek and Catholic/Protestant Easters are not on the same day because the Orthodox Church still maintains another calendar (Julian). So being a Catholic you can celebrate Easter twice here. Although two years ago you were not lucky, then the two Easters were on the same day. This year the Orthodox Easter is one week later than the Catholic one and so is the carnival.

There was nothing like a big carnival in Molyvos this year. The 'Harbour Street' was still a heap of ruins and the mayor decided that the street was not worth it to have a carnival procession on Kathari Devtera, a procession that was so nice last year. The procession was cancelled and many people were angry. On Monday there was a sad celebration down at the square near the day nursery with curious people who were attracted by some market stalls which had free food and drinks and a lot of plastic toys for the children. A real carnival spirit was not amongst them.

Carnival in Molyvos seems more a party for children. In the day nurseries and the schools the children had disguise-parties and on Saturday night there was a big party at Hotel Sunrise where fire crackers and lemonade made the childrens hearts beat faster. In the night the adults could go to the Music Bar were a full room and plenty of alcohol took care of a real Greek night.

On Kathari Devtera, Clean Monday, there is a lot to be done except real cleaning. You are supposed to clean your body and spirit and therefore the people go out to the country, to have a picnic or to fly kites. Many people from Mytilini on that day go to the North of the island and Kathari Devtera is therefore the busiest day of the year in Eftalou. Although flying kites is still popular - most of them do that in the castle of Molyvos, others prefer the sea wind in Eftalou - going for a picnic is not much seen anymore. People prefer to have dinner at a table. So the restaurants Manoli's and Anatoli were overcrowded and the Eftalou Boulevard looked like a bright day at Brighton.

Saturday and Sunday the Greeks ate enormous amounts of meat because from the day of Kathari Devtera enjoying meat is over. You are supposed not to eat meat or other products like eggs and milk from animals (and fishes) with blood. In the Greek kitchen there remains enough good dishes to be eaten. It is the time that much octopus is devored, as well as shrimps and shell fish. Tarama, a paste from fish eggs, potatoes and olive oil is a particularly popular lent-dish. Not only during lent but for the whole winter long the Greeks eat a lot of beans. Especially white beans and fava. Fava is a paste from mashed green peas (green fava) or from mashed chick peas (yellow fava) and with a good splash of olive oil and some raw slices of onion it is one of my favourite winter dishes. Chorta (wild salad), salads with thin sliced white cabbage as well as the spanakopitas are all very popular on Kathari Devtera.

The coming weeks the lambs are fattened and I bought a lot of lamb because until Easter that meat is rare to be found in the shops. On Kathari Devtera we were not quite in the mood to go down to the village. Without a procession and only free food it did not appeal to us. And we had plenty to do with a bunch of donkeys who also came to Eftalou and who loved our really green grass. We had to chase them many times, but you know how stubborn donkeys can be. Especially when they see juicy chorta. They really were in a mood for partying, but finally we got them out and they went in the direction of the restaurants. Maybe they were lucky and found themselves a space on the crowded terraces...

As opposed to the mayor of Molyvos the weather gods really did what they could for the carnival. On Monday night the good warm weather stopped and the heavens opened to let the rain pour down. For Wednesday they even predict snow! The sober weather goes along with the lent, although I do hope that it will not last 7 weeks. Lesvos is known to have the most hours of sunshine and I am sure that in the coming weeks the island will not be that sparing with sun hours. The countdown for Easter has started. As well as for the new season. It is nearly summer...

Copyright © Smitaki 2006