Monday, 29 May 2006


The West of Europe is suffering from cold and rain, while on Lesvos the summer has arrived. Days with temperatures above 30°C are normal. Also the sea is suddenly a lot warmer. So the daily swimming parties have started again.

However, a few days ago we got a nasty shock when we tried to take off into the water, there was a jellyfish. I grew up in a Dutch seaside village (Zandvoort) and when the weather was warm and the wind was from the east you could bet on there being jellyfish. Then nobody could get me into the water, especially not into that muddy North Sea.

Greece also has jellyfish. Although I must admit that I've only seen them once on this island. Three years ago early in spring there were some huge very blue jellyfish sunning on the beach of Skala Kaloni. Brrr, no way would you have wanted to swim then. A long time ago I saw an invasion of jellyfish on the island of Mykonos and on Samos more than once I had to stay clear of the water because those slithery things occupied the sea.

So the second time I saw them here on Lesvos was a few days ago. And I think, when there is one, there are surely more of them. We took a good look in the water and yes, plenty of those red brownish jelly creatures were floating along the coast. But they did not look like they usually do. They were like oval balls and had some kind of stripes with merry coloured running lights! I never saw this before. It looked like an underwater fair.

It gave me the jim jams and I was reminded of the book 'The Swarm' by Frank Schätzing. In this fascinating book the world is attacked. Not by Martians or other alien creatures, but by all kinds of disasters from the sea. Strange worms which eat the sea bottom, creating underwater landslides, dolphins that go crazy and start attacking ships, tsunamis destroying parts of Europe, crabs which crawl onto the land in millions and enormous jelly plagues. A very interesting book which besides being a good story gives information about underwater life. It is the perfect book for the beach.

Unless you are confronted by such a strange sea creature. Like all the plagues in the book this jelly thing seemed to come right from the deepest darkness of the oceans. Thanks to it's coloured moving lights it seemed to give out strange signals. Brrrr. It made me shiver but part of me was fascinated. So we didn't go in for a swim and since then I always watch out for them before I dive into the water.

Since then I never saw another jelly. Except for on the internet. I was so curious about what creature had kept me out of the water that day. Well, jellies are creeps! I even saw a picture of a giant jelly in Japan the size of a human being. If ever I meet such a monster in the sea here I will definitely not go in the water for at least three years.

I did not find our mysterious lightning jelly on all the jelly sites I visited. After some more studying I found that there are other jelly-like families. And there I found it. Under the ctenophores. It was a comb jelly. Which is not a real jelly because it does not have tentacles metres long with which it can prick/sting or whatever a jelly does to you. Although it is a kind of cannibal because it feeds on other comb jellies.

There would have been no danger if we had swum amongst them. But when you do not know this, you'd better keep your distance. And I certainly don't want to touch such a slimey creature. That would immediately remind me of the times I accidentally touched a jelly.

While surfing the internet I also found a story about a group of Belgians who went to Greece to study reptiles, including snakes. They had beautiful pictures which gave me the shivers as well. Years ago I was surprised by an enormous bright green snake about 2 metres long right behind my computer. He slid through the open back door, so I could not help but looked around me every minute. Is there a snake under my desk, is a snake trying to sneak in behind my back?

The aesculapian snake was as thick as a fist and was not after all dangerous, but for one second (the other second I was out of the house) I thought I was faced by at least a constrictor. Greeks are very afraid of snakes, but now I am getting used to the idea that there are plenty of them around. They are more afraid of you than you of them, so usually they run first. And then most of the species living in Greece are not dangerous. The only thing you have to take care of is that you don't step on them while they are sunbathing or sleeping. Worse still is to step on them with flipflops (open shoes). When I walk in the fields I take care to have long trousers and closed shoes and even then if I'm not sure I carry a stick which I beat on the ground so that the snakes hear and have plenty of time to disappear. And certainly I never leave a door open anymore. I learned my lesson pretty well.

I do not want to scare you, but the Dutch saying is that one warned person is worth two. Just watch where you put your feet and whenever you walk in a field, wear closed shoes. The same goes for swimming where there are stones or rocks in the sea. Use water shoes. They will not help against jellies but they will protect you from sea urchins which do not step aside from you.

There is no remedy against jellies. But I will comfort you by saying that here on the island they are pretty rare. As are the comb jellies. Tell yourself it is an honour when you meet such a lightning ball of jelly. On the internet they describe them as one of the most beautiful creatures of the sea.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Tuesday, 23 May 2006


Did you watch this year's Eurovision Song Contest? I did. And I must say that I enjoyed several songs and I even had fun because of the humour that some countries displayed (amongst others that of LT United from Lithuania with 'We are the winners'). But I really could have cried when they started distributing the votes.

There was a rumour that Greece, the host country this year, did not wanted to win because the organization of such an event is far too expensive. Anna Vissi, who represented Greece for the second time, was of course the centre of all the media attention. Her song 'Everything' was to be heard every 5 minutes on radio or television. I saw at least 3 different clips shown with that song, amongst others one with images of her visit to Amsterdam.

In the song contest 'Everything' impressed me even more. However I was especially charmed by the beautiful voice of Sibil Tüzün from Turkey who sang 'Süper Star', and the mixture of pop and folklore of Hari Mata Hari from Slovenia-Herzegovina. But who am I? I am an old fashioned Festival watcher who in earlier times despised all festival songs, but secretly watched the festival because of the excitement over the presentation of the votes. La Hollande: douze points!

But the festival is not the same anymore. I mean, that is what I think. Was it a shock for the old in 1974 when the pop song Waterloo by Abba won, or was it a shock for Israel when their transsexual Dana International won the festival in 1998? This year it was a great shock for me that Monsters from Finland could win. What has hard rock to do with a Eurovision Song Festival? In the early days you had millions of rules. How the song should be, how the singers should be dressed and so on for everything. Now the Song Festival looks like a free market and what maybe started as a joke for Finland ended up for me as the Downfall of the Song Festival.

Yes. I am getting old. The Song festival has always been a matter of favouritism. According to an analysis of the voters by the Institute of Advanced Computer Science (Leiden, the Netherlands) Greece and Cyprus are lonely leaders at the top of countries giving each other the most votes. This year it was explained to me that it is thanks to the young that the Finnish horror show won. They like to sms and they do it quickly. And they certainly like such a group which goes against all the traditional rules.

Well, that whole matter of sms is a weakness. How can such a small country as Holland compete with such a big one as Russia? You'd be better to count the mobile phones in each country and you'd probably have the same results, without going to the trouble of organizing a Song Festival. The only thing which can save you is to behave extravagantly. That's also become difficult nowadays because everybody tries to put on as striking a show as possible. Like Finland. And they won.

Paul de Leeuw, a cabaret performer who presented the Dutch votes, understood quite well how it works. In the minute he got for presenting the votes, while millions of people were watching, he made a pass at the Greek host Sakis, trying to exchange telephone numbers.

The Sunday after the festival it was the name days of Eleni and Kostas. Our English neighbour Helen was surprised by an enormous lunch that afternoon. There it seemed that many guests had been watching the analysis of the Song Festival in the morning on television. Especially the Greeks were wondering who this crazy Dutchman was. First I did not understand it. Were they confusing somebody else with the Dutch representatives? Treble, consisting of three drumming Dutch girls, was already out of the contest by Thursday. Then it struck me that they were talking about Paul de Leeuw. And I was a little ashamed to explain to them that he is a popular anchorman in Holland. 'Trello ine'. He is crazy. And so Holland did at least make a bit of a mark at the Song Festival.

I do not know if after this Paul de Leeuw will travel to Greece to visit Sakis. Sometime in this spring he made the Dutch viewers of his show believe that Lesvos is the island for lesbians. That is totally wrong. Paul de Leeuw, come and see the island. Except for in Eresos there are no gatherings of women, only of people who love nature and peace and quiet.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 15 May 2006

Rivers of flowers

It took some time, but finally the summer has set in. I swam for the first time this year (I am not that big a hero that I swim the whole year round) and the open fire place can be cleaned to make space for the television, which is a poor replacement for the orange flames I like to stare at.

The fine warm weather means also that the flowers growing at this time of the year on the island will soon disappear. Not long ago I wrote about the Keukenhof (A famous flower park attraction in Holland). The travelling Keukenhof this spring was abundant on Lesvos, but it was not always easy to reach it.

I already published a picture of the tulips that Jan found on the island. I myself was not able to see them, because Jan saw them during tough mountain walks for which I stay at home. Just going up and down Lepetimnos (968 m) and a day later up and down Olympos (967 m). I do like walking, but I am afraid that my legs will not hold on such tough walks. And so I was punished by not seeing the tulips live. Next winter I will take on long hours of training so that next spring I will walk as lightly as a bird up and down the mountains. I have to make some efforts to see the tulips.

Other near mythical flowers which were not easy to reach are the rare yellow rhododendrons. These are flowering at the end of April, beginning of May in the mountains between Anemotia and Pterounda. And these masses of flowers are only to be visited by a tough walk or by jeep. Yes, you read correctly: masses of flowers. Although that description does not quite do the job. In that dark pine forest where the only sound you hear comes from the birds and where the sun paints a nearly black and white landscape, rivers of bright yellow rhododendrons crawl downwards through the folds of the mountains. They are waterfalls of lightning flowers which take care to perfume the whole area with a wonderful sweet smell.

I assure you that seeing this piece of art from nature will keep you quiet for a moment. I saw this wonder myself. The walk going through this area I already made twice, finishing on four legs because I was so tired. But the flowering rhododendrons I visited this time by jeep. Which was as tiring as walking because the road there was no piece of cake at all.

Yeah, nature does not come that easily. So now we have seen the whole range of Dutch spring bulbs on this island: daffodils, snow drops, crocus, fritillaria and tulips. Those headstrong tulips which in Amsterdam used to nearly grow out of my vases are my favourites. Here they are protected, so I have to fill my vases with other flowers like broom, lupins, cornflowers and the many other flowers that are colouring the fields here.

Other flowers that you are not allowed to touch are as cheery as tulips: the orchids. When I first saw them, I did not love them too much, but now I am also taken with an orchid fever. What graceful flowers they are and what crazy forms they can take! They like to hide themselves pretty well, but once you find them they will not let you down when having a closer look. They will make you happy.

Peonies are not as sensational, but nevertheless form merry colours in a woody landscape. Their proud flowers just head out of the greenery. Or the small wild gladiolus which comes in an intense purple and colours many roadside or field. And then you have fields which copy the Dutch tulip fields with their thousands of poppies who like an intense red tapestry.

So you see, I cannot get enough of describing the flowers to you. But I soon have to stop writing about them. When the summer heat starts, all those magic flowers will disappear for the year. No hard feelings. The island will have more of these nice surprises.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 8 May 2006


With the start of the new season I have to write some publicity. The whole winter through we were discussing new excursions and afterwards it is hard to convince the Greek tour operators that for example Dutch tourists like to walk. Walking excursions are pretty hard to organize because, when you want to go away from where the hotels are, you need to supply transport and that costs a lot of money.

Usually the die hard walkers go their own way buying the several books of walks that are sold on the island. But they also have to travel by taxi or rented car to reach their starting points or where they finish their walk. For the casual walker this spring a beautiful walk with a guide was arranged, going from Vafios to Molyvos, straight through the mountains. But the tour operators still do not believe in these walking tours and the excursion is not on the list.

The good news is that we managed to push through two new excursions which we think are really great. The bad news for the English and German readers is that they are only for Dutch speaking people: Specialities of Molyvos (Culinary Molyvos) and a two day jeep safari. One takes a full morning, the other two days. And they are both worth their price, believe me.

For example: did you know that there are bitter and sweet almonds? Do you know how a pine nut gets from the tree into a plastic bag in the supermarket? Did you know that you can eat the seeds of the lupin? And do you really know how the olive harvest works? This and a lot more you can learn during the excursion Culinary Molyvos. The purpose of the excursion is that you not only get to know the medieval city of Molyvos, part of the walk goes straight through this village, you especially will learn what grows and flowers around Molyvos. And I can go on translating what else this walk is about, but in Dutch we say: do not offer a dead sparrow to make people happy.

The same for the two day safari tour. I cannot take the responsibility of telling you the directions. Suppose you get lost in all those forests and have to fight your way through, or fall off a mountain track. The only thing I will whisper in your ear is that the whole party takes one of its swims at the beautiful beach of Melinda, which is in the South next to Plomari and they are washing the dust off in the Hot Springs of Lisvori. There they also do the sleep over. I am sure that the manager, Lazaros, can offer you drinks and small things to eat and a room for the night, if you fall in love with this place.

The other thing I will tell you is where the excursion Molyvos Culinary ends: in the restaurant of Perikles. This garden restaurant in Molyvos is difficult to find, but once you know where it is, I am sure you will fall under its spell. Especially further on in the season when they have nights where they have a kind of shadow puppet-show, accompanied by a Greek band which plays Greek music in the intervals.

How do you find this restaurant? Follow the road at the back of Molyvos up to the castle. Midway you will see a blue building (apartments) on your left hand side and on the opposite side a road goes down to the right. Follow this road and keep right at the junction. A little bit further you will find an entrance hidden by bushes and trees to a garden with plenty of tables. Welcome to Perikles. It is Perikles' daughter who is serving. She has a beautiful name but very difficult to pronounce or to remember: Thelixiopi. Please practice her name before you go there and I'm sure she will be very pleased at you knowing her name. She speaks very good English and for people who like feta, order the fresh feta cheese, the best you will find around Molyvos.

I'm sorry I let down my English and German readers this week. I promise I will never again write only for the Dutch.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Tuesday, 2 May 2006


The Dutch are known for bringing all kinds of food on holidays. Afraid that they will not find the things they have at home, they bring potatoes, butter, mayonnaise, washing powder and God knows what else. But that they now also bring their own weather, I think is not so nice.

Friday the 14th the first charter arrived on the island. Last Friday It really started with a mass of charters and it was as if all those Dutch people brought the bad weather with them. The beautiful warm spring was finished on the island. I must admit that the weather did not get as bad as it was in Holland with loads of rain and cold. The tears that fell from heaven on Saturday and Sunday could barely be called rain. So the farmers already complain that it is too dry. But out of the wind it is very pleasant on the island, especially coming from Holland.

The cold Northeastern wind and all the clouds mean that the kalokairo is still a long time away. Kalokairi, say it like kalokèri, means good weather, which is the Greek word for summer. Kalo kalokairi means: a good summer.

Yesterday it was the first of May and that is a national holiday in Greece. Labour Day and the day of the flowers. On that day the people do not wish you a good summer but a good month: kalo mina. They do that however on every first day of all the twelve months of the year. Yesterday I also heard people congratulating each other: Chronia pola. The whole day through I was wondering why. Later I heard it was still a belated Easter wish. Also they say: Ke to chrono, which means: see you next year.

There are many welcome sayings. Ti kanis? How are you? Kala? Good? If you walk out of a local minimarket like Timoli's, the best minimarket in Molyvos on the street that enters the village at the olive press, than you learn a great variety of sayings, because Timolis is a specialist in different sayings. He probably got streetwise by saying so many hellos and goodbyes on the same day. Kalo efdomada, have a good week, kalimera, goodmorning, kalo vradi, good evening, although you say this only when you leave and not when you arrive. Then you say kalispera, which also means a good evening, only that a spera starts after 12 o'clock AM. There is also a word for the late afternoon, apojevma, and this word took me years to learn. It is mostly used for appointments or things you do in the late afternoon, because I never had somebody wish me a kalo apojevma. Although I am sure you can say that, because you have no idea how much wish-well-saying the Greeks have.

Kalo Paska (a good Easter), Kalo chimonas (a good winter), kalo risico (good luck when you have something new, including a baby), kalo dromo and surprise, surprise: kali strata (both: have a good way), kalo taxidi (have a good journey), and then there are many that I now forget or just did not understand that well. But it is often enough that your mind is racing like hell in order to know what to say back. Happily enough there is one simple word that can save you from those situations and you can even say it when you have no clue what they wished you (and pray that they wished you something good): epices. Which means: the same to you.

The weather also has a lot of sayings. But when you watch the Greek weather forecasts you only learn one thing: vadmous, which means degrees. The Greek news and weather reporters talk that fast that this is a course for advanced pupils. But you can learn the more important words: chioni, snow and vrochi, rain. However the verb for rain does have one letter difference: vrechi.

From the rain to an umbrella is easy: umbèla, which can also mean a sun umbrella. Don't ask me if the Greeks got the word from the English or the other way around. And then there is the most important word for the weather that interests everybody most: ilios. Those who want to smuggle the ilios off of the island, beware! This is the sunny island, even if it didn't seem to be this last week. But at least the vadmous stayed above 15°C!

Copyright © Smitaki 2006