Tuesday, 24 April 2007


I don't understand anything about the financial transactions going on these days. This week it seems that the English Bank, Barclays wants to take over my Dutch bank ABN/AMRO. They don't earn enough money, although each year they gain millions. Where do all these billions they want to pay for the bank come from? Do all the English clients have to pay it from their meagre savings? And why then do they have to reorganize if the bank made huge gains this year? To me it's all a lot of hanky panky from the modern international business world. Mind you, I don't have any complaint about my bank in Holland.

Here the banks are quiet a different story. The office of the National Bank of Greece here in Molyvos urgently needs a take over. The interior is from the fifties: big, black, pompous furniture that barely fits into the office. There is just enough space for some clients, queuing in front of a line, in front of a row of two counters.

Greece is still a country of stamps and papers. So it takes some time to get things done at the counter. When you want information about financial matters, you can sit at a desk, just beside the queue of waiting people. There a nice lady gives you all the information you want. Summer or winter, people from Molyvos seem to have to do something at the bank every day, so there is always a line of waiting people. While you explain your financial situation, all the people, including at least two you know very well, can listen in and get an idea about all your financial transactions.

About ten years ago I was in Sri Lanka where changing money was an entertaining excursion. As a foreigner you arrived in an office where there were some 20 desks, all with a mountain of paperwork and where the employees were bent over their work. They seemed to be very busy but you could see that they secretly looked at you with one eye, as if you came from Mars. You were seated and offered a glass of water and they took your passport and the money that was to be changed. When you are abroad your passport is one of the most precious things you have. So I kept on following my passport. Because there it went, my passport, jumping from one desk to the next, while the paperwork accompanying it grew larger and larger and more and more stamps were added. After some hours the pile then disappeared into a glass cubicle where probably the boss was lurking. Half an hour later I received my passport back and a fresh stack of crackling new Sri Lankan paper money.

Visiting a bank in Sri Lanka was like entering the story 'The Castle' by Franz Kafka. Going into the bank here in Molyvos gives you about the same feeling. There are computers but they seem to do nothing other than churn out papers. When you open an account you get an account booklet that is updated each time you visit the bank. No bank accounts and we've never used the ATM, although there are ATM machines in the village.

In this village they never heard about privacy. Like they never heard about efficiency in Greek bureaucracy. You can confuse the Greeks by telling them that you bear the same first name as your father. Filling in official papers they always ask for the forename of your father. A lot of Dutch people are named after their father: Peter Pan, for example, father: Peter Pan. In Greece children are named after their grandparents. So the father of Peter Pan must be Paul Pan. So when you fill in the same name twice and they ask you three times if you are joking, they cannot believe when you explain that in Holland it is normal to be named after your father.

Well, our Greek is far from perfect, so we are always in for some confusion in translation. Just as the Greeks do not understand that some Dutch can have three or four first names. If you let the Greeks get away with writing your names, you'll be sure to end up having new fore names and a new family name.

So even though Greece is part of Europe getting involved with bureaucracy is still an adventure. We are lucky that we do not need a health book, like the people who work in the hotel, restaurant and food industry. They not only need an x-ray, but also a big collection of stamps. Those you have to get in Mytilini. Not all stamps from one office or different stamps from different counters in one building, all offices are spread around the city. So when you finally located all the offices, you'd better hope that the official is willing to work, that means, putting a stamp and seeing that you filled in the right papers. You even have to check your x-ray. Recently a friend of ours was going around with the wrong x-ray!

I don't know if the bureaucracy in Athens has improved, but I know for sure it hasn't here in Molyvos. Funnily enough, just like in 'The Castle' by Kafka, which is a story about an impossible bureaucracy, Molyvos has this huge castle looming over the village. As far as I can see, my Dutch bank ABN/AMRO is functioning okay. I suggest that all those big money makers should come to look at Greece. It must be Billy Bunterland for people who like to reorganize. With all those billions they want to pay for the ABN/AMRO bank, they could not only reorganize all Greek banks and modernize the whole of Lesvos, they could even give a million to its citizens. And those citizens in return can do good business with the banks again.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Getting lost with the Andersons

I dare to do it about once a year: take a walk with the Andersons. Which means that I walk with friends, who think it's an important challenge to do all the walks that the English couple Brian and Eileen Anderson present in their book 'Lesvos, car tours and walks' (publisher: Sunflower Books).

Regular readers might remember that I wrote earlier about their walks: a lot of troubles (see 14 November 2005). Because a walk from the Andersons means a complex searching tour where getting lost is the number one risk. It generally takes me a year to build up the courage to do another of their walks. Because I trust that my Anderson-walking-friends should by now know all their tricks. They nearly did all 28 featured walks. I should say they tried to walk them all, because it is not often you walk the paths the Andersons describe.

Yesterday we were ready to do tour number 14: a walk from Mixou, Plati and back to Mixou. Mixou is an enchanting village that we visited for the first time. It is between the Gulf of Yera and mount Olympos. In the guide we were warned that the walk was pretty steep. And it was, entering the valley of Mixou. It didn't take long before we asked ourselves if we were lost. Maybe somewhere we took the wrong road, because we reached the beautiful spot where the small church of Agios Ioannis Theologos looks down on the Gulf of Yera, a place we should reach coming back. So we decided that we probably did the walk the other way round.

We did not see that many cross roads so we walked and enjoyed the astonishing landscapes with magnificent sights over the Gulf of Yera and the first 'leg' of Lesvos, where mountains hide the capital Mytilini and where, above the mountain slopes, Turkey looms as if it is part of the island.

When we were looking for Agia Anárgyri, we walked up and down some wrong roads. We thought we were at the half way mark of the walk when we finally reached this church that lies in an idyllic oasis under huge plane trees and pine trees and where a little stream always runs across the property. After a cooling rest we continued our road in the direction of Plati, which meant that we had to climb another pretty big mountain. According to the Andersons the highest altitude of the walk sould be 400 metres high, but when I walked on that rocky plateau and looked at Olympus which was watching us from not far away, it seemed to me that we were as high as the top of this second highest mountain of the island. Wild sage, known on the island as wild mountain tea, was growing everywhere. This herb tea is known to grow pretty high in the mountains. Everything went well, until the wide path turned into a small track. We saw a car parked by the road and we met a farmer carrying a jerry can. He came from the direction that we had to take. Was he out of petrol and did he get petrol somewhere? It was the question that kept us busy when the track took a deep dive into a narrow wood full of strawberry trees and other low bushes. It was a pretty dangerous path full of little loose stones. We seriously asked ourselves if this path was indeed part of the walk of the Andersons. We and our overstretched muscles were relieved when we finally arrived on a normal mountain track. We took the direction we thought led to Mixou, but again we were wrong. And this time totally lost, because the road ended just like that.

So there you are high on a mountain slope, seeing below you at the other side of a deep valley the church of Agios Ioannis Theologos, where hours before we took our first rest. How could we get there? Nobody wished to take the track cutting through the bushes. Too dangerous and too tiring. The only thing we could do was to follow back the mountain road climbing up the mountain. You can imagine what we were calling the Andersons. Their walking books should be forbidden. Everybody complained about them and my friends, champions at doing walks, only did one of their walks without getting lost.

So we got ourselves up that mountain slope until we reached a crossroads that we'd crossed before! Saved! So finally we started to descend on the path that gave us so much sweat and tears on the way when we started. We decided that we should ban the Andersons from the island. They walk too fast anyway. Everybody in our company knows that you always have to double the time they give for a walk. If you are passed by a fast moving cloud of dust and you see some legs moving, those are the Andersons who shoot by over the paths like rockets.

Strange in a way, because the Andersons also published a book called 'The orchids of Lesvos'. How can they walk that fast and discovering orchids at the same time? I have to admit that the walk was great. Not only the far off views were breath taking, it was especially the flowers which took your breath away and your tiredness. Fancy Fair Anemones (see 20 March 2007) stared at us in their cheery colours, poppies in all shades of red, merry white daisies, purple crest lavender, pink, white and even small yellow sun roses coloured the green bushes. It was full of small bright blue lupins, yellow, purple and white clover. But there were also many orchids. I never in my life saw so many naked men. Ha, ha, on the naked man orchid it was (Orchis Italica). There were hundreds of them, often in company with the pink Four corner Orchid (Orchis quadrapunctata) and diverse Serapia orchids. We saw some very beautiful white Anatolic orchids (Orchis Anatolica var. albiflora) and a rare sample that connoisseurs do not agree which name it has: the bumlebee or horse-fly orchid (Ophrys fuciflora/scolopax/holoseriscea). In total we saw 12 different orchid species on this walk. There were that many that even the flying by Andersons would have noticed them.

When we were nearly down we were wondering where the actual walk number 14 started. We stopped at a building built with 'B2' blocks, where we should have taken a crossroad within 10 minutes of the start of the walk. We had no excuse that we did not know what B2- blocks are, because that expression for concrete blocks we could remember from another walk of the Andersons. The crossroad we should have taken was as clear as it could be. Our friend who read the map was so exited about the beginning of the walk that she completely overlooked this important clue...

That does not mean that the Dutch translations of the Anderson's walks are always right. It may be that the translator made mistakes, like is done in the translations from English into Dutch of the walks of Mike Maunder, which we know also get a lot of complaints. Nobody ever succeeded in doing walk number 12 of the Andersons without getting on the wrong roads. And number 14, well, we have to redo that one. I think yesterday we saw most of the tracks in that area, so if we get lost the next time, we will know the way back!

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

Monday, 9 April 2007


Zeus, the chief god of the 12 most important gods of Olympus and God of weather, must have had a pretty chaotic last week. The modern weather forecasts on the internet were forecasting rain and cold for the Easter days. Not a good prospect when you've invited some 20 people for a souvla, the traditional lamb on the spit.

Maybe the God of wine interfered. Dionysos is said to be a son of Zeus. Zeus, married to Hera, had a lot of flings. It is not sure who Dionysos' mother was with whom Zeus had a fling but it is sure that when Dionysos was born he was brought to the rain-nymphs of Nysa who raised him, far away from a possible revenge by Hera.

The nymphs of Nysa, also called Hyades, were the daughters of Atlas, the god who has to bear the earth on his shoulders. They had a brother, Hyas, who was killed by a lion. This tragic accident made the nymphs cry so many tears, that those tears now are associated with the spring rains and the wet autumn storms.

I don't know what the nymphs were doing last year, we did not see that much rain. And while the weather forecasts predicted many days with rain before Easter, only White Thursday had some spots of rain. Dionysos probably tempted his father and step mothers with a gorgeous party, because at Easter it was so hot that we even had to wake up the sun umbrella from his hibernation.

Easter on Lesvos is also the start for the summer season. This year it was on the same day as Easter in the rest of the world (The Greek Church still adheres to an old orthodox calendar, so that most years Greek Easter is not on the same day as in other countries). Even though bad weather was predicted, the island slowly filled with tourists. Not only Greeks came in numbers to celebrate Easter with family and friends, also a lot of foreign tourists were seen around this early Easter.

Another Easter tradition on Lesvos seems to be (and probably in other tourist regions) that nobody is ready for the season. Most of the hotels still have to do some Herculean works, municipalities still have to cover some holes in the streets, women start hurriedly sweeping their steps, the local flower shop does not have enough flowers to fill all the flower pots before Easter.

The miracle of Easter is that on this day, just about everything has to be ready. Although the real start of the season is the arrival of the first charter plane, this year also coming from Holland pretty early: Friday 13th of April. I have to admit that we secretly laugh about all this because of course nothing is ready then. Alkeos still has to put half a roof on a new building (although their renewed roof is the prettiest on the island; it has terra coloured tiles), Elpidiki still has to do the interior of one of their newest bungalows, hotel Panselinos which the whole winter through worked at its garden still has to mow the wild grass and hotel Kangeroo (yes, indeed this hotel exists in Molyvos!) that has been bought by hotel Olive Press is still covered in dirty clouds because of the works going on there. And so on for the others.

After two years of closure Hotel Mythimna Beach in Eftalou this year opens under the new name Bella Vista. It is the only hotel that seems to be ready for its new future. Besides the rebuilding inside they will have an extended watersport service for sailing and surfing.

Thanks to good lawyers, restaurant Anatoli made it through the winter and they can rejoice in a busier Eftalou. Although the two sisters still threaten them with closure, this case seems to be nothing more than a soap opera of the exchange of letters between lawyers. According to the latest news Anatoli will stay open.

Dionysos enjoyed himself pretty well this Easter. Thanks to the heat the white wine kept flowing from the bottles. Instead of a lamb we had a goat grilled as an Easter lamb. I wondered if you could stuff such a souvla animal, like it is done with the stuffed lamb that goes into the oven. This experiment was a great success. It was close to midnight when we put the Easter fire out.

It promises to be a hot and dry summer. Although somebody should make the Hyades cry. But if Dionysos makes sure that the wine still flows and the dinner tables are stocked with food, why should we worry...

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Kane hamam

We've already lived a couple of years here on the island, not far from the hot springs of Eftalou, but we've never become big fans of them. In the summer it's too busy, in the winter it's not always clean, because nobody takes care of the bath. Sometimes the bath is full of soap because people like to do their laundry there, sometimes you will find a group of youths partying and sometimes you'll find a heap of clothes from refugees, who, refreshed by the hot spring, find new energy to continue their flight.

So unfortunately there first has to come an opportunity to visit such a hot bath. A month ago Jan had a nasty fall and bruised a rib. Hot spring baths do not cure bruised ribs, but when the rib had nearly stopped hurting, back ache arrived, because of the different posture in order to avoid injuring the rib.

The muscles got stiff because of all the extra effort and for this a hot spring bath does miracles. So it was decided to take a cure of hot spring baths in Lisvori, because since last winter a friend of ours is managing the place.

Yes, from time to time you do read about miracle cures and people praising the hot springs as if it were one of the last undiscovered secrets in the world. We regularly tell people who struggle for example with rheumatism to take a bath in the hot springs. Even though we never ourselves experimented with the magic powers of such a bath.

So now we say: tavma! It is a miracle, because indeed it helps!

A down to earth person from Holland would reason that if all that I write is the truth, why is nobody clever enough to exploit these baths. It is a question that we discuss a lot with our friends.

A small incrowd on the island, especially a lot of the youth, are regular users of the baths, because they do believe in the healing properties of a bath and because taking such a bath is so wonderful. A lot of elder Lesvorians totally refuse to go into the mineral water, even if they are doubled up with rheumatism or gout. People on this island will not believe in the curing power of the hot springs.

On the Greek mainland there are many different health resorts that are exploited. Hotels with their own baths, big public spas, pools full of mineral water, mud baths. In the town of Edipsos healing water even runs through the streets, they have that many springs and health resorts. On the island of Iskaria mineral baths have been known since 500 BC and nowadays you can get hydro therapy there.

Lesvos is the Greek island with the largest number of hot springs. But if somebody were to sell you a holiday with a healing program like say in the hot spring of Eftalou, you would feel swindled. There are hot springs, but the main building and the small dome with its 'do-not-bump-your-head' -entrance is not exactly what you think of as a health resort. Lesvos is far from the extended German health resorts where in earlier centuries many famous and rich people gathered, not only to cure, but also to be seen.

The hot springs of Lesvos are like the island itself: very simple. The baths of Polychnitos, Thermi, Yera, Eftalou and Lisvori all still have that antique atmosphere, like you were getting into the bath with the Romans. No beautiful shining tiles, but century old stone basins that have an unidentified colour because of the minerals in the water. Holes in the roof make sure that there is a fairy tale play of light beams and steam and the privacy of most baths make sure that you really can relax.

'Kane hamam' is what the Greeks say when they are taking a hot spring bath. But hamam is the Turkish word for Turkish bath, which means a steam bath. The Turks love making hamam. Could that be a reason why most Greeks neglect the hamam, because the Turks love to do it?

In Kalithea on Rhodes you will find maybe the most beautiful baths in Greece. In creamy Italian style, with mosaic floors, arches which rest on elegant pillars, palm trees radiating an exotique atmosphere, beautiful paths leading to the main building with pillars and hedges of pink bougainvillea. The baths of Kalithea were already famous when in 1928 an Italian architect created this beautiful building. But, the baths of Kalithea are nowadays only to look at. They are no longer in use. So also on Rhodes you have people who underestimate the power of the hot springs.

Not that I really mind that the hot springs on Lesvos are still that simple. Somewhere in the North of Greece there are baths that you have to reserve for at least three weeks in advance. You have small mineral lakes that you have to share with at least another hundred people. There is an idyllic pool under a waterfall, a place you have to share with at least 50 other people.

Here on the island there is at least one smart person who drilled for his own spring and the water that comes out, he will use on a commercial basis. The family Hotel Alceos is building suites each with their own hot mineral bath. So simple is life. And that quickly you can organize a health resort.

The only thing is, what will the Greeks think of this? They believe that hot spring baths are not good for children. So maybe it is time for the medical world to decide whether or not hot springs are healthy. We already know that the leaves of the olive tree do not cure cancer. But an island full of hot springs that are good for people with rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica, gynecological and dermatological ailments, neuralgia, skin diseases, kidney and gall stones, prevention of heart attacks, sugar diabetes, neurasthenia, illnesses of the womb, sciatica of the hip joint, intestinal diseases, bronchial diseases, gynecological complaints and more of those illnesses that benefit from mineral water, you would think that those springs should make Lesvos the Lourdes of the Aegean!

Copyright © Smitaki 2007