Monday, 24 November 2008
Last week there was one day when I was very angry. A few days later, there were people mad at me.
The previous column, in which I talked about wild boars that were released by a bunch of hunters and in which I went on to say that I was disappointed because the butcher here is not permitted to sell boar meat in his shop, made a number of people angry. They thought that with this story I promoted hunting on Lesvos.
A correction is inappropriate, because I write what I want and I will not change my already published words, even if that is a possibility on the Internet. And I'm not suddenly going to deny that I love eating game, because it's true that I used to be very happy going to the Ardennes in order to eat a deer steak or a boar fillet.
It made me very sad that people perceived my column as a plea for the hunt on Lesvos, because that was not what I intended. I am against senseless hunting. So I do not understand anything about the hunting of birds, which is rather popular here on the island. But so saying, I still can enjoy a dinner of game, which I used to eat in a country where they hunt in order to protect that same game from overpopulation. This is called game conservation and I'll agree with anybody who says that Greeks don't have much notion of game or forest conservation (although the chestnut forest near Agiasos is neatly maintained, and here I mean the trees and not the wild boar), let alone that there is more than one Greek who doesn't have any respect at all for animals.
Because here comes the second issue of this column: it really is a sad coincidence, but one night last week a hunting dog arrived at our house, very frightened and hungry. She wanted to join our pack of dogs (only 2) and was looking for a place to eat, drink, sleep and live.
Now I don't want any more misunderstandings: I HAVE NO ANIMAL SHELTER! Even though for the winter I took in ten cats from the neighbouring hotel, so that the cat population around our house counts now more than twenty cats, and even if we decided to take in the new friend of our winter dog Albino, the black Labrador Black Jack (also known by tourists as Vodka, but what a name! You want to promote alcoholism?!), I HAVE NO ANIMAL SHELTER!
An animal shelter is very easy to start here on the island. In October or November you just take a stroll around the village and your shelter will be filled with abandoned dogs and cats. You will find sad mewling fluffy creatures that are seeing their first winter and have no idea how to survive and you will find heaps of sad looking dogs, already hardened by a first winter, who try to survive and will wait impatiently for the tourists to reappear.
In the winter animal lovers can only go around with a heart of stone. Because you cannot rescue every animal you come across. Unless you actually want to start an animal shelter.
So last week I was very angry. With the Greeks who so easily neglect animals, with the tourists who are not here all year round to feed and pamper the animals, so that in the winter I get stuck with a bunch of spoiled cats that all climb on your lap, all want a place inside my house and all prefer the most expensive cat food.
And now I'm stuck with the third dog that found our house this autumn. The first one was taken to Holland by friends who found a home there for her. It was very hard on me, but the second I refused to feed for three days and then he got the message and took off to I know not where. The third was this hunting dog, who was so skinny and scared that I didn't have the heart to chase her. So I gave her some food, and gave her food...
Now I have a real problem, because in addition to the care of 20 or more cats and 2 dogs I also have a husband, and we fully agreed that no more animals were to be taken in. He's right: we didn't come to Greece to start an animal shelter. So I'm looking for an animal lover who wants to take this dog, because when this thin creature has regained some strength, she can no longer stay in the Smitaki home. And maybe you think I am a cruel person, but I value my marriage above this beastly mess, which is the current situation around our house.
Greece, where animals easily die from bullets or poison, is a very cruel country for animal lovers. But while I learn to harden my heart, the Greeks learn more and more to respect animals. And let there be no more misunderstanding, because I now have to try and place a hunting dog!
Copyright © Smitaki 2008
Monday, 17 November 2008
17 November - Christmas Shopping Online from
Last week a man was seriously injured in Agiasos during the hunt. It appeared that he was hit by a large calibre bullet that came from his own rifle or the rifle of a fellow hunter. It's the first hunting incident involving large calibre, as here on Lesvos they usually only hunt small game such as birds.
A few years ago, however, wild boars appeared in the woods around Agiasos (probably released by hunters who wanted larger game) and since then the mountains around Agiasos have become popular for hunters who like to shoot wild boar. The hunt is only during the hunting season in the winter, and allowed only on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The injured man was caught red handed by getting hurt on Thursday!
Last week in a butcher shop I saw a beautiful woodcarving of a wild boar. I pointed at it, asking if the butcher ever sold wild boar. He immediately put his two wrists crossed in front of him: "I then go to jail." So the sale of wild boar meat is officially banned here on the island and you'll need to have contacts if you want a tasty boar steak on your plate.
I was a little disappointed, because one of the things I miss here in the Lesvorian kitchen is a nice piece of game. When I lived in the Netherlands, every autumn we went to the Ardennes in Belgium to eat game, but here on the island you have to do with sheep or goat meat, if you want slightly wilder meat.
It doesn't seem such a good idea to receive a steak or a saddle of venison by mail. Just as I would not recommend to have you sent a nice piece of lamb or goat from the island. The local meat is of excellent quality, but whether it would still be so nice after its journey by post, I wonder.
If you want to have a little Lesvos-feeling during Christmas, there are other products from the island that you can order online. First there is our highly praised olive oil, which gets increasing recognition internationally, but is not available on a grand scale in other countries. You can surprise not only Lesvos-lovers, but also culinary enthusiasts with a bottle of local olive oil. In order to convince yourself of the quality of Lesvorian olive oil, you can read here the success story of a German family, who has fallen for the yellow gold of Lesvorian olive oil. Furthermore, a German website where Cretan olive oil and Lesvorian olive oil can be ordered online: Liquid of Greece.
Although opinions differ as to whether ouzo tastes the same outside of Greece, a bottle of Lesvos ouzo will always be a nice gift for fans of Greece. More than one website offers ouzo, just as some well stocked liquor shops sell ouzo from Lesvos. Not all ouzos come from Lesvos, so please make sure that you choose an ouzo from Plomari or Mytilini!
Lesvos has much more to offer than just ouzo and olive oil. In 1983 the first women's co-operative of the island opened in Petra. This project tried to get women, especially wives of farmers, out of their social and economic isolation. Since then the women's co-operatives have shot out of the ground like mushrooms and nowadays you will find one in each village that has more than three tavernas (and many villages do have more than three tavernas).
In Petra the women of the co-operative started renting rooms and they served delicious breakfasts. Meanwhile their restaurant in the central square of Petra has become a hot spot for dinner. The other women's co-operatives however have concentrated their efforts to pickle fruits and vegetables that the island provides so richly, just like drying various herbs that grow everywhere.
While the men sip their coffees for hours and observe the village life, the women, while gossiping and talking, turn the harvested fruits and vegetables into various preserves: jam, pickled fruits in sugar, olive pastes, tomato and other sauces, biscuits with almonds and / or walnuts, Greek marzipan, hand-made pastas and so on. Especially pastries and cakes are very popular with the Greeks. But the co-operatives also offer a nice range of items that can be purchased over the Internet.
It was a bit of a search on the internet to find all these culinary products online, and the websites that I have found are not always set up very well, but with a little patience, I am sure that you can order wonderful things online through the following two sites: Aegean Shop ( (Mind you on this website you have to translate each page to English by pushing the translate button if you don't read Greek) and E- Lesvos.shop (On this website only some products can be ordered online)
Finally, here's a site where you can't order food, but other pure products from Lesvos: sculptures and jewellery made of olive wood, carved by the English artist Eric Kempson, and various types of lace from the Molyvos shop: 'Eleni's Workshop' , selected by Erics wife Philippa. The couple has lived on the island since 1999 and there is almost no restaurant in the village that was not tempted to purchase one of Eric sculptures.
Copyright © Smitaki 2008
Monday, 10 November 2008
I think most tourists leave Lesvos far too early. Especially for hiking enthusiasts, October and November are wonderful months here on the island. I don't know whether it's because of the drought, but this autumn the trees and bushes are showing unprecedented bright autumn colours, so that the island this year can easily compete with the famous autumn colours familiar in the woods of somewhat wetter countries.
The walk from Anemotia, among the famous yellow rhododendrons (for obscure reasons these azaleas are called rhododendrons on the island) takes you amongst trees that are so bright orange, cherry red or sparkling yellow that it hurts your eyes. In the quiet forest, where you only hear the rustle of leaves and the wind gusts that announce themselves from kilometres away from the mountain peaks before they sweep down through the tree tops, even the rhododendrons that creep like garlands down the mountain slopes in the dark pine forest, aren't lit up with their flowers, but with their yellow leaves.
On the margin, where the pine trees stop and the cultivated fields of olive trees begin, there is another party. There you find dark green strawberry trees that sparkle like Christmas trees with their red, bulbous fruit. Yes, you read it right: a tree with strawberries. Arbutus unedo, the scientific name of the strawberry tree (in Latin unedo means: 'Eat only one'), is to be found in many Mediterranean countries. The fruit, which looks like round strawberries, colour from yellow, orange to bright red. They have a slight strawberry flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. You get a bit of a dry mouth from eating them raw, but you can make an excellent jam with them and in many countries they also make liqueur with this fruit.
The beauty that the Mediterranean climate brings is that many trees remain green in winter: the pines which cover the heart of the island, the millions of olive trees, cypress trees, laurel trees, strawberry trees and nameless other trees that keep the island green during winter. But nevertheless, you occasionally can get homesick, missing the falling leaves that crackle so nicely under your feet and the smell of rotting leaves, mushrooms and wet earth. When you really get homesick for falling leaves, then you should go to Agia Anagyri, a scenic spot in a valley next to Asomatos, with a church and a taverna with extensive terraces (only open on summer holidays), all under sky-high plane trees where in the autumn you can be sure to find a centimetres thick blanket of yellow gold leaves where you can run through and have fun with as much as you like.
From the road from Agia Anagyri to Asomatos, on foot or by car you can take a path to the sanatorium above Agiasos. The road goes high through the mountains and the steep slopes on the other side of the valley are like bright green masses coloured with the yellow speckles of the chestnut and other deciduous trees. They make an incredibly nice picture. Even the orange-yellow glow that is found this time of year in the golden chestnut forest (the chestnut forest is on the road from Agiasos to the sanatorium, a little after the sanatorium), pales against these breathtaking views.
The huge chestnut trees had already shaken off tons of chestnuts and the leaves were partly cleaned away. Probably for the Chestnut festival that took place last weekend in Agiasos. An annual event visited by people from all over the island who come to taste the chestnuts and enjoy food and music. A few weeks ago there was still a question if the festival could take place. The municipality could not pay the 3000 euros that the festivities cost. Two weeks ago fortunately they found the money, so as in previous years people strolled through the narrow streets of this mountain town, greeting their many friends and enjoying a good meal in the local tavernas.
In the capital of the island, Mytilini, they celebrated quite another party, but I wonder if that was as exuberant as in Agiasos. The liberation of the capital was celebrated (November 8, 1912) with military parades and schoolchildren marching. This year even the president of Greece, Karolos Papoelias, visited the celebration and he was promptly made an honoured citizen of Mytilini.
He was not the only exalted visitor that weekend. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dora Bakoyannis, was also visiting Lesvos among others for a conference on the flow of refugees that still reach the island in abundance (like elsewhere in the country). While the Minister and notables debated on how they can improve the reception of the refugees, the coastguard again had to sail out in order to save a group of 40 men, women and children from a shaky boat that nearly perished.
Some of the refugees are lucky if they get placed in the sanatorium at Agiasos, which now serves as an asylum centre. There they can rest in the middle of chestnut woods and golden-coloured mountain slopes, a twenty minute walk from the picturesque town of Agiasos. But I wonder whether they equally enjoy this beautiful nature as we do. I saw them strolling on the road, clearly feeling much better than when they shuffled over the Eftalou boulevard when they'd just arrived wet and exhausted. But I do believe that if you are fleeing from gunshots and exploding bombs, the forests around Agiasos, where only the thuds of falling chestnuts can be heard, will be the first relief on a long road to a better life...
Copyright © Smitaki 2008
Sunday, 2 November 2008
We could spend a whole evening talking about climate change: finally we had a reasonably cool summer and September was the coldest ever. There are friends who claim that in years gone by you could sleep outside on the beach in December and in the spring, March and April, you mainly lived outside. Well, I just remember our first winters a few years back, when snow and rain poured down on the island. Is the climate here in Greece getting colder?
Last week proves the contrary: temperatures climbing nearly to 30°C and a sea temperature that still attracted some swimmers. But no rain and many Greeks get sad looking at their olive trees, that this winter don't bear much fruit and the olives that hang on the trees are small and crave for water to get just that magic touch to be able to produce that healthy, yellow gold oil.
World history proves that climates are not stable. Here on Lesvos this is proven by the Petrified Forest where trees and fossil plants from millions of year ago have been found. Some of the plants and trees, like the sequoia tree, can now only be found in the tropical and subtropical climates in South-East Asia and North America. This is a reason for scientists to conclude that Greece, in any case Lesvos, once used to have a tropical climate.
If you want to see volcanoes in Europe, you go to Sicily to climb the rumbling Etna or you descend into a spectacular crater in Madeira to visit the village of Curral das Freias. No volcano lover chooses Lesvos, although Lesvos has all its fertile land and its biggest attraction thanks to volcanoes. The island is full of wonders for geologists, and the park of 15,000 acres with its petrified trees and plants will be a paradise for them. Although you will no longer find active volcanoes here.
When a guide accompanies you when you get to this wonderful, geological park in the west of the island, approaching the villages of Anemotia and Agra, you will hear that you are travelling through the crater of a volcano. But you will need a lot of imagination to think you are moving through the cone of a crater, because the rugged mountain slopes and rough mountain peaks form an intriguing landscape, but do not look at all as a cone shaped mountain with a crater on its summit from which smoke escapes.
Everywhere on the island you will find bright coloured rocks and old crushed lava fields, evidence of the presence of these extinct volcanoes. As is of course the Petrified Forest, where wonderful trees are on display. Thanks to the volcanic eruptions and the following rains huge trees with roots and all were petrified and now you will find large tree chunks that have been changed into semi-precious stone.
When during the summer heat you shuffle one by one through the park, the crowd and heat may not allow you to imagine that once the island was covered with huge trees. But when you go in the low seasons like spring or autumn, when the sun is not burning yet and you can walk around at your own pace, those million years old trees will for sure move you to tears.
The Petrified Forest of Lesvos is the largest park in the world with petrified trees. Some smaller parks in the world are the Petrified Forest National Monument in Chubut Province in Argentina, the Geosite Goudberg by Hoegaarden in Belgium, the Geopark or Paleorrota in Brazil and the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, but also in other countries, including Egypt, India, the Czech Republic and Australia, you will find small sites with petrified trees.
Lesvos is of course very proud of this unique park, but in terms of tourism it has a lot of competition in its own country, like the Palace of Knossos on Crete, the ancient medieval city of Rhodes, or the Acropolis in Athens, which was in the race for the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The Acropolis just missed the finish and was not announced as a new wonder of the world by the New7Wonders Foundation, which is committed to saving world heritage. In addition to the New Seven World Wonders, which are buildings made by men, the organization next year wants also to proclaim the Seven World Wonders of Nature. The preliminary rounds, where everyone can vote (also through the Internet), are already in full swing, and ultimately each country may enter the next round with only one site.
And that's not good news for Lesvos, because the Petrified Forest now has to compete with the Meteora rocks, the island of Santorini and the highest mountain in Greece, Olympos. Olympos is now ranked 107, Santorini 137, Meteora 111 and the Petrified Forest only 322!
Curiously enough the Petrified Forest is amongst the nominated forests, while I would consider it amongst the 'Rocks' or 'Parks'. Not that it matters, but I would still like to see the Petrified Forest finishing at least amongst the 100 World Wonders of Nature. The fascinating Petrified Forest on this beautiful Greek island is certainly worth your vote. So don't let your voice get lost and vote for the Petrified Forest of Lesvos:
Copyright © Smitaki 2008