Friday, 26 July 2013

July 22 – ‘Price Fighters’ expected

(Lesvos is waiting for tourists)

Last week a friend of mine travelled to Paris, the City of Light. He was horrified by the number of tourists: too many and you had to queue hours for all the attractions. It’s the same story for Venice, where too many large cruise ships bring not only money but also destruction to the city, a canal town already threatened by the water.

They say Amsterdam is in for a same future, although these floating-tourist-paradises are too large to enter the canals. Just imagine a fifteen-storey high flat passing your house! I can see those huge cruise ships crossing the Aegean Sea, although they stay far from our coast. Sometimes a very small exemplar stops outside the port of Molyvos, but normally Lesvos – even though it’s on the route from the South Aegean islands to Instanbul, is not on the average cruise-ship map.

Islands Tourism Development: A Viewpoint of Tourism Stakeholders of Lesvos Island is a report about the opinion of a few people working in tourism on Lesvos who answered some questions, posed by students of the University of the Aegean in 2010, about tourism in Lesvos. The writers, who think that mass tourism will soon be in decline, use two models for tourism. The 4S model: Sun, Sand, Sea, Sex (equal to mass tourism) and the 4E model: Environment and clean nature, Educational Tourism, culture and history, Events and mega events, Entertainment and fun. 20% of the respondents want the 4S model for Lesvos, 52% want it partly and 28% are against it.

Okay, here we go then: Sun, Sand, Sea and Sex. First of all, parts of the coast around Molyvos would be excavated in order to make longer and wider beaches, as the existing ones are not large enough to contain thousands of people and most of them are pebbled, so they’d need to be covered with sand. With extended beaches Eftalou would be an excellent place for a busy boulevard lined with big hotels. And even the Arion Hotel, on the outskirts of Molyvos and abandoned for tens of years, could finally get rebuilt. That site has the most brilliant view of the medieval town of Molyvos.

Doing the same in Petra is a little more difficult. This town already has a beautiful beach along its boulevard, only the small houses would need to be torn down in order to make place for some big resorts.

Anaxos, a place consisting of small pensions and gardens, already seems to be prepared. Its lovely beach is filled up with sun beds and umbrellas. But I bet that there are plenty of Greeks willing to sell their little second houses and gardens for a nice price, so even in Anaxos some big resorts could be built.

Restaurants needn’t worry if their businesses are too small or if they have too few chairs. Most modern hotels will be all-inclusive and will have their own dining rooms. Their guests will just stroll a little around the village, have a drink, buy a souvenir, but spend the bulk of their money in their hotel.

When evening falls, if there’s not enough entertainment in their hotel, the guests might venture out looking for a discotheque. So we should create more of those big dance-palaces, because the one and a half already existing in the north of Lesvos, will barely be enough. And what better than to hear the electronic boom boom boom reverberating through the night air as an alternative to those screaming creepy cicadas that we listen to now.

And of course the airport is too far away from the most popular places on the island. So, wouldn’t it be great if the old plan of making an airport at Kalloni resurges. I suggest that they then also reclaim part of the Gulf of Kalloni because I’m sure that a resort full of people will bring in more money than salt and birds.

Speaking about infrastructure: for years there has been talk about a paved road along the coast from Eftalou to Skala Sykaminia. They should definitely make that road and, better still, a highway so that busses can quickly transport tourists to this little fishing harbour, which would be an excellent place to organise huge Greek evenings. For romantic people, the boat connection should remain, although it would be preferable to use a faster speedboat, otherwise the evening will be over before the boat arrives.

Right now it is quiet on the island, too quiet for the high season. Greek tourists especially do not have money for a vacation; so it’s no wonder that lots of Lesvorians dream about busy streets and beaches overcrowded with people. In crisis times it is easy to sell your soul to the devil. But when I ask the island inhabitants if they want Eftalou to become the Faliraki of the North (Faliraki on Rhodes used to be a quiet family beach), they hesitate. So maybe no mass tourism on Lesvos? 63% of the respondents were inclined towards model 4E, a more friendly tourism that also involves nature and environment.

The conclusion of the makers of the report is that tourism on Lesvos needs a bit from each model. I agree because I would have 2 S’s – Sea and Sun – a 2 E’s – Environment and a clean nature and Eductional tourism. I am wondering how they would connect nature and mega events, but I know for sure that all tourists want entertainment and fun for their holidays. And by the way, the biggest beach of the island, Vatera, would be very suitable for big beach parties.

It is said that next year two ‘Price Fighters’ will organise regular flights to the island:
Flights from Ryan Air (from England) and Corendon Dutch Airlines (from Holland) will hopefully bring lower cost flights and bring more people to the island, something that Lesvos really needs. Of course I hope that the nightmare scenario I described above will never happen. Lesvos is so unique because of her wild and sensational nature and that fact that there is no mass tourism. However, when tourism is well organized there is plenty of space for a greater number of holidaymakers. So let the ‘Price Fighters’ discover Lesvos. And if they do not bring big developers, they will be all the more welcome!

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2013

Sunday, 14 July 2013

July 8: Hop hop hoppa

(Photo: internet)

There’s a new trend in the travel world: social travelling! While cruises remain popular, it seems that people may be tiring of the all-inclusive holidays, which are a disaster for the holiday regions. Now it’s back to holiday roots: booking a room with locals and discovering your holiday destination with a local.

Maybe children have finally listened to their parents’ stories about how, in the Sixties and Seventies, they spent their holidays island hopping in Greece. Then you travelled to Athens by train or plane and from Piraeus you took the ferries out across the Aegean. There was no internet in those times. You just went to the Greek Tourist Office to get a map and started dreaming of all the islands, following the thin red striped line of the ferry routes across the light blue sea on the map. Most likely you would just chose a group of islands or a faraway island as a destination. Little symbols on the maps indicated if there were archaeological treasures to be seen and the number of roads gave an indication of how busy the island could be. You just picked an island and from there you would see what happened.

When the boat anchored in a harbour, half of the village would be waiting on the quay to welcome the visitors: “You want room, nice room at sea!” I bet that no one was ever left alone on the quay. By donkey cart or little old vans you would be transported to a pension, most of the time, just a room in the house of your host. And if you disliked the room, you’d just tell them that you had to travel further on and looked for a better one. When your hostess did not provide the food, there would be a local taverna just around the corner. If that was not social travelling . . .

Nowadays charter flights look more like cattle transports and that’s why taking a boat is so much nicer. It’s pure magic to sail toward mysterious islands that are trying, siren-like, to seduce you, to discover a bunch of dolphins jumping alongside the ship, to enjoy colourful sunsets, or just to listen to the keel of the boat splitting the waves, together with the monotonous humming of the ship’s motor.

Of course it can happen that a boat fails to sail. It happened recently to the neighbouring island Limnos; for weeks they remained without a ferry connection with Thessaloniki, Kavala and Lesvos. Not a nice situation because the island depends on ferries also for the carriage of goods. If you weren’t prepared to take a plane, the only solution was to do some mini-island hopping: from Psara to Chios and Lesvos.

Today in the early morning haze an enormous cruise boat came along. I wondered because it was weeks ago that I last saw a passengers ship passing by, but I was waiting to see the Ionian Sky which was supposed to pick up stranded voyagers from Limnos. Just half an hour later I heard the well known rumbling of an old ferry approaching and there it was, already a day late: the boat that from now on will connect Mytilini with Limnos, Thessaloniki and Kavala.

Another nice aspect of ships is that you can trace their history through the internet. The Ionian Sky started her career in 1974 as the Sapporo Manu in Japan, was rebaptized as the Sun Flower Sapporo, in 1998 was bought by a Greek shipping company and named again, this time as the Ionian Victory and sailed between Venice and Ancona to Corfou. When she again was sold, she moved to the other side of the country and was named Blue Sky and now her name is Ionian Sky.

The Greek island people all know the boats by heart and name them when talking about them. This is quite different from the world of airplanes: not all planes have names and only very few are known by them, for example when they became famous because of history, like the Enola Gay, a bomber who dropped the first atom bomb above Hiroshima in 1945.

But let’s keep to the story. Times have passed when, in summer, you’d see an equal number of tourists and travelling island people on a ferry. Greece as a holiday country has become a lot more expensive and tourists are not as adventurous anymore. You’d think social travelling will make island hopping popular again?

227 islands of Greece are habited, and most can be reached by boat. How many more destinations you want? The islands are divided in groups: Crete, Cyclads, Dodecanese, Sporades, Iionian islands, Saronic  islands and the Northern Aegean islands which consist, alongside Samos, Chios and Lesvos, of smaller islands like Psara, Ikaria (where lots of people reach the age of a hundred years), Oinousses (small island group of wealthy shipping tycoons), Ai Stratis and Lemnos (known for its excellent wine) with their sand dunes, and the green pearls Thassos and Samothrace (although these last two islands officially belong to East-Macedonia and Thrace).

You might think that charter travels to Lesvos (and many other small islands where there is no mass tourism) are a bit of social travelling because most hotels and restaurants belong to locals, just as the excursion guides are mostly local. I admit that island hopping is more social travelling, because then just like the locals you share the ups and downs of the ferries and you can visit the small islands which are not on charter maps.

So who wants to go island hopping? Just as in times past, ferries continue to sail, beaches still glitter under a hot sun, the sea is still sky blue and most Greeks are as hospitable as they used to be. The Northern Aegean Islands, still undisturbed by mass tourism, are an ideal area to start island hopping. And even if the ferry doesn’t sail because of a storm or another cause, who is afraid of being stranded on a beautiful Greek island?

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2013

Monday, 1 July 2013

June 28 – Put away that winter feeling: eat Greek food!

(A camelspider: to eat or not to eat)

Just to make the readers in the rest of Europe jealous: here on Lesvos (and in the rest of Greece) we are fully enjoying the sun, the warmth, the sea and the food. Sometimes I wonder whether life here on the island in the summer, when high temperatures make it difficult to concentrate on work, consists of anything other than swimming and eating.

But the warm months not only bring fun. You have to learn to live with spiders, mosquitos and many other flying and creeping insect-like objects: brrrrrr. I just read that this year on the neighbouring islands of Lemnos and Ai Stratis there are many more grasshoppers as usual. I have also seen here on Lesvos many of these jumping fellows not only outside, but also inside my house. Even if you expend lots of effort to get your house insect free, grasshoppers know how to get in and can give you a hard time.

I can live with some grasshoppers in the house, so the place was not hermetically sealed. This changed yesterday when a huge wind scorpion or camel spider tried to find his way in my house through the screen door. Now all cracks and screen doors and windows are glued so that no nook or crannie offers the possibility for the miscreants to sneak in.

Even just writing about this creature gives me the creeps and I constantly look at the screen door afraid his partner may show up to take revenge. A friend (I was too afraid even to get close) killed this pseudo spider with flea spray (for dogs) and, really, what a creep it was. My friend put the creep in a box, saying that this was a very rare animal. Well, I no longer believe one word of it, because during ten years here on Lesvos I have only once seen one and this was the third camel spider I have seen in two months! You think we have a camel spider plague? Read about my first encounter with this horror spider in: Creepy!

In more than one country it is common to eat grasshoppers. As there are so many around now maybe I should experiment with frying them. And why not, maybe this camel spider is also a delicacy. However, as I can barely look at this horror, I don’t think I will be able to throw him into the cooking pan. And I have to admit that I’m not reading-up on frying grasshoppers. I prefer to grill watermelon.

The culinary challenge I have taken up was to make flour from chickpeas. This pulse here is mainly grown around Lisvori (Lesvos). In Greece chickpeas are eaten cooked with or without a spicy tomato sauce. But there are many more possibilities for this legume, like falafel or hummus . . . and plenty of recipes with chickpea flour.

I promised a friend who is on a gluten free diet to cook for him and that is how I got the idea because chickpeas suit this diet. Although I nearly gave up trying to make the flour because when I poured chickpeas into my food processor and I pushed the button for grinding, such an incredible hard noise arose that I was afraid the food processor would explode. So this is a warning for anybody grinding chickpeas: put on earmuffs for the first minutes!

Grinding dried chick peas will produce a fine flour you can use to make spinach-egg-omelettes or pancakes. I was inspired by the Italian panella, Sicilian fried cookies spiced with parsley. I followed the recipe for the batter but used Greek spices: a recipe that would suit my cooking book Almost Greek.

Because of the wet winter the summer vegetables are only now being displayed in large numbers in the shops: courgettes, aubergines, cucumbers and tomatoes. They are not my favourites but I think it a challenge to find as many recipes for them as possible — like an eggplant curry or a salad of half-dried tomatoes. Will this be a first step to a second cookbook, a companion to Almost Greek? I am not sure. But the good news is that the illustrator Sylvia Weve won a highly regarded price in Holland (De Zilveren Penseel) for her drawings in a Dutch children’s book Aan de kant, ik ben je oma niet! (writer: Bette Westera).

For those of you who do not know the cookbook Almost Greek: it is full of stories about Greek food and recipes using Greek ingredients, which, I am sure, will bring sunshine to your table. There are easy recipes and some special ones like the tomato sorbet or the grilled watermelon. And of course it contains lots of entertaining drawings of prize-winning Sylvia Weve. You can order the book via internet (or in some local stores on Lesvos and in Holland; see Smitaki on Facebook):

Recipe: Greek panella

200 gr chick pea flour
600 cl water
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves (crushed)
3 tbsp lemon juice
½ hot pepper (sliced in small pieces)
salt & pepper
olive oil to fry

Grind about 250 gr chick peas into a flour: just grind for a few minutes, sieve out the fine flour and repeat the process with the remaining pieces of chickpeas (the pieces will get smaller and smaller and the noise lesser). Continue until you obtain about 200 gr fine flour.
Put the flour in a pan on a low heat and slowly pour the water in, stir until you get a thick smooth mass. Add the spices, lemon juice and salt & pepper according to your taste.
Spread the batter onto baking paper (to a thickness of about 2 cm). Put away to cool and thicken (2 – 3 hours).
Cut the thickened batter in small cubes (5 by 2 cm or what ever form you fancy) and fry them in the oil until they are golden. Good as mez├Ęs or as a side dish for a Mediterranean dinner.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2013