Sunday, 23 February 2014

February 19 – Peeping at the neighbours

(Halcyon Months on Lesvos)

The Halcyon Days are a typical Greek weather condition. They usually take place after the New Year, sometime in January, normally a few days to two weeks when the wind is hiding and the blue sky is decorated with a bright shining sun.

Greeks (and many other people) have myths to explain most natural phenomena and so too for Halcyon Days: Halcyon, daughter of Aeolus, God of the wind, married king Ceyx. During a bad storm her beloved king drowned and Halcyon became so distressed that she too threw herself into the angry waves and drowned. The Gods took pity on them and changed the loving couple into a pair of Common Kingfishers. And Aeolus insured that for a period in January the winds would no longer blow, so that the birds could easily build themselves a nest on the rocks and lay their eggs.

I thought that the Halcyon Days this year took place at the beginning of January when the weather was beautiful. However, the weather became even more beautiful in the middle of January, so maybe that’s when these special days took place. But the great weather did not stop then, in fact, it has even become warmer. Were the Halcyon Days at the end of January or even transferred to February, when spring weather set in to transform nature? Everywhere flowers were in a hurry to unfold their colourful petals, almond trees flowered and even the first wild asparagus rose towards heaven. In mid February the thermometer tried to reach 20 ÂșC, a sign for the hastening arrival of many more flowers.

It’s now so warm that even the Gods must be at a loss at what’s going on: this year we’ve had Halcyon Months rather than Days! I guess the birds are overjoyed to have such warm nests. I’m a little less happy because it’s not only the birds that are profiting from this warm winter weather; the insects too will be surviving and increasing in numbers for this coming summer. They’re already up-and-running: big buzzing bees, the first mosquitoes, delicate fluttering butterflies and fat zooming flies. And I am sure that the fruit fly dakos, responsible for the bad olive harvest this winter, is already preparing for another big offensive.

I shouldn’t complain too much because, of course, I really enjoy this lovely weather and lots of Greeks are happy that they’re not having to spend as much money on their winter heating. One complaint, however, is that there hasn’t been enough rain, leaving lots of rivers still dry. But it’s only late February, so we still have a chance for big rains.

It’s just as well that we cannot make the weather ourselves, otherwise there would be a war between the people preferring a cheap winter and enjoy the great weather and those who believe that low temperatures and lots of rain is necessary to keep a balance in nature

Anyway, the unusually warm weather is the topic of the day. They say that the Dutch speak a lot about the weather, but come to Greece and hear how much they talk about it. You don’t even have to come to Greece to see the weather. Just open your computer and click: through the webcam in Vafios you can enjoy blue skies and splashing sunsets at Molyvos. If you are curious about what goes on in the harbour at Plomari, you can watch that through this webcam. Perhaps you know people in Plomari and want to say hello; in Plomari there even is a second webcam from which you can observe the comings and goings on their main street: webcam Plomari 2 (note: like the webcam in Mytilini it does not work on all computers). If you’re wondering if the weather is the same on the neighbouring island of Chios, just click and watch the weather there with a webcam in Kampos.

If you have plenty of time and you’re curious about the weather in the rest of Greece, here is a page that lists webcams all over Greece, from a busy highway near Athens, to a snowless ski track, to Olympus and idyllic beaches, through clear or dusty cameras or just as frames. For those, who apart from nice pictures, love everything about the weather (temperatures, air pressure and humidity) the weather webpage of Paleiochori in Kavala is possibly the best one to visit, with a.o. 3 cameras filming in 3 wind directions.

Do you have boundless curiosity and do you also want to know what flies through the air and what sails over the seas? Then you can even peep at sea and air traffic: through this link you can try to discover what ship you can see passing over the horizon and through this link you can see which airplanes are flying over your head.

But there is, as yet, no webcam that can make you smell the sweet fragrance of the blossoms, hear the whispering of the trees or the lapping of the waves on the beach, nor feel the sun on your bare skin. For that you have to leave your chair and travel to Greece.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2014

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

February 10 - The natural hotspot of Greece

(Jeepsafari on Lesvos)

Greece is the country of azure seas, clear blue skies, golden beaches and white temples. That is why, since ancient times, tourists have travelled from one archaeological treasure to the other. Then there came the period of island hopping, visiting as many islands as possible with only a backpack, the more history an island had, the more visitors it had. Tourists booking flights and hotel together came next. Those tourists spent the majority of their holiday on the beach. Nowadays tourists seem to be tired of hanging out at the seashore all day; they are becoming more active and want to adventure out into nature.

Lesvos has no world famous treasures, so tourism came pretty late and slowly. Maybe that is why the third biggest island of Greece has no big resorts and has not been exposed to the explosion of developers who, in just a few years, turned coasts and villages into the so-called ‘tourist paradises’. Lesvos is still mainly what it was: a paradise of nature. Of course all the sunbathers are more than welcome: the island has many beautiful and often deserted small beaches and a smaller number of larger beaches with tavernas like at Petra, Vatera, Skala Kalloni, Skala Eresos and Melinda. There is plenty beach pleasure to be found.

Lesvos is the Greek island famous for birdwatching, wild flowers and for its Petrified Forest and it is only now getting discovered by a larger group of tourists for hiking. The island still has its ancient network of roads, consisting of narrow paths called monopati, once used by travellers on donkey, and the wider roads paved with boulders called kalderimia. Many have disappeared, sometimes crushed beneath a new tarmac road but some still slink through quiet meadows and whispering forests, passing small churches and old villages, right through the island’s breathtaking nature.

Like elsewhere in Greece, on Lesvos the donkeys have been replaced by cars and many roads have been asphalted (or new roads have been built). This asphalt fever has slowed down so there are still some popular hiking roads – like the one going from Eftalou to Skala Sykaminia – left for the hikers and the one or two farmers and their pick-up trucks (and some tourists neglecting the orders of their car rental firms not too take the dirt roads). Tarmac roads connect most villages, although some of them have fallen into such a bad state they qualify as dirt roads again. Touring around the island provides great pleasure because the roads are quiet, the majority of other users tending to be flocks of sheep, wandering cows and donkeys. Car drivers who stop in the middle of the road in order to have a chat with a friend and birdwatchers with all their equipment form, along with the manholes, exciting distractions to keep you awake.

However not all the most beautiful areas are connected by tarmac and some can only to be visited by hikers or drivers with a 4Wdrive. If you really want to see the wilderness and are not a great walker, you had better rent a jeep or even better: book a jeep-safari. There is a risk of getting lost in the Lesvorian jungle, so a guide is no superfluous luxury. A guide will know which roads to take in order to see the most beautiful spots, to see wild horses, to help you climb to hidden little churches, to show you a waterfall or to present to you the fragile and sweet scent of the rare yellow Rodondendrons. You never know what you will encounter, but jeep-safaris are always full of surprises.

High on the list of excursions offered by all tourist offices are the traditional boat trips, daytrips to the Petrified Forest and other bus excursions. But there is more to do on the island. The new tourist office Pandora Travel offers, along with a number of different jeep safaris, hiking, kayaking, sailing, diving, climbing a waterfall or an expedition to find orchids. For people already tired of reading about all those activities, Pandora also offers coaching with horses, donkey trekking, watching the stars and photography, mosaic or cookery lessons.

It is clear that sunbathing for a whole day on the beach is ‘out’ and the new tourist trend is closer to nature: by foot or car hiking through nature, being creative with nature, outdoor sporting and learning what edible things nature offers. For parents who want their children to engage with nature they can book a family holiday at the micro farm and stay in a comfortable safari tent with a Greek farmer and his kids.

For decades Lesvos has not been a hotspot for holidaymakers: it has no important archaeological monuments, it’s not on the most popular route for the masses of island hoppers, it has no big hotels at a beach. But now that the desire for nature holidays is growing, I am sure that this island - still not spoilt by tourism - will soon become the natural hotspot of Greece.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© 2014 Smitaki