Are there any signs of a depressed economy in Greece?
With so many old Greek women wearing black, you might conclude that they are in mourning for the good old days, but you would be mistaken, it is simply tradition to wear black for the rest of your life if you are a widow.
Where is the Greek music and dancing?
I can’t answer this, as we haven’t found any yet. Maybe the cost of plates has put an end to this unique expression of culture?
Why are there ships on Greek farms?
If you don’t understand this question, decipher the poster below.
What do Greek men talk about in the Kafenio’s (Cafes)?
Greek men seem to sit around in the Kafenio’s all day and drink. They have a lot to talk and talk and talk about. Truthfully I do not have a clue what they are saying, (it’s Greek) but I have been told that they are having business meetings(?).
What are the parking rules on a Greek Island?
With people parking anywhere at any time, it seems that the rule is that as long as there is enough space for the smallest possible car to squeeze through, you may park on the road. Oh yes, signalling when you want to stop seems to be optional.
Are those post-boxes next to the road?
I am always on the lookout for post-boxes for my postcards and was excited to see many of them conveniently located right next to the road. My excitement was short-lived, however, when I found on closer inspection, that they were decorated with religious objects, photos and flickering candles; memorials to loved ones. Don’t post your postcard here. (Perhaps you can if it is addressed to God?)
How should you order food in Greek restaurants?
As South Africans, this is particularly confusing. You do not order yourself a meal with all the trimmings. No! All food items are individually served. If you order pork chops, ALL you get is a plate of pork chops, order fried aubergine, and it is a plate of ONLY fried aubergine etc. Now this may work for a Greek family of six or more, but not so well for two. Also the plates of food are served as they are ready, so you can end up eating in relays, one food type at a time.
Does Greece ever have bad weather?
Do I like Greek yoghurt with honey and nuts?
Oh I do,….. I do, I do, I do, I do …I doooooo
I now fully comprehend the expression; “It’s all Greek to me”
LESVOS, GREECE: 08-08-2013
The worst traffic we have faced, so far, has been in the small island town of Chios. Perhaps it felt worse because we did not anticipate it on an idyllic island; but I suppose it is because it is an island that the streets are so narrow and there are so many motorbikes. And it’s not just the cars and motorbikes using these narrow streets it is the pedestrians too, as pavements are virtually non-existent. The street cafes are really just that, tables in the street. Being a believer in the ambiance of a restaurant, I am amazed that the customers are prepared to enjoy their meals sitting among the fumes and frenzy of this chaotic traffic.
Apart from not always knowing where we are going, we still have some concerns about keeping right. I have been told that the entire right-hand side of the car is Stefan’s blind spot, all of it; and I know to warn him if he is too close to anything or if there is a possibility of a collision on this side.
We have had a few debates about exactly what vocabulary I should use; for example the words NO and GO should not be used as they sound too similar, so it’s STOP and GO and never NO. Also it can be confusing if I repeat a word, so if I say STOP, I say it only once. Also I do not draw out the instruction, as in STT……O…PPP, because that can be difficult to interpret. I have managed to modulate my voice so that its pitch and strength is exactly proportional to the anticipated danger. I am proud to say I have made great progress and only caused confusion once in the last two days when I was a little over-excited and shouted “GOAT!”
But during our recent visit to Chios town I added the following words to our driving vocabulary; “ DO NOT drive into that town, but PARK HERE and we will WALK. If you drive in, I will GET OUT, and you will be on your own; with your entire right-hand side exposed.”
Responding to the pitch and strength of my voice Stefan gave up on his right to debate. So we have done a fair amount of walking.
Well you see a lot more when you walk, anyway.
Don’t hesitate to add words to your driving vocabulary when you feel afraid
(The word GOAT can, surprisingly, easily be confused with the word GO)
CHIOS, GREECE: 24-07-2013
We were introduced to the mastic tree soon after we arrived on the island of Chios. This is really not all that surprising when you consider that these trees grow only on this island; in fact they require such a specific habitat that they grow just in the southern part of the island and attempts to plant them elsewhere, have been met with little success.
These evergreen shrubs, with a distinct pine-like aroma, are harvested for their sticky transparent resin, mastic. As we drove around the island it was easy to spot these trees as a white powder had been sprinkled around their bases in preparation for harvesting. This calcium carbonate clay, helps keeps the fallen resin uncontaminated.
The villagers, who own the trees, make a number of incisions into the bark of the tree, through which the sticky resin seeps. As the incisions heal, new incisions are made every 4 to 5 days, a torturous process indeed! Enough incisions are made to collect the gum, but not too many to kill the tree. As the resin leaks out it forms droplets (mastic tears) which fall to the ground where it is collected once it has dried out. The mastic is then meticulously cleaned, a laborious job carried out by families.
And what happens to this mastic? Well there are whole shops devoted to selling mastic products which include: soaps, gum, preserves, sweets, cosmetics and liqueurs. It also has medicinal qualities; assists with digestive problems, prevents bronchitis and colds and acts as a breath freshener, just to mention a few.
The rarity of the gum and its difficult production makes it expensive, but not as expensive as during Ottoman times when mastic was worth its weight in gold and the penalty for stealing mastic was execution.
Trees were harmed during the writing of this article (but no dogs)
CHIOS, GREECE: 24-07-2013
Kalkan, a small fishing port on the turquoise coast has been our home for the last four weeks. The coastline here is narrow and the small town somehow manages to cling to the steep slopes without sliding into the sea. The town is a-buzz with holidaymakers, but the real activity only starts after the heat of the day when the sun sets, and continues until the early hours of the morning. It is not surprising therefore, if you get up for an early morning jog and a swim across the bay, that the whole town is still asleep…all, but the dogs.
The early morning is when the Kalkan dogs have the run of the town. This is when they hold their public meetings to decide on; territorial boundaries, who’s is entitled to sleep in which restaurant, who’s up for beach patrol and who is allowed to walk to the lighthouse. It is not all that complicated, you just need to stand your ground, show a bit of commitment and know your way around. Once the daily rota is sorted, the dogs head for their prescribed destinations; restaurant, beach, harbour or street, where they wait patiently for the tourists to wake up.
Although the majority of dogs have been tagged or collared, they do not seem to belong to anyone in particular. On making several inquiries about who owns the dogs, the answers have been somewhat vague. This evasive behaviour has lead us to believe that the dogs are actually active Kalkan tourism agents, employed to attract more of those dog-loving British tourists. The dogs are lovingly patted and petted all day by the Brits; they surely are the happiest street-dogs I’ve ever come across.
If you stay out in the Turkish sun too long your mind can play tricks on you.
Special note to my daughter, Kelsey: NO I am NOT bringing Lollipop home!
KALKAN, TURKEY: 15-07-2013
Yesterday we spent the day at Saklikent Gorge. This gorge is 300m deep and 18km long making it the longest gorge in Turkey, and one of the deepest in the world. Saklikent means hidden city in Turkish, and it is definitely worth a visit.
We were soon jolted out of our reverie and all our senses were put on high alert on entering the gorge; the deafening, amplified sound of the gushing rapids, the magnificent rock face and the river crossing which involved holding onto a rope strung across thigh-deep, fast-flowing, ice-cold water. On the other side the walk become a little easier; we scrambled over boulders and waded through water, at times ankle-deep and at others armpit-high. Our young guide showed us the way to the waterfall by pointing out the hidden foot holes and assisting us over steeper sections. The cool waters and shade brought a welcome respite to the heat of the day, but the camera could barely do justice in capturing the magnificence of the cathedral-like cliffs on either side.
Even the unofficial guides are not above making a quick buck. On our return we asked our young guide how much. He said five lire, and I asked Stefan to give him ten; but on seeing a gap and egged on by his friends, five lire suddenly became fifty lire and he looked at us in complete confusion as though we had misunderstood him. With the experience of the carpet salesman still fresh in our minds, we did not budge and gave him ten.
We had lunch on the river, and I literately mean on the river, as the restaurant is built with the tables extended over the river.
But wait, we were not finished yet; we decided on the fun but non-excitement of river rafting. It was fun but in the spirit of the advertising we tried to suppress any notion of visible excitement, which proved difficult with the fast flowing rapids that tossed and turned our tubes and sent sudden sprays of ice-cold water all over us. On the way we stopped off for a warm mud bath in the ultra-fine muddy banks of the river.
With mud in our pants, much inspired but not too excited, we made our weary way home.
Don’t always believe advertising.
SAKLIKENT GORGE, TURKEY: 11-07-2013
There are many impressive ruins in Turkey, and we have visited a few of them; Kayakoy, Xanthos and Patara. Coming from South Africa it is remarkable to see all this evidence of such an ancient history; going back more than two thousand years. There are many sites still being uncovered by international archaeologists, a job I am sure is exciting with all the inspiring arches, mausoleums, carved relief’s and stonework, but not one I would not recommend in this stifling heat.
The ruins would be even more impressive, I am sure, if some of the best parts had not been carted away to the British Museum. On reflection, however, (and even though it may be controversial) after visiting Xanthos, a site on the UNESCO World Heritage list, it does bring a sense of comfort that some of this history has been preserved, for the remainder of the ruins do not seem particularly well cared for. They are over-grown, unprotected and inhabited by a variety of dogs and a local herd of goats.
The goats in particular have made their home here, they are partial to the steps of the amphitheatre, and the excellent acoustics here make sure they do not go unnoticed. Their preferred residence seems to be inside a mausoleum, and their nimble, sure-footedness makes easy work of climbing up the vertical pedestal to reach this perch. From here they can leisurely chew their cud while surveying the constant stream of tourists below.
But ruins are ruins are ruins, and although Stefan has enjoyed taking many an artistic photo of walls, pipes, pillars and graves, and would like to take many more; how many falling down walls can a person (me) take when it is so, so hot, and the cool waters of the Turquoise coast beckon?
Ha! Patara beach, just around the corner from all those old ruins, and the only real beach, with real sand, and real waves in Turkey. It seems that this is where all of Turkey’s sea sand has ended up, as it is an impressive 18km-long sandy beach. And it is here where the turtles lay their eggs too.
How exciting, instead of the usual aimless bobbing, floating and drifting; there were waves to catch, to jump-over and dive through! I thought I would demonstrate my considerable body surfing skills to Stefan, so I deftly caught a few waves, gliding down and whizzing over the foam. He was impressed; but I am not sure if it was my extraordinary surfing talent, or the fact that my costume kept on ending up around my ankles as I surfed bare-boobed down the waves.
Showing-off can reveal more than you intended.
PATARA, TURKEY: 06-07-2013
It is just as well one of us takes an interest in food, and even better that it is not me. It is not that I don’t like to eat food, I do; I just don’t like to cook it…and Stefan does. So we seem to have settled into a routine of Stefan doing all the shopping and cooking and I do all the cleaning and washing-up. No-one volunteered for ironing, so we just don’t do that.
We both enjoy Turkish food and Stefan has bought a Turkish cook book; but it is hard to replicate when you do not understand Turkish, and cannot read the labels. I see he has now made a list of words translated into Turkish, which he takes along with him on his shopping expeditions. I am always ready with an “OooH” and “AAahh” at any new shopping purchase he proudly displays on his return. He has now become so confident in the supermarket that he even assisted an American family with buying milk. How difficult can this be? Well the milk, yoghurt, butter and cheese story is a long one, and one that I won’t bore you with now.
Although there have been mixed successes with Stefan’s culinary offerings, one thing is certain, the outcome is always surprising. I have to give Stefan credit; he never loses his enthusiasm to cook and eagerness to experiment; even in the face of my preferences and verdicts. I know that if I was in charge of food the outcome would be that there just wouldn’t be any, and we would be spending a lot of money in restaurants, so I am grateful.
And what do I do while he is cooking, shopping and getting excited about spices? I read (after cleaning of course). So we are both doing what we like to do best, what a fortunate life!
Life can be good without ironing.
Stefan had had no time to have his hair cut before we left on our travels. He had also been threatening to trim his beard for some time, so he was looking wild and woolly. It was no great surprise therefore, that as we were passing through the Grand Bazaar and Stefan gazed a second too long at the barber shop, the barber, already busy with a haircut, gesticulated wildly for us to come inside. Stefan was soon seated in barber’s chair, which had taken some effort to wind down to the correct height.
I was given a seat in the corner and the customary glass of apple tea, ready to watch the performance. The barber’s apprentice was assigned to Stefan and he took his job very seriously indeed.
First it was the hair on the head, a really close cut with a skilled pair of scissors. This was followed by a trimming of the beard as well as a clipping of the eyebrows. Stefan was then dusted off with a soft brush and talcum powder. The cape was taken off and shaken out, and any wayward hair on his back and neck was skilfully removed. The cape was again draped over his shoulders and this time a small shaver was selected for the nose and ears. All was going well until a long thin stick with cotton wool at the end was doused with a flammable liquid and set alight. “No!” said Stefan, looking at the flame in alarm.
“Aah… No problem” said the barber, and the barber’s assistant brought the burning flame closer.
“No, no!” repeated Stefan ducking from the approaching flame.
“Yes!” I said nodding at the barber, eager to see what was to happen next.
“No problem, no problem” insisted the barber and assistant barber in unison.
“No problem!” I emphasized enjoying the spectacle in front of me.
And without hesitation the assistant barber waved the burning stick up close to Stefan’s ears, singeing and burning all those unwelcome little ear hairs.
We left the barber with the smell of burnt hair still lingering in the air.
Motto of a Turkish Barber Shop: Singe the hair you cannot cut.
ISTANBUL, TURKEY: 18-06-2013
After visiting Aya Sofya with hundreds of other tourists we decided to take a ferry trip on the Bosphorus, but were accosted by a friendly young Turk who wanted to show us his shop. “We are going on a ferry trip now,” said Stefan in a friendly attempt to brush him off. “We will see you on the way back.” Stefan believed that there would be little chance of being ‘found’ again in this big crowd, and put all further thought of him out of his mind. But he had underestimated the tenacity of the man, and of course his height worked against him, for as we headed back towards the Grand Bazaar two hours later, we were immediately spotted, and now felt obliged to follow him to his ‘family business’.
The family business turned out to be a very up-market Turkish rug and ceramic shop. We were immediately ushered in by the attentive staff, led to a spacious air-conditioned back room, offered a seat and a choice of apple tea, black tea, Turkish coffee or water. And thus the owner thought he had us captive and was about to start his sales pitch, when Stefan asked;
“So you are the boss here?”
“No, me not boss, no-body boss here, I don’t like to boss.” And with that he pointed the young boy bringing the tea in our direction and clicked his fingers and immediately an older man started unrolling carpets in front of us.
“So what carpet you like? We have family business, 450 looms in villages, quality, quality.”
“I have no house to put it in,” said Stefan.
“Aah…you have no house? Ha, ha, you joking, but I can see if you like then you just buy, which one you like? You have money, you just buy one you want. We have silk, we have wool.”
“I have no money.”
“You have no money? Then I have to GIVE you carpet! You joker hey?” He looked at me. “How you live with this man?” Then back at Stefan. “What’s age? How old you?”
“Guess my age.”
“65! Are you blind man? You need glasses! I’m 51!” exclaimed Stefan.
“Aah…but you only old if you NOT do the jiggy-jiggy, if you still DO the jiggy-jiggy you not old,” smiled the carpet salesman and his staff grinned.
The older man was still flicking open carpet after carpet at our feet in an ever increasing pile.
“What’s your name?” the carpet salesman asked in a friendly manner.
“Guess my name,” replied Stefan.
“Aah…now you bullshit me! How I guess your name?”
With a signal of his hand another man started flicking and twirling carpets open in front of us. We noticed how the silk colours changed depending on the direction the carpet landed.
“I like that silk one. I can see the silk is good quality, beautiful,” said Stefan pointing.
“So you like the silk. You like quality. What colour you like? What pattern for your eye? You take off shoes, you walk on silk carpet, you walk on wool carpet, you see difference.”
Stefan took off his shoes and walked on the carpets.
“I don’t feel any difference. How can you sell these carpets if you tell the people to walk all over them?” asked Stefan
“Where you found this man? You married?” He asked me.
“Engaged.” I replied
“You get married Istanbul?”
“Are you going to give us a carpet for our wedding present?” asked Stefan.
“Aah…sometime I give carpet, sometime TV, sometime diamond, sometime car, it depend.”
“But what you give US?” asked Stefan.
“For you…I give small carpet.”
“Oh then we don’t need to buy a carpet!” said Stefan
“AAAH! THIS man?” he said shaking his head, looking at me with sympathy. “How much you spend? You want this one? I give you special, quality this one, look at backside, see four knots. Take 5 month to make, if you give 6800 Euros it means only 1300 Euros a month, they only make half, who works for so little money?”
“Give me your calculator.” said Stefan, and banged in some numbers. “That is R7200 a month! I can give you a million South Africans who will work for that! They can make this carpet with a bit of training; it might not be as good though.” Stefan laughed.
“HERE I give you 10 lire NOT to talk.” said the carpet salesman, flinging a 10-lire note at Stefan. “You NO talk, I talk. IF I say 3000 Euros, for this one you like, you take yes? You take immediate yes, cash-in-hand, yes?”
“You see I know you know quality, you have good eye.”
“Yes, good for carpets and woman.” Stefan said looking my way.
“You sure you want marry this man? I see he difficult, very difficult man, ” he said to me. ” What you give me for this one?” he looked again at Stefan
“You say 3000 Euros”
“Aah…you joker, but I no SAY 3000 Euros, 6800 Euros is price. What you say, what you give me? Serious.”
“I give you 4000”
“Aah…no 4000 this one, look quality, it investment, not like car. Investment for children, 5500? What you say?”
“I say I have spent enough on my children… But my friend I can only buy in 18 months, when I come back to Turkey, then I will come back to your shop and buy.”
“We make contract now, then you buy 18 months 5500? OK deal? We make contract. How much cash you got? How much you pay for this quality carpet?”
“OK” he said grabbing Stefan’s hand to shake. “Deal 5125. You see we meet half way. Now how much you put down for carpet so I keep for you? We make contract.”
“NO! I’m not putting anything down,” exclaimed Stefan.
“How you say this? How I keep for you then? 1000 Euros? 500 Euros? Then I know this carpet for YOU.”
“Give me your card, when I come back I buy,” insisted Stefan.
“But how I keep this carpet for you if you no put down money. I send to South Africa for you.”
“I don’t have a home in South Africa.”
“I send to mother.”
“My mother lives in an old age home, no space.”
“OK, OK I send to brother, sister, family; I send anywhere. Look, look I sweat, I NEVER sweat, he make me sweat.” He turned to show the back of his shirt to his amused staff. “I never work so hard!”
Fifty minutes later we head for the door, no contract or carpet in hand.
“How long you in Istanbul?” he said following us out.
“We leave tomorrow.”
“What time you leave? Tomorrow you come back to shop. Tomorrow I talk, we talk,” he said to Stefan at the door. “I like this man.” he said turning to me.
Never take a bull (Taurus) into a Turkish carpet shop.
TURKEY: ISTANBUL: 18-06-2013
We planned to enter Istanbul on a Sunday assuming that the traffic would be at its minimum, making it easier to navigate. But as we reached the outskirts of the city the traffic grew far denser than expected. We realised something was up, when hooting cars and busloads of people waving flags passed us by. At first we wondered if they were on their way to a soccer match, but deduced that the light bulb icon appearing on the blue and yellow flags was unlikely to represent any sports team. Anyway we had no choice; we were in the thick of it all and heading in the same direction. Fortunately they seemed to be a happy bunch and when we smiled they cheered and waved back. It was with some relief that a few exits later we split off from the main throng and entered the twisting roads of the inner city.
Here we noticed groups of people standing around on street corners with masks, goggles and hard hats, weird getup for a Sunday? But at this time I was more focused on the fact that our Tom-Tom had lost its connection due to the narrowing streets and high buildings, and Stefan was becoming increasingly verbose as he battled the traffic and negotiated the narrow cobbled streets set at extreme inclines . We ended up driving around in circles without moving any closer to our destination. Stefan had had enough; he parked the car and announced that we were now going to find our accommodation ON FOOT. And armed only with an erratic Tom-Tom, he set off at rapid pace.
An old man pointed us in one direction (the wrong one), a young man helpfully looked for directions on his cell phone but, after enquiring at a hotel and still not finding our destination, I suggested breathlessly, “Maybe we should ask a taxi. We could even ask them if we could follow them in our car.” Being a fan of The Amazing Race I could imagine how this can work.
“NO! I WILL find it!” Stefan exclaimed emphatically and with sweat pouring from his brow, he turned and headed off at great speed, again leaving me in his dust.
Three Turks later, we eventually found the correct street, but still could not find the number. We eventually asked a shop owner if he could call our host, Eser, for us. It was while we waiting for her to meet us at the shop, that we heard an approaching crowd; whistling, chanting, and clapping and saw them appear at the bottom of the street.
“Welcome to my home, but I can’t say the same for my country.” Said a breathless Eser, a troubled look on her face.
The night before the government had cracked down on protesters camping out in a park next to Taksim Square. They wanted to prevent the trees from being cut down to make way for yet another shopping centre. People had been injured and killed in the process; it was a sad day for Turkey.
Eser’s apartment was in the vicinity of Taksim, and we watched from her 2nd floor flat as groups of protesters shouting and clapping made their way past in the street below. At the end of the street the police fired tear gas forcing us to quickly close all the windows.
When the unrest subsided, we decided to walk to the local supermarket only 100m away, but were forced to make a hasty retreat after encountering the residual teargas. Later that night, as we sat talking with Eser, we heard a sudden commotion outside. Eser promptly jumped up and headed for the window with pot and spoon in hand then leaning out of the window she started banging the pot. She told us that this was the people’s protest against their government and that this ritual had been going on at 9.00pm every night for the last 20 days.
And who were the people in buses on the highway? They were supporters on their way to a huge political rally being held at a stadium in Istanbul, where the President addressed the crowd.
“And what happens tomorrow?” we asked.
“Oh we all have to go to work, it’s Monday, we Turks have to work.” Eser replied. So it seemed that the protesting was considerately limited to weekends and after hours.
The next day, while people were at work and not protesting we decided to seek out a Turkish fortune teller. They all happened to be located close to Takism square. Making our way through the streets we noticed large groups of riot police. Sure enough at the end of the working day, groups of chanting and clapping protesters equipped with masks, goggles and hard hats, made their way towards the square. They walked directly below us as we sat on a 3rd story terrace having a late lunch. As we watched the police moved into formation with water cannons in tow.
But no, this was not good enough for Stefan, he was eager to join the crowd on the ground hoping for some close-up video action, so we follow the protesters part of the way down the road. I was a bit more cautious after having a taste of teargas the night before and was not so keen to be in such close proximity.
To placate me, Stefan promptly procured a gas mask from an enterprising man on the street selling goggles and masks.
Remember to add gas mask to “must have” travel items.
TURKEY: ISTANBUL 16-06-2013