Greek Tales from our members

By Sherod Williamskefalonia earthquake

The Ionian island of Kefalonia is recovering from a series of earthquakes.
The first, on January 26 2014, registered 6.0 on the Richter scale. A second major tremor, a little less powerful, hit a week later. There have also been hundreds of aftershocks.

There is relief that the quakes did not claim any lives but residents have seen their
homes destroyed. “At the first earthquake the house took an inclination of 3 degrees to the left. At the second earthquake the house took the inclination to 45 degrees. Luckily, I was not inside because I would be dead now,” one resident in Lixouri explained.

Experts from ministries, regional authorities and public organizations travelled to the island to inspect the damage done by the quake and the aftershocks that followed.

The earthquake caused many local people to run out of their homes, with many
preferring not to return overnight. Employees at the island’s airport also refused to
return into the building to complete check-in for a flight to Athens. Passengers’
documents were eventually checked outdoors.
Around 1,400 houses have been declared uninhabitable, leaving hundreds of families homeless.

Two ferries with capacity for 2000 people arrived at the island to assist
with the immediate accommodation and a tented camp was set up by the army at the Lixouri stadium. The Lixouri museum was converted into a distribution centre for food and water.

One news agency reported that: “The state, the church, private companies and
residents have been sending supplies and teams of volunteers have been helping to distribute everything.”

The Interior Ministry said that rock falls had damaged roads on the island, which
suffered extensive damage during an earthquake in 1953. He added that public buildings would be the first to be checked. Schools on the island would not reopen until engineers have deemed them safe.

Kefalonia is the largest of the Ionian Islands in western Greece and a popular tourist destination. It was of course the setting in 2000 for the film “ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”
Much of its infrastructure has fortunately remained intact – and residents remain
positive that the island would be ready for the summer holiday season.
Tourism is the highest-earning industry for the crisis-hit Greek economy, which is in its sixth year of recession.

some of the damage

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Skiathos Townskiathos
by John Gatfield

As relative new comers to the Greek holiday experience, we have elected ( my wife and I) to go to islands with an airport with direct flights from the UK, for ease to start with. Last year Kefalonia,this year Skiathos. We used Manos as tour operator.
Our criteria, we wanted somewhere peaceful, not too far to a beach, preferably with a swimming pool and definitely not 18-30 anywhere near. We decided on the Byzantium apartments at Troulos. This proved to be just what we wanted.

You had to walk through a field to get to the apartments. These were set back some 20 metres from the road and the field was used for grazing, but hey this is Greece. The apartments we clean, spacious and well equipped. The apartments were run by Costas and his mother with a Bulgarian cleaner, all of who, of course made us very welcome.

As it turned out Troulos is a popular destination for Brits. Once we had found the short cut through the surrounding apartments the beach was about a 5 minute walk. As we went to Skiathos in the last 2 weeks of June the temperature was still rising and the maddening crowds hadn’t arrived yet. This proved to be a good thing as the buses which ran the length of the island were full at peak times and it was only in the second week more buses were added and returned later in the evening. As this coincided with the opening of the night clubs in Skiathos Town the capital and only major town to speak of.

This of course was full of the tourist trimming centred on Papadiamanti street which ran virtually from bus stop 4 right down to the port and was full of Souvenir shops, places to eat and drink and the street also housed the museum to Alexandros Papadimanti the well Greek Short – story writer and poet who was born on the island The clock tower is worth a walk, some good views of Skiathos Town and out to sea, watching the flying dolphins and fishing boats going about their business.

Down at the waterfront the area was divided into two by the Bourtzi. Looking out to sea on the right was the old port. This housed the many little fishing boats and excursion boats who took tours round the island to visit Kastro (the fortified pirate-proof capital from 1540 to 1829) and larger boats who toured the neighbouring islands of Skopelos and Alonnisos.

We took the opportunity and went on that excursion. It was well worth it. The tour guide was full of a wealth of information, far too much for me to remember or write here but it helped pass the day as it is a long one. The tour operator’s excursion was to Meteora at € 76 each, it was too much for us this time round. Inland there were two monasteries one at each end of the island. I walked to the southern one - took about an hour and a half round trip. For us there was not a lot to do other than go to the beach every day, although there were some spectacular ones like the world famous Koukounaries.

Olympics in Athens, a triumph or a disaster?
By G Smith

So! Now that it is all over, do we think of the 2004 Athens Olympics as an unmitigated disaster?

To read the British papers in April or May, there was no way in which the Greek authorities were going to make it on time. An impending disaster, or Greek Tragedy, seemed just around the corner. The Stadium was not finished (that eye-catching roof designed by a slightly risky Italian), the Metro and Tram systems not yet completed (would they ever be?) and the road to Marathon… well that beggared description. There had been one, we had travelled many times on it, but now there wasn’t. In this country there would have been a large sign saying ‘Danger – No Entry’. But of course that is not the Greek way so we all proceeded regardless. Quite an experience.

We were visiting our daughter, who lives in Vrilissia, a northern suburb of Athens, at the time, and there was very little other than Olympic comment on the TV – and in the papers. And why not? The Olympic Games is the largest event in the world and Greece, a country of only 11 million had to follow arguably the most successful games in modern times, 4 years ago in Sydney. OK, so Australia is not that much larger in terms of population, though everybody there is sports mad, but it does have a much better developed infrastructure and resources – so we have been led to believe? And everybody said after the 2002 games in Sydney that it couldn’t be done better.
Of course, for comment about progress in Athens, we had to rely on The Times – available from the kiosk in the Platia, just up the road, at about 6.00 p.m. of same day. Very impressive.
The Times is reputed to be an honest (and accurate) journal but did they really think it was fair or even sensible to suggest that it was a serious option to cancel the Athens Olympics and revert to Sydney? And so called security lapses at the Athletics Stadium in the middle of the night - what was that all about? Just giving some people ideas that they shouldn’t have perhaps. Didn’t they believe the IOC when they said they were satisfied that everything would be ready on time?
And of course everything was ready, or ready enough. So what if the trains on the new Metro were diesel not electric (as planned). They were new, clean, prompt and comfortable. Not much like home at all. Oh.. and how about being on time.

And was it a success?

You bet it was. Everything seemed to work perfectly.
Our Olympic experience started when we flew to Athens for the second week of the Athletics. However, it didn’t begin too well for us. We had pre-booked tickets for various events but thought that we would start by seeing Paula Radcliffe in the Marathon – a sure fire medal winner, if you were to believe the pundits (Cram and Foster to name but two). And it would be free if we got the new Metro to Evangelismos and walked just 500 metres or so. We got there in good time, bagged our ‘pitch’ just 100 metres from the entrance to the old Olympic stadium and settled down to wait. The rest is history. Where was she? We were not the only ones asking ‘where’s Paula?’. It was sad to see so many Brits in a state of confusion. Luckily we got a ‘phone call that saved us waiting too long but it was a very disappointing start to our Olympic experience. Thankfully it got better, much, much better.

A visit to the Rhythmic Gymnastics (little Ploumy, our grand daughter, was enthralled) then the Velodrome to see the cycling finals of the Madison (Wiggins a Bronze to add to his Gold and Silver), and Kieren Races, really set us up for the finale. For us that was the last Saturday in the main Stadium. What a fantastic place! We had booked our tickets well in advance and so had good seats where we were well placed to see Kelly Holmes win her second Gold, followed shortly afterwards by seeing the ‘no-hopers’ win Gold for GB in the 4 x 100 metres mens’ relay. Did those flags fly. The Stadium erupted and, jingoistic as it may sound, wasn’t it nice to see those ‘cocky yanks’ come second for a change!
There were obviously other fantastic medal winning performances – we remember El Garrouje winning his second gold - but the evening belonged to Athens. Everything went perfectly. No more so than the trains. Where else in Europe (certainly not in London; please note Mr Livingstone), could 70,000 people exit a major stadium, many walk in complete safety for 1 mile to the station, walk down to the platform, wait 5 minutes, get on an empty train and go home? We expected it to take at least an hour and it only took 10 minutes.

Our conclusions?

We worry that the people of Athens, many of whom gave up many hours of voluntary work to make the Olympics a success, will not be rewarded for their efforts. Bad publicity beforehand probably reduced the numbers attending and there are questions about the economics of the Games. Has it been a ‘financial’ success? It will be a great shame if there is a long-term burden for the Athenians to bear by way of extra taxes. They definitely do not deserve that.

On a brighter note, however, they now have a first class transportation system, which must be a benefit in the future – we do not include the new tram system in this judgement. Slow, noisy, jerky and a complete waste of time, but notable for being the only real criticism that we can level at the Games organisation.

Finally, it has been suggested that future Games should be held in Athens, a so-called permanent Olympic site. Obviously there are all sorts of political (not philosophical) problems with that but given the option in 2012 of going to the Games in London or Athens, guess where we would prefer to go.

Our Big Fat Greek Christening
by Jean Ward

Friday the 13th and we’re off to Heathrow. Not the best start, but we arrive ok and are met at Athens airport by daughter Yvette, son-in-law Nektarios, other daughter Paulette (already on holiday) and grandson Andrianos Ioannis – totally unfazed by the fact that tomorrow is his Big Day. Pick up hire car and off to Hotel in central Athens as it now the early hours of the morning.

Saturday is sunny and warm and we drive into Piraeus for the ceremony in our posh frocks and suits. There’s much to-ing and fro-ing to the church as it appears you have to buy the entire contents of the baptism shop including a giant candle with tutu attached – our daughter assures us this was the least fussy one – two outfits for the baby, and for the guests small gold and blue crosses on ribbon and tiny bags of sweets attached to ceramic ships. This is not to mention a matching set of boxes and trays to carry everything in the chosen nautical theme.

The church is decorated with blue and white bouquets of flowers, in this case provided by the parents although the godparents usually pick up most of the expenses for the Christening. There are beautifully painted icons everywhere so we decide to go for a wander although the congregation are probably wondering what the mad foreigners are doing. Finally the Priest appears, complete with obligatory beard, and greets the parents, godparents and little Andrianos. He looks friendly.

The ceremony starts near the entrance where an icon is prominently displayed and after much reciting and some responses from godfather Kostas, they all proceed to the altar table. At this point the two photographers start to get very excited and manage to bump into each other.

More chanting and some joining in by the congregation, much to our dismay, as we’re having enough trouble working out when to sit down and when to stand let alone cope with miming. The Responder, as I’ll call him – dressed for the occasion in T-shirt and jeans – finally gets bored at one point and starts reading the newspaper. The parents kiss the Bible and the baby is undressed. Paulette tries to protect his modesty but the lady photographer insists on a full frontal. He is then almost totally immersed in water – luckily they checked the temperature first – anointed with oil and spat on! A lock of his hair is cut off and put in the font (did he need a haircut?). Up to this point four-month-old Andrianos has been very quiet and interested but he obviously now thinks that being dressed in a white jacket and what Paulette calls a Florence Nightingale cap is a step too far and starts crying. Fortunately he’s happier with the Guy Laroche suit and hat that goes on top and his new cross from the godparents. Kostas’ girlfriend Della distributes the crosses to be pinned on the congregation and Paulette holds the lighted candle while Kostas parades the baby as instructed by the Priest.

We suddenly realise that the ceremony is over and we should be stood in line with the parents & in-laws while everyone shakes our hands and/or kisses us with the traditional wish of “na sas zisei” . Sweets distributed and more photos and it’s off to the taverna – wine, blue sky, sparkling sea and – joy of joys – kandaifi and ice cream for dessert – what more could you ask for? Back to the daughters’ for coffee and opening presents. Most interesting one is a football with David Beckham’s thumbprint and signatures of the entire Panathinaikos team!
Tomorrow it’s a trip to the zoo and the next day a short trip to Loutsa. Should be doing our exercises. Sorry Nick – what’s the Greek for “left my homework on the plane