After the storm, dinner at the top of Skopelos Island

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The weather can change quickly at the Agean Sea. Most of the summer, it is hot and the sun shines from a clear blue sky. But when severe storms approach, the Greek Meteorological Service will send out warnings. These are times when we see the clouds building up, when we take down garden furniture and umbrellas and put aside flower pots that may come crashing down in strong winds.

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A few days ago, we had such a storm. Dark skies, heavy winds, heavy rain, lightening. For hours. For a day and a night. A fall of six degrees in the temperature. These are storms when the poor tourists are forced to stay in their hotel rooms or in the bars. The local people on the islands do not mind the weather. The rain is good for the gardens.
And then, a day later, heavy clouds are fighting a losing battle to clear skies. Finally, the sun is chasing away the clouds and Greek summer is back again, the type of summer that every tourist expects to have here.

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Today, the weather is great again. Neighbours have invited us to their boat and in the late afternoon, we are heading for Skopelos Island. The boat is big, the two strong boat motors take us to the small little harbour of Loutraki in fifteen minutes. We are heading for Glossa, the little town on the top of the mountain. We have prebooked a taxi to the harbour. The taxi driver is not there. As could be expected. We call the taxi driver. Yes, he knows that we are coming. He will pick us up in less than ten minutes. One telephone call and twenty five minutes later, the taxi arrives. The driver skillfully takes us up on the small, curvy road. Finally, he stops and we have to walk another ten minutes to reach Agnanti, the restaurant where we are having our dinner. The view from Agnanti is stunning.

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The food is great. We share everything. Fried calamares. Fried cheese with honey. Vegetables. A few other starters. A Greek lamb dish. A pork dish. Chicken. Bread. White wine. A well tasting dinner!7

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After dinner, we walk down through the small town, not bigger than a village. The path down is more straight than the road we came up on. It is an old stone path, a path for pedestrians and donkeys. It is a beautiful walk, a good exercise. Finally, we get down to the water, resting for a while on a bench before we walk back to the harbour for the return trip to Skiathos Island.

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As we arrive to Sklithri beach, the sun is setting. We anchor the boat and get ashore. We are sitting down for a while at “our” Sklithri Taverna, sipping a glass of wine before we walk up to our houses.

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This was one of those days when the world beyond the horizon does not exist. A day when the world consists of the sea, green islands, friends, good food and wine. A day of total relaxation…

A lazy day on Arkos Island

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Our friend picks us up at the harbour in Skiathos. It is the right day to go out to sea, the temperature has reached 33 degrees. The boat moves swiftly and the wind feels refreshing in our faces. It takes us only ten minutes to reach Arkos Island, one of the small islands outside Skiathos.

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Arkos is an island of rock and stone, covered by green trees, an island with with a great sandy beach. No people live on this island but in the summer, a Skiathos family is running a taverna on the beach. High above on a rock, a Greek flag has been placed to remind us of where we are.

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This day, there are only a few people at Arkos. We find shade under some big rocks, place our bags, umbrella and beach towels there and move out into the water. The water is warm, clear, feels like silk. Finally, we get up again, letting the warm air dry our bodies in the shadow of the rock and then we move over to the taverna.

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This is one of those days when time means nothing. You stick your feet into the sand, sip your frappe, the cold Greek ice coffe, lazy talk with friends, looking out over the sea, and a few hours of your life can easily disappear without you noticing it. Eventually, hunger reminds us that we are sitting at a Greek taverna and we ask for the menu.
It is a family taverna, the mother is cooking. We order fried calamares, very fresh. Gavros, which is small, boneless, skinned Greek anchovy. Horiatiki, Greek salad. And the speciality of the place, fried, spicy hot feta cheese. Many Skiathians have goats up in the mountains and so does this family. The feta cheese is homemade and melts in your mouth. And of course we get bread, you always get bread with your meals in Greece. Everything washed down with beer and water.

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It takes an effort to get up from the taverna chairs and move back to our place at the rocks. The sun has moved and there is no more shade where we were sitting. Instead, we get into the water, the warm crystal clear water, and spend a long time there, maybe twenty minutes, maybe thirty, we don’t really know.

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Late in the afternoon, we reluctantly get into the boat for the ten minute return trip to Skiathos harbour.

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This has been another lazy day in Greece….

A short holiday on Alonissos Island

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With a car and two friends, we take the ferry from Skiathos to Alonissos Island for a three day holiday. The ferry trip takes just over two hours including a stop on Skopelos Island.
Alonissos is the third largest of the main Northern Sporades islands, after Skopelos and Skiathos, and the one that is least frequented by tourists. The name Alonissos is a fairly new name. To the ancient Greeks, the island was known as Ikos.

We approach the island and enter the picturesque harbour of Patitini, the capital village of Alonissos. Sailing boats and fishing boats are anchored in the harbour, the water is crystal clear. Tavernas and coffee shops line the harbour drive with a backdrop of white houses climbing the hills of the island.

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Distances are short on Alonissos and you can cover most of the island within half an hour’s drive from Patitini. It takes us five minutes to find our hotel in the next little bay away from this village.

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We are lucky with the hotel. It is small, simple and clean and located next to a beach with a few tavernas within a minute’s walk. This beach like most beaches on Alonissos consists of a combination of sand and pebbles. The first thing we do is to go for a long stay in the warm water. The water feels soft like silk. You swim, you float, you want to stay forever…

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In the evening, we drive up to Chora, the town on the top of the mountain, also called The Old Village. The views are stunning. Cars cannot go all the way up. We have to walk. Donkeys carry goods to the upper parts. Many artists have moved into the village, creating an artist enclave, sometimes with the paintings for sale hanging outside on the house walls. We find a taverna with a great view of the island, enjoying fresh seafood. Because this is what you should eat on Alonissos, seafood is fresh, straight from the sea off the island, and very reasonably priced.

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The next day, we take a drive around the island. The views of the rugged mountains, covered by pine forests and olive groves, are spectacular. Everything is quiet. It is an island of peace and serenity. We find a beach for a swim. There are only a few people on the beaches. We enjoy the warm, crystal clear water.

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Then we drive to the small bay of Steni Valla. Some sailing boats have anchored in front of the tavernas. We have yet another seafood meal. Back to the hotel, we cannot resist going down to the beach for yet another swim.

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Alonissos is a beautiful island. Sun and sea. Mountains and beaches. For us, it has been a time of viewing, eating, drinking, swimming, sleeping, all in good company. You cannot have a better three day holiday…

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Another day in our life on a Greek island

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The boat is making good speed. It is warmer now, feels like real summer is finally here. On the top of the hills, we see Glossa, the second largest town on the island of Skopelos.
But Glossa is not where we are going today. Instead, the boat slowly moves in to the small harbour of Loutraki, the sleepy little beach village below Glossa. It has taken us twenty minutes since we left Sklithri beach on Skiathos, crossing the straight over to Skopelos.

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The sun is getting hotter, shining from a clear blue sky. A few cars are parked in the harbour of Loutraki but we see very few people. A taxi driver is sitting on a chair in the shade of a tree, hoping for us to take the ride up to Glossa where there are also some very nice tavernas. But not today. Today we are heading for Flisvos Taverna, a walk of 200 meters. “Welcome back!” Kostas is greeting us as we enter the taverna. We have not been here since last summer. We take a table next to the sea. Only one other table is taken in Flisvos this afternoon.

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We order, sharing everything. Saganaki, fried chees with honey. Filled peppers. Batatas. Bread of course, there is no Greek meal without bread. Fresh fried calamari. Very fresh mussels, just being picked up from the sea. Seafood pasta with large prawns and more mussels. And, of course, white house wine.

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We take our time. We are in no hurry. Time is unimportant on a Greek island. If you had asked me which weekday it is, I wouldn’t know. We eat and drink slowly, chatting, enjoying the food and the sea and the company. But finally, we ask for the bill. Kostas is bringing complimentary dessert, ice cream. And complimentary coffees.

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We are going back to Skiathos. The sea is calm. We see a few sailing boats. A ferry heading for Skopelos town. We see no dolphins today.  We take a detour, going into the harbour of Skiathos. We proceed to Sklithri. Emilio is serving his late lunch guests at the taverna on the beach. We sit down at a table, relaxing for a while before we walk up to our houses. The sun has started to go down over the hills in the west, casting long shadows.

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Another day in our life on a Greek island has gone by….

Back on the island

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Early morning. Sunrise over Skopelos. The sea is calm. It is quiet. We are back on the island. Back after six weeks of travel. Back in our own little paradise.

The first cup of coffee in the morning tastes like heaven. I walk barefoot in the grass, inspecting the garden. It has fared reasonably well during our absence. We have been lucky. Roaming goats have passed the area. They have eaten a lot in our neighbour’s garden. All geraniums are gone there, down to the root. But our garden has been untouched by the goats. Thank you, goats.

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The rest of our car ride through Europe went smoothly. We stayed a few days in Prague. We stayed in the old, cute little village of Hall-in-Tirol outside Innsbruck in Austria. We drove down to Ancona in Italy where we caught the ferry to Igoumenitsa on the Greek mainland, just south of the Albanian border. After crossing Greece, we took the final ferry from Volos to Skiathos.

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Back again. Travelling is enjoyable. Not travelling is also enjoyable. Now we will stay here for the next few months. Staying in our little paradise. Living a small scale life. Eating, drinking, sleeping. Gardening, swimming, reading, socializing with friends. Enjoying sunrises and coffee. Simply enjoying life. Enjoying the simple life.

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It is great to be back again.

From Stockholm, Sweden, to Skiathos Island, Greece; preparing for the drive

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After our trip to north America, we have now arrived in Stockholm, Sweden. It is now time to plan and prepare for the drive by car from Stockholm to Skiathos Island in Greece.

The distance door to door is 2620 kilometers. I have measured the distance. I have done this trip so many  times now so I do not need a gps or a map. The trip plan is always based on the fact that we want to drive through Italy on a Sunday; lorry traffic is banned on Italian highways on Sundays. Normally, we leave Stockholm on Friday after lunch and arrive on Monday evening on Skiathos Island.

But this time, it will take a little bit longer. In the past, we always wanted to drive from A to B as quickly as possible. But now we will deviate from our normal route and stay in one of the beautiful cities on the way. We plan a stopover in Prague a couple of days.

There is always a lot to think of before we depart. The car must be serviced. A lot to buy. Things for the house. Some food stuff. What is available on a Greek island is limited so we stock up. Also, ferries and hotels have to be booked.

The weather in Stockholm is beautiful, sunny and not very warm. We try to enjoy this beautiful city as much as time permits. We see friends. We are fighting our jet lag. After a month of eating out or in friends’ homes, we enjoy cooking our own food again.

In a few days, we are on our way… Greece, here we come!

Our suitcase is packed, we are ready to go

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It is a pity to leave this place now. But our feet are itching….

We have taken out the suitcase. We have packed it and we are ready for another trip. Our garden will be left in the hands of God and our automatic watering system. And friendly neighbours.

We are invited by a neighbour for dinner at Bakaliko at The Strip in Skiathos two nights before our next departure. Together with some other friends. The Strip is the road between the town and Skiathos Airport. A road with many restaurants, clubs and bars. Good food. Good wines. Good company. We will miss Skiathos.

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The alarm clock is set for 04.30 in the morning. The flight leaves Skiathos at 06.30. The flight is short, 35 minutes to Athens.
We have a full day in Athens, almost. We will leave our luggage at the airport. Then take the bus to Syndagma Square in central Athens. Walk around in Plaka, the old part of Athens, just below Akropolis. A lunch at a taverna. Then back to the airport again. Our next flight leaves late in the afternoon. Our first leg on this tour, between three and four hours in the air.
We are on the move again!

A slow walk down to Sklithri beach

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The sun is setting over the hills, casting long shadows on the road. We walk slowly downhill, from our house to the beach, a few minutes’ walk. The heat of the day is slowly subsiding.

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It is quiet. The smell from the pine trees fill our nostrils. The silence is broken by a fast motor boat crossing the clear water of Tzaneria Bay. Then the boat is gone. Silence is ruling again.
For minutes or for a week?

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Only Peter and Zelda have put their boat into the water. But the small bay will soon be filled with boats, attached to the buoys, swinging and moving with the waves. But still, the waves are the rulers of the bay.  The beach is empty.  Soon, umbrellas and sunbeds will fill the beach.  Tourists will fill the sunbeds.  For now, at this moment of time, the beach is ours.  A slow walk in the sand.  Not a tourist in sight.
For another week…

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At Sklithri Taverna, our gem on the beach, Emilio and his men are preparing the taverna for the season. A new kitchen.  Emilio tells us that they plan to open in a week.  Now it is quiet, no guests, no food, no wine.
For another week…

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Our shoes sink into the sand, made soft by the waves. At the end of the beach, a place to sit down. A place to contemplate. To listen to the waves. Birds singing. A dog barking far away. A place a thousand miles from the world.
Velvet for the soul…
For another week…..

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Then summer is here…

The winter is officially over, the first charter flight has arrived

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The first charter flight of the season has arrived. Thomas Cook from Manchester.

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You can spot the tourists from a mile away. A couple of hours after the arrival, they walk in pairs or small groups slowly up and down Papadiamantis, looking totally lost. Papadiamantis is the small main street in Skiathos town, a pedestrian street. They are pale. Very pale after a long winter in England. They wear shorts. They have paid a lot of money to wear shorts for a week, sun or rain. The legs are extremely pale. Some of them wear funny hats, first thing they shop on the holiday. Hats that they would never even dream of wearing on High Street in Doncaster. You see the same groups several times, first walking up Papadiamantis and then down Papadiamantis. A slow walk, looking lost as if they haven’t yet understood that they are on a holiday.

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The bar and café owners along Papadiamantis and down in the harbor have waited six months for them. “Welcome!” and then “Where are you from?”. Everyone in the street knows that they are from England but “Where are you from?” is one of the standard introductory phrases. “Sit down!”

Some of them sit down and have the first pint of beer of the day (not counting the ones they had on the plane). The café owner is happy. The first catch of the season.

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Skiathos has got two seasons, the winter season and the tourist season. The face of the island is now changing into tourist season mode. Total contrasts. The winter population of the island is 6,000 people. In August, the peak tourist season when the Greeks and the Italians have their holidays, there are more than 60,000 people on the island. In January, there may be one car passing by on the coast road below our house every half hour. In August there is bumper to bumper traffic on the road.

Let the tourist games begin!

Sunrise over Skopelos, early morning on Skiathos

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In just over a week’s time, we are going travelling again. We will miss the island.

The best things here are the early mornings. The first cup of coffee of the day. Sun rising over Skopelos. Walking barefoot into the grass in the garden, sipping coffee and looking out over the calm sea. Fishing boats slowly moving out to sea for a hard day’s work. The quietness. The solitude. A light western wind.

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Our garden is doing well. The roses look great. We will get a lot of nectarines and plums this year. The oregano is coming along fine. Rosemary. Lemon grass. Mint. Thyme. Basil. All our herbs are seem to thrive.

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When we came to our house this year, everything worked. The electricity, the water, the satellite TV, the internet, the telephone. First time in over twenty years. Usually, you have to spend the first week on the island chasing people to come to fix what has broken down during the winter. Not this time. But nothing lasts forever. Yesterday, there was a big bang and a fuse in the water heater was gone. Today we have to shower in cold water. It is bearable, reminds me of my days in the military service. Later today, I will call Akis. Akis is our electrician. Hopefully he can come tomorrow morning and fix the problem.
Last night, we had friends over for dinner. Three people from Holland, one Brit and a couple from Zimbabwe. Some live permanently on the island, others are sunbirds just like us, coming for the warm time of the year. We had Indian food. Dosei, bhajji, lamb kofta, chicken curry, chutneys. Wine and beer. A very enjoyable evening. First dinner with friends on the island this summer.

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I am having my second cup of coffee. Two cups of coffee. My starter dose for the day. Then, the cold shower is waiting….