Another day in our life on a Greek island

Skopelos 1
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.

Skopelos 1a

Skopelos 2

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.

Skopelos 3

Skopelos 4

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.

Skopelos 4a
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.

Skopelos 5

Skopelos 6

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

Back 1
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.

Back 1a

Back 2

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 7a

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.

Back 7b

Back 7c

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

Avresa

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

beach 1
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.

beach 2

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?

beach 3
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…

bech 4
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…

beach 5
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…..

beach 6
Then summer is here…

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

Tourists 1
The first charter flight of the season has arrived. Thomas Cook from Manchester.

Tourists 2

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.

Tourists 3

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.

Tourists 4

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

Sunrise 1
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.

Garden 1

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.

Garden 2
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.

Garden 3
I am having my second cup of coffee. Two cups of coffee. My starter dose for the day. Then, the cold shower is waiting….

Two handfuls of fish in a plastic bag

Fish 1

The menu for the evening dinner is suddenly changing. The curry can wait until tomorrow.

It has been a beautiful day. Sun from a clear sky. Warm. It feels like summer has finally come. As it eventually does every spring. It has also been a relaxing day. Small things done in the garden. Seeing friends. Some shopping.

We are sitting relaxing on the terrace, looking out over the sea. More sailing boats are moving towards Skiathos town. A fast motor boat down in Tzaneria bay. And then we see them. The fishing boats. They are on their way towards the harbour. Another day of hard work at sea. Did they catch much today?

Fish 2

There is plenty of time. It will take us ten minutes to drive into town. It will take the fishing boats fifteen minutes to reach the harbor. There the restaurants have priority. They are the regular customers. They get the best fish. But this time of the year, before the actual tourist season has started, there is always fish available for others. It is worse during the peak of the tourist season. Thousands of tourists are to be fed on the island. Many of them eat fish.

Fish 3

This time, we find good parking in the harbour. We look at the remaining catch of the day. We point at the fish we want. The procedure is simple. No weighing scales. No cash register. Just two handfuls of fish in a plastic bag. “How much?”. “Two euros”. One euro per handful of fish.

Fish 4
What kind of fish are we buying? Don’t ask me. Never ask me names of birds, flowers or fish. Birds fly elegantly in the sky, flowers are beautiful in the garden and fish smells great in the frying pan. That is all I need to know.
The menu for the dinner is fried fish, rice and a salad. And a glass of white wine.
You can’t get fresher food than this…

When nudists stopped me from taking pictures of the mountain goats

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Skiathos is called “The Pearl of the Aegean Sea”. The island and its 70 beaches, surrounded by the cleanest waters of the Mediterranean, is a paradise of its own. Some of the beaches sometimes appear on lists of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world.

After the winter storms, the beaches are particularly interesting. Beautiful stones can be found partly hidden in the sand, shells have been washed ashore and artistic driftwood have drifted up on the beaches. Today, we go to the wild Xanemos Beach to search for driftwood, a week before the tourists start to occupy the beaches.

It is a beautiful day. Sunny, one of the first real summer days. We walk along the beach. The beach is totally empty. Everything is quiet except for the sound of soft waves hitting the shore. Totally relaxing. A world of its own.

Then we see them. Mountain goats. The cliffs falling into the sea are steep. We admire the goats, climbing and jumping with such ease and balance on the rocks. Jumping with gracious movements.

“Why don’t you take a picture for your blog”, says my wife. I answer that the goats are too far away. The pictures will not be good. “Go closer”, she encourages me.

I start to move along the beach. The goats are beautiful. I take pictures. Camera high. I must get closer. More pictures, are they good enough?

Then, suddenly, I see movement. Below the cliffs with the goats, a middle aged couple lie in the sand, sun bathing. I did not notice them before. They are totally naked. Nudists. The woman pulls up a towel to cover herself. The naked man stares at me.

Then I quickly realize. They don’t see the goats above them. They are lying peacefully in the sand, enjoying the warm early summer sun shine, on the totally empty Xanemos Beach when they suddenly see a strange man walking towards them, holding his camera high, taking pictures of them.

I quickly turn around and focus on the sea. If there is ever the right time to take meaningless pictures of the sea, this is it. I hold my camera close to my face, taking pictures of the Aegean. I walk slowly away. I glance casually at the couple. They are still staring at me, saying nothing. I take more pictures of the sea.

With a sigh of relief, I reach the car. My wife is already there with a beautiful piece of driftwood. “Let’s go”, I say. “I will explain later”.

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Tomorrow I will go shopping at Asteras Supermarket in town. Perhaps I should wear my baseball cap. And my darkest sun glasses….

Lamb, pork loin and half a kilo of red wine

Baklava 1
It has been a good day. We have got a lot done. New plants planted in the garden. A new shelf put up in one of the bath rooms. The timer for the automatic watering system has been changed. It had been broken by the cold and ice of last winter. The lawns have been mowed.

We drive into town for dinner. Bakaliko is one of the few tavernas on the island that has been open the whole winter. We take a table inside. It is too chilly tonight to sit outside by the water front. Only a few tables are taken. It is 19.30 in the evening, our normal dinner time but much too early for most Greeks. We eat lamb and pork loin. Lamb and pork loin done the Greek way. Bread and olives. Half a kilo of red wine. After an hour, the locals start to fill up the taverna.

Baklava 2a

Over in the harbor, we see the ferry leaving for the mainland. The last link to the outer world is cut for the day.

Baklava 3

Greek wines have improved a lot over the years. Bakaliko’s red wine is good. It is served in the traditional way, in small glasses from an aluminium carafe. Traditionally, you order wines in kilos, not in liters. There are ash trays on the tables. Some people smoke. Yes, this is inside and, yes, it is illegal to smoke inside. But the laws were made in Athens, not on Skiathos. Let the Athenians abstain from smoking. On Skiathos, Skiathians do what Skiathians want to do.

It is getting dark outside. More cars are being parked outside the taverna. More people enter. Lots of hugs and kisses on the cheek. This is a small island and most people know most people. The noise level is increasing. The waiters are running around, serving more food. No one is in a hurry to leave. Another glass of wine. One more ouzo. Another cigarette. One more story to tell. Crisis or no crisis, Greeks know how to enjoy life.

Baklava 4

We are the first ones to leave the taverna this evening. We drive the four kilometers on the coast road back to our house on an empty road. This is the calm before the storm. In a week’s time, the first charter flights of the season will arrive to the island. Soon, the tourist invasion starts and the island is changing from its sleepy winter face to the busy summer mode.
One more week of peace….