One Step East, Two To The West

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Some nice beaches here in Crete
Another week gone, another slow Sunday here in Greece, and as you probably already figured out given that you're reading it, another update. Last week, I finished my Greek classes on Wednesday. To give you some idea where I am, I just learned how to conjugate verbs in the past tense and other fun stuff on my last day. Which will be useful because I'm sure I'll have some stories to tell in Greek when I return. Presuming that I remember how, that is... In other news, I bought myself some plane tickets with EasyJet, so I now am officially leaving Greece Nov 15, stopping in London for a few hours, and then heading to Belfast. This should give me a week in Ireland and a week in England/Wales before I board that cold cold airplane on Dec 5 for the white fields of home. I'm shivering already.

The actual beach avec island
So, what's been going on? Well, Nikos, a really nice guy that runs a cafe in Rethymno, went to the beach with me a few times. That guy swims like a fish, but I guess living a five minute drive from a beautiful blue-flagged beach with few tourists and an island in swimming distance (barely for me!) will do that to you. The beach itself is worthy of the flag, pristine, and local, and this time I brought my camera so I could get a few pictures. I also went out for coffee a few times with Panaiota, my teacher.

Eleni, Nikos, and I
Thursday, I went to the cafe to see what Nikos was up to since we'd been planning to go out to Rethymno that day. His sister, Eleni, had come in on the early morning ferry from Athens and she was going to come with us. He also called Manous for me, a cousin of his in Rethymno, and got me a hotel lined up. Very nice guys, as I've said before. Then, since it was such a beautiful day, we did the tourist thing and sat eating salad and (in my case) drinking a nice big Mythos in the harbour sun. We went to the beach again that afternoon, I did a little strolling around the old town, and then I had a coffee with Panaiota. Panaiota, who really shouldn't have come, since she had some sort of food poisoning which I didn't know until she abruptly excused herself from the table to get sick. Then, I packed my bags up, grabbed some souvlaki and watched a bit of Shanghai Noon until Nikos and Eleni picked me up.

Mihalis Tsouganakis
We drove off for Rethymno, and I discovered when we arrived somewhere about 20km shy of the city that we were actually going to see some live Cretan music aka Μιχαλης Τσουγανακις. It was really good, he played whatever instrument that was (Laouta?) very well and the guy playing the Lyra was expert. I actually took a little (24MB) video which you can see by right-clicking and selecting Save As here. It's at full zoom from our table, so not exactly great, but there it is if you want it. Anyway, the night was replete with dancing, clapping, whisky, and more dancing. We left there around 4 AM and went out clubbing in Rethymno. By then, Eleni was justifiably tired and by 6 or so I was getting there, too. Then, we had some gyros, got my stuff from Nikos' car (I forgot my iPod in the front seat, though) and tucked into bed a little before 8 AM.

The old town in Rethymno
Friday I was awakened at noon to chanting from right outside my window. It's a long weekend here, Oxi (Oh-he) Day, celebrating, I think, when the Greeks pushed off the Italians in WW2, though the Germans weren't far behind. In any case, there were a bunch of kids out my window chanting and I was not exactly wide awake but I got to look at their costumes and that was enough of a parade for me. I strolled around the old town a few hours later, took a few pictures, and a nap. I went out again Friday night, but on my own this time. You have to be in a certain mood for this, and I wasn't, so I hung out for awhile and then went home. Saturday was much the same. More stores were open since it was a regular day and not a holiday, but it gets dull pretty fast around here. I bought myself a book about the Cretan Resistance called The Cretan Runner, that seems interesting so far, strolled around the town, sat and had lunch and watched the people walk by, strolled some more, and then sat and had a hot chocolate in a cafe and read a bit of my book. This may sound dull, and it can be, but that's sort of life around here, especially when you're in a strange city and don't know anyone.

Rethymno Harbour
Today is Sunday, as I've mentioned, and there's even less to do, so I'm forgoing the coffee and using the internet instead. Well, I still may go get a coffee later, it's only 3:30, after all. Tomorrow, I'm back to Tripolis via Ferry, though which one remains to be seen. I was supposed to meet Nikos yesterday but have no idea what happened, so I still have to get my iPod back before I leave. I've gone through enough of a withdrawl to write a song on my cell phone. If anyone has a Sony Ericsson phone with MusicDJ, they can try out this song/ringtone:

Drums - XX-07-15-15-15-15-16-16-16-16-23-23-24-24-25-25-26-26-25-25-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-16-32

Bass - XX-XX-09-10-09-10-15-16-15-16-23-23-24-24-31-32-31-32-31-32-24-24-23-24-23-24-24-24-23-24-23-24

Chords- 01-02-09-02-09-02-10-15-10-15-17-18-23-23-XX-31-17-02-17-02-17-18-24-24-23-23-10-15-23-23-23-23-08

Accent- XX-XX-03-XX-03-04-15-16-15-16-23-23-24-24-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-XX-31-32-23-23-24-24-15-16-23-23-23-23

I hope that useless bit of transcription is useful to someone. If not, well, skip over it. I probably should've said that before rather than after, but you'll know for next time I guess. Anyway, I'm off to do... something. See you in another week.

<Rethymno Photos>

Mohos and Back Again

Sunday, October 23, 2005

So, another week has gone by. I'd like to report that I'm now completely fluent in Greek, at times even correcting other native speakers' grammar. I'd like to, but of course I can't. However, I now know when to use things like 'va' (pron: na) in a sentence, put verbs into the future tense, and play a new backgammon game called asodio. It was a good week in school in any case, and my class officially ends tomorrow, after which I have a few private lessons to make up for the fact that I started a little late in the week.

A shot of Hania just to fill space
For the week itself, there's not much else to say. Aside from my Grecian studies, I've gone out for coffee - by which I mean various flavour of hot chocolate - a LOT. Especially compared to my relatively cafe-free life back home. We (my teacher and I) play a lot of tavli, and as I mentioned, I've learned a new game or two. We also went to a cafe one night with a piano, and since it was dead (there were three other tables in the whole place, and it seats between 100-200 people), and of course I had to play a little bit. I also have been out for a movie once or twice in my weeks here, having now seen 40 Year Old Virgin (not that good) and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (not that bad). I'm excited about this new Zorro I see is supposed to be coming out, I've certainly seen the old one enough times.

The weekend came, however, and I decided whatever else happened I wanted to get out of Hania for it and go somewhere. Since I probably wouldn't have another chance to see my cousins in Mohos, well, you already knew I headed there from the title. I rented a car Friday after class, checked some flight information here about getting to London (I've ruled out Egypt and will probably head to Ireland and then England/Wales a few weeks before hopping the plane home), and took off for Mohos.

The view on the way up to Mohos
It's about a three hour drive, but I had a bunch of new Greek music courtesy of my cousins up north to keep me company, so it went pretty quickly. Not to mention some beautiful night views, though I didn't take this picture until the next day. Incidentally, I'd like to buy some CDs here, and probably will buy one or maybe two, but they're _20_ Euros! That's almost $40 CDN. Or, to put it in a more universal currency, highway robbery. In any case, I have a bunch of music that I think my sisters (and hopefully dad) will like too. But once again, I digress. I got to Mohos and ate dinner with Maria and Ari, and then Maria stayed up with me and we chatted and played some more Tavli while watching who-knows-what movie with you-know-who and that Greek actor, Then Theimame. Oh, actually, I do remember, it's the one where Sean Penn is an autistic father fighting to raise his child. Pretty good actually, though now that I remember it, I don't think Then made an appearance...

Iraklion throws the ball in and the game away
It gets pretty chilly up in the mountains at night, and I was surprised again at the Greek weather. The next day, we went to watch Mohos play Iraklion, apparently the number one and two ranked teams in the league, and the game was in Mohos. The field is awesome, carved right into the mountain with a great view backing it from the stands. The game was not even close, and the home team took the game 5-0, but it was still entertaining, if only for the new Greek I was learning from agitated spectators. Not the sort of stuff you see written on a blackboard.

Soccer match amidst the beauty of Crete
I mentioned the cold, but midday, it was quite hot. I was wearing a sweater because the house was still cold, but on the field it must've been 28 Celsius. Beautiful! I did eventually decide that I should get some photos of the game just for fun, since the talent was skewed a little in one direction, and I wandered up to where some of the hardcore fans were sitting... on the old cliff that had been carved long before the new astroturf had been put down, not to mention the two-year old stands. It was definitely a soccer game in Greece, looking down on the field from the mountain amidst rocks, shrubs, and various degrees of evidence that goats grazed these same shrubs. That night we went down to Stalida, we were going to have dinner with Mina and Maria, but they had company they couldn't get rid of, so it turned out to be us. It was a nice dinner, and a beautiful night to drive back up - the moon was on the water and the lights of the coastal towns were lit brightly - so I got the photo which I'd wanted the prior night. My picture didn't turn out too well, but it's hard to snap a quick photo when you're sitting in a truck on a narrow road in the middle of the night. We tried, darn it!

Peeling fresh pomegranates
Today, Sunday, I went down to the cafeneio with Ari and Yanni (their son) and sat there with them for awhile, and at one point, without asking, the priest took off in Ari's truck which didn't even make Ari blink and I thought it was amusing to just see him drive off. He was back very shortly after, and then we headed home, and Ari came down with me to pick some pomegranates off the tree to eat. Then we all sat around peeling them, and the priest came by again and stayed for awhile. Very nice guy, but I guess you'd expect that...

Ari & Maria cleaning fish
I had to get going at some point, even though I was unsuccessful at removing the virus from Maria's computer (with the internet connection completely disabled, no Windows disc, and everything in Greek, it was a long shot from the get go, but I really did try), so I said my goodbyes and left after lunch and the Karate Kid (man, I love that movie!).

Now I'm back in Hania, I have a week or less of class left, and then I'm probably heading back to Tripolis to visit and pick olives or whatever else but mostly to see the family before I hit the skies. Speaking of family, if someone doesn't mind telling Aunt Soula, I have pictures of everyone over here up for her.

<Mohos Photos>

Han-ia Feel the Love?

Monday, October 17, 2005

My Hanorama shot of the old harbour

Old Hania harbour
Oh, hello there! I didn't see you come in. It's been a long time and I'm pleased to report that though my internet presence is perhaps waning as I become busier (and ironically have less and less of interest to report) my offline persona is doing just great. I had a bit of a thinkathon and decided that since my primary reason for coming to Greece this year was to learn some more Greek (well, there was no 'some more' in the original mission statement but that might've been a little too ambitious) I should go with the school route. Looking into schools, it seems there are three places where one can educate themselves in a short time whilst here: Thessaloniki, Athens, and Hania. You may recall my fervent dislike of Athens and my recent experiences in Thessaloniki or you may not, but in any case, the decision was clear. Hania. I would be on an island, in a beautiful city, and learning Greek. Case closed. Work, if I could find it, great. If not, well, at least I was doing something productive.

Dean & the girls
That decision made, I talked to the two schools there and got things as sorted as possible from Tripolis. Then I discovered that my cousin, Dean Katsiris, who lives in Toronto and I've never met, was in the neighbourhood, and Uncle Ted and Kosta came in for dinner with him, the girls, Theodore and Maria, and myself. It was a nice dinner at the Chalet not far from the girls' place. Then, we hit the town. Very interesting to meet Dean, he reminds me a lot of my other cousin, Dean. Katsiris. In BC. That one. Actually, I suspected his existence about a year ago, when I discovered upon googling my name in a poll for Stupidest Person on Earth (see poll and results) and traced the name of the person who put my name up to Toronto. Since I don't know anyone in Toronto, I suspected there must either be a Dean Katsiris there or else one of my other cousins had a runin. In any case, George Bush was already in an overwhelming lead and I decided that while I was in the running he was not going to steal another election, so I asked some friends and well wishers to vote for me and the rest, as they say, is history. This is THAT Dean Katsiris.

Kelly, Niki, and the Danes
Anyway, it was a little early, admittedly, so we went out to a cafe-bar and sat having a few drinks and watching Greece lose out to Denmark on its chance to get into the World Cup this year. Sofia AKA "Kinito Girl" came by and said she'd come out with us later, and somewhere in the evening, Lee's Yanni and a couple that I'd met once before joined us. We finally went out and went to the club where John & I had had such a great time when he was here. The owner seems to really love Niki (and who could blame him) and so we again got a reserved table given to us. Which we used for a spell until a few Thanos Petrelis songs (or maybe it was Polu Kala Lername) came on and then we danced.

Fortuitous timing as the lights come down
The dancing was in full gear, the platters were spinning as were the lights, as they tend to do here, when ours snapped off. It was a bit of a shock to have the light come crashing down on the table, as you may have guessed from this photo which I coincidentally snapped just as it happened. Kelly's reaction = priceless. Anyway, the moral of the story is we had a great time. As always, Tripolis was great. I got to spend a little more time with the kids this time, I babysat Theo & Maria one afternoon (Theo & I finished the girls' 1000 piece puzzle and Maria & I watched Monsters Inc) and I also took Theo out for a game of Counterstrike which I think he enjoyed. And of course, more coffees with Kelly (I won't mention the tavli, don't worry Kelly), more Pacino movies and late night chats with Niki, and introducing Lee to Strongbad emails and going visiting with her and her friends. Not to mention dinners with Diane & George, another stay in the Horio, and all the other day to day stuff that, well, I did say "not to mention".

Who broke the light?
After that Sat night I caught a couple hours of sleep and the bus to Athens, then the 2:00 ferry to Hania from Pireaus, which made it there by around 7:00. After a bus ride from Souda to Hania, Siba & friends picked me up and drove me to where I'd be staying in Stalos, which was quite nice of them. Stalos, and particularly Pano Stalos, is a nice quiet area about 10 mins from Hania and quite well connected by overflowing busses. Though I'm not in any way a morning person, there is something nice about waking up early, walking down to the bus past vineyards and looking down at the sea and the foggy mountains, hopping on a bus, and then walking from the station to the schools to get stuff done. Even on a Monday morning.

The morning in Stalos
It took a few days and some tests at both schools to see what my options were, but by Wednesday I was sitting in class with two fellow students, both retired, very nice people. Carlos is blind, or nearly I think, and that made things a little interesting, and Carrie is just an interesting woman in her own right. So interesting classes. I definitely am learning things and think that my own Greek school could've been so much better if only the teachers had at least used English to explain what we were doing and what things meant to a bunch of 6 year olds who didn't know how to answer the question "What is your name" and were supposed to be learning about passive/active voice, and so on. You know, that and if we weren't a bunch of 6 year olds who were ripped from our Saturday morning cartoons for four hours of hell that really put a lot of effort into NOT learning any more than necessary in that place.

More old Hania
So the school is good, and I've moved into Hania proper now with a little place that's right by the old harbour and amid the hubbub which I also like. The place itself isn't so great, but a very nice owner and a shower that consists, as many do in Europe, of a faucet dripping onto the bathroom floor. Mmm... cleansing. I've also befriended a few locals that are getting used to seeing my face. There's a cafe where I go a few times a week for a nice Greek salad and Coke (in a glass bottle) after school where I've gotten to know the owners and just this afternoon I went to a nearby beach with the owner's son. It's a nice place with an island that's swimming distance away even for this out of shape specimen, with some small and natural 1-2 m high 'cliffs' perfect for diving.

Me & the Germans
Also through Siba I've met some Germans working at the NATO base here, and I may go see a missle firing just for something different. OK, and because I'm kind of a geek, it's true. They're all very nice, and we've been over to Enrico's place (I know, doesn't sound German to me either) to watch movies and this past weekend we all went out to a bar in Platanias called the Rock Club or something like that. They have drums behind the bar which, on first glance, seems a neat idea, and then one of the workers starts drumming along to one of the songs and inserting really poorly timed fills (as in, finishing a whole BEAT too late) and then it gets annoying really fast. There was also a little bar dancing which I have some photos of but I'm afraid the girls got a little too out of hand for me to publically post those photos, put it that way.

And for no reason, a picture of Hania again
Anyway, that's in no means comprehensive, but I think it's enough. I really like Hania a lot and am happy I came down here. There've been good moments and bad, as with anywhere (like, for example, Eurobank (those #$%*()#$%#(*!'s) holding my card hostage, or arguments about the meaning of 'skase') but it's really pretty, nice, and still lively. I have another week or two of study and then I may head to Rhodes or Egypt or something (after visiting my family in Crete a little more) before heading back to Tripolis and then back home, with a stopover in the UK first. Oh yes, that's right, I should be coming home Dec. 5. So you will soon be free of the blog. Soon. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to sit in a cafe in the harbour and get some homework done...

<Tripolis & Hania Photos>

Home Away From Home

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Little George was a trooper
Last time on: Life of I. John had gone home, Dean was alone in Athens, and a baptism was imminent. Almost all of that has now changed. Yes, John is still at home, or at least in Saskatchewan, but Dean is now with his cousins in Tripolis once again and the baptism (as well as a wedding) are no longer imminent. The baptism, for my cousin's son, George, was nice. I somehow made my way by foot to St. Nicolas church (in the Koukaki area of Athens) and managed to have a much less traumatic experience than George, Diane, Niki, Lee, and Kelly, who hiked from the other side of the acropolis and were accosted less than delightfully in the markets (nothing serious, of course, or I wouldn't be so flippant). Little George did well, hardly crying at all until he was covered in oil, and who could blame him?

Let the dancing begin!
It was raining, so the day Trippers (aka the Tripolis Five aka the only other guests at the thing that I knew) skipped out on the reception, leaving me alone though Gus & Christina (& her father) made sure I wasn't abandoned. The reception was quite nice actually, good dinner, I met a guy named Gregory who'd been to Saskatoon and spoke some English, and his wife who hadn't and didn't but humoured my 'interprative Greek' very patiently. They invited me to dinner at their home on Saturday, though I was unable to attend, but very nice of them nonetheless. Then the Greek dancing started up and even little George was getting in on it, good times.

Craziness in Omonia
That night also happened to be the night of the European finals in basketball, pitting Greece against Germany. I didn't get to watch the game aside from the final minutes, where Greece confirmed its victory and all hell broke loose in Athens. It was wild. The streets went from empty as we left the hall to full of honking and yelling that could be heard across the city. Gus dropped me off at my hostel, and I quickly dropped off my valuables (except the camera) and grabbed the last metro train to Omonia. We had a bit of an adventure stopping in Syntagma Square, and I say "we" because I was joined there by hundreds of revellers heading to Omonia, where the party was. The train didn't move for five minutes, so we all got out, drums, airhorns, and all, and danced and chanted in the subway until the train was ready.

Car Party
Omonia itself was crazy when I arrived, but got progressively crazier VERY quickly. I've never EVER seen so many people in one place, cheering and singing and I myself probably sung the Greek national anthem 10 times (one of the few cheers I actually knew beforehand). People had scaled the six storey high public art piece in the square, fireworks were being lit off, flares waved proudly along with flags, banners, and anything that looked remotely patriotic, firecrackers were exploding at peoples' feet, and in all directions car horns could just be made out over the roar of quiet moments. After an hour or two or that, however, it got a little tiring, so I walked back to my hostel (quite a distance) and the interesting part is that almost ALL THE WAY BACK it was lined with cars deadlocked on the road, filled with people singing and waving flags and honking. Unbelievable.

Little Marina
I left the next day to visit my family a little more extensively in Tripolis and the village and have pretty much been doing that since. I spent a night in the horio but it's a little different now that it's not summer and the girls are in the city. That said, Lee was there, I got to spend some time with Maria and her kids, finally see Kosta, and of course with Uncle Ted and Aunt Marina. Stephania has definitely earned her nickname, Tsunami, and little Marina (who just celbrated her first month here) is tiny and cute. As for Tripolis, well, I've gone out a few times with the girls, usually to hang out in the cafes Greek style (which means there's usually a small dose of backgammon involved - current score is Dean: 5, Kelly: 1 though I'm confident I'll lose that soon) and a lot of socialising. I regret not taking John shopping here, there are a lot of cool stores that I didn't see in Athens.

Me & the girls
I also went on a grocery shopping binge with Kelly, it really is amazing how quickly food disappears around here! I tried to make my dad's famous baked apples, but I suppose I discovered there's a reason they're my dad's and a reason they're famous. I failed miserably. Well, they tasted OK, to be fair, but they weren't quite right in a lot of ways. Niki and I have been having a Pacino-athon of sorts, Theodore & I managed to finish a puzzle the girls had sitting under their couch for over a year (I'm told Larissa did much the same thing when she was here), and basically, I've just been hanging out with everyone. And I should also do my customary book recommendation for the week: John le Carre's Absolute Friends. But good things must surely end, and I'm off next week to figure out what I'm doing with my remaining couple months in Greece. I'm leaning increasingly towards language lessons, since my reason for coming to Greece was, in fact, to learn Greek and not get some small-time job, but that small-time job is also becoming a necessity as my bank account spirals ever closer to zero, so we'll see. Maybe I can do both somehow. We will see.

Priest of the Rings
One other item of note was that I found out my Uncle Ted was Koubarro (godfather, of sorts) at a wedding and so this past Saturday we went up for it. It was easily the latest wedding I've ever been to (and could ever hope to attend). The wedding started at 8:30 before accounting for Greek time and the fact that the wedding before was also on Greek time, so we didn't really get things going until 9:30. The reception we arrived at just past 11 PM and we didn't get to eat dinner until after midnight. Not often you attend a wedding one day and the reception the next (with bride and groom still in full gear). Unfortunately, as a result of this lateness, the rain (on which our drivers are woefully over-cautious), and even by my standards an hour and a half trip, coupled with the kids getting sleepy and/or even falling asleep, we pretty much ate dinner (which was quite good!) and ran. It was a nice wedding, though, and even if we didn't get to party it up after, I'm still glad we went.

Little Bride, Big Bride
So that's where I am now. I'll be in Tripolis for another day or two before setting off for who knows where. I have a line on a job in Athens working in a hostel (a guy I met in Ios), I saw a lot of help wanted signs when I was in Ios last, I have a line on a language school in Crete (and a friend who's offered me a place to sleep if I do), as well as another friend travelling through the islands for a week or so. So the options are definitely on the table and I will probably investigate all of them.

<George's Christening Photos>
<Craziness in Omonia Photos>
<Wedding Photos>