Thursday, November 5, 2009

Greece 's Hidden Treasures (1) - Velvento Kozani

A recent business trip to Thessaloniki became the reason for me writing this post. Of course, Thessoliniki is a beautiful city, with lots of things to see and do, but I must admit that the nicest part of my trip was a stopover at Velvento, a small village near Kozani.

Now, getting there is very simple indeed. It's about a 30 - 40 minute drive from the new Egnatia Highway, and hidden from all eyes, you will only grasp how beautiful it is once you get there. Velvento is a village with about 4000 residents. The main income is from the peaches, which are some of the best in the country, but as I was told when I was there, they are mainly grown to be exported. As you climb the southern side of the Pieria mountain, you are surrounded by the beautiful forests, and below you the view of the Polyfotos lake enchants and calms even the most tired of eyes.

Once you reach the village, you suddenly feel that history and mythology become one. The houses are distinct, having the shape of an eye on their external walls. The streets are narrow, reminding you that you are in a rural area, and along with the sound of running water and the wind rustling through the leaves, you feel that there could be no other place on earth quite as calm and as beautiful as this.

Along its long winding roads, you will see small churches scattered (there are about 80 in all) and something which seems unique to this place is that each church has a small outhouse next to it, fitted with a kitchen, hearth, spit, tables and chairs. I was informed that lots of families meet here on weekends or holidays, and cook and eat next to the churches, paying homage to the saint whose name the church holds. At one church we stopped at, the spit was actually turned by the running water coming from the stream running along the road. I had never seen this before. The family who had been having their Sunday picnic there, welcomed us with a glass of tsipouro and a piece of home cooked revani ... two great Greek delights.

As you ascend the mountain from the village you can actually walk up to the Katafygi waterfall. I must admit that we did not reach the observation post to see the waterfall, only because it was starting to get dark, and we did not know how long it would take. From photos, though it did look spectacular.

Velvento is one of those areas of Greece that has not been hit by commercial tourism. It is a walkers and hikers paradise, a paradise which can be enjoyed every season of the year. Its residents seem to be prepared to go the extra mile to make you enjoy your time there.

So, if you are ever near Kozani, make sure that you take time to visit one of the most scenic places in Greece, and find your peace near the home of the Gods.

My title links to the official site of Velvento.

(Special thanks to Sakis and Annie, who dedicated their time to show us this wonderful area)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Facebooking in Greece

No, you didn't misread the title... and yes I have grammatically changed the word facebook. As a facebooker, today I decided to dedicate my blog to this current phenomena, fad, new trend (call it what you will) in Greece.

I recall that when I first found facebook, it was by chance. I had googled the name of an old schoolmate, and voila, I found a page which would not allow me to find more information until I became a member, so I did. Once I became a member, it then became easier to find more and more old friends, and suddenly I found myself lost in a whole new world - the world of reconnecting, remembering, catching up. No more "I wonder where "so and so" is" or "whatever happened to "whats-his-name". No, Facebook had suddenly opened up an entire new link to past, present and future. In true "me" tradition, I would spend any free few minutes punching in names of old and new friends, and I must admit, seeing those old faces, I felt that I had a more complete picture of me, all in one place, on one page. Now don't get me wrong, I am not one of those people who sits in front of a computer all day, but I really did find this site fascinating.

Since the day I logged myself into facebook, I have watched this new virtual experience grow and nurture itelf in Greece. The actual rate of growth is phenomenal, and watching it happen is even more fascinating. For those of you who don't use facebook, you have the ability to write small notes on your page, comment on your friend's notes, play games, use various applications and, the most exciting part, chat to friends who are online, in real time!!! A whole new world of psychotherapy has opened up. You can post a note when you're feeling down, and suddenly friends are cheering you up. You link to a song that defines you, and friends can tell you they like it. You can upload photos and friends can see what you see every day. You can be a whole other person on facebook, and this is where the problems start.

A whole other person. A world within a world has been created. Teenagers are facebooking all day, sending messages, sending signals. Bored, lonely, interested, in love, out of love. Whatever they feel, they just post it and it's there for all to see. People who live next door to eachother, who sometimes don't even say good morning to eachother, are suddenly chatting on facebook. Kids who are with their friends at school all day, are now with their friends at home too. So, is this a healthy way to be?

I don't know the answer to this question. I know that facebook has become a part of my day, and it has given me the ability to connect my past to my present and my future, but I am sure that here in Greece it has started to make social life a little less social.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

An odd encounter

Today is a positive day. I think yesterday had more to do with the way I'm feeling today. You see as I was out and about doing my day's jobs, I encountered an acquaintance. I have known her for a while, but I didn't really know her. As I sat down with her - to talk about a job I wanted her to take on, we began talking and as bits of information began to spring up here and there, I began to really like this person in front of me. Before yesterday, all we had said to each other was a polite hello, but all of a sudden I got the feeling of connecting. It was a wonderful feeling, one that I think I live for, and yes, as I sat in her office, I got that feeling.

As I drove back to my humble abode, small bits of the conversation started coming back, and the only thing I can say is that it made my day. It's funny what or who life throws at you, and that meeting made me realise that life is not a series of coincidences. This is what I have realised about life. The way we think of it, is the way it is. I think of my life as an adventure, an adventure with a goal (what I call my vision or my dream). The people we meet along the way are not coincidental. If we take the time to learn a little about them, most of them are just small parts of us - the parts we all too often forget about. I always have the feeling that I am a very lucky person, because the people I meet along my life's journey spur me on to become me. I know that this may seem ideological, and maybe you're all thinking " yeh - you don't know people ! " and maybe I don't. What I do know though are two things. Being me is a very important part of my life - not me the mother, or me the career woman, or me the teacher, or me the wife but ME - my dreams, my thoughts, my soul. The second thing I know is that I love to learn. I love to learn about the little things - the things that make us tick, that make us go on when going on seems possible, that make us shine.

So, a very big thank you to Stella, although I did not tell her- one day I will. She has made me realise that there is always someone out there who, with a little of his or her time, is just helping us realise who we are.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Election fever ... the day after

After a long day, yesterday saw the triumph of the Greek Socialist Party in the 2009 elections. At 7.00 pm, the ballots closed, and the results started to pour out of each region. That's when the surprise began. I think that most Greeks did not expect the outcome that was to become one of the biggest landslide victories that Europe, let alone Greece, has encountered.

The reasons why were debated on every political programme broadcasting around Greece, and when the Prime Minister, Mr Karamanlis, announced his resignation, only the sound of silence could be heard.

Greece is a naturally politically motivated country. Perhaps the reasoning and logic behind the corruption which has become Greece's signature over the past years, is due to the people's use of politicians to get what they want, with the minimum effort. The despair that has hit the world, and this country over the last year, has left each person with only one road to go down - the road of hope.

As the page turns, and a new day begins, I believe that the Greek people sent a very clear message to all yesterday. If you give us something to believe in, then we will pave the way for a better tomorrow - but tomorrow has to be better than today. As yesterday's results show, the time for change has come, so PASOK has to prove that they are the right people for the job.

As for me, political parties are the people's way of expressing their views and beliefs. The determining factor in all our lives is our own drive, our own goals, and our own dreams - each person can make a difference, not only through their political beliefs, but through making their dreams reality. So, as a new day begins, and change begins, each and every one of us should be heading for our own greater tomorrow, shaking off all of yesterday's dust.

Have a great week.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Change .... seems to be in the air...

So, after a very busy summer, and no time for relaxation, I come to you with news. As Greece prepares for its elections, I have focused on my own small, but important, changes. As I am writing this post, I am in the process of closing up my language school, and opening a smaller establishment, and basically finding a more economical solution.

The past two days have been quite difficult, throwing away the excess of 15 years of my life seemed daunting at first, but as the first bin bags departed, I realised that I should do this more often. Building up a business is not an easy job to do, and as I opened files and notebooks full of teaching plans, comments, marks, it became all the more obvious that I had detached myself from that part of my life. 15 years suddenly disappeared, and I felt that I was starting a new adventure, a new life. Reading my way through my "trashing everything" day, I was surprised at myself for not feeling nostalgic, and then, as if I had been hit by a bolt of lightning, I opened my financial documents for the last 15 years. That was when it dawned on me that the amount of money I had lost in this business was far more than anything I had gained. All I could see were numbers flashing around the pages - the "Joneses" owe 500 euros, the "Smiths" owe 1000 euros. At one stage I sat at my desk and thought, let me just add up what I am actually owed, but as I punched the first page into my calculator, it was clear that I really did not want to go there. So, along with all the other rubbish, the file just fell into the bin, and a weight disappeared from my shoulders. Gone were the memories of the " I'll come and bring you the fees next week," and " we're just having a few financial problems at the moment, but we'll get the money to you by next month." At that moment I just let them go.

I am not giving up teaching, don't get me wrong, but I am making changes. I have to bring up my 2 children and give them the necessary things they need, but I plan to do it on my terms from now on. So in May this year, I decided that this would be the end of negativity and the beginning of a new me.

30 garbage bags later, and 10 boxes of necessary stuff, I have almost finished the packing. My heart feels lighter, and the smile on my face remains. I know that I have done a lot of good in my years here as a teacher, but I also know that my potential is so much more, so without any feelings of remorse, I carry myself, and only the good memories, into a new tomorrow.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Hit me hard ... I will not fall...

Ok, a hard week is slowly coming to an end, and looking back on it I must say that it was one of those times when you just have to say, "c'est la vie". I started my fitness regime again, hoping that I can get rid of some of this everyday stress. It is becoming more and more difficult to keep my patience, and I have found myself trying to find solutions to problems that were not even caused by me. This week's dilemma began with a harder look into myself, trying to find the imperfections and smooth them out, even make them disappear if I could. As I started my power walking, I found myself contemplating the accusations which have been slung at me all week. Too nice, too helpful, too patient ...too me... apparently. As work starts to pick up, everyone seems to have an opinion about everything, and their opinions seem to be the right ones. As I walked, I suddenly realised that becoming me ... this too nice, too helpful, too patient person... was not at all easy. All the people around me are so difficult to live with, that I have to be the one with all the answers, all the positive energy, all the right things to say, and this has become a way of life. Irony, sarcasm and negative energy fill the air so much that sometimes I feel that every breath I take will suffocate me. Yesterday, though, for about three hours, I took a break from them all. It was so simple to just forget everyone and everything for a small time. It was such a good feeling, that I realised that even small escapes are worth the effort. I must admit that I have to thank two friends for just helping me forget everything for a little while. Just talking - about nothing and everything - cleared my mind enough to be able to return to work with a smile, although it did not last very long.

So today I start with a different thought. Yes, there are problems. Yes, negative thoughts are always around, but I just say Yes to life. It has become too short to waste. It is too good to miss. So I say yes to too nice, too helpful and too patient. I say yes to good people. I say yes to the world. My story will be one with a happy end. As for the rest of you - hit as hard as you can ...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Greek Summers ...

Lots of people from all over the world, have enjoyed summer holidays in Greece and still enjoy them. The tourist industry, more than most industries, has taken a great blow this year, and it is still uncertain whether this will be the first of many uncertain summers. In this unsettled climate, the pressure is on all areas within this industry to weather this storm, but the signs are that this may be more of a downpour than a mere shower. In this area alone, most of the hotels opened their doors to custom today, the first of June. Hotels that have been running for years, and have been opening since the beginning of May, as in most areas, found it more economical to remain closed, rather than open for the few tourists that were around. A difficult choice in difficult times. Another amazing fact that with the Orthodox Whitsun Bank Holiday around the corner, some hotels will remain closed and will open at the end of this month, waiting for the high season to arrive so their costs are kept as low as possible.

What are your thoughts on Greece as a tourist destination? It would be great to hear your views.

Friday, May 29, 2009

To vote or not to vote - That is the question...

With the European elections around the corner, the Greeks have turned their attention to the bank holiday weekend. The general public has turned its once political fanaticism into political indifference. Since the economic crisis reared its ugly head at the end of 2008, scepticism over the country's governing body has risen, and the reaction of the people is one of pure disdain.

The motto of the day, as temperatures have hit the 30's over the last week, is "We vote the beach" and as the days pass, it is all the more noticeable that many Greeks will be spending the day of elections, weather allowing, in holiday resorts around the country.

This is not only a message for Greece, but for Europe on the whole. The people who have been elected to represent us are losing their credibility. A sign of the times ? Or maybe a time for change. In whatever way we classify this indifference, it will be interesting to see what the outcome will be on the day of elections.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My toothbrush and I

I recently completed a Facebook survey, which was quite enlightening. It was a tarot card survey, something like "Which Tarot Card are you ?". (Yes I do find time to pop into facebook now and again). Anyway, the Tarot cards say I am The World. I must admit it gave me a curious feeling of power at that moment. The World !!! The thought, however, took me back to a time when my dreams actually meant something, and I really did believe that they could come true. As a child, not that I have changed very much, I believed in so many things and had so many dreams, that made the world seem such a beautiful place. The open doors seemed endless, and anywhere could be a destination, as long as I was me. All I needed was my free spirit and my toothbrush - or so I believed. Growing up, though, in a Greek family, in a foreign country slowly diminished my dreams, and life seemed to become just an endless routine - make money, pay the bills, make more money, pay more bills, and that is just how it has become. I am now reaching a point in my life where I feel that somehow, somewhere I lost my dreams, and therefore I lost me . Family commitments, problems day in day out, inhibitions have all become a part of me that are not really me. Waking up this morning, I looked in the mirror and to my dismay I found that I did not recognise the face that was gazing back. A tired looking woman was staring at me and all I could do was let a few teardrops fall. I wondered if this really is all life is about - chasing a pot of gold, that in reality I will never have, as I was never meant to have it.

My thoughts have now turned to introspective dilemmas, and a blanket of insecurity has seemed to have appeared on my once very secure shoulders. Nobody seems to understand, and let's face it, why should they. I also found myself wondering why on earth I seem to care so much about others. Why do I spend so much of my time talking to people, listening to problems and solving them if I can, trying to put a smile on people's faces? When it comes down to it - nobody actually really cares. Caught up in their own little worlds they just forget. That's all. They just forget. It's a human thing, something that cannot be changed. So, why do I refuse to change? I could just become meaner, nastier, thinking only of me. But I can't.

These were my morning thoughts. Not that anything has changed during the course of the day, nor will it change over the months or the years. My need to find my dreams again, though, is becoming much stronger, and the urge to escape from my days is sometimes more than unbearable.

My dreams, my toothbrush and I - and the world could be my oyster !!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

No Time

Having been recently chastised for not updating my blog, I decided that it was about time to write up the latest news. The truth is that time is of the essence, and lately I have not been able to find enough of that luxurious state of mind.

Having been ill all of last week, I was ordered to stay at home and recover. During that week, I was appalled at the low quality of TV in this country. Now it is almost impossible to stay at home and not watch TV. I did read a lot, but as I read a lot anyway, I thought I would surrender myself to the sofa, and the TV - something that I really do not have time for. After one day, depression started to set in. After one week, I just felt like dying.

Early morning TV was filled with every social problem you can think of. People talking together, with really nothing interesting to say, apart from a whole lot of whinging, were actually preparing the rest of Greece for a good day !!! Then, when these early morning shows finish, the brunch shows begin, giving us lots of information on all the gossip - as if we really need to here about stars who are raking it in and what they are up to in their private lives. Then the rest of the day consists of more idle gossip, repeat TV shows and nothing in the least bit motivating. It is quite disappointing that if you do not have the financial ability to afford satellite tv, you actually have nothing to watch but trash - all day long.

A fairly new Greek Channel, SKAI tv, actually had a great morning programme up until the beginning of this month. I may be biased, but it was great to be able to watch documentaries from other parts of the world, great cookery programmes, and all in all something more motivating than any of the other channels. Unfortunately, they have also fallen into the trap of having a morning show, which for all its great quality, is really not what you need to feel that you are starting a new day.

Thank God I am now feeling well enough to be able to come to work, and fill my time with more imoprtant things. At least I do not feel the worlds problems looming over my head. The flu virus was nothing compared to the psychological and mental torture of Greek TV. Fortunately, some channels have the good sense to show movies and documentaries at night so that we can actually learn something or just be entertained...