Stories and Photographs of my travels, Tales of friends, family, animals and my life
There’s always a dilemma when we return to the island as to where to get our mail sent to. New post office staff who don’t recognise us, a lack of a proper address and, as we recently discovered, postal employees do not understand Mitch’s Greek do not make it any easier.
Two years ago the previous postman knew that Pythagoria (Mitch)lived at the “House with the Pink Shutters” in Paleo and generally if we had something addressed to us in the village it arrived. However, this year all the staff have been replaced and have no idea who we are or where we live. So when I needed some supplies for my jewelery making we thought it best that it be sent to myself care of post office building where I could pick it up after identifying myself with my passport. Previously, this has worked well, aside from the time Mitch received a thank you card from some friends who had stayed at the house stating that he hoped that he enjoyed the belgium chocolates enclosed. Strangely the chocolates were nowhere to be found.
Since I had ordered from a supplier in the UK I figured not much could go wrong, I decided on snail mail. After all it “was really not that far away” and anyway the recorded delivery costs were more than the goods. The estimated time of arrival was 12 – 15 days after posting (add a little extra time for living on an island) so I estimated about 3 weeks maximum. I gave the postal system some leeway and 20 days after the goods had been posted I went to collect them.
It was a hot Monday morning, queues were long, there was no air-conditioning and one staff member serving. After long chats with customers and other staff members, disappearing for a considerable while, tidying her desk, counting money, drinking her tea, writing up her strategies on how to waste time; look busy and cause numerous customers to give up hope and melt into a puddle between actually serving someone, we finally made it to the front desk. She decided at that moment to get up and left leaving us looking into empty space for at least five minutes. After she had returned and fiddled around with paper for another 5 minutes, she asked us how she could help. We explained but she didn’t seem to understand Greek and had to consult her manager. The outcome was that the package had not arrived.
A week later we returned. It was the same woman and she didn’t recognise us and so we went through the same performance – the package was a no show.
A few days later our neighbour told us that the postman had come looking for a foreign woman who lived in the village but he would not leave the parcel with her. We returned to the post office. This time there were two people serving but despite the extra help we still waited for over 40 minutes before we made it to the front of the queue.
We were served by the same woman and this time something really got lost in the translation.
“Your parcel has been stolen ” she said
“My parcel has been stolen!!!!!!” I replied.
“From your doorway?” she continued.
“No the postman tried to deliver it and took it away as we were out” Mitch tried to explain again.
She just looked at us. The manager came over. Finally she checked and there was no parcel. At this point I gave up, changed the subject and asked
“how much does a P.O. Box cost per year?”
“Ah” she said, he (indicating the staff member next to her ) can tell you”. ‘He’ had a queue of people 10 deep and was clearly not going to give out ad hoc advice. Nor was she going to put herself out to turn her head, look across the meter that separated them and ask. I walked out in disgust.
The next thing I did was to contact the supplier and re-check that the goods had been sent. Yes they had. I decided that the post had lost them and was about to give up and reorder by courier. However, on the advice of a friend who told us “never visit on a Monday – its a blood bath” and with a Greek relative in tow for practical and moral support we had one more crack at it. The office was calm and quiet, there were new staff on the counter’s, they were efficient and polite and amazingly my parcel had arrived only – 6 weeks late and missing one item.
A while later we decide to test the system out again this time using our village address as the postman was now aware of our existence. We ordered a rewards card from the local supermarket. That was two months ago and yes we are still waiting.
For many years we have talked about upgrading the self contained unit and the main house but have never had the cash to do anything about it. All the furnishings and fittings are over 30 years old and have been used to the point of extinction and the decor is mainly shades of brown, tan, pine and cream. The place was great as a crash pad for short holidays but comfort wise – I would give it a 3/10. Each time we return to the island we have to carry out a running repairs on the shutters, walls, paint, plumbing and woodwork – which eats into the budget not leaving much for new furnishings and fittings. As much as my artwork and the stuff we bring back from our travels lightens up the plain old fashioned interior there is no disguising that the house is past its sell by date in the decor department.
Since we plan to move here on a more permanent basis, this year I was determined to spend some money making the place more comfortable and modern. On the list of things to do were:-
New sofas and mats, new chairs for the dining table, re-tile the awful brown kitchen and replace all 55 brass door knobs that blind us with their brassy glare in the sunlight. Sort out the self contained unit to make more room. Change the colour of the shutters after finally talking my traditionalist partner around. Get someone to build some rails onto the marble stairs leading to the terrace for safety reasons. Put a walk in shower in the bathroom, paint anything dark and boring white. New beds and mattresses. Sort out the garden at the family’s main house in the port and start growing food.
A bit of a tall order considering how slow things get done on this island. Yet we went to Ikea in Athens and bought a load of stuff, got it delivered to the island in good time, sorted out the unit and redecorated, painted the shutters a new colour (blue), rearranged furniture, retiled and painted, organised and made plans for the shower discovering in the process that Kosta (next door neighbor) was a tiler. We even found someone to give us a quote for the outside staircase. It was all going too well.
As usual the sticking point came with the way many of the locals work around here. Hard to get a quotes or anything in writing and a time frame for the work to be done in. And so this was with the rails. We explained that we wanted the work done before the beginning of July as we had friends with small children coming other guests staying in the small unit and drinking sessions up top. For safety reasons. A month later and several phone calls to the supplier and we still had no quote or a date. Finally he came up with a sum (expensive) but we agreed as time was getting short. Another period of time passed with no word from him. We called on several occasions and were told he was “In Athens”, “On Holiday”, “doing another job”. Finally he rang and said that he was coming to do the job (no date given). By this time our friends had arrived and our guests were due in two weeks (end of July). We gave him a dead line and didn’t hear from him again until the middle of August. He called and told us that he had contracted the job out and that the guy was coming the next day. We told him that we now had guests and that he had missed the boat – it didn’t go down well.
So now we need to start all over again but as it turns out our friend’s son’s girlfriend’s father make’s railings and we only found this out when we invited them all over for dinner. It’s amazing what you learn over Gonan beef curry, bombay potatoes and nan bread. Next time I’m going to hold all my dinner parties at the beginning of the year!
If you would like to read more about my life in Samos and the many wonderful people of the island I have written an e book called A Samian-Summer-Sue-Llewellyn. https://www.amazon.com/Samian-Summer-Sue-Llewellyn-ebook/dp/B00TFCSJB6
The fake priest lives in a house just down the road from us. Although he looks and dresses for the part apparently, I am told, he is just a monk. I would not be able to tell the difference and quite frankly don’t care if this old man wants to aspire to a seat closer to god. What I do object to is his attempts to shit stir and cause discord between us and our neighbors.
Every time we have stayed on the island over the past 12 years he will at least once or twice buttonhole Mitch and tell him that lands adjacent to our house belong to Mitch’s family. Lands that have now been built upon or turned into a garden by others. The fake priest gets quite indignant, says it’s not right and seems to expect us to do something about it. Firstly, since none of this land is marked on the topography of the house (plans) this would be hard to prove. Secondly, when the house was being built the family should have ensured that all lands owned by them were thoroughly researched at the local councils offices and included. Thirdly, there is a law (which I’m not too clear on) that grants squatter rights and ownership after a certain amount of years.
Now for many years Kostas has been building his house next to our small self-contained unit opposite the main house and allegedly took possession of a small patch of garden and some of the land behind it. He had planning permission and his plans had been lodged for all to see at the local council office so any discrepancies could have been challenged at the time if the family had had a decent solicitor or if they had wanted to take it further. But they didn’t and apparently the fake priest has been ruminating on this for 30 years getting more and more indignant with the passing of time.
When we returned to the island this year – to our surprise Kosta’s family had moved in and there were flowers and pots decorating the once empty concrete roof and ‘our’ garden had been tamed and the trees pruned. Very nice. However, the downside was that the back of the roof had been turned into a junk yard with half repaired bikes, old fridges and other rusting stuff. Not great to look down upon from our house let alone from the terrace of the small unit. We had guests coming to stay in the unit so I decided to buy large plants to use as a screen.
As usual nothing is quite as easy as you think it will be living on this island. After purchasing 3 large plants, one very pretty Bougainvillea and a heap of soil we asked for them to be delivered up the hill. The seller told us that his father had the truck but he could do it the next day and that he would throw in some water plates to go under the pots. All we had to do was come down at 9.30am and he would load up and drive us back. The next day we walked down.
My father still has the truck and will be back about 2.00 today – he told us – come back then.
I’m not walking back down the hill again – I replied – you call us when you have the truck and we will meet you at the square to help carry the stuff up to the house. Later in the day, when he finally arrived, I noticed that one of the plants was missing.
Where is the pink one? I asked. He looked blank. And where are the water plates you promised? He still looked blank.
You only paid for 3 plants – he replied
We had a discussion. He finally said that he would go and check but could not sort it out until the next day. Whilst Mitch was translating all of this to me – he left. Since I had been given a receipt (unusual in self) and a nasty feeling that that would be the last we saw of him for a while I rushed indoors, found the bill, told Mitch to catch up with him and bring that plant back no matter what. Which he did, plus the water plates, and in record time since after telling the father the whole story Mitch insisted that he was given a lift back up to the village.
So I had my screen but the next question was what to do with the Bougainvillea which was left over. We thought that it would look good in a pot standing by the front door of the house up and over the doorway. The neighbors came out to give their opinion. Gramataki suggested that we put it by the side of the flower bed so it grew up and over the shutters. Kosta liked that idea and expanded it further.
Dig a hole in the concrete (road) and plant it – he said
We can’t just dig up the road – I replied
It’s Greece – he said and before I had a chance to object more he had rushed into his house, produced a jack hammer and commenced drilling a big hole.
What if there is a water pipe underneath? Someone from the gathering audience asked
Kosta looked worried, stopped the machine and disappeared into his house. Ten minutes later he still hadn’t come back.
Well that’s that I thought – time to repair the damage.- but first a glass of wine and some headache tablets ( the jack hammer was very loud!).
Kotsa returned with a hand hammer (just in case) and recommenced the digging. The plant was installed and is now nurtured by our new neighbor who is very happy that he has been able to help us in some way.
Sometime later after inviting him up for an ouzo or two on the terrace he told us that Mitch’s father and he had had words over the building of Kosta’s house. “Your killing my view” Mitch’s father had said. The plans for the building had been lodged for anyone to check on – Kosta had replied |(nothing, I noted about the land takeover).
Its history, over and done with – we said. And that is exactly what we plan to tell the fake priest when he starts to pot stir again.
If you would like to read more about my life in Samos and the many wonderful people of the island I have written an e book called A Samian-Summer-Sue-Llewellyn.
Potami (River) Beach is a special place. Nowhere else on the island can I find such an abundance of different colored stones that line the seashore, shining and glittering in the wash. Red, orange, green, blue, white, black, grey, umber, pale or bold, patterned or plain. They are like sirens. Calling to me each time I visit the beach to admire their unique beauty and shape, tempting me to pick them and treasure them. I select, discard and store for hours and I see others, all under the same spell, doing the same.
Over the years friends and family staying in the house have left piles of these stones in corners of shelves and I have added to the mass, imagining one day that I would create wonderful things that showcase the patterns, colors and shapes. For years I have dreamed and this year I decided it was time. I taught myself to wrap the stones with silver plated wire and waxed cotton. I follow the shape of the stone so every piece is unique.
It must be something that many of my friends and family have also wanted to do over the years as now I have a bunch of them regularly handing me river beach stones that they like and think would look good in a setting. The piles continue to grow!
Recently Gramataki, my neighbor, came up to the house to skype with our relatives in Australia. She spotted my work bench and wanted to know what I was doing. Later in the week, as we headed out, she called us over and showed us some small orange oval objects that she wanted wire wrapped and put on a pendent for her grandchildren to wear. They are fish eyes she informed us after I had agreed. From a big fish she added. They look like fossil shells I said but she was adamant. Ah well I thought this is my first commission and I’m sure they are not eyes, but I have to admit to smelling fish as I wrapped them. When I presented the finished pendents Gramataki was so happy that she gave me another two to make and a fish eye for myself.
Luckily these additional items were identified as shell by a friend and we googled and found out they are called the eye of the sea by the Greeks. Something must have got lost in our translation either that or she was having a big laugh at my expense!
It’s taken two years of hard work, planning and saving to enable us to return to Samos. Armed with ideas on how to modernize the house in Paleo, live on a tight budget and assist the charities and locals working with the refugees who were arriving on a daily basis, we sold up our possessions in Australia, handed in our notices and headed off.
We arrived in May and in the time it took to cross the globe, with a stop off in Thailand, and land in Greece the EU had struck a deal with Turkey. Since Samos is extremely close to Turkey, the prospect of being returned seems to had diverted the refugees to more hazardous alternative routes.
Its June and we have not seen any boats land or heard of anyone being picked up at sea to date. There are no life jackets stranded on the coastlines beaches or cliffs and no sight of the daily human caterpillar making its way across the island to the reception points set up by the authorities and charitable organisations. The temporary camps in the ports have closed and the majority of asylum seekers have been transported to Athens or back to Turkey. Unfortunately those remaining who seem to be considered as ‘economic’ refugees have been re incarcerated in the Vathy detention center and conditions are reported to be overcrowded.
Sadly for the local people, who dealt with the crisis with compassion and generosity, tourism is at a low. Beaches have a sprinkling of bathers, cafes and restaurants are quiet, hotels empty. Media coverage highlighted misery, suffering and deaths and raised awareness of the refugee plight. They got their copy and viewing rates but possibly also instilled an unreasonable fear about travel to the island. So I am here to add my voice to the few who are trying to reassure travelers that all has returned to normal. I have beaches, forests and mountain villages to myself.
Come and join me.
Thailand’s stunning palm fringed islands are something of a rarity these days. Commercialism has spoilt many of the ‘go to islands’ with their large beach front resorts that oh so often replace the shady trees and their wild life or cause sandy beaches to wash away. Small family run businesses are squeezed out, prices rocket, girlie bar, seven elevens, jet skis and pollution proliferates. Full, half, quarter, harvest moon parties thump out music to dawn not giving much respite to those wanting to sleep. So where can a traveller find a place to chill from today’s excesses? Koh Phayam. A small island that has no cars, runs on solar power and generators, contains unspoilt beaches with family owned restaurants and accommodation that blends into the surrounding lush forest behind the shore line. It takes a while to reach this island which is why it has remained relatively unknown to many but the effort is worth it.
We book into the Hornbill – a favourite of ours – owned by T and her husband. Half way down the 3 mile beach it sits behind the treeline and blends in – just like all the other hostels on the beach. It is supposed to be rainy season but Thailand is having a drought. The sky is blue, the sun is hot and the beach is practically deserted.
From the hammock on the balcony of my wooden traditional hut I count at least 30 different types of bird including hornbills. I share my bathroom with huge gekos, skinks, tree frogs and a large spider – all of which keep the mossies and gnats at bay. Since my last visit several new small places have opened up offering good coffee and amazing food.
However the island is threatened. A Korean electricity company KPU wants to make the island the first SMART off the grid island in the thailand or maybe the world. Seems like a good idea until you realise that they want to put the turbines at the end of the beaches as well as inland, widen the concrete road that now only accommodates bikes to 12 ft wide, build a gold course and korean holiday resort and bring in a seven eleven. Most of the locals are opposed but it seems to be a given thing and that they have very little say. I attended the second meeting between the company and the locals. Representatives for the scheme refused to give specifics about amount of land required, how many people would loose their business due to the road widening how much forest would be destroyed, what impact it would have on the environment and wildlife, how much it would cost the locals for the electricity and so on.
Meeting between locals and kpu electric company – locals air their concerns.
Only last year Ian Lloyd Neubauer’s wrote an article on the island extolling its virtues. https://www.facebook.com/Kophayam/posts/10153228635071798last or http://cnnphilippines.com/lifestyle/2015/04/15/Koh-Phayam.html
According the the islands committee attempts to contact ministers and newspapers to highlight their plights have been stonewalled and no they have had no response. Social Media is their next step – hopefully someone out there take notice and write a story on the first SMART of the grid island scheme that is not so green as it seems.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dxsqh-jy8dshttps://www.change.org/p/%E0%B8%AA%E0%B8%B4%E0%B9%88%E0%B8%87%E0%B9%81%E0%B8%A7%E0%B8%94%E0%B8%A5%E0%B9%89%E0%B8%AD%E0%B8%A1-%E0%B9%80%E0%B8%97%E0%B8%84%E0%B9%82%E0%B8%99%E0%B9%82%E0%B8%A5%E0%B8%A2%E0%B8%B5-stop-ruining-koh-phayam-with-the-green-energy-from-korea-company?recruiter=161866634
Kokari village – a little unknown gem on Samos Island according to this article and so it is – but there are so many more to discover.
For those of you who are familiar with my love of Samos Island and have read my posts or book about the many characters and life on the island you may be pleased t0 hear that I am returning. It may seem a strange choice at this time but our friends, family and people of the island are doing it tough at the moment and they help (see my facebook page for updates) Our house and self contained unit is perched on a hillside in a village with views of Turkey and the sea port and the island
Want to visit the island? Want to sample Greek Cuisine? Want to see where I live? https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/8996219?checkin=30-05-2016&checkout=06-06-2016&s=GXT6JudI – for the “Chicken House”
Down Town Melbourne
I often wonder how these polls are worked out and who is consulted. I’ve lived in this city for 10 years and can truly say that I do not find it so.
On the upside Melbourne has coastline, sporting events, festivals, celebrations, a thriving night life, good entertainment venues, an arts scene and so much more to offer. But it also has a large homeless population, unemployment, crime, a struggling infrastructure and an underfunded public services
Reports of homes selling for 10 times median annual income, and 6.7 years of saving (as at June 2015) are sadly true. Small one bed units in apartment blocks often sell for 340 000 plus. Add on stamp duty, fees and sundries and your looking at probably 360 000. I could buy a detached house with acres back in Yorkshire for that!
Over the last 10 years my ability to afford rented accommodation close to the city where I work has diminished and I have had to move further and further out to the industrial part of town. I have never been able to save up enough of a deposit for a house and the amount I would have to borrow would cripple me financially.
Rentals go for 380 a week in industrial areas and that is cheap compared to the more desirable suburbs. Rented accommodation in this price range is often sub-standard, devoid of basics such as wardrobes, heating, off road parking, garage space, not noise or draft proofed, has a landlord who does not respond to maintenance requests without having to resort to serving notice on failure to meet contractual obligations.
Utility bills are a shock compared to when I lived in England, I could buy a bottle of good wine for the cost of a glass in a restaurant, cook a tasty substantial meal for 4 plus for the cost of a plate of food in most dining joints.
Unemployment is up, crime rate is also up. I drive to work and everyday I hear on the radio of some nasty road accident or violent act. Daily I see people drive through red lights, weave across the road because they are high, drunk or on their mobiles. Every two days or so I have to perform an emergency stop because someone has cut me up, driven out of a side street or walked across the road without looking (well they are but it tends to be at their phone!).
If I use public transport instead it is still stressful. The train it is often late due or cancelled due to to vandals, accidents, crime incidents or so rammed full that I either cant physically get on or am held up by the press of bodies. On certain lines I have witnessed people shout and intimidate passengers because they are drunk, high or just aggressive..
The sad thing is that despite all of the above disadvantages the city has a lot to offer. Yes Melbourne is a livable, and lively, and lovely. But the MOST livable in the world? I don’t think so.