Stories and Photographs of my travels, Tales of friends, family, animals and my life
Last year, as part of the gardening plan, we decided to keep the bath tub when we renovated the bathroom and installed a walk in shower. Having been a social worker for a good part of my life I have seen way too many older people admitted to hospital with broken hips, hypothermia, head injuries and an assortment of other broken bones and skin tears. The cause? A shower installed over a bathtub. A huge falls risk for people with limited mobility and creaky joints. So in the spirit of planning ahead and thinking about our retirement home – we decided that bath tub had to go and with it the daily battle with the shower curtain that constantly tried to mould itself to our bodies.
Our neighbour, Kosta, who happens to be a good tiler, reliable and hardworking – a rare combination for a tradesman on Samos if my experience is anything to go by on this island was hired to carry out most of the work. Our plumber, George, popped in and out to give orders and delegate. First the bath had to be removed and being one of those old cast iron affairs which would be worth a small fortune in scrap but extremely heavy and difficult to transport even if we had a car/truck, we had to decide what to do with it. So I polled my friends for a solution. My preference was to use it as a herb garden down at the allotment or on the terrace of the little unit opposite the house. Most of my friends liked the idea of using it as a huge ice bucket for social gatherings and I have to say that I was tempted for a while. As it turned out the bath was so heavy that the only solution was to move it a short distance onto the terrace and leave it there.
When we returned this year one of the first things on our list of to do was to build a wood surround to support the bath and turn it into a useful item rather than a redundant, rusty, enamel chipped tub. Then I had an idea how to make the it multi-functional that is both garden and ice bucket. Currently I have strawberries in the bath but they are planted in a grow bag that can be removed at a moments notice should a container be required hold a ton of ice in order to chill the copious amounts of alcohol that my friends consume, and clearly think that the two fridges in our house are inadequate. So there, I have planned for happy gardeners and happy drinkers. After all if strawberries and champagne is good enough for Wimbledon its good enough for us. Should be a good summer.
One of the goals for 2016, before we headed off to Asia to avoid the cold and wet weather of Europe, was to dig up the garden ready for planting this year. Not as easy as we thought, as the main weed of the garden was a tree that grows upwards, outwards, downwards and like bindweed proliferates from tiny bits of root. I have no idea what it is called so let’s just name it a triffid tree. Four of us over a period of 5 months dug, cleared, chopped, sawed, raked, pruned the orange and lemon trees, cleared a ridiculous amount of rubbish that the neighbours had chucked down into the garden from their balconies and sorted out the pump that draws up water from the well.
Dreading a jungle when we returned, it was a pleasant surprise to find the land full of knee-high alpine and wild flowers albeit sprinkled liberally with grass and weeds but, thankfully, no triffid trees. The orange and lemon trees were full and ready for harvesting however, we had been told that the oranges were the bitter and they would only be only good for marmalade so they were left alone.
Before we could get someone to plough up the soil we needed to clear the new growth. Three days into the task, under a burning sun I started to eye up the fat, ripe oranges hanging just above my nose and fantasize about rough cut marmalade, orange and chocolate cake, chicken and orange, which is odd because I really don’t like oranges – all that pith, pips and tough pulp….. yuk! but I must have been hungry because I decided to try one to see how bitter they actually were. I ate the whole thing! It was one of the tastiest, sweetest fruit I had eaten in a longtime and organic to boot. We have been picking oranges for over a month now and have freshly squeezed juice every day. admittedly some of it with vodka but hey at least vitamin C deficiency is not an issue.
Not long after our first batch of juice, the land was cleared and ploughed. I had planted a small amount of tomatoes, rhubarb, beetroot, peppers, herbs, runner beans, peas, egg-plant, strawberries, chinese kale, peas and Bok choy and other vegetables in pots up at the house as a back up just in case things went pear shaped down at the garden. Ready to go we trooped down the hill, seeds in hand, dug out channels for the water, set up the pump and before planting set it in motion to test out the irrigation system. Some time later after unplugging the filters and hose pipes several times we checked the motor. It had burned out!. Planting was put on hold.
The day finally arrived. Water was pumping out of the well via the new equipment. Onions, beetroot, carrots, peas, runner beans peppers, garlic, tomatoes, chinese greens, Kale, and so much more was finally in the ground. I was exhausted, happy and looking forward to watching the plants grow. That is until I woke up the next day. A storm hit the island and howled for 2 days solid. Winds of up to gale force eight moaned and groaned, pushing, plucking those who dared to venture out of the house off their feet. From the safety of the house, I watched the sun umbrella’s 50kg concrete base rock under the table as the wind tried to suck it off the patio and knew that the garden would be destroyed. Top soil and seeds flung asunder, carefully labelled identifying pegs lost, orange trees stripped bare.
So now I have no idea what is growing and where. Am I cultivating grass or are those onions seedlings? Does that look like beetroot or just weeds? Where are the tomato plants? Some of the earth banks remain stubbornly bare whilst there is a plethora of different seedlings sprouting up in one place but what are they? Is that a pea sprouting meters away from where I planted it? I have resolved to let everything grow and try to identify things when they are more mature.
However, there is something quite nice about the element of the unknown. Reminiscent of Christmas and the Secret Santa gift giving, but instead of pulling out a gift from a sack I will be pulling out a vegetable from the ground and what lies under the wrapping of soil will be either delightful or disappointing but in both instances certainly unexpected. Yes I have my back up plants but I think I prefer a Garden of Surprises.
Looks amazing doesn’t it? But then you can’t see the massive building sites in the background or the waste running into the sea from the river, or hear the noise of the cranes and trucks as they rumble along the main road and the many planes as they land and take off, or smell the sewage as you pick your way through roads littered with building materials. Langkawi, once such a go to place in Malaysia is rapidly losing its appeal.
Overpriced accommodation, food and transport, an alarming increase in drug use and as a consequence theft from tourists, dirty sea water, expensive theme parks and trips, aggressive Macaque monkeys and taxi drivers, jet skies and speed boats that make a point of targeting swimmers in the shallows – I could go on but I think you are getting the picture.
There are some nice parts of course, a beach here, some mangroves there but to get to them – since there is no obvious public transport means hiring a car, bike or taking a taxi -not an option for budget travellers like us or people who can’t drive. I am about 15 years too late to visit this place that once was a backpackers haven with small hostels, rice paddies and golden beaches with clear water.
Being a victim of a bag snatch has not improved my opinion. The bike rider knocked me to the ground and dragged me along the road before making off but then came back to give me a victory wiggle as he drove past again. Reporting the theft was hard. The receptionist of my hotel cleaned me up then instead of calling the police and insisting they came out to the hotel stuck me in a taxi and told me there was a police station in Cenang. Of course there was not and the taxi driver started drive to the port town 30 ringgit ride each way before we stopped him and got out.
Luckily someone we had met earlier, who worked in a travel agent was nearby and I limped to the shop. He insisted that the staff call the police out to the scene and at that point they turned out in force so I was able to make a report. Very luckily – I only sustained cuts to my hands and arm, some bumps and bruises and two days of stiffness.
After the incident i decided that i needed a restorative drink – for shock only – to calm the nerves. We headed to a bar on the beach that loudly proclaimed on a board outside the sitting area it was cocktail hour. The list of tempting cocktails and types of beer was extensive. Strangely for cocktail hour we were the only ones there but it was early and the waiter bounded up to us with enthusiasm eager to serve. However, when we ordered he shook his head and said that they didn’t have. We picked again and again with the same response. In the end we asked what that bar did stock – cans of Tiger beer was the answer – but he added, you can try upstairs they will have a full range of drinks. We did and they were closed. I went back to the hostel for a well-known remedy for shock – tea.
As I said I was lucky that my injuries were minor. It could have been a lot worse. Searching the net later I had to laugh at some advice from a local on his website on how to minimise your chance of getting robbed. Try to blend in he wrote. Now I’m blond, white, female and non-muslin. So here is some of my advice – always walk towards oncoming traffic so you can see them approach. Use the paths wherever possible. Only carry as much money as you need and wear it in a small pouch around your neck under your clothing. If you have to take a bag sling it across your shoulders and hang it down on the side away from the traffic or wear a small backpack. Don’t wear lots of jewellery or expensive clothing – it makes you a target. Be vigilant and don’t let your guard down like I did. Carry emergency medical supplies, an umbrella to wave around menacingly and a hip flask full of brandy as a fall back measure. Happy travelling.
Want to see where my inspiration for ‘A Samian Summer’ e book and my blogs ‘The house with the Pink Shutters’? began. Want to go to Greece and avoid the crowds. Come and join us on Samos Island we are now renting out our little unit in the village we live in From May 2017.
One of my favourite walks on the island is the walk from Drakei village to Potami beach along the coastline of the Samos island. Drakei is located at the northwest of the island, lying at the foothills of “Kerkis” mountain, surrounded by lush vegetation and sheer drops down to the water. It has amazing views of the Aegean sea and the islands of Icaria, Fournoi and even Andros and Chios, when the weather permits.
It is the most remote village on the island and the road ends here and only those on foot can continue around the coastline to potami beach taking megalo and micro seintani beaches along the way.
Megalo Seitani beach is has white sand and turquoise waters. The landscape has a unique wild beauty and is surounded by green slopes of “Kakoperato” canyon, where nature lovers can explore. Walking along the beach, at the end, you find the church of St. Nicholas which is hanging on the edge of a rock. It is integrated into the protection network Natura 2000 because of the monk seal who come ashore here. The name comes from the Turkish word “şeytan” that means diavolo, and this because the canyon “Kakoperato” that exists behind the beach, causes strange sounds when it is windy, so the Turks (who used to anchor there during the 19th century) thought that there was the devil, and gave this name to the region. It is believed that pirates used to anchor in this bay during their raids n the island.
Further along the coast is micro seitani which again is at the bottom of a canyon which can be explored. Then its uphill through the olive groves and onto the dirt road before heading down to Potami Beach where there is a river, waterfalls and a byzantine church and castle. Again legend has it that the castle was a look out post for pirates and a safe haven for those living in the area during raids.
There is a weekly local bus that leaves Karlovasi ro Drakeiat 1.30pm on Mondays
As we dont have transport it is a treat to be offered a trip out to other parts of the island and yesterday our friends from Sweden hired a car and wanted to go to Manolatis to purchase some gifts before they went home. We all like walking so we decided to park the car at the bottom of the valley and walk up via the vine yards and gardens on the hillside. What amazed us was that despite the hot summer, the rivers were running freely and there was still a lot of greenery even though Autumn was setting in. We set off past the honey farm – Samos honey is renowned and very tasty
one of which was for sale – we considered it! Through vines yards and gardens, across rivers and past churches
taking advantage of every photo opportunity
Checking out the local produce growing by the wayside – apples, pomegranites, chestnuts, blackberries, crab apples , wild herbs and grapes.
After walking for 2.5 hours we started to wonder where we had gone astray . The signs had petered out so trusting our instincts and Tina’s infallible sense of direction we trudged on and then found proof we were on the right track
3 hours and 16 kilometers later we arrived at Lukas taverna in Manolatis- spectacular views and good food.
Now its always dangerous to go shopping after a few beers and suma – but that’s what I did. We ended up at the local potter’s shop – a place that i have always admired but never bought from. Giorgos was a nice guy and we fell into discussing crackle glazing, his cats, life, and so on. Our friends bought their purchases and I spotted a stunning plate that had couple of small kiln cracks in that he had in his exhibition area. He told me how much he would normally sell the bowl/plate for and how much he would let me have it for – he almost gave it away – mainly because he said that he hated to throw it out after so much work had gone into it. As I make jewellery I get this – I loathe throwing out my rejects and hang onto them. I loved the idea of rescuing this bowl from obscurity so I agreed to pay him the ridiculously low price. Giorgos then decided to strengthen the small cracks with some glue and whilst we waited for the bowl to dry we popped over the road for a drink. We were served by a Greek Australian who mentioned that she lived in ‘Footscray’ in Melbourne over 40 years previously. Mitch and I lived in the same area so we had a good natter and made a new friend.
When the bowl was ready, Giogos took us all out to his workshop and gave us a brief tour. Then we spotted his guitar and were treated to a Greek melody. Mitch played for a while and then we agreed that we had to come back after hours and jam in the square with all the other villagers one night. What an awesome day. Now we only had to trek back to the car with a huge and heavy bowl that would not fit into our rusk sacks. Luckily it was only 3 km straight down!
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
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.