Saturday, 31 May 2008

The former Italian embassy

italian embassy

This unassuming edifice once housed the Italian embassy in Hania, which was formerly ruled under the Venetians. It is located in the centre of town, right across from the municipal gardens, and can be viewed by the public by appointment only. I've never seen it open; a sign remains affixed on the inner wall next to the door with a few details relating to its former glory. Since Crete became part of Greece in 1913, the Italian embassy became obsolete, with all embassies relocating to Athens.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Skywatch Friday: Full moon

full moon
It's Skywatch Friday again, and I managed to capture the full moon, as seen from my house, in amongst the electricity wires.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Volvo P220

I really don't know how this Volvo P220 manages to look brand spanking new - it dates back to 1968, so it's 40 years old. It has a 2008 road tax sticker, the body work is original, the interior is in perfect condition; the owner must be very proud of it. Only the license plate looks a little beaten up. It was parked right outside the Agora; I'm amazed the owner actually drives it into the town, which has recently filled up with reckless drivers.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

ABC Wednesday: Street sweeper

street sweeper
It's ABC Wednesday again, and S is for street sweeper.

I admire the patience of this immigrant to my town, taking on the job of sweeping the main street right in front of the Agora clean for the benefit of the locals and tourists alike. He didn't bat an eyelid when he saw me photographing him; he just proudly carried on with his work. Notice how he's tied a few blue bin liners behind him; he's just doing his job.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Splash of colour

This woman's headscarf adds a splash of colour in an otherwise dreary dull inner-city neighbourhood which is undergoing renovation, judging from the smooth stucco walls of one of the buildings. But even that has managed to acquire graffiti.

I suppose the woman's Russian - maybe from Georgia or the Ukraine. A local Greek woman her age would never wear such a colourful scarf; hers would be plain black.

Monday, 26 May 2008

The clock tower

Hania isn't the grandest town, but this clock tower in the municipal gardens elevates our status a little. My children always call it Big Ben.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The classics

The INKA supermarket chain is one of the good quality cheap supermarkets in our town. This branch is located next to an architecturally unique apartment block near the area of the court buildings (Dikastiria). It was obviously designed by a lover of Classical Art and comes complete with naked statue.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Horse-drawn carriage

The tourist season is in full swing in Hania at the moment. Here is one of the ways they like to spend their time: an old-fashioned horse and carriage ride. The ride doesn't actually start from here - the taxi-drivers' union would be up in arms if it did (it's right in front of the taxi stand). This road leads straight down to the old harbour, where the driver will park himself and wait for his customers. The ride is only along the harbour front - it is clearly a tourist attraction, and at 20 euro a ride, a rather expensive one.

The little laughing olive tree took her son on one of these and they told me they both enjoyed themselves immensely.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Skywatch Friday: Rainbow

It's Skwatch Friday again and today I can see the faint outline of a rainbow in mine.

As I climbed into the car in the driveway of our house, I caught sight of the rainbow. It had been fine and sunny all morning and in the afternoon it started to rain. Rain is always welcome in Hania, which is one of those 300-days-of-sunshine towns, but just lately, we've been having very mild weather. I don't know if climate change has had anything to do with this, but it's preferable to 30 degrees Celsius in the shade, which is the norm throughout the summer - from the beginning of June toll the end of September.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Rubbish collectors

rubbish collection
I like to see people working in public on the streets of my town. They're just doing their job, in full view of all the passersby. Where would be without these rubbish collectors who migrated from goodness where to collect Greek people's rubbish?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

ABC Wednesday: Three doors

It's ABC Wednesday again, and R is for repulsive.

These three doors appear side-by-side on a central city street apartment block. They never seem very welcoming; the first two even resemble elevator doors. If you ever passed by when they were open, what would you expect to see through them?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The river

This river runs through Fournes village in Chania. I remember some summers when it had completely dried up, although this hasn't happened lately, possibly due to the return of a snowy climate in Hania, another rarity. When it isn't running as fast as it is now, and there is less water, we can drive our pick up truck through it from one side to the other.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Sun, sea and derelict houses

This sign is hanging above a real estate office for primarily non-Greek EU citizens from Northern Europe wanting to buy retirement homes in Crete. The room above the arch is basically part of a dilapidated old building; the boys playing under it are children of immigrants. The photo was taken in the Splantzia suburb of Hania, where tourists are likely to walk around in the 'romantic' alleys of the old town (which is why a lot of real estate agents base their offices in this area), completely oblivious to the social problems inherent to the region.

Sunday, 18 May 2008


The Hania headquarters of a Greek political party: the Coalition of the Radical Left. I prefer to think of them as the rainbow party because of the pretty colours of their logo. I have no idea what their constitution states. I can't remember if I ever voted for them. I wish I could live in their headquarters, though. This building is what is known as a neo-classical house, and it may be renovated only according to designated statutory rules. It may not be demolished unless it constitutes a health hazard.

A small update: this building had a hole blown in its entrance after someone threw a bomb onto it in the early hours of the morning of 1st July, 2008.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Irrigation methods

These irrigation taps have been built beside a well that used to be used to irrigate the fields in years gone by. No one seems to be aware of any danger of falling in the well, since it's been left open and unfenced. It causes me great strife to bring my children to our fields in the village; I want to teach them to love their land, but I have to keep telling them to watch out for all the dangers that it carries.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Skywatch Friday: The old harbour of Chania

It's SkyWatch Friday again and today's weather is calm, breezy and mild.

Anyone for coffee? What about an ice-cream or a fizzy drink? Maybe just a souvenir? The beautiful old port of Hania is calling out to passersby, tempting them into it with its calm waters. The dome of the former mosque is barely visible behind the open white umbrellas.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Petrol queues

Since last week, when petrol tanker drivers called a nationwide strike and stopped delivering petrol to retail outlets, Greek drivers became overtaken by panic. "Have you got the car filled up?" my husband kept asking me. I kept telling him that I had enough petrol for my needs to last me until the end of this week. "Is the tank full?" he inquired. I told him it wasn't, but I didn't need to fill it up; as I said, I had enough for my needs to last me right through to the following Monday. In any case, all the service stations in proximity to where I do business were closed - at the entrance, they all had little hand-written signs with "KAYSIMA TELOS" (no more fuel).

On Wednesday morning, as I was taking the children to school, I noticed 10 cars queuing up to fill their petrol tanks at the Silk Oil service station on the main road which leads to mainly rural suburbs out of Hania. I was tempted to stop myself; it wouldn't take long, I thought, but I may as well drop off the children and return to join the queue on my own. When I returned, the cars had become 30 in number. Not a very long queue; the service station was in sight (on the right behind the truck coming in the opposite direction). But I wish I'd bought a book along; I stayed motionless in this queue from 8.30am to 10am. The petrol tanker arrived at 9.30am to fill up the service station's reservoir, we had to wait for half an hour as a safety precaution for the petrol to settle, and I left the service station with a full tank at 10.40am. And just for the record, There's the price I paid (the first one listed, in EUROS).

I wasted 2 hours of my morning waiting to buy petrol that I didn't need until next week (the strike ended on Thursday night - I still had enough to last me three days). I also saw some of the worst examples of my fellow countrypeople - queue jumpers like this one (there were dozens of them), who decided to wait outside the service station (causing the most incredible traffic jams) and fill up plastic canisters with petrol to pour into their car's reservoir in order to avoid queuing.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

ABC Wednesday: The municipal gardens

It's ABC Wednesday, and Q is for quirky, as is this tree.

This tree trunk has been exposed to form part of the concrete fence of the municipal gardens of Hania. The gnarled roots are draped with a climbing plant and they look magnificent.

The park is found in the town centre. It houses an open-air cinema and live chess in the summer, there is a lake with a few ducks, and there's also one of the most modern children's parks in the whole town, attached to the children's public library, which we use right throughout the winter. A few animals are also kept there in cages, but this part of the park is being phased out. In the middle of the park, there is large indoor-outdoor cafe, a regular haunt for locals on a Sunday morning where you often see them reading a Sunday newspaper. One of the walls enclosing the park (across the road from the stadium) also contains a clock tower.

The park has special significance for me because my parents owned an apartment close to the park. When my father sat out on the 2metre-by-4metre balcony, he was very thankful that he didn't have to stare into another person's apartment. His view was of the little road right in front of the apartment block's main entrance, which led straight to the park's main entrance, only a few metres to the left of where this photo was taken.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The Greek pater

The priest was walking along a busy road when I spotted him. Greek priests never remove their garb in public, not even retired ones. I wonder how they feel in the midday heat with so much clothing - maybe they just don't go out at that time of day.

In New Zealand, I used to attend the Greek Orthodox Church of Wellington, where the main service would start at 10am, just so everyone could have a little sleep in before they got up and went to church. In Greece, church services have finished by 10:30am. Given the priest's clothing, it is little wonder. Hence, not many people go to church on a regular basis, just turning up to memorial services and special occasions.

Monday, 12 May 2008


Souvenirs, anyone?

The ceramics trade in my town has always played an important role in the tourist trade. These ceramics are being sold at the old port, the most significant tourist site in my town. I live close to a tourist beach which is lined with ceramics shops, but it could also be called a dying trade because the kilns are not worth operating these days, and are closing down. This could only mean that we are probably going to be importing a lot of our tourists' souvenirs, probably from China - where else?

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The sea

The Mediterranean sea is sometimes described as a velvet carpet sparkling with diamonds. Can you see the fish? This photo was taken at the old port near the marina.

The internet is not working in my area at the moment - forgive me for the briefness of my commentary.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Sojourn at Ai-Yiani

Dear Dimitra,

How are you, my good friend? As you know, I visited your mum yesterday. Getting to her house in the south-western suburb of Agios Ioannis in Hania was a breeze – I work a few minutes away from there. At first, the numbers seemed to follow a logical order – one side of the street had even numbers, the other side had odd numbers. Then I got confused – the houses were numbered in consecutive order, like on the famous Cheyne Walk by the river Thames in London where the Rolling Stones used to live, so I guessed that I was going to a special neighbourhood.

And indeed it was – all the houses were ‘maisonette’ style, like the villas that rich people are building now in the coastal areas just out of the town. It’s not enough to live on one level, you’ve got to have upstairs and downstairs rooms these days. The houses in St Johns are all standing next to each other like soldiers, and they all have front and back gardens with a little porch where you can sit outside on one of the many fine days in Hania and have your morning or afternoon coffee – while all the neighbours watch you, of course, because there is a lack of privacy in this kind of accommodation setup. I can imagine your mum cooking fish in her kitchen: “Oh, smell that, do ya? Filio’s cooking fish today, wonder where she bought it from, maybe from the fish market, but she was at work all day, so it must be from the frozen goods at the supermarket, maybe bakaliaro, she’ll have to make some skordalia with that too, but how’s she going to work in the afternoon with garlic breath? And does her granddaughter eat fish?"

It's amazing that these state-provided houses were built especially for poor people with at least four children, isn't it? I wonder where the government expected four children and two parents to sleep if they created them so small with only two bedrooms. But at least they gave them away, and let people live the life they had always wanted - a roof over their head, a patch of garden to grow a tomato or two, and peace of mind. That's the first thing I noticed about this neighbourhood - the peace and quiet while everyone tends the little garden outside their front door. Some of those rose bushes look as old as the houses themselves - weren't they built in 1956? - with their gnarled trunks thickly thorned. The virtue of cleanliness rules supreme here, and there's never a shortage of colours from the blooming flowers; love vibrates in this neighbourhood. You must have spent many happy years being loved by many in the area.

As I walked up to number 26, a young man (who was slightly unshaven, and very good-looking, but did NOT wear earrings or have long hair) who'd been walking in the opposite direction suddenly opened the gate to the house. Oops, I thought, I must be at the wrong place - this did not look like your daughter, and as far as I know, your mother's not married. So I quickly dialed your mum’s number. She answered immediately, and as soon as I said, ‘Kiria Filio”, the polite young gentleman (I wish I were young again) smiled and said “In here,” and your mum came to meet us at the front gate. He obviously knew his way around, because he just headed straight up the indoor staircase of the house; should I be telling you this?

As I entered the house, I noticed the coffee table covered in little bowls of pearls, diamantes and glittery balls. I suppose your mother never rests from her bridal gown work. Even the kitchen table had a sewing machine permanently fixed to it. That's where we decided to sit and have a coffee. I'd bought along a packet of sweets, and she offered me some chocolates. I told her that I didn’t have a coffee at home so I could have one with her, which made her very happy.

“Would you like a frappe, Maria?” she asked me. I told her that I never drink frappe coffee, even though I’ve been in Greece long enough to know that everyone drinks frappe and nothing else. At work, when I ask for a hot instant cup of coffee, they ask me how I can drink the stuff in the heat. I would dearly love to ask them which heat they are talking about, since all the rooms are air-conditioned, and you need a shawl to cover your back so you don't get a chill. I don't know what it is with Greeks and those cold frothy coffees they serve here, which all tourists find a novelty when they first come here and order them at the old harbour. A friend of mine even told me that the coffee grounds used to make it contain Greek olive oil soap, which is what creates the soap suds, but I'm wondering if that's just a way to advertise their product: "Drink frappe: the cleanest coffee in the world." I wonder if tourists would still drink it if they realised just how much coffee is used to make one frappe: nearly one tablespoon! Don't they wonder why their nerves are jittery afterwards? Do they know that it could bore holes through their intestines?

“Elliniko?” your mum then asked me. I never drink that either, even though I think I would enjoy it, and it would even help me to avoid milk during fasting. But I can't stand the waiting around until Greek coffee boils up. It's so much easier to boil a kettle and make some instant coffee. I thought I was going to sound too fussy if I told her that I preferred instant coffee made in the simple way that we used to make it back in New Zealand. You know what I mean: a teaspoon of instant coffee, a teaspoon of sugar and some boiling water, with a splash of milk. Thankfully, she knew just the kind of coffee I meant, and I can tell you that she also knows how to make a very good one! Your mum brought out a china cup and saucer to serve it in with a silver spoon to stir my sugar, so I had to be very careful not to slurp it like I usually do when I’m having my coffee at home in a mug.

We talked lots and lots about life in Greece, and only a little bit about life elsewhere, which just goes to show how happy we are to live here. She told me that she's still not used to living here even though she was born here: some people find it strange that she doesn’t leave her door open all the time so that the neighbours can come and go as they please. In fact, some people tend to think she isn’t at home at all just because her door is closed all the time, and they send her visitors away, telling them she’s out; for goodness sake, don’t they know about doorbells?

I must ask you one thing: why on earth did your mum think I was a good cook? You know I never make up the recipes I cook; they’re all standard Cretan cuisine, nothing new. I told your mum I only cook because I have to. Has no one ever told you that Cretans live to eat, and not the other way around!

Just before I left for work, I remembered to ask her to show me some photos of you and the rest of the family, and we marveled over them for a little while. We called out to the little one to come out of her room, but she was feeling ill. It’s amazing that even that nice gentleman could not cheer her up enough to come downstairs; maybe I’m not supposed to be telling you this either? Anyway, you know what teenagers are like; even though I don’t have any of my own at the moment, I see them at the school all the time. In any case, I now have a good excuse to visit your mum again – I’ll arrange to go when the little one doesn’t have any visitors!

Till the next time, Dimitra. Do write and tell me what’s happening in your neighbourhood. What is everyone cooking there?

Lots of love, MARIA

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday, 9 May 2008

The local park

This children's park looks small, but it's spacious and very functional. It has a slide, swings, a roundabout and a small climbing frame. The area we live in is a fully residential zone, something in between a village and an outer-city suburb. It's across the road from my house (the cream-coloured flat-roof building obscured by the date tree and red bougainvillea), so I can watch the children playing from my kitchen window while I'm cooking. The area looks quite peaceful, but cars still race up and down the road, which is a real nuisance in the summer when we usually keep our shutters closed and our windows open.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


Remember the days of the old school yard? My children certainly will. Their kindergarten is housed in an airy building which feels more like a cosy house, with up to 20 students in a class group. The playground area is large, and the teachers are very caring. The location of the school is in a quiet village district, about 8 kilometres away form the main town, and is surrounded by olive groves and orange fields. Some of the lessons in this kindergarten take place outdoors; the school yard is surrounded by eucalyptus and olive trees. The children learn about nature through the five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling and touching it. If the teachers feel like it, the y sometimes stage cooking lessons for them using local produce.

The original building with the tiled roof was once the local primary (elementary) school. Changes in the education system and a reduction in the rural population forced the primary school to re-locate, while the building became a kindergarten. The room on the right, the kitchen and dining area, was added once the school became an all-day kindergarten, catering for the needs of working parents.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

ABC Wednesday: Prison

It's ABC WEDNESDAY, and p is for prison.

Islands are perfect places on which to build prisons. Even if a prisoner escapes, they can't go far. Just 4km away from my house (I pass this place every day on my drive to the children's schools), we have a minimum security agricultural prison, catering for prisoners convicted for minor offences. Each day they spend in there (without causing trouble) counts for two sentence days. They live inside the compound, but every day they can be seen clearing the fields, tending sheep, raising vegetables, growing flowers, and doing all manner of outdoor work.

I don't know if this is true, but a friend of mine told me recently that some of the prisoners held there also commit minor offences while they are actually serving their sentence in this minimum security agricultural complex because they don't want to leave at the end of their time; the prison provides them with work, food and accomodation, something they won't find easily once they leave the compound.

I didn't take a photo of the front entrance of the prison, because I would have looked too conspicuous, but I can tell you it looks really pretty. The main office looks like a country cottage, and in front of it, there are flower beds full of roses. A new maximum security prison is also being built 4km away from this site. That place looks quite ugly, if you ask me (watchtowers, high walls, barbed wire).

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Busy road

The central route leading out of town is always a busy road. Even on a Sunday evening (when this photo was taken), it's amazing to see the array of busy people on the road. The three-wheeler is supposedly a model on the brink of extinction, but it surfaces here.

In between the traffic lights on the left, there is what looks like a little narrow street. This is in fact Halydon St, and after 300 or so meters, it leads to the beautiful old port of Hania, with the little cafes lining the harbour.

On the right hand side is the taxi rank beside a square called 1866, known to be an migrants' hangout.

Monday, 5 May 2008

The district court

The district court of Hania looks very imposing at night with the lights all lit up. It's a different sight altogether during the day, with suited men and briefcase-holding ladies ascending the stately steps. The street market takes place on the left hand side of the court every Saturday.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Cafe culture

Greeks just love their outdoor cafe culture. Even if the sun isn't shining, they can't keep away from it. This is a central city road, and the young men are relaxing with their mobile phones, frappe coffees and cigarettes at this cafe on a narrow street in the shopping district, completely oblivious to the hustle and bustle of the town around them.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

The city wall

Once upon a time, in the bad old days of pirates and invading armies, the Venetian citizens of Hania, Crete, decided to build a wall around the three sides of the coastal town around 1350 AD to defend themselves against invaders. The gates of the city were locked at a certain hour every evening to prevent rebels from entering the town and destroying it or taking it over. Most of the wall has now been torn down; just a few crumbling pieces remain on the eastern side (in the above photo); there is an open-air theatre in operation in the summer in this area. The remaining parts of the western side are in slightly better shape, but the main wall in front of the town has gone.

The grassy area in front was supposedly a moat that ran around the wall to protect it even further, but no water ever actually filled it, according to historical records.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Burnt fields

Yesterday was 1st May, Labour Day in Greece, one of the many monthly public holidays this country enjoys. (Rarely does a month go by without at least one: I've listed them for your convenience at the bottom of the photo story.)

We drove to the historic village of Therisso, 15 minutes away form our house. Despite the village's historical importance, high-season tourism and verdant fields, no one bothers to clear the roads of rubble and rubbish (but that's another story). We ate a fantastic lunch at one of the numerous tavernas in the area, then drove out to a high point in the village to enjoy the panoramic view.

It was a little depressing. The area in the photo suffered a fire (arson? accident? who knows). Only one part of the area miraculously remained unscathed, as can be seen from the green patch sliding down the plain towards a stream.

As an English teacher, I've worked out that Greek school children attend just 7 months worth of school a year (including the weekends, when there is no school), due to the many public holidays, teachers' training days, special school holidays, school outings and the ubiquitous state teachers' strikes that have practically become a way of life in Greece. Here's just how many public holidays Greeks enjoy:
January: New Year's Day (1), Feast of the 3 Hierarchs (30 - educational/government institutes closed)
February: Clean Monday (50 days before Easter Sunday)
March: Independence from the Turkish occupation (25)
April: Easter (schools are closed 1 week before AND 1 week after Easter Sunday)
May: Labour Day (1) Bright Friday (the first Friday after Easter Sunday - some government institutes are closed)
June: Pentecost (50 days after Easter Sunday - educational/government institutes closed)
July: it's high summer, every day's a holiday
August: the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (15)
September: it just so happens that the parish church is dedicated to the Holy Cross (14), so my children's schools are closed
October: No to fascism (28)
November: University Junta Remembrance Day (17 - educational/government institutes closed)
December: Christmas (25 - schools close down before Christmas Eve and re-open after St John's Day - 8/1)

Thursday, 1 May 2008


These children were playing hide and seek in amongst the cars parked in the driveway in front of a private nursing clinic close to Koum Kapi, up the road from St Nicholas church. As the rest of the gang searched for the one who was hiding, they would fall onto the parked cars and generally run around haphazardly without minding anyone or anything. If the one hiding was found, he'd try to get away by running among everyone without watching, while the others chased him, ramming into passers-by, the children's hands stretched out left right and centre. The shop owners around the district came out to watch them while they were playing (probably watching out for their cars). There was a gypsy van parked close by. "What bloody nuisances," I thought to myself, as I photographed them.