Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Saturday 30 June 2012

Local products on special offer (Προσφορές)

The local supermarket chain, INKA, is having a specials week, selling various products at very low prices, at one of its branches which is celebrating its first birthday (Αν. Γογονή & Κ.Μάνου, the Gogoni store). These προσφορές (offers) started yesterday and will continue until the 9th of July  I grabbed the chance to go on an early morning shopping spree today, to pick up local products at very low prices:

Φρέσκο μαλακό τυρί Πηχτόγαλο Χανίων- πηχτόγαλο: pihtogalo is similar to the well-known PDO mizithra cheese - the former is sweeter and creamier, the latter more acidic and crumbly. The special offer is for a locally-branded vacuum-packed variety with an expiry date of November 2012; it is the kind of cheese we use to make dakos, a favorite local snack. (buy 400ml for €4.34, get 400ml free)

There was also another special for mizithra (curd) cheese, made locally and bagged in the amount the customer asks for. This usually costs about €7/kg. The special gave me a 25% discount. Mizithra cheese freezes incredibly well and it has a variety of uses - it is used in salads, as a pie filling and as a fresh cheese on bread products.

- ice-cream (παγωτό): high quality ice-cream made with fresh milk is available from zaharoplasteia, but it's expensive, usually around €8/kg. Non-branded locally made ice-cream is much cheaper, and it's the same thing as the expensive stuff. (buy 1 litre for €4.49, get 1L free)

stock photo : a french entrecote / steak / in pan, griddle
- σπαλομπριτζόλα (pork entrecote steaks): meat has suddenly become very expensive for the average pocket in Hania. I bought six medium-sized steaks for something like just over €1 each, with a 25% discount (they would normally have cost me €8.58).
- flour (αλεύρι), milled locally: with two 1kg packets of all-purpose flour, you get 500g of self-raising flour.
sfakianes pites
- σφακιανές πίτες: sfakianes pites are a local delicacy which I sometimes make and keep in the freezer. They are round pan-sized pies filled with mizithra cheese. They aren't cheap to buy ready made, as they are hand-crafted, but with today's special, I got one free (ΧΙΩΤΑΚΗΣ brand) for each one I bought. (buy 1 box with 4 pies for €5.17, get 1 box free). Funnily enough, the last time I bought these pies was when the same INKA branch was running a special on them (when it opened last year!).
If you live in Hania and you intend to go to the supermarket in the next ten days, you can catch these specials at the Gogoni St store for the next ten days. Remember to go early in the morning, when the store is well stocked (these specials run out fast during the day). There are also a number of other international brand products available and there is an in-store flyer available listing all the specials. For local products, the offers are worthwhile. I spent €85 at the supermarket today: without the specials, the total cost for these products (which I wouldn't have bought if they weren't on special) would have been €130. The products I bought on special alone would normally cost €85 without the offers.

©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.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Culinary SMEs (Κουζινικές μικροεπιχειρήσεις)

Microenterprises (SMEs - small-medium enterprises) were the biggest loser in the economic crisis. They were the first victims - they work on a limited budget and they rely on a restricted set of customers. It's interesting to see them making a small comeback in Hania, in mainly the tourist areas, which means that they will probably close down after the season since they are geared towards tourists and disposable income, which is very hard to come by these days in Hania (taxeation rates are very high this year). 

Interestingly, the newcomers in the SME market are mainly in the food sector. We've always had little shops selling hand-crafted jewellery, unique bags, light summery clothes in outrageous styles - and they all seem to be doing quite well, since they are eye-catching with their brilliant colours.

But food shops have remained relatively stable: souvlaki, fast food, sandwiches, buns, ice-cream, and other similar foods in the same range. It's only this year that new food trends have startedin the form of SMEs. A small stroll yesterday around Halidon St, the main tourist drag in Hania (after visiting our accountant and discovering how broke we would be by the end of the season) revealed a number of SMEs all involved in the food trade:

- a fruit juice shop

In the past, most prepared food stores sold a diverse range of concoctions - this one basically sells just juice and nothing else.

- a tiny store making and selling just loukoumades (traditional fried donuts in syrup)
Loukoumades are known to all Greeks - being situated in a tourist area will help to boost their fame. Kalitsounia are known mainly to Cretans and some other islanders - SMEs selling only kalitsounia do exist in Hania, but not in the tourist areas: another possible route for entrepreneurs? And what is that store in the middle with the blue noticeboard, with high seats above what looks like a transparent toilet?

I also noticed a frozen yoghurt store in the area of Koum Kapi, just off the tourist drag by the old port, which is frequented mainly by Greeks. Location is of imminent importance, but it's difficult to balance this in harsh economic times: Greeks don't have much disposable income so that enterprises need to rely on tourist money, but being situated in the most touristy areas inevitably means that when the season is over, so will the business.

And just for the record, fish spa therapy (see above photo) is now becoming very popular - last year, there were 2-3 of them in Hania, but this year, the tourist area is over-run with them. What's more, the prices are much cheaper than last year.

©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.

Monday 25 June 2012

The way we are: Cretan olive oil (Κρητικό ελαιόλαδο)

I have always wondered whether it is truly possible to buy olive oil at the supermarket and get high quality stuff. Naturally, as producers and connoisseurs, we don't buy our olive oil from there. It is always bought in bulk, just when it is freshly pressed (whether it's from our own supplies or someone else's). But when I visited friends and relatives in Northern Europe, I decided that it was best to buy pre-packaged olive oil for safety reasons, rather than trying to package the stuff myself (imagine the contents seeping out into your suitcase).

I chose a 2L bottles on the second shelf, as well as the 1L rectagular can on the same shelf: two different varieties (the former is considered 'generic' while the other is 'boutique'). 

Most Cretan supermarkets stock only Cretan olive oil 90% of the time; not only that, but Cretan olive oil is 90% of the time extra-virgin; what's more, it is most likely that the olive oil being sold there will come from the same region, making Cretan olive oil a highly localised product. But how to choose from the varieites on the shelves? I made a choice based on what I considered a high-quality conveniently-packed olive oil. I used my judgment in what I would consider a good olive oil, keeping in mind what other friends from overseas have told us about the kind that they buy when they holiday in Crete, or when they look for Cretan olive oil at their non-Greek supermarkets and olive oil suppliers. In making my choice, I also took into consideration the fact that the same containers were being exported in the same form, so that my friends and family could search for the same product in their own country if they wanted to. We carried 7 kilos of olive oil in our suitcases in cans and bottles, at a cost of approximately €4-4.50 a litre. More expensive varieties were also available on the shelves.

I liked the convenient packaging of OMADIKO - squared, no wobbly bits, with a non-drip spout.

Yesterday, one of my friends finally started using her supplies of the olive oil that I bought for her, after exhausting her supplies of olive oil that she already had in her home. Here's what she wrote:
"I just opened the first bottle of Cretan olive oil and it is really sooooooo good and so so so different from what we buy here!!!! I am afraid to waste it! Rather drink it nip by nip! It is indeed like fluid gold!"
Well, I'm not surprised. It confirms what happened in our own home just after Christmas, when I played a little trick on my family: I bought some olive oil from the supermarket and poured it into our home containers (the ones we use for dressing salads, feta cheese, bread slices, etc) after purposely allowing the supply in the λαδικό to run out.

This act was done under secrecy; if the test were not conducted 'blind', I'm sure the outcome would have been quite different and more judgmental...

No cries of 'What's this?!' or 'The λάδι tastes different'. In terms of colour, texture and taste, there seemed to be no difference. So my trick didn't end up being a trick. In the land of true extra virgin olive oil, there ar no tricks.

Dakos dregs don't get thrown away in our house - they are put in the fridge and eaten with bread during a peckish moment. 
Cretan olive oil is among the best EVOOs in the world market.

Little update: the cheapest pre-packaged locally produced EVOO in Hania can be bought from ABEA at 116 Skalidi St, which sells a range of olive oil products (including body soap and detergent). 

©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.

Thursday 21 June 2012

The return of Agapoula (Επιστροφή του Προεδρου-Αγαπούλα)

(I'm not really blogging - just another one of my sporadic posts; this telecommunications advertisement has just hit TV and it contains all the elements of the recent Greek political crisis.)

Agapoula's back - and we realise he hasn't changed; just like the old Greek government, which has now become the new Greek government.

The political innuendoes are too numerous to mention - from illegal immigrants washing windscreens at the crossroads to Friday's EURO 2012 match (Greece vs Germany). This ad seems to encompass all aspects of the political climate as it stands right now in Greece since the elections, especially emphasising the way people are feeling about the political situation in Greece.

PS: you've got to be pretty clued up on Greek politics to get this one from start to finish...

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Free food (Δωρεάν φαγητό)

Today I had the opportunity to work from home, which gave me the chance to juggle proof-reading a graduate thesis about delaying tomato ripening, and preparing garden vegetables for our meals. My husband's preference is for classic Greek summer dishes like garden-grown horta with (more garden-grown) zucchini and potatoes...

... but I preferred to make a tasty Asian stir-fry with the same ingredients.

Both dishes are relatively light, especially important now with the increasing summer heat. We delayed our evening meal until the sun had set - more garden vegetables, some eaten raw as is, while others were processed into something more delectable, supplemented by some sausages and marinated anchovies.

These dishes composed today's meals in my house, on this day when many people were queuing up this morning in Athens at a central square...

Πεδίον του Άρεως - Pedion tou Areos Square, Athens

... to get a box full of vegetables for free, containing tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and peppers, with the generosity of the agricultural cooperative Anatoli from Ierapetra, Crete. 2700 boxes were distributed among the needy, 1500 of those going first to the most destitute, with the purpose of not only helping the poor, but also in an attempt to keep prices down at fair levels and to spread the word about supporting local produce.

In the countryside, your free food comes at the price of hard work - in the city, it comes with humiliation. 

You can watch a Reuters video (in English) illustrating this event

©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.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Uprooting (Σύριζα)

In today's election, Greeks are being asked to make a best-of-the-worst choice - it's a bit like choosing the best olive oil in terms of price and quality among the bottles and cans found on a shelf at a Northern European supermarket: they are generally all bad. By knowing this, they will probably buy the cheapest choice; the more adventurous may prefer to try 'something different'. Generalising this to today's election, by voting against mainstream parties, I'd be jeopardising Greece's chances of finding political stability, but by voting for them, I'd simply be voting back in those who destroyed my country.  
PS: This post doesn't denote my voting choice - I'm not voting Sexy Lexi's party. This story is just a story, and a true one at that. But the story does denote my political convictions - the system's gotta go.

When my husband's olive grove was burnt in 1988 in a fire due to a problem with the electrical supply in the village, all the trees were burnt down σύριζα. Nothing remained of the olive grove except for the blackened tree stumps. The earth was just as black as the tree stumps that remained. Although he thought himself lucky that the fire was not started by accident for the purposes of land clearance, or due to arson - he would have got nothing in such a case - those tree stumps caused a great many delays in his receiving compensation for the damage.

For a start, the horticultural experts who came to see the field for the purposes of estimating the damage in the coming days after the fire told him that if the tree stumps were still visible above ground, then he would not be compensated for those trees because they hadn't burnt down σύριζα - they would be considered survivors. But the trees that did in fact burn σύριζa weren't visible since there was nothing left of them to see, so they couldn't be counted. He had to dig into the earth for any remnants of their existence, in order to find proof that they did actually once exist (a bit like taking away human remains after a vicious fire sweeps through a building), even though their roots were burnt: the destruction was total. It was like a vicious circle. Compensation was paid out not only according to the number of trees, but also depending on how old they were, which could be calculated from the root system of the trees. The roots of those trees were very old - he had to dig quite deeply to get to their remnants. Even the plastic nets that my husband had laid down on the ground, ready for the next season's harvest, had disappeared in the fire. In the case of the nets, he couldn't prove that they were there in the first place in order to receive the compensation for the equipment lost on the land (the plastic nets cost a lot of money at the time). Along with the roots of the trees, they had also burnt into the ground.

olive grove fournes hania chania
Our olive grove - 20 or so years ago, there was nothing here but blackened earth. 

The fire was a big shock to my husband and his mother. He had just come home from working the taxi during a very hot summer's day, and was about to sit down and have lunch when the phone rang.

"The village is burning, come and help put out the fire!" his cousin was wailing over the line.

burnt stump
My husband's foot, standing on the only remaining blackened stump on the field. It is of an almond tree (it never re-grew), which has always been used to delineate the borders between his field and his cousin's (seen in the photo).

As he headed for the village, he saw the fire burning in the hills above it, at the point where his grove was located. His cousin didn't have the heart to tell him that the fire was burning down his olive grove (it stopped short of the village). My husband's property was the largest single piece of private property to suffer damage. His mother was overwhelmed with grief. It was bad timing all round: apart from his father's recent death, he was only a few months from moving into his new home - the only home he has ever owned, after 35 years of renting old houses in the town centre, all with outside toilets. The burning down of the olive grove, coupled with the move, took a heavy toll on his mother's health. In the middle of the following winter, after moving from the rented property to the new house, she was hospitalised for 35 days with a severe case of pneumonia.

Despite its destructive nature, the fire at the olive grove gave the whole area a chance to be reborn. This particular olive grove had never received artificial irrigation - it only got what came down from the sky. The land was cleared, and then left completely to its own devices. The olive trees were not replanted. In fact, nothing was actually planted there. Everything grew back on its own - from the same roots, in the same position. After 20 years or so, the olive grove is now functioning again, something which started about five years ago when my husband finally found the time and money to start reworking the land again. Most of the trees came up as wild olives, which are inedible and need to be grafted into domesticated edible species; this we did over a long period of time; Rome wasn't built in a day. The olive grove now doesn't produce as much olive oil as it used to (my husband would sell half of what he made whereas now he sells nothing), but every two years, it gives us enough oil to last us for our own use, before we need to buy some more to maintain our supplies until the next harvest. 

lefka ori covered in snow fournes hania chania
The view over the olive tree in the winter.

The olive tree is miraculous, having survived over centuries. You can cut it down σύριζα, but it's still very hard to eradicate. To uproot something entirely is not the end of the world; in the case of our olive grove, it was the start of a more sustainable one. Like the olive grove, sometimes we need to eradicate everything σύριζα and start afresh. The roots of the olive tree are humble ones with great depth, too profound to be obliterated once and for all. Those roots form the olive tree's past, and their experience tells the tree how to get over a present catastrophe in order to continue to have a future, in the same way as people who know their history well. 

If you do not know your past roots, you will have only your present rootless soiless foundations to help you cope in an uncertain future, like a house built on concrete piles and not embedded in rock. If you have a past, you do not need to wait for politicians to pass decrees for you to decide on how you will act in times of adversity. All politicians are power-hungry crooks - you mean very little to them. Your survival does not depend on them; it depends more on your own choices and if they are sustainable. 
*** *** ***

It's time to take a blogging break. I have lots more good stories to tell you, but the time to tell them is not now. Let's see what tomorrow brings. One thing is sure - there are plenty of zucchini and horta in the garden, the good weatehr is guaranteed and the beaches close to my house are quite clean. See you again soon, I hope, and definitely in Greece, while I post sporadically for the time being.

©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.

Saturday 16 June 2012

500: When the bouzouki goes berzerk

When the bouzouki goes berzerk, a phrase I've had in my mind since I came here, summarising the way I see what goes on around me.

The weather is perfect. It's hot enough to dress lightly without getting burnt - no need to take a jacket. It won’t change – this is as good as it gets. While waiting for the signal to board the bus, they have their last cigarette. Water, biscuits and sandwiches have been packed for the trip – that’s just for the road. A few have bought their frappes with them. But most haven’t – they know there will be ample time for cold coffees on the way.

school assembly before the trip to knossosThe children pile onto the bus with their mothers, preferring to sit with their classmates while the mothers pair together. They begin the novel experience by pushing any button their fingers can reach – first they lift the armrests, then they open the ashtrays, finally they press the button on the side of the chair to push down the back rest. The teachers come round to check that everyone is wearing seatbelts.

The driver reminds everyone that no smoking, eating or drinking is allowed, and the journey starts. At first, the familiar sights of the town as seen from the elevated level of the coach window maintain a certain level of interest among the passengers. Passing the port, squeals of delight are heard as everyone sees a docked cruise ship for the first time. But they soon begin to tire of craning their necks to stare out of the window. Most mothers now begin to share out the sandwiches and biscuits they were carrying in their bags.

«Βάλτε μουσική!» says one, and the others copy her in chorus. The driver obliges, as Paparizou promptly starts playing, which makes the girls lift their arms in the air, their charm bracelets clanging like an orchestra made up only of xylophones. 


Not too much later, the bus stops by the cafés near the seaside. Time for the first frappe during the journey – the early-morning home-made one is now too tepid. Besides, the café has a pool, looking out towards the sea, and a bright-coloured plastic children’s play area with fake grass underneath. While the mothers sip on their ice-cold glass, the children eat their first ice-cream.

The short stopover has whetted their appetite for more travel. After another stopover for a visit to a cave and one more to support the local pottery makers, everyone is now hungry.


«Όποιος λέει ότι δε πεινάει λέει ψόματα!» a yiayia calls out as they exit the bus in the neighboring town.

«Μαμά, πεινάμε!» cry the children. They’ve only had two or three ice-creams so far, aside from a few biscuits and sandwiches on the bus.

As they pour out of the bus, they head towards the direction of the kitchen smells. The fish tavernas seem expensive; a view of the sea seems like a luxury now.  The aroma of σουβλάκι wafts from the side street behind the harbor. A few ποικιλίες later, all washed down by some ice-cold retsina, they’ve all become a πύραυλο. Meanwhile, the children are onto their fourth πύραυλο* – all their Christmases have come at once, even though Christmas is still seven months away.


Feeling much heavier than they were before they sat down, they schlep back towards the coach that had over-heated in the midday sun as it waited for them at the bus stop. They wait impatiently for the bus to leave but time doesn’t pass quickly enough now. The air-conditioning won’t begin to work until the bus starts moving. Once it goes, sighs of relief are heard all over the place.

Food and drink raise the κέφι. Spirits are running high and passions are rising. The sound of the μπουζούκι bursts over the intercom.

Tolis Voskopoulos is the only son and last child of a greengrocer who had 11 daughters. He began his stage career in the sixties, and is now considered a well known tax evader Greek actor and singer. His fourth wife is Angela Gerekou, the former Playboy pin-up Deputy Minister of Tourism, who was forced to resign after it was revealed that her husband owed over €5.5 million in unpaid accumulated taxes, some of them deriving from his third wife's bank deposits which she couldn't justify. In February 2011, he was sentenced to three years in prison for his tax debts, time which he has never done, of course; a year later, it became known that he was contesting the sentence, and has so far paid only €515,000.

«Λαϊκά μας έβαλε!» the children whine.

«Όπα!» their mothers swoon, as Toli's mellifluous voice bursts into song. In delirious happiness, a boy gets off his seat and begins to dance, sweeping his hands in the air and snapping his fingers, culminating in a break dance as he collapses on the floor supporting himself on one knee.

«Κάτσε καλά!» roars the bus driver, "or I'll stop the bus!"

*πύραυλο = rocket: in Greece, a mass-produced pre-packaged ice-cream cone
*** *** ***
For a more subdued version of the same story, click here.

©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 15 June 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Atherina fritters (Τηγανίτες με αθερίνα)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.

A while ago, I had bought a kilo of atherina for what seemed like an expensive price, €8 a kilo. I washed them, placed them in lemon juice to marinate. After frying about half of them, I got tired of flouring and frying each individual tiny fish. The rest were placed in a plastic bag and thrown in the freezer section of the refrigerator in the kitchen. We also have a large freezer which I dutifully fill up every year by the end of summer, and then frugally and economically empty out over the cold season, until by the end of May, it is completely empty. It won't be put back in use for another month, until the summer garden starts producing excess crops.

Now that I'm reduced to one small freezer, I more easily notice what must be used up more quickly. I found the little bag of atherina just a few days ago when I had some leftover horta for lunch. Horta are tasty and nutritious but they always need a little bit of protein to make them go down more easily, like some cheese or a boiled egg. The atherina fit the bill perfectly. Turning the atherina into fritters also made them into a more substantial (and less tedious to prepare) meal than just fyring them on their own. I got 10 hefty fritters from about 350g of atherina.

You need:
350g whitebait (~ €2-3; in Greece, fresh atherina is the norm, but I've also noticed cheaper imported frozen atherina available in Hania supermarkets)
an egg*, separated
an onion*, chopped finely
a clove of garlic*, chopped finely
1 cup (more or less) of flour (~10 cents)
1 teaspoon of baking powder* (optional)
salt and pepper*
olive oil

Place the rinsed fish, egg yolk, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix them well. Whip the egg white till nearly stiff and add it to the fish (I do this instead of using baking powder). Mix it in lightly with a spoon. Then mix the flour into the fish mixture, without stirring too much, so that the mixture remains fluffly and light.

Heat some olive oil in a small to medium sized frying pan (a thin coating is enough). Drop large spoonfuls of mixture onto the pan; don't fry more than 3-4 at a time, to keep the oil hot. Fry till they have browned on one side, then turn them over like pancakes. I didn't drain the fritters, because they keep cooking once they ar out of the pan, and they soak up most of the oil.

Tartare sauce, a herby mayonnaise, is usually served with fish in New Zealand. I simply added some purslane to some store-bought mayonnaise. Not the real thing, but it's not hard to make it at home, if you have some farm-fresh eggs. Whitebait fritters also go really well with sriracha sauce, which I bought from The Hague during our recent trip in Northern Europe.

Total cost of the meal for four people: about €4, together with the sauce of your choice and some bread; about €1 per serving. 

©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.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Zaanse Schans (Ζάνσε Σχανς)

During our recent travels in Holland, we visited Zaanse Schans, a small village a few kilometres out of Amsterdam. A lot has been written about Zaanse Schans, and all of it good. Zaanse Schans is considered to be an open-air museum, but I also found it to be a functional permanent residential area. Given its proximity to the capital of the Netherlands, it's easy to access. Most of the jobs there are concerned with tourism, but even most of those jobs are connected with a trade that is still important today in Holland, making Zaanse Schans a sustainable tourism site. It's really easy to spend the whole day at Zaanse Schans, because there is so much to see and do, and most of it is free. You won't get tired either - Dutch countryside is, generally speaking, as flat as a pancake, so you'll forget that you have been walking all day.

If you're a foodie, Zaanse Schans has a lot of food experiences to offer. But there was also something else about Zaanse Schans that made it so endearing: Zaanse Schans is the epitome of Dutch imagery. Windmills, clogs, canals, dykes and fluffy clouds - Zaanse Schans introduces you to the best of Holland in fairy-tale style. And if you are lucky to visit Zaanse Schans on a fine sunny day (like we were), you will never forget the colours and the clarity of those images.

 Windmills, water and fluffy clouds - typical Dutch scenery under a blue sky.

A train line takes you directly to the village. On exiting the station, the first thing that strikes your senses is the aroma of chocolate wafting through the air, coming from the chocolate-processing factory built by the river. The road towards the windmills (some of which were eventually transported to the 'museum' area from other parts of Holland) is full of old workers' homes, which  have been renovated by the local residents and remain true to their original style, as they were built in the 17th-18th centuries.The brightly coloured ones in traditional green and brick orange colours made a striking contrast under the fluffy white clouds and blue sky on the day we visited.

The Albert Heijn museum in Zaanse Schans

One of the first museum houses you'll come across is directly related to food. The oldest supermarket chain in Holland (Albert Heijn) has its origins here. It started off as a typical grocery store, selling bulk goods behind a counter. Further along the river, you come across renovated barns and farm houses, which now serve as sustainable tourist enterprises. My favorite was the clog makers: a brief history of the clog is provided, together with a demonstration of how to make clogs and a range of clogs to choose from if you wish to buy some. Don't think that Dutch clogs are a thing of the past - I saw a (somewhat older) gent wearing a bright yellow pair near Alkmaar as he was riding his bicycle through the town, and I'm guessing there must be more of his type too!

The clog factory

The cheese factory wasn't giving a demonstration that day, but it was one of the most popular attractions. Dutch cheese is very famous all over the world (especially Gouda cheese). It's quite different from the sharp grainy graviera made in Crete, but we found it tasty enough to buy some and take it home with us: one round of mustard-grained cheese and a roll of smoked cheese.

 The cheese factory - these are all replicas, as far as I know...

The windmills are a spectacular sight at Zaanse Schans. Not all the windmills originated in the area; some were transported there once the area was turned into a tourist site. Each one continues to be in use today, powering or grinding various things. Since they all work on natural wind energy, you need to come to Zaanse Schans on a windy day (plenty of those in Holland). Whether you will be as lucky as we were in coming on both a sunny and a windy day with no rain is not so certain. We really were very lucky!

 The spice mill was grinding cinnamon when we visited - really strong stuff!

Holland's reputation for trading spices is accentuated by the 'De Huisman' mill, which grinds all sort of spices, and enjoys fame for the mustard it produces. The famous speculoos biscuits wouldn't be anything special if it weren't for the spices that go into the them. It is ironic when something so typically Dutch as speculoos busicuits and mustard-flavoured cheese need Asian ingredients to give them their distinct taste.

 Coloured flavoured sugar snow, called muisjes, is a specialty of Dutch cuisine. 

Feeling honored by the good weather, we took in the breathtaking scenery of Zaanse Schans, which encompassed all good things Dutch. It was easy to walk such a long time without getting tired - as I said before, Holland is as flat as a pancake...

Apart from the quaint environment, I also got a glimpse of what it means to live below sea level. It's quite obvious in the photo below that the level of the sea is above the ground, and the position I took the photo from is below sea level. The dykes where the people are standing are artificial.

... Speaking of which, there aren't many restaurants within the museum area; there are more in the general village but they aren't all open all the time, quite unlike the Greek tradition of encircling a tourist site with cafes or tavernas, which is why the food is beeter (more competition). We came across a quirky (and over-priced) pancake restaurant: after placing your order via self-service, you are then given a buzzer which will beep when your pancake order is ready.

Farmer's pancake with cheese and bacon, and kiddies' delight with chocolate and cream. The restaurant also served soup and drinks. 

After waiting patiently for what seemed like a long time and hearing no beep, we simply asked for the pancakes, which were waiting for us, getting cold - system breakdown!

Zaanse Schans is a good example for Greece to base her future tourism on: organised tourist sites that offer people a look into Greece's past could include coastal areas that have been associated some time int heir past with ancient civilisation. It pays to note that the windmills in Zaanse Schans weren't all there originally - some were moved there form other parts of Holland, which allowed the area to become an open-air museum in modern times, a kind of 'little Holland' that encompassed all the images that tourists assoicate with Holland. The biggest problem I envisage in such a project would be to change the traditional mindset of the Greek people. Maybe they all need to go to Zaanse Schans to see how it could also work for them. 

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Wednesday 13 June 2012

The beach (Η παραλία)

Primary schools in Greece are closing this week for summer break (three whole months), in time for the elections. It will be time to hit the beach once again. Greek beaches are rated very highly: the Blue Flag organisation, which rates beaches on 32 criteria (upon application), has judged 394 Greek beaches as worthy of a Blue Flag award, giving Greece second place in the world for the 2012 international awards (the most Blue Flag beaches are in Spain). Of those 394 beaches, 97 are located in Crete, of which 25 are in Hania. I live close to a number of those Blue Flag beaches.

My favorite beaches are on the west coast of Crete, like Falasarna - but these days, it's an expense to get to them.

The beaches of Crete are still generally accessible to all of us democratically, whether you are rich or poor. For a small fee, you can hire a deckchair and sit under an umbrella for as long as you like. If you prefer to be more frugal, you can take your own furniture with you and set it up in the same general area. If you go early enough, you will even find a tree to sit under in the shade all day long, if you have the time. There are usually inexpensive canteens on the beach where you can buy something to eat and drink. Again, you can bring your own food and drink, whether you rent deckchairs or not. Most people do this these days, but it's not easy to keep your drinks cold the whole day, and it's difficult to bring ice-cream with you, so you will inevitably need their services.

Agious Apostolous beach, last Saturday

The beach is a refreshing place to relax. Thankfully, we live close to a good beach, and we prefer it to driving too far away, to keep our costs down, as petrol is expensive now. So we like to hang out at our local beaches. The area is quite busy because both tourists and locals use these beaches, which causes a bit of undesirable people congestion, but you can't have everything the way you want. I don't mind people congestion so much, to be honest. Generally speaking, the large number of people at the beach doesn't match the noise level - we are all there for relaxing and enjoying a refreshing dip, so most people are quiet, and very few play loud music, or any music at all. A good number carry their reading material with them, both tourists and locals alike.

Chrysi Akti is one of a string of beaches leading from the town to the west coast of Crete.

My local beaches are situated close to the town. We don't live very far from an urban centre, but the difference between urban and rural life is quite sharply contrasted in the environment, despite the proximity. So it's quite easy for peddlers to walk from the town to the beach, searching for potential customers sell their bric-a-brac, to peddle their wares. The beach is a good place to do this because it's usually frequented by tourists and other people with disposable income. There's little police presence during the day, since there is little trouble here. The peddler's wares are enticing: colourful accessories, gadgets, all sorts of knick-knacks, pirated CDs and DVDs, even clothing and massage services. It's almost like an open-air shopping centre - the mall by the seaside! Such services are not limited to Crete - they are available all over the country at nearly all the beaches. (And it doesn't need to be said that this kind of business isn't limited to Greece: While in Berlin, we were surprised to see immigrants selling all sorts of ex-commie paraphernalia on street corners, making a mockery of the EU tax and migration laws.)

The beach mall at Chrysi Akti - clockwise, starting from top left:  Chinese masseur, Roma lace tablecloth seller, Pakistani clothes merchant, African bag specialist, Pakistani sunglasses expert and African faux bijoux entrepreneur. All photos taken in early September 2011 at midday on a Sunday.

Most of the beach peddlers are illegal immigrants, while most of the items are fake brand products. Naturally, the sellers aren't registered with the tax department (and for all intents and purposes, most of them don't exist in Greece because they are here illegally). While legal businesses close down due to mounting costs and reduced clientele, the illegal businesses keep on mushrooming, selling untaxed bootleg junk with no overhead costs.

The canteen at Chrysi Akti was closed for a few days last year during the season because - as the owner mentions in his protest letter, he was dobbed in for having seating at his canteen. He vowed to return, with or without seats (and he did), lamenting that he was a law-abiding tax-paying business owner that wasn't allowed to conduct his services due to a minor trespass.

Some people think that Greek beaches are over-commercialised, with too many food and drink places, as well as souvenir shops. Well, if we don't develop the beach areas commercially to some extent, we may as well become an ouzo republic. It is generally recognised through studies and research (including those conducted through my own workplace) that tourists to Greece want high standards at cheap prices, so some commercialisation is inevitable. The areas that get commercialised need to be the places where people with disposable income congregate, and in Crete, those are our beaches and archaeological sites which are easily accessible. This also helps keep prices down through the competition. Rules need to be in place to keep the environment clean and sustainable, but legal seaside businesses need to be developed, otherwise we'll just have illegal ones.
Loutro webcam Sfakia Chania Crete Greece
The seaside resort of Loutro is located on the south coast of Hania. It is not accessible by road - you need a boat to get to it; and naturally, it is a car-free zone.

For a quieter off-the-beaten-track summer holiday, Crete in particular still offers myriads of choices, especially given that the island is formed around a mountain range peaking at nearly 2,500 metres.  Even though I've travelled around most of the island, I still find much joy in discovering places that people don't know very well, because they are not so easily accessible. There are still places to hide in Crete if you want.

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