CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Miaouli Square - Ermoupolis



On our way to Sifnos in 1985 (not that we knew that was where we were headed), we'd arrived in Athens, went to the docks in Piraeus and bought a ticket for the first available boat, irrespective of where it was going. We knew nothing about any of the Greek islands, so it was fairly unimportant where it was going - just as long as it wasn't any very well-known name amongst the package-holiday crowd: the first stop was Syros, we discover, is famous for it's Loukoumi, (which I tested and approved!)

After getting off the ferry and being accosted by the then usual crowd of kids touting rooms, we accepted help from one who took us to a house right on the main Miaouli Square in Ermoupolis, exactly opposite the grand and imposing town hall. At that time it cost the equivalent of around £3.00 per night, even in that central location. (Mind you, the rooms were basic backpacker standard and the bathrooms communal.) And, it seems, more recently, prices there are still very reasonable, mostly because "You will meet very few foreigners on Syros. Most of the people coming here are Greek."
Off the main tourist radar is my kind of destination!

The house we stayed in is the one on the left in this image (from where I took this shot looking over the square), which, as you can see, was also just a block or two back from the delightful harbour front, where we dined on fresh crab, also for next to nothing. Breakfast we took opposite in the square and it was never any busier than is shown in the video above.

It looks like Ermoupolis has remained much as it was in my fading, sepia photos from that visit 25 years ago and seeing these images again, plus all the new stuff on the internet brings back some good memories, though I'm sure the reality is not always equal to the nostalgia.

My impression of Ermoupolis was a slightly Venetian flavoured (complete with decaying grandeur) junior Paris Sur Mer, only Greek, of course. With Greek island weather.
The best information about Syros, as with most other destinations in Greece, is from Matt Barrett, who says:
"One of the most interesting and lively places to visit is the agora (marketplace), especially in the morning. There are fruits and vegetable shops, fresh fish, and bakeries with fresh baked bread, cookies and cakes. Check out the Prekas Traditional Shop which sells local products like capers, sun-dried tomatoes, cheeses, dried figs, marinated artichokes, loukoumia, nougat, local honey, olives, pasta, oil, local spirits, wine, herbs and candies. Its the closest thing to a natural foods shop and in many ways better. Its on Venizelou Street just down from Miaoulis Square."
What more could one want for daily life? I can see exactly why he says that, "I think if I was going to live year-round on any island I would choose Syros."

See more of the island ...

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Friendliest Island on Earth

Kamares Bay
As others have already pointed out, the people of Sifnos are so friendly that a common reaction is for visitors to not want to leave. If I hadn’t been itching to explore Athens too, when I was in Sifnos 25 years ago, we wouldn’t have eventually left either and, I have always intended to go back one day.

We were island-hopping on the ferries with no particular plan, but a vague idea of going to one of the next islands, Serifos (which we never did.) We arrived in the port of Kamares on route, saw the huge curve of beach and decided, “That looks nice, let’s get off here”.

What made the island for me was the Boulis family.

The Boulis House where we stayed

When we’d arrived, a little blonde girl met us off the ferry with the usual greeting of “You want a room?” We did and she took us to the family home just up the road out of Kamares going towards Apollonia, to which had been added some rooms to rent. These purpose-built rooms were clean, fresh and – at that time, about 3 quid a night – with twin bedroom, bathroom and veranda and each with it’s own outside door.

The Taverna we often used for breakfast, lunch and dinner

We were given to understand that the same family who owned the restaurant we used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, also owned the house in which we were staying. This was when Boulis Taverna was on the waterfront at Kamares.

Actually, we had to stop going to the waterfront for breakfast after a swarm of wasps had taken a liking to my jam. I’d tried running up and down the street faster than they could fly, but that hadn’t worked. So, we bought bread in the bakery, butter and jam in the supermarket and took breakfast back to the room.

That was the point I discovered a) No knife b) No one at home who spoke English. So out came the phrase book and I made an attempt at copying out what I HOPED was “Please can you lend me a knife?” in Greek. And it can’t have been far off, because I got a laugh and a knife to spread my butter and jam with!

Meanwhile, back at the Taverna for main meals. Because it was small and family and because I can’t abide doing the “Oy, you!” business to call a waiter, since I had heard ours called Yannis (as it turns out, by his father), I did likewise.

No big deal, it just seemed more courteous.

Well, these are people upon whom such small courtesies are not lost and Yannis insisted that my partner and I accept a drink on the house as a gesture of thanks. And, so began a week or so of us tripping over ourselves to take our custom back to the same establishment daily and them treating us like right royal visitors!

We had actually intended to hop on and see other islands, but ended up staying in Sifnos for the duration of our holiday, bar one day in which to see Athens.

Probably the best known and certainly the best content site on Greece is Matt Barrett’s Greek Travel, which I found a couple of years ago via a link on the BBC website. He has been traveling to or living in Greece since 1968 and Sifnos is his own favorite. It is through Matt’s site that I know that Giorgos Boulis Taverna has moved to larger premises, pretty much where the house we stayed in was. It is listed on his page for Sifnos restaurants, along with the comment:

Yannis, who is my favorite of the brothers waits tables and is the grill man.”

Naturally, I had to write to Matt and confirm a few details, but I instinctively knew this was “our Yannis” (who had indeed worked the grill) and I have to say that it gives me a really warm feeling to know that the friendliness remains and that the family seems to be doing well with the restaurant, the bakery and the sweet and pastry shop …

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Pride and Prejudice meets Porn

image

Belatedly, as these are from a day out a year ago, here are some snapshots from the village of Laycock in in Wiltshire, England, better known to TV viewers as either Meryton in the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Cranford from the series of the same name or for various bit parts in Harry Potter as well as other movie and TV productions.

It's a crying shame that the English weather was, as ever, far from helpful for the photography, but an even worse one was that one has immense difficulty getting any decent shots of the streets of the "Charming rural village untouched by modern development", since they were chock full and virtually obscured by unsightly, modern vehicles. They need to address that.

Above we have the Red Lion pub where, supposedly, in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth meets and is slighted by Darcy at the country dance and we had lunch. (Are we famous now?)

And we wouldn't want to miss the entertaining group sex duck porn. :)

Thursday, 4 March 2010

More Malaise

There is so much that I want to do today, but I just do not have the energy and I am in far too much pain. First there's the deep burning, aching, stabbing, gnawing pain in my hip that does not respond to any painkiller I've ever tried and is so bad it breaks through any efforts at distraction with nauseating and tear-inducing regularity. I can't stand on it, I can't walk on it, I can't sit on it, I can't lie on it. I just can't tolerate it. Then it refers pain down my leg.

And please don't tell me that some psychobabble pain management technique (however well meant) is going to be able to do anything for this either. It needs a ruddy miracle!

My visit with the physiotherapist was helpful in a way. After I told her what a massive fail I'd had trying to do the exercises she gave me - I had tried several times, but even keeping down to 2 repetitions the pain it gave me was so severe I'd then spend the next three nights having great difficulty sleeping because of it. It had me in tears and was far too much to bear.

Thus, she says, she cannot really do anything for me. She wouldn't even risk doing any work manipulating me, because it could cause too much hurt. (For the same reason I've shied away from getting massages or going to chiropractors.)

But at least she recognizes that this is because of the ME and is not my fault, which is a VAST improvement on the general attitude of "if you'd just get some exercise", or worse.

The bad news is that she would prefer me to go all the way to Poole to see the physiotherapist at the pain clinic for my ongoing treatment. Frankly, I have no idea what they think I could do, so hopefully it won't take too many visits to discover it, because it's hell of a journey.

Normally after any outing I will come home, collapse and involuntarily fall asleep from exhaustion, then I'll wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to get back to sleep again because of the pain. When I got home yesterday, it wasn't easy, but I managed to keep awake and so was rewarded by an entire night of restless, semi-conscious painful dozing.

This, I suppose, is marginally better than getting no sleep at all, but it's still no substitute for the real thing. Although I cannot tell you when the last time I had an actually restful night's sleep that allowed me to get up feeling properly refreshed: even when I was a kid, I started every day exhausted and had genuine, grave difficulty waking up.

image Today my neck feels so weak and painful, again, that I can bearly hold my head up even for a few minutes. If I want to remain in a reclining position, I'm having to support my neck with a neck pillow.

Yesterday, I went out by taxi (which is less painful or exhausting than walking or going by bus) and I only had to wait 10-15 minutes for my appointment, but just that amount of movement and that long sitting in a chair was enough to cause the pain in my neck and in my legs to flare up dreadfully again.

It was making me feel panicky, because I didn't think I could manage to sit there any longer and wanted to be sick. I couldn't sit upright. I really wanted to lie down. And I couldn't turn my head even to look in the direction from which I would be called. Add to that extreme nausea and sweating from yet another hot flush and the situation was fast becoming unbearable.

Now I'm adding a neck support to my arsenal - although it has to be said that between skin sensitivities and the hot flushes it's unlikely that I'll be able to put up with it for long, as I've already experienced with some wrist, knee and back supports - because I have to try.

As this article, written by a nurse, says, "... neck muscle weakness can lead to a vicious cycle of limited head mobility and a stiff neck (resulting in pain and impairing head mobility ever further), causing more pain with emotional distress." Yep, that about covers it.

My concern was that mollycoddling it with support might make my neck lazy and the situation worse, but the nurse suggests that, "Wearing a soft collar or a neck brace, called a cervical collar, is an effective method of holding up the head if this is difficult. A collar supports the head when the person is walking or being transferred from one sitting position to another. To protect against injury from sudden motion, people with advanced neck weakness should wear a collar when they are moving or being transferred from one seat to another, when walking, or riding in the car." I'll feel like a prat, but if it'll reduce the amount of pain, so be it.

The awful pain I get in my shins if I sit in a chair or stand (even for moments), I attribute to orthostatic intolerance. After my appointment I called into the pet shop, went to buy a stamp (only had to wait for one customer, otherwise I'd wouldn't have even attempted that) and went to the bank (again, I was lucky to be only next-but-one in line), but even this tiny amount of walking (max 200 yards) and standing has caused considerable problems.

Today, every time I get up, I feel lightheaded, my thigh muscles begin to spasm and my shins scream in pain. The pain in my back is nauseating and in my knees is beyond excruciating.

I'd made a point of walking between each destination at a relaxed pace. I'd carefully worked out where I needed to go, so as to avoid doubling back on myself. I didn't browse in any other shops at all before getting a taxi back home. I couldn't have done more anyway.

Adding it all up, getting a taxi both ways has slightly reduced - but certainly not eliminated - the amount of exhaustion caused by the outing and, maybe the recuperation period will be slightly less (normally, it takes a whole week), but doing so has done little or nothing to mitigate the increase in pain brought on by sitting, standing and / or walking anywhere.

This is where the medical profession's opinion and my experience begins to differ widely.

Here in the UK, they are seeing me as someone newly diagnosed (in 2008) and keep suggesting that with exercise I can build myself back up to being able to do more normal things.

Even ignoring all the reports that suggest otherwise in the case of ME, my own experience over the last 15+ years, during most of which time I was getting at least the RDA of 20-30 minutes walking, is that I just kept deteriorating and never built up this elusive tolerance (then I came to the UK & the combined stress, climate, pollution, et al threw that deterioration into overdrive), I reckon - being realistic, not defeatist - the chance building myself back up is zero.

Of course, I can't possibly afford to get taxis every time I need to go out. I avoid the bus, because there are so few of them and they aren't much cheaper than the taxis, as well as the fact that their jolting causes me more pain than anything else. Because of the pain, stiffness and weakness in my neck, shoulders, arms and wrists, I wouldn't be able to propel a manual wheelchair. And I couldn't go a whole mile to the shops even in a power wheelchair. I don't drive and wouldn't do so, for safety reasons. Likewise wouldn't even risk driving a mobility scooter, but again, that wouldn't be much use to go the distances required, would be a bloody liability in our high street and would be unusable in the cold or rain (364 out of every 365 days.)

Basically, I'm buggered unless I can live nearer to the shops and in another climate.

Which is, of course, what I've been saying all along. Not that my needs are ever considered.

Bonus new symptom today: irritating, incessant chesty cough that seems to think I have loose catarrh - which, if I do, developed from nowhere.

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