Friday, May 31, 2019

My life in ruins

Completely by chance, this romantic comedy (also known as 'Driving Aphrodite') was shown on TV this week and of course I had to watch it in case I recognised anything. As a film, it was lousy: as one review states: this movie falls pretty flat. The comedy writing is contrived and predictable. There were some laugh out loud moments but they were too few and far between. Most of the characters are cardboard cut-outs. They are unbelievable and obnoxious. As another one puts it, My Life in Ruins is corny, clichéd, predictable and a totally fun way to spend an afternoon. Every now then a movie will come along and change your life. This is not one of those movies. It is not highly original or well acted but it is a funny and feel good film. I couldn't agree more.

In the first scene, the lead actor, Georgia, steps out of her apartment in what appears to be a road very close to the Acropolis. We were in such a road the other day (the Segway tour), but I think that this was a studio set. The shots of the Acropolis itself are real, as are the shots of Delphi; one of the streets full of stalls appears to be Adrianou Street but doesn't have to be. Other than this, the geography of the trip bares no relation to the geography of real Greece. Delphi is not next to the sea; as one comment of IMDB says, After the mystical visit to Delphi and the oracle, the evening scene is down at a port with a white Greek church high on the mountain like on the Greek Island of Tinos. There is no way to come down from the ancient ruins of Delphi and sit at the sea port of Tinos! We could have gone to Tinos for a day as it is the closest island to Andros, but we didn't. We could even have taken the car!

It's nice to have one's memories renewed, but apart from that, this film isn't worth the hour and a half that I spent watching it. The tour guide (Georgia) is pretty and is lit well in all her scenes (actually she's in every scene) which makes some form of compensation.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Yet another new mobile phone

After about a week's usage of the LG G4 phone which I received in just over a month ago, I complained to the person responsible for phones in our company that I had been given a lemon; I also requested a new phone (with a box, i.e. not a second hand one). Finally yesterday I received this new phone, a Samsung A9. I couldn't do much with the phone until I arrived home, which is where I have an active wifi connection.

As soon as I connected the phone to the wifi, applications started downloading (42). Obviously the Google material (mail, photos, contacts) and WhatsApp chats returned, but also applications which I had installed on my previous Samsung returned. As a result, I didn't have to start looking around for applications. Overnight, an operating system update occurred.

It'll take a few days to get used to this phone, and that's after having gotten used to the LG phone, more or less. One slight problem is that the socket for the USB cable is different - it is a type C connector. Obviously the phone came with a suitable cable and we have at home an adapter which transforms a type B (?) connector to a type C. I think that I will keep the phone's cable in my work bag and use the special adapter at home. Or maybe I'll buy another cable with the right connector.

The only major problem which I have so far is that MapMyWalk is not measuring the distance walked: although the 'location' function is turned on, the GPS is not and this seems to be the problem. I have written to them and will see what the answer is. I am not married to this app.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Changing a chord sequence

Although this blog entry has nothing to do with Greece, we'll see that indirectly it does.

Towards the end of April, I started work on a new song. The chord sequence for the first few bars comes from the song which I play at Passover: I don't remember now whether this was done consciously. This sequence is Am - AmM7 (or E aug: it's A minor with G# in the bass) - Am7 - Am6 - FMaj7 - BbMaj7 - Am. The first five chords have a descending bass line: A G# G F# F. After developing this sequence into a complete song, at one stage those chords have an ascending treble line: A B (first two chords of 'Stairway to heaven') C D E.

I worked hard on the song's arrangement which was completed in the second week of May. After writing the words, I tried to record a demo version to take with me on holiday, but my voice was completely out. But I did listen to the song along with its companions several times and discovered to my dismay that I had used the initial sequence in the bridge of another recent song. Ooops.

What to do? It occurred to me one evening in Gavrio that instead of having a descending bass line, I could have an ascending one: G G# A Bb, making the chords C - C+ - C6 - C7. Not having a piano on hand made it difficult to check whether these chords would work. Later on I realised that I would also have to change several cadences, as these are mainly E Am; now that the song is in C instead of A minor, these cadences would have do be G C.

Last night, whilst waiting for my motorbike to be returned from its holiday (during which the carburetor was changed), I made a copy of my original MIDI file and started editing. There are all kinds of subtle changes which need to made apart from the gross changes. First I am editing the piano part, then the bass, then the synths and finally the fills. I am leaving the middle sections as they were.

There are a few odd chords in this song: there has 'always' been a G augmented chord in the song (this came about because of a missed transcription, but it's actually a much better chord than what it was supposed to be) and now there is a C augmented to join it. Along with that odd AmM7 chord, there is also an FmM7 chord: this came about by playing an FMaj7 chord, then making it minor: the E at the top is unchanged. Even stranger, the notes sung over this chord don't belong to it!

I've got lots to do at home so I don't know how long it will take me to complete the new arrangement (it's going to be called 'Andros changes'). I'm also not sure whether the tune should stay as it was or should move a little; the sequence CDE is concordant with both Am and C, but following that is supposed to be an A again, which will be somewhat 'tangy' over the C. On the other hand, EFG is also possible but unfortunately is the tune in the bridge, so using it in the verse will remove any contrast. At the moment, changing the tune is an academic exercise as I can't sing at all (I can speak but my voice is very quiet).

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Plaka (Greece 10)

Today didn't start very well: I was still coughing merrily but I also managed to pass my viral infection onto my wife. As a result, she was feeling very weak and returned to bed after breakfast.

Left to my own devices, I thought that I would check out the Plaka district, find where the Segway base is, and also go to the parliament building by Syntagma Square in order to film the guards. The first two tasks were very easy: I started off at Monasteriki Square, turned left, walked a bit, turned right and then I was on Adrianou Street, which leads almost all the way to the Segway base. From there, I realised that I was in front of the temple of Zeus, which is only a short walk away from the parliament.

I arrived there just before 11 am, which was serendipitous as at 11 am exactly, there was the 'changing of the guards'. Two guards in grey uniforms were replaced by two in white uniforms; the ceremony is most peculiar and involves what might be termed a dance. Almost all of the crowd was right in front of the guard posts, but I was right to one side: not only did I get an unobstructed view, I also got a very good view of the ceremony.

After this, I walked back the same way that I had come. I was interested in measuring how far it was from the Segway base to our hotel: 1.25 km, which took me about 15 minutes to walk (the streets were crowded). I walked past the Diogenes restaurant which is mentioned at the beginning of 'The little drummer girl' (it's where Charlie meets 'Joseph' to start their Greek trip); there is nothing particularly interesting about this place that I could see.

After resting, my wife felt a bit better and joined me for the Segway tour. She wasn't feeling well enough to walk there, so we hailed a taxi which took us there - at the ridiculously low price (for us) of less than 4 euro.

After waiting a while (I think that one group had to return so that there would be enough Segways for the eight people who turned up to ride), we were each allocated a machine and taught how to use them. People say that once one has learned how to ride a bicycle, one never forgets; I don't think that this is the same for the Segway (we took a Segway tour a few years ago in Florence).

After about ten minutes practice, we set off on our ride. Almost all the area around the Acropolis is pedestrian only, so we didn't have to worry about cars. We embarked on what might be called 'the back road' behind the Acropolis, stopping at a few places. This stretch helped us to get used to riding. From there, we carried on to Mars Hill, which is where we went a few evenings ago. Carrying on, we went to a site which the guide called a hidden gem, as few people seem to know of it. The site includes the old Athenian observatory and the site of what was the first parliament.

From there we carried on moving further away from the Acropolis (from our hotel, this would be moving to the right) until we came to what the guide called the edge of the old city. We then turned right and continued along another pedestrian street until we came to the far end of the flea market. We travelled down the narrow alleys, successfully managing to avoid all the people who were oblivious to the passing of the Segways. By this time, we had developed enough skill riding not to hit anyone or anything.

This path led to Monasteriki Square; instead of carrying on through the market, we went up a side road which allowed us to see more ruins. From there we twisted and turned until we ended up on Adrianou Street; we passed successfully down this street but at the end, disaster struck. Instead of there being a 'lip' which would allow Segways - and wheelchairs - to get onto the pavement, there was a step of several centimetres. A Segway can go up this step if driven fast enough, but my wife didn't hear the warning and so crashed. Fortunately there was no damage done.

After a few minutes resting (one of the other participants also fell off her bike), we carried on with the tour which anyway was almost at its end. After the tour finished, we sat in the shop recovering - it's actually quite tiring riding a Segway as it utilises muscles which we don't normally use. We ending up sitting there for nearly an hour, talking to the staff about Israel - they expressed a desire to visit, especially to Jerusalem. I snapped the photograph on the left in the morning, and looking at it now, I see that the woman pictured was our guide (Ellie?).

We were going to walk home via Adrianou and probably stop at a restaurant to eat something, but after a few minutes my wife starting feeling weak again, so we returned to the main road where (coincidentally) a taxi was waiting for us to take us back to the hotel.

I went out again afterwards as there was a shop which I was looking for which I had missed in the morning: the Bouzouki shop. It turns out that I had walked within about 10 metres of it in the morning: it was one of the first shops on a side road which was along my route.

A cornucopia of string instruments! One wall had various Greek instruments whereas the other wall had all kinds of electric guitars. Without shame, I asked the owner for something under €50. Although the more expensive instruments were also much better looking, in the end I decided to take the cheapest at €35. After all, it's not as if I'm going to be playing it that much. 

In the picture, I have tried to mark with an arrow the bouzouki which I bought: it's the white one on the second to bottom row. This is a real instrument, albeit smaller than a professional bouzouki and with a more modest finish. I hope that it will arrive home unbroken - it's packed with bubble wrap at the moment.

Although we have a few hours spare tomorrow before we have to go to the airport, I doubt that we will do anything interesting.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Delphi (Greece 9)

I suppose that the day really started at 2:30 am when I awoke from my sleep and started coughing for half an hour. This wasn't as bad as the previous night but still not much fun. As I understand things, this is a side effect of pertussis: the bacteria weaken the closure to the lungs and make it harder to extricate all the phlegm which collects there.

The next stage in day was executed with military precision: the alarm went off at 5:45 am, my wife showered then prepared tea. We left our room at 6:55 am to be in the breakfast room at opening time (7 am) in order to meet the bus outside our hotel at 7:30 am (actually the bus was late). The speed at which we ate breakfast did indeed remind me of breakfast during basic training: we used to be so hungry and hopped up that we would eat in 5 minutes then hang around for another 15. It took several days before the penny dropped that we could eat at a more leisurely pace and still be ready on time. The other differences are of course that this morning we had a much wider choice of foods of much better quality.

The bus then went around down-town Athens picking up people scheduled for various trips. At about 8:45 am, we alighted the bus which would take us to Delphi. I was quite surprised at how many people were on the bus - but this was nothing compared to when we got to Delphi. There must have been six or seven tour groups who arrived near enough at the same time, making the place crowded (and difficult to take photographs without anyone else in them).

After a pit stop somewhere (along with the aforementioned six or seven other tour groups), at around 11:15 am we passed through the pretty town of Arahova which is on Mount Parnassus, about 1000 m above sea level. This is a ski resort, although there is no snow left now. Half an hour later and we were in Delphi - 180 km from Athens.

Although I knew a little bit about the ruins and the stories of Apollo and his temple, I didn't realise that the ruins are on a hill side which required no small amount of exertion to access. This is the stage at which I will explain the origin of the name 'Delphi' for the programming language (which was originally to be called AppBuilder, or something similar): the language's developers were very proud of the simplicity of the database connections built into Delphi, and as one of the leading databases of the time (1990) was Oracle, the expression arose "go ask the Oracle". Where was the oracle? In Delphi.

The ruins were very impressive as was the small museum, although again the number of people visiting simultaneously was more than problematic.

After the tour, the bus set off for a restaurant where lunch would be served. For various reasons, we had declined to pay for the fixed lunch; I thought that we would be dropped off in the quaint town of Delphi itself where we could find something to eat, but no, we (and the other five who elected not to have the fixed lunch) were taken to the same restaurant ... which was also hosting a few other tour groups. I wasn't at all hungry which only justified the decision to pay for what we ate: in the end, we had spaghetti alla pomodora along with a Greek salad.

There was a gift shop in the restaurant which was far better than the gift shop in the museum, although I got the impression from one of the workers in the museum gift shop that they were limited to selling only government approved goods (or something similar), whereas of course the restaurant gift shop had a free hand to stock whatever it wanted. Two t-shirts and two guide books were the result of two gift shops.

Coming back (this is already around 3:30 pm), we had a twenty minute stop in Arahova, which was somewhat unnecessary, although it did give us the chance to film the main street. I also filmed the nearby mountains along with its cloud cover. Finally we set off for Athens, being dropped off at our hotel a minute before 7 pm as advertised. The centre of Athens (Syntagma Square) is closed as the Greek Prime Minister is giving a speech there, two days before the elections to the European Parliament.

I coughed almost non-stop all the way back, but after a few cups of tea and cough medicine, the coughing has subsided for now. I spent the time on the way back reading 'The little drummer girl', especially the part where Gadi/Joseph/Salim and Charlie are in Delphi.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Athens hop-on hop-off (Greece 8)

As noted earlier, my nocturnal 'adventures' caused us to wake very late and breakfast even later. We didn't leave the hotel until nearly 11am; we walked down to Monastiraki Square/Ermou Street for the hop-on hop-off bus stops. There are actually three competing companies, all with stops in the same places, and we might have gone for a more expensive option. According to the red bus brochure, there is a tour of several islands along with a two day bus pass, but that tour has yet to start. So we will have a free day on Saturday.

We got on the bus, which had an open top. As it was very hot (around 28ºC), we sat downstairs where the windows were covered with drawings. This meant that I couldn't film anything. A round trip lasts about 90 minutes and in that time we saw a lot of Athens and even more of traffic jams. The idea was to note which places are worth visiting later.

When the bus returned to our original stop, we got off and bought a sandwich which we ate in our hotel room. After resting, we went back down to the stop and waited for the next bus. This one had a covered top so that we could sit upstairs. Unfortunately, at the next stop (which is actually the first stop) Syntagma Square, the driver announced that all passengers should transfer to the bus waiting there. Obviously the driver had finished his shift.

We went around the route again, electing to get off at the Acropolis. There is a leafy park below the Acropolis where one can walk freely, but admission to the Parthenon costs money (€20 or a reduced price, €10; it was not clear what the difference between the two tickets is). As it was late and my wife would almost certainly not be able to walk around the ruins because of her knee problems, we elected to stay on a hill overlooking the Acropolis and take pictures from there (this is Mars Hill).

We asked a random stranger to take a photograph of the two of us - the first such opportunity this holiday - which she did; she then sat down, opened a case which she had been carrying and started playing the 'hang drum' (see lower picture).

After filming the Acropolis from every conceivable angle (as well as the surrounding hills), we thought it best to return to the bus stop so that we would not miss the last bus. By this time (after 7 pm) the sun was low in the sky so we could sit comfortably on the upper deck. Actually, by the time we finished the ride, it was quite cool and my wife had descended to the lower deck. I managed to film some of the impressive buildings in Athens, most notably the university and the national library. I also filmed the parliament with the guards in their traditional uniforms, but a combination of zoom gone wild with the bus moving meant that this section is almost completely useless.

Tomorrow is a trip to Delphi (the ruins, not the language, but how could I resist?) with a 7:30 am start. Let's hope that I have a better night than last night.

Arriving in Athens (Greece 7)

In the morning, we had breakfast, finished packing then drove the hired car to Gavrio where we returned it to its owners. Due to a misunderstanding about dates, we actually had the car for a day longer than booked so I had to pay another €35. Returning the car a day earlier and travelling by taxi would probably have cost us just as much if not more, so this wasn't a problem. I do wonder how the car hire firm makes a profit but that's not my problem.

The ferry turned up on time at 10:15 am and we scrambled aboard. This stage was a bit worrying as we didn't have much time and we have more luggage than the usual traveller. We found seats and off we went for a two hour journey which passed quite quickly.

I had ordered a driver to pick us up at Rafina: although there are buses which take one to Athens, it was not prudent to use public transport when we didn't know our destination. The roads were very crowded; Athens seemed very spread out, and the driver said that 5 million Greeks live in this city which is a problem when the country's population is only 10 million (Wikipedia says 11 million in 2016).

The hotel is narrow and tall, very close to the Monastiraki train station. This is a very central location and one can see the Acropolis from our balcony (if I remember correctly, I paid a bit extra for this). In the afternoon, we went out for a walk in the crowded neighbourhood and found ourselves in a bazaar similar to what the Old City in Jerusalem was like 50 years ago, or the bazaar in Rodos. Some of the items were delightful (hand-carved items from olive wood in one shop, all items made from Portuguese cork in another) and some were trash. We had dinner in one of the many restaurants (we sat in a side alley but discovered afterwards a huge 'restaurant square'), having grilled sea bream. Very tasty and no more expensive than our meal in Chora.

Slightly after returning to the hotel, we saw that the Acropolis was now floodlit.

Despite buying cough medicine in Gavrio prior to departure, I am still coughing merrily and had a very bad night. I couldn't get to sleep at first, and about 1:30 am, I had a coughing fit which ended with me almost being sick but getting rid of a great deal of phlegm. When I don't cough, my throat hurts as it is dry. I think that I will have to see the kibbutz doctor next Tuesday if nothing improves. As a result of my bad night, I didn't wake till 7:30 am, which is late for me.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Korthi Bay (Greece 6)

The plan for today was to travel to Korthi Bay which is a seaside resort in the south of Andros. The road meanders through several villages which are always a pleasure to see, but nothing remarkable. Korthi has a long, well built promenade along the sea shore, but no visible beach; after driving along this promenade to see whether there was anything that missed our eyes (there wasn't), we stopped at a cafe which already had local people inside.

Here we had pie and milkshakes, which while tasty also overwhelmed the digestive system. I was also coughing quite hard by this stage so we decided to cut our losses and head home.

After an afternoon of doing nothing but resting, we got dressed and drove into Gavrio for what has become our evening ritual: toasted cheese sandwiches in a cafe. Tonight I had just the sandwich without the hot chocolate.

Now we're packing in preparation for sailing to Athens tomorrow, where we will stay for four days. Instead of a hotel balcony overlooking the sea, we will have a hotel balcony overlooking the Acropolis.

So, was the Andros adventure worthwhile? We did have a relaxing time and there were no crowds, but six days is at least one day too many. On the other hand, a night's stay in this very good hotel (Perrakis) costs only 42% of the cost in Athens (Attalos).

Monday, May 20, 2019

Searching for the elusive waterfall (Greece 5)

There's an intriguing picture of a waterfall in our Andros guide book which is supposed to be in a village called Ramatis. I actually found Ramatis on the map, but it wasn't clear how to get there. Coming back from yesterday's journey, I noticed a signpost to Ramatis just before entering Batsi from the south, so I knew from where to start. Unfortunately, there was no sign when one leaves Batsi which is what we do, so I had to keep a careful eye for signs and we reversed once or twice looking for the correct sign.

The road that we took led us up into the hills which are in the middle of Andros. There aren't many signs on the roads so it's a gamble when one comes to a junction as to which turn to take. First time around, we arrived at a sign saying 'Welcome to Arni' which was a bit off-putting as Arni didn't seem close to Ramatis on our map. So we backtracked and took the left hand turn where previously we had taken the right hand turn. This didn't seem any more hopeful; as the neutron bomb effect was still applicable, we didn't see anyone for several kilometers. Eventually we saw a non-English speaking farmer who said that the road that we were on would lead to Atheni, not Ramatis. I then read the guide book once again and figured out what it was trying to tell us.

Back we went to the sign 'Welcome to Arni', where we continued on our way. After about ten minutes, we saw a small sign saying 'Ramatis' in Greek. Carrying on, we found a site of bubbling water which did not resemble the picture in the guide book but was good enough for us. There were also scattered around many monasteries, chapels and similar buildings.

Our route became clear after passing Ramatis: we would carry on to Vourkoti and thence to Apoikia. The road was over the top of mountains and quite exhilarating: every now and then we would stop to take a picture (or video) of something interesting. The funniest time was when I saw a goat standing all alone on a big stone, as if it were a statue. When we started calling to it, other goats ambled over.

The village of Vourkoti seemed very small but once we were past it, we could see that most of the houses on the village were on the hill side and not on the main road. We carried on over the mountains (and poorly signposted roads) until we came to the village Apoikia. This is the site of a factory which sells water; we found the factory without problem but no one was working there.

Carrying on from Apoikia, we came to the back entrance of Chora: from this road it was easy to see the arrangement of light house, Venetian fortress, square of the unknown sailor and the rest of the town. We followed the road down the hill until we came to what might be called a promenade.

As the time was already after 1pm, we decided to stop for lunch. The first few places which we saw looked liked cafes, but further on we found something which was definitely a restaurant. It was also empty, with a girl waitress who knew very little English. She showed me a menu and we decided what we would have to eat, when along came a man (probably the owner) who did speak English. He showed me what they had to offer, including fresh fish. I chose two of a type whose name I did not catch - something in Greek. When grilled, the fish was delicious and my stomach was hurting from too much food. The meal cost a reasonable 40 (after all, it's fresh fish which is sold by weight). So hint: if you want to eat well in Chora, don't go for one of the tourist traps in the middle of the town; instead head for the promenade to the Archipalagos restaurant. You will not be disappointed. Of course, as soon as we were eating, two more couples turned up to eat in this restaurant; we feel like magnets.

After the long lunch, we found our way through the back streets of Chora to where we had parked the other day. Then it was just the usual ride home, which we have now done three times in three days: we're getting to know the landmarks as well as the potholes in the roads.

Villages (Greece 4)

Today we decided to visit some of the villages which we passed on the road to Chora yesterday. First off was Ano Pitrofos (upper Pitrofos), which amongst other things is the home of the Cyclades Olive Museum. Of course, the museum was closed yesterday - that's what happens when one visits Andros out of season.

Apart from the lovely houses (and the cars - from where do the owners get the money?), there was not a soul to be seen. I had a few ideas why this might be so: (a) a neutron bomb exploded which killed all the people but left the buildings standing; (b) all the residents are zombies: they sleep during the day but come out at night; (c) they were all in the local taverna. Option C seems to be correct.

As we wandered around the village, we came across a stream running down the hill, children riding on donkeys and a goat having a rest. Only after taking the photograph did we notice that the goat was tethered (one can see the rope in the lower left hand corner).

There was also a lovely church there which appeared be be closed - unusual for a Sunday.

After departing from Ano Pitrofos we set off for the Foros cave which is by the village of Alandino. This cave has stalagmites and stalactites and so is a must. Unfortunately, it is fairly difficult to access the cave: one has to walk up a long series of steps then walk another half kilometer along a rough path composed of slate and basalt. When we finally arrived at the cave, there was a group of children along with their mothers waiting. It was not possible to know how many had already been in the cave and how many were waiting, but after about an hour, their last group came out.

Now we were faced with a dilemma: out of season, tours are held 'by arrangement only', and we hadn't arranged anything. Fortunately some Greek women turned up and entered a discussion with the guide, who thought that we were together with these women. Eventually we explained that we had come separately and that we would like a tour in English. We paid our €5 entrance fee, donned hard hats, picked up torches then descended in to the cave.

It is always interesting to see such caves, although this one was a relatively poor example. It had also been vandalised before the authorities stepped in and started protecting the cave. Incidentally, the picture is not mine: one is not permitted to take photographs within the cave. It comes from here.

After exiting the cave. we had the long walk back to the car. As it was already 2:45pm, the chances of finding somewhere open to eat on a Sunday afternoon were minimal, so we drove back to the hotel (this takes nearly an hour). There we had an impromptu meal of cheese sandwiches and tea. followed by showers and a rest period.

By the time we were ready to do something in the evening, it was already quite late so I was no longer tempted by having a fish meal in Batsi. Instead we drove to Gavrio again, absorbed the atmosphere and ended up having toasted cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate. This too is a pleasurable activity!

I should have noted that today was very much a low energy day for me: I was ill with a viral infection after Independence Day, spending a few days in bed with a fever, then returning to work and coughing very hard. I didn't want to make to much of a thing about this as this happened just a few days before we left for Greece; also I seemed to be better. But the cough has returned and today I just felt lousy. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Chora (Greece 3)

After a good night’s sleep, I woke at about 6:15, and decided to return to old habits: a morning walk of up to 2km. After getting dressed in t-shirt and shorts, I walked down to the main road and assessed my options. As there are no real landmarks near the hotel (within a short walking distance), I decided to start walking and to turn around after one kilometer. So I set off, and when I thought that I had reached that mark, I checked with MapMyWalk and discovered that I had indeed walked just under one kilometer. So I carried on a little bit more then turned back. The distance was just far enough to make me 'glow' - I had warmed up but had not started sweating. A quick shower followed by dressing for breakfast.

Today we applied at breakfast some of the hints which we had picked up the previous day: there are teapots available, which can hold enough hot water for two cups of tea; not to sit too far from the food; to skip the Greek yoghurt (very thick and sour). Instead of having to ask for an omelette without meat (bacon), there were plain scrambled eggs available (the omelette was tastier as it was cooked specially). Again, a sumptuous breakfast.

We hit the road a bit earlier than the previous day, retracing our steps to a certain extent as we went via the 'Batsi bypass', but this time we carried on, all the way to Chora, which is on the other side of the island. Although it's only about 35km away, all that distance is by narrow roads which have many bends and accompany the sea (at least, at first). Consider it a milder version of the road along the Amalfi coast. We passed along the way signs to many sites but ignored them as today our destination was Chora. We rolled into town and parked just before the entrance to the pedestrian-only section.

First off, I drank a glass of very tasty homemade lemonade; apart from ice and lemons, it wasn't clear to me exactly what was in the drink. It reminded me of a story that The Band's Rick Danko used to tell about a Dr Feelgood in New York who used to give vitamin B12 shots laced with who knows what (probably amphetamines). The server explained that it was a mix of lemons with a little syrup and then carbonated).

From there, we continued to walk down the road. This is the sort of Greek island experience that we had been expecting, although there weren't too many shops and only one of these was selling mementos. My wife bought several items - I don't know exactly what as I was outside filming the alleys.

We asked the sales lady about two specific places that we wanted to go - they both appear in the picture to the left. This is probably the most famous picture of Chora, if not Andros, and in fact is what lead us to visiting the island. This is clearly taken from somewhere off the land, looking back, but it wasn't clear at first from where it was taken.

We carried on walking through the picturesque alleys; the buildings are people's homes, and whilst it must be attractive to have an apartment here, it must be a bit difficult getting to work early in the morning. Actually, we hardly met a soul, which is probably due to our visit being off season, although we were followed by a busload of children. I suspect that I saw their bus pass by the hotel just before we left, which means that they came over on the ferry - which we saw for most of the time in the sea parallel to our progress past Batsi.

After walking to the end of the maze, we came upon the large open space which is in the middle of the photograph. This space is actually quite large and houses a large statue to the 'unknown sailor'.

Once I saw this, I realised from where the famous picture of Chora had been taken: from the stone building which is on the right of the above photograph, which turns out to be the ruins of a Venetian fortress.  Unfortunately, there is no way (that I could see) of getting to that fortress; there is an arch which links the 'mainland' to the 'island', but this arch is not climbable. It makes one wonder how the photographer took that photograph: he probably went over in a boat. We felt slightly cheated; my wife had been counting on me taking a similar photograph with her on one side. We'll have to use a photo editor now!

After this, we went back to the square where the souvenirs shop was and had a disappointing lunch in one of the restaurants there. No fresh fish; we had something which was like anchovies or sardines in a very salty marinade. At least it didn't cost very much.

Following lunch, we first tried to get to where the chapel is pictured in the famous photograph: it can't be seen very clearly but it appears to be on a separate rock. One accesses it by walking down a set of steep stairs; after getting down there and taking some photographs, I decided that it wasn't worth carrying on to the chapel itself.

From this angle, it's easy to see the 'hole in the rock', the lighthouse which is on the far side of the fortress (on an island of its own) and the chapel - which is not on an island.

After climbing back up the stairs, we walked back along the pedestrian way, first stopping at a spices shop which we had noted previously, The shop was full of Greek liquors, lokumi in various flavours, jams and other exotic items. My wife wanted to buy a jar of grape jam - she has been eating it for breakfast and very much enjoying it. We also bought a few more items as gifts. Carrying on, we bought a large 'Andros' t-shirt for me: the saleslady took a large plain t-shirt and did the embossing on site.

Then back to the car for an hour's drive in the sun, a shower and a rest. Thence to Gavrio for supper. First we dropped in for a chat with the man from whom we hired our car. During the course of this conversation, he recommended a taverna in Batsi as well as a restaurant in Gavrio. He was about to write the name of the restaurant on a piece of paper when I saw that name (in Greek, of course) on a t-shirt someone was wearing! The man wearing the t-shirt was a waiter in this restaurant and must have been having a cup of coffee with his family as there were no customers in his restaurant. When the car hire owner explained the situation, the waiter left his family and got into his car.

In the mean time, we had walked to the restaurant, which was at the far end of the Gavrio 'strip'. the waiter turned up and took our order (Greek salad and fried cod). Suddenly three groups of people turned up and entered the restaurant - we must have attracted them. By the time we left, a few more groups had come, so it probably means that we like to eat earlier than most people. This is the first time that I have ever eaten feta: I was apprehensive at first, but it was actually quite tasty. The cod was reasonably good but was served with mashed potatoes which had been mixed with a strange spice that made them totally inedible for me.

On another note: because of the health issues which cropped up in the previous month, since May 1 I have been recording how many steps I take each day. Normally with walking the dog at least twice a day combined with a long (2.8km) walk, I have attained the required 10,000 steps/day. A day in Tel Aviv will also bring me close to this total even without the long walk as I have to walk about 1.25km from the train station to the offices and another 1.25km back. A day in Karmiel has only about 4.000 steps (two dog walks). The first two days in Greece weren't particularly good in this respect either, but today I racked up just over 11,000 steps! Just because I am on holiday doesn't mean that I can't walk or eat healthily.

Batsi (Greece 2)

After a sumptuous breakfast in the dining room, with a window overlooking the sea (actually, not very hard in this hotel as almost every window faces the sea), we drove off in our hired car in the direction of Batsi, which is about 5km south of where we are. We in turn are about 2.5 km south of Gavrio, which is where the port is. I've marked with an x where the hotel is situated.

One of the advantages of having one's own transport as opposing to being with a touring group is that one can stop wherever one likes, for as long as one likes. So when we got to a high road overlooking the bay of Batsi, I announced that we had a photo opportunity for ten minutes. One can get a good idea of what the town of Batsi looks like from the accompanying photo.

We drove down the hill and into the town area, assessing what we might do. What became clear was that the road around the harbour was one way (and fortunately we were driving that way); this meant that there had to be a road which enabled one to travel the other way. In the end, we went completely around the town and found a back road which led to Gavrio. We then followed this road until we found where we had turned off in order to go to Batsi, then went down this road again.

The town itself was deserted - and this was at 11am. There also aren't many shops, which disappointed me as I had envisaged something like the main alley in the old town of Sorrento. We found one souvenir shop run by an old lady, where we bought many items - they were all fairly cheap. The most expensive item was a book about Andros costing €12.50. I don't know whether it was because we paid cash or because the lady was pleased to have custom, but we received a 15% discount.

We then sat on a bench - perilously close to the water's edge - and had an ice cream, whilst assessing what to do. Apart from a few tradesmen, there was nobody about. Well, it is off-season, but even so, I thought that there would be a few more people. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a supermarket at the back of Batsi, where we bought tea, milk, sugar, bread and cheese - for impromptu lunches or dinners. We had our first impromptu lunch on our balcony, overlooking the sea. This is what 'having a rest' really means.

After a rest in the hotel, we set off again, this time heading to Gavrio and the hills that overlook it. We went a certain distance in the hills, but there wasn't much to see and we didn't want to get lost. Coming back to the harbour area of Gavrio, we spotted a shop which sold a variety of items: summer dresses and shirts, along with a variety of handmade souvenirs. We spent maybe an hour in this shop as there was so much to see. We also talked with the man who runs the shop - he comes from Chora, the island's capital, which is on the other side of the island. 

One interesting thing which I noted was that all the souvenirs from Batsi had 'Andros' written on them in Greek - Άνδρος (this is in script, but the cups etc. used Greek capital letters) whereas all his souvenirs had 'Andros' written in English. The shop owner explained that this was due to the clientele - most people coming to Andros are Greek, not foreigners.

In the evening, we decided to dine in the restaurant which is otherwise known as the breakfast room. We were entitled to a 20% discount for our first meal here, which is just as well because otherwise we wouldn't have eaten there. They don't have grilled fish on the menu - too early in the season - so the menu didn't really speak to us. They are aiming for a gastronomic experience and we were looking for something to eat. It was clear that future evening meals will either be fish in Gavrio or sandwiches in our room, if we have a cooked lunch.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Arriving at Andros (Greece 1)

Yesterday morning we flew to Greece at the very civilised hour of 10:30 am, landing at around 12:30. We passed through Athens airport very quickly - our luggage arrived at the carousel about a minute after we did - in fact, so quickly that we had to wait a long time for the arrival of the driver who was to take us to Rafina port. The drive from the airport to the port seemed to go only on minor roads, which was slightly unsettling. The flora of Greece is the same as in Israel, so we felt very much at home.

We arrived in Rafina slighly before 2pm, so our first task was to have lunch. There are several tavernas on the Rafina 'strip': our driver stopped outside one, seemingly at random, so we chose this one. After ordering red mullet, I slipped away to the ferry ticketing office where I exchanged my reservation for tickets - and paid €2 for the privilege of having the tickets printed. Lunch was a drawn out affair and tasty, although I doubt that we will be ordering red mullet again (there's not that much meat in a portion).

After waiting for a few hours in a shelter by the promenade, the time came to board the ferry. We were one of the first people on board; the luggage storeroom was empty, which seemed good at the time but was a minus when getting off. The lounges were empty, so we picked a very nice spot by the window to sit down.

After a while, the ferry set sail for Andros. The trip was very smooth, lasting two hours, At one stage I walked around the boat a little, filming. The view from the back of the boat was lovely, with the sun playing on the wake: I filmed this, but unfortunately the zoom control on the camera was out of control, so the result is useless.

I sensed a change of motion from the engines which signalled that we were slowing down and approaching Andros. One of the crew confirmed this for me. The boat then turned around slowly, so that the rear end would be facing the jetty on land. We docked after some time and those disembarking at Andros did so. We had some slight problems getting our suitcases out of the storeroom but nothing that time could not fix. We were probably the last people to disembark. Then cars and people started embarking - the ferry continues to Mikonos.

Now comes the low point of the day. I had naively assumed that waiting for us on the jetty would be a representative of the car hire company. No such luck. When this became clear, I checked the documents which I had printed in order to find details about the company,  and saw that I hadn't printed this. Then I turned on my mobile phone; I had not attempted to use this as I didn't have a Greek provider. But I could access all the mails which had been sent to my Gmail account, including the correspondence with the car hire company. This said succinctly that they were near the jetty. I couldn't see their sign, so I walked to one end of the promenade then to the other end without finding them. Eventually I went into a cafe where someone told me where the office was: almost exactly opposite the jetty!!!

When I got to the office, it was closed, but fortunately the owner saw me from the street. When he opened the office, we discovered that there had been a mixup with the dates (what a surprise)! I had ordered the car from the morning of 17 May, not expecting originally to pick it up in the evening of 16 May.

After filling out the forms and paying, we had a quick lesson in the car, an orange Suzuki Ignis (a fellow worker has one of these, so I knew the car somewhat). Eventually we set off for our hotel, which is supposed to be about 2.5km from where we were. We found the hotel without too much difficulty.

From the little that we have seen, the hotel gets high marks for its appearance, cleanliness and functionality. We have - in common with all rooms - a balcony with a lovely sea view. Today will be devoted to getting to know our whereabouts. I presume that we will drive to Batsi, which is a town situated a few more kilometers south from where we are.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Greece (0)

It's half past 8 in the morning and I'm sitting in a relatively empty departure lounge at Ben Gurion airport. There were very few people checking in, which is strange and welcome, but as a result we have too much time on our hands.

At 10:30, we will be flying to Athens; from there, a car will take us to the port of Rafina, which is on the eastern side of Athens. Moving on, we then take a ferry ride for two hours to the island of Andros, the most northern island of the Cyclades, where we will be staying for nearly a week. No one that we have met in Israel has heard of this island, which is interesting (maybe we have finally won the unofficial prize of visiting somewhere that no one else has heard of, let alone been). We won't arrive at the hotel till after 8pm, so there won't be anything to report until tomorrow.

 For the first time ever, we will be hiring a car there so that we can get around this island. We will pick the car up at the port and then drive 2.5km (so I am told) to our hotel which apparently is one of the best in Andros (so I am told).

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Return of the mobile

I wrote a few weeks ago about the fall which my home mobile computer suffered, and about the need to restore all its data. I received the computer last night with Windows 10 (instead of Windows 8.1) and several other programs installed, and immediately set about the process of restoring data.

I was most worried about the video files from our trips abroad in the past few years. On the external disk drive I found files upto and including 2016 (as well as many directories of music and books). For some unknown reason, the computer refused to recognise the camcorder when connected via USB, but I remembered that the camcorder has a memory card installed, so I extracted the card, connected it to the computer and transferred what was stored there - all the video files from our 2018 trip. So the material from Rhodos 2017 is lost.

The moral of the story: video files should not be deleted from the memory card in the camera, and they should also be backed up to the external drive.

[Edit from a week later: The problem with the camcorder was due to my faulty memory, rather than anything else. I forgot that the camera has two modes: recording and viewing. Once I changed mode to viewing, the USB connection worked perfectly fine and I could download the files.

Further edit from 27/05/19: it seems that there is a problem with the USB ports on the computer. Every evening I would have great trouble in connecting the camera so that I could download the files. Now that I am home, I'm going to extract the card and transfer the final files this way.]

Friday, May 03, 2019

Diet, part 2

Friday mornings are when I weigh myself. I wasn't sure whether I was expecting that my changes in diet would have an effect yet on my weight, so I was surprised and pleased when I discovered that I had dropped 800g in one week! I now weigh 81.1 kg, which whilst being in the correct direction, is still 3kg more than I weighed a few years ago.

As I wrote before, yesterday was the first meeting in a series of six for kibbutz members who are in the glucose danger zone: not diabetic yet, but will be diabetic unless steps are taken. I felt somewhat out of place as most of the people there were 10-20 years older than me; I was definitely the youngest. In terms of content, the nurse explained the causes of diabetes, and reiterated that we are in a position to prevent diabetes, by changing diet and by exercising. 

Several people in the group expressed surprise that they are considered to be at risk, for they have been maintaining a healthy lifestyle for years. It was explained that by virtue of their healthy lifestyle, they have not become diabetic yet and so should continue in their habits. The body wears out and diabetes is one of the problems that 80 year olds face.

I didn't get much out of the meeting, partially because I had been to my own dietician a few days previously and partially because I have read up on the subject. Next week there will be no meeting, as it will be Independence Day, and the two weeks after that I will be in Greece. I won't be missing much.

After the meeting, I took the dog for a walk. The day previously, I commenced running an app on my phone which counts steps: I discovered that without a long walk, I took about 4500 steps a day - half of the recommended value. I had been expecting a lower number for I had thought that my walks with the dog didn't contribute very much. Today I suspect that the total will be much higher, even without the long walk.

After the dog walk, I came home to a supper of tuna salad which I wolfed down (to my wife's pleasure), accompanied by several glasses of cold lemon water. I found it very easy to drink the cold water, although this might well be because the last few days have been very hot - 30 degrees in the house at 8pm! 

So far, so good. I have to continue this way!

Thursday, May 02, 2019


As a result of my recent blood tests, I had an appointment with a dietician the other day. The primary aims of the diet that she set out are to increase the amount of iron that I absorb whilst reducing the number of calories. So, it's NO MORE MILKSHAKES (boo hiss!), no more flavoured water, let alone biscuits; it's more ground beef, more fresh vegetables and above all, more water.

The last two days weren't difficult as I wasn't in the office and so my opportunities for eating were limited. Today I am in my office and so came prepared: a bottle of water with lemon slices, along with slices of yellow bell pepper. I was a bit wary of the bell pepper but I've managed already to eat all that I brought, without any problem (although without any enjoyment, either). According to the nutritional values, it would be better to eat a red bell pepper, as they have even more vitamin C than a yellow pepper, which is more than enough! 

The vitamin C is important as it helps absorb iron, so I've been eating an orange at lunch, after consuming the beef meatballs which have replaced the chicken breast in my daily meal.

In the evenings, I am intending to eat as often as possible fresh salad (cucumber, tomato, onion, bell pepper) along with tuna. All this, along with a half hour strenuous walk almost every day, is intended to decrease my weight as well as improving the haemoglobin count.

Tonight, coincidentally, is the first meeting in a series of six for kibbutz members who are in the glucose danger zone: not diabetic yet, but will be diabetic unless steps are taken. I'll have to miss two meetings as I will be in Greece in the second half of this month, and I wonder whether there will be needless repetition between these meetings and my dietician*, who has scheduled a repeat meeting at the beginning of June, when she expects to see progress.

My third dietary problem, the possible lactose intolerance, has solved itself - I am now hardly drinking any milk so the problem doesn't exist. And that's after buying lactase supplements.

* Being British, I naturally spell this word with a 'c', but American dictionaries as well as this blog's spell checker use a 't' - dietitian. To me, this looks wrong!