MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “Greece”

Beyond the Fence

In the northernmost part of Greece there is a prefecture – one of the largest regional units in the country – home to beautiful places you’ve never even heard of. Because the Prefecture of Evros, part of the East Macedonia and Thrace region, is better known for the huge fence across the border between Greece and Turkey, aiming to keep out irregular migrants, rather than the dozens of other wonderful things that invite you there. The truth is, there is not much sightseeing to do here. But was is certain is that you’ll have a great time and you’ll manage to relax. Because here, there are large areas of natural forest that will replenish you with tranquillity that only nature can offer. There are museums and natural wealth, that unfortunately is not promoted sufficiently, nor it is it exploited adequately. There is so much more beyond the media-focused fence to see here. There are people who are among the most hospitable you will ever meet; simple, calm and hard-workers, who know how to enjoy life in a milder rhythm and seize every single day that comes.

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The capital of the region is Alexandroupoli, one of the newest cities in Greece, as it was only a fishing village settled by the Ottoman Empire until the late 19th century. It benefits from its position at the centre of land and sea routes connecting Greece with Turkey. Landmarks in here include the city’s lighthouse in the port, the archaeological sites of the Mesimvria Zone, the city’s waterfront (the centre of commercial activity), the Ethnological Museum of Thrace, the thermal springs (Hana) of Traianoupoli which have been recognised by the Greek state for their therapeutic abilities and are considered among the most important in Greece, as well as the cave of the Cyclops Polyphemus in Makri – a coastal village, which also offers a range of beach bars and restaurants by the sea.

The city’s large coastal road is closed every afternoon, transforming it into a long promenade along the beach, with a view of Samothrace island, and the majestic colourful sunset that allows your thoughts to wander as you acknowledge the slower pace of life you too are entering.

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For nature lovers, the area has a lot on offer: the nearby Evros Delta is one of the most important wetland on a national, European and international level. Extending over 200,000 hectares, with a significant number of rare animal and plant species, it has been branded a Special Protection Zone, as well as a proposed Site of Common Interest in the Natura 2000 network.

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The Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest National Park is also one of the most important protected areas at national, European and international scale. It is one of the first areas in Greece to be declared as protected since a great deal of flora and fauna species found in the Balkan Peninsula, Europe and Asia coexist here. The landscape mosaic formed by pine and oak forests, interrupted by clearings, pastures and fields is the ideal habitat for birds of prey. The Park is near the village of Soufli, notable for the silk industry that flourished there in the 19th century. The village hosts a unique Silk Art Museum, which aims to highlight and preserve the region’s rich tradition of silk production and processing.

©MCD_Orestiada Central Square

The northernmost and newest city of Greece and the second largest town of the Evros regional unit of Thrace is Orestiada. It was founded in 1923 by Greek refugees from Adrianople after the Treaty of Lausanne when the population exchange occurred between Turkey and Greece, in which the Evros River became the new border between the two countries. Despite lacking in sightseeing, the city is full of options for leisure, as it offers a range of all kinds of traditional cafes, taverns, restaurants, and modern bars that are not far from any other found in larger, more urban, cities. There is a particular café situated in a large pine park, allowing you to enjoy shade in the summer, while children can play carefree in the playground. A small theatre here, also hosts the Panhellenic Amateur Theatre Festival every end of August-beginning of September, while the city itself organises a variety of concerts and performances, especially during the summer.

Here, you’ll manage to relax, as you’re only true concern is where to have your next cup of coffee, where to dine, and where to have a drink later on. In this northernmost part of the country, you’ll come to acknowledge that you don’t need a lot to have a good time. It’s the company that makes that time worthwhile and memorable.

©MCD_Solar Tree

The city has a characteristic solar tree dominating its central square, an equivalent of which exists in Milan and other cities around the world. The city’s central square won the first prize at the 2016 Best City Awards Contest. Noteworthy is the fact that the city is constructed in a square-like manner, making it hard to get lost even for those with no sense of orientation whatsoever, while it is remarkably clean, peaceful, and with the character of an urban-village.

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Further up north, there is an endless green scenery by the river Ardas that makes you wonder why these amazing destinations are not better promoted. The area here by the river that unites three nations (Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria), is an attraction for a pleasant walk, and a relaxed coffee with a unique view. Here, every summer, a music festival is organised with the participation of renowned Greek and international artists.

The traditional town by this river, Kastanies, whose name derives from the huge chestnut trees that once featured in the town square, hosts the only land border between Turkey and Greece (of length 11km), given that the rest of the border is along the river Evros. It is said that this is one of the oldest towns of the prefecture and has never been occupied by Muslims. Although it is highlighted by media for political issues, this town is full of vitality, demonstrating the warm hospitality of the people of Evros, and uniting people beyond the borders who cross over for work, leisure, a cup of coffee, or a delicious meal at the famous pizzeria “Lakis”.

©MCD_Didymoteicho

A trip in this region will not be complete without a tour of Didymoteicho, a town associated with the military presence it is best known for, due to its proximity to the borders (it is only 2km from the Greece-Turkey border). The town once served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire, while it holds the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Plotinopolis. The city had been built in a very strategic position, because it had for exploitation a very fertile plain and also controlled a passage of Erythropotamos, through which passed a branch of the via Egnatia leading in the middle and upper valley of Evros river and on the shores of the Black Sea.

©MCD_Didymoteicho

The city offers a mesmerising view from the ancient medieval hilltop citadel complex – Fortress/ Castle, while an important sight of the town is also the Çelebi Sultan Mehmed Mosque, also known as the Bayezid Mosque and the Great Mosque, an early 15th-century Ottoman mosque, which is considered one of the most important Muslim monuments, not only in Greece, but in all of Europe, as being the oldest mosque on European ground. It has been a protected monument since 1946. Due to a fire during restoration works in 2017, the entire roof was destroyed, while damage to the interior and the walls remains unknown. The mosque, like many other buildings, today remains unexploited. The city, however, is a great escape from the urban routine, as it hosts a range of cafes and restaurants with a breath-taking view.

With endless valley green, riverfront walks, and tranquillity we desperately yearn for, this border prefecture illustrates some of the most beautiful areas of Greece, despite the fact that it is rundown by mosquitos (so much, that even cafeterias have mosquito-repellents available!). But that is the minimum price you pay for relishing the so many benefits this region has to offer. Whatever you are looking for: relaxation, adventure, exploration, food and drink, this place is ready to impress you, so much that you’ll want to return soon.

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A Platanus of history

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There is a quote that says, “imagine if trees gave free WiFi; we’d all be planting like crazy. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe”.

Trees are more important and vital for our lives than we believe or even give them credit for. They contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, climate amelioration, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. They produce the wood we use to light our fireplaces in the winter, make our furniture, even the paper we write on. Yet, we cut them down without second thoughts.

It is no wonder then, that when we come across a tree that is centuries old we treat it as a wonder of nature. We stand before it dumbfounded, gazing at this stupendous sight. And it makes you truly feel small and insignificant.

There is a place in North Evia, Greece, somewhere along that nature-blazing road that has you driving among trees, on your way towards the Kyreas River, in between the villages of Prokopi and Mantoudi. There is this place where a sign will direct you to the “Great Platanus”. A plane tree that residents will tell you has been there for centuries. It is “a tree of huge dimensions”, as the sign reads, a “monument of nature”. A Platanus Orientalis. It is 22-23 metres tall, with its trunk’s circumference reaching 18 metres, its trunk diameter at 5.5 metres, the surface of its stem at 900 square metres, and its shadow said to be once stretching over 2.5 acres. Its age is estimated at 500-600 years, although some say that it exceeds 2,300 years! It is said that this is the most ancient Platanus in the Balkans, perhaps even the whole of Europe.

20171028_133927Its tree trunks are larger than what can fit in your wide-open arms. It stands imposing before you and, even though lacking in foliage and somewhat deserted and with broken branches, the vastness of this tree is not diminished. Rather, it is a refreshing site in a world full of asbestos and tar. There is also a huge hollow in its trunk, big enough for 10 or more people standing. In it, you suddenly forget all the problems that trouble your head daily. You take a deep breath and simply be grateful for being alive. For being there. And for being able to witness this. Just think about all the changes this tree may have witnessed. It was there before you and will probably remain so even after you.

20171028_133932As with all over-aged creatures, there are myths and legends surrounding this tree. For example, it is said that if someone falls asleep in its hollow, they will fall ill or harm will come to them, as goblins will come out and cast a spell on them. In another legend, if you are found at midnight under the tree, you will hear voices, music, violins and clarinets, and see fairies and goblins appear dancing at the shores of the river. In yet another, it is said that at midnight two large rams come out of the platanus and start noisily fighting each other. This tree is often associated with fairies and goblins as it was believed that, being over-aged, it was also haunted.

No matter the stories, however, the reality remains that this, like so many others, is part of our natural heritage and should be protected and preserved. We devote so much of our time, energy and funds to things that matter less, yet we abandon those that benefit us more.

N.B. All photos are mine, taken in North Evia, Greece, on 28 October 2017.

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Gratitude

 

It’s not easy being Greek

Youth in GreeceFor the past five years, Greece has been the centre of news around the world. Not so much because of its spirit of democracy and ethos imbued by our Ancient Greek ancestors. But because of the shame, deceitfulness and financial mismanagement brought about by their predecessors. Media around the world have vilified the country that thus far was praised for all the principles and values it had introduced to the modern world. Yet, we ourselves proved unable to live up to them.

It is not Greece alone that is in financial trouble. The whole of Europe is, and most of the world too. But Greece is an easy target. The advertised ‘300 days of sunshine’, the Mediterranean diet, the mythical island beaches, the relaxed and ‘easy-going’ way of life are so easy to despise and scorn, and all the more easy to contradict with the lack of responsibility and order, especially as regards public finances. The source of all our troubles.

Foreigners cannot understand how Greeks can still fill restaurants and cafés, as if nothing is going on around them. But Greeks themselves justify their outings, by arguing that staying indoors and damning their misfortunes is not a solution that will lead anywhere.

And they are right.

Because it is not the “ordinary” Greeks who can do much to change the situation, other than adhere to the harsh measures imposed. Those brought upon them by others. Others, who, are supposed to represent them, but once in power, forget all electoral promises and turn the other way. The lay Greeks are the ones who witness their country’s demise and all they can do is shout, exasperate, and eventually just let it go, because somethings will never change.

This attitude is what has caused over 200,000 young Greeks to search for a future abroad. For many, their dreams and expectations were too big for what the country (now) had to offer. It is certainly not easy to get up and leave. To abandon everything you are familiar with, the life you are accustomed to, your friends and family. But it is even harder deciding to stay. It takes more courage to remain and continue to fight in a country that is constantly proving to be against you in every way.

There are many Greeks who choose to stay. And they should be respected all the more for that. Because they are still trying. They are the ones who believe that “if everyone just leaves, who will stay and fix the country?” They are the ones who still dream, but are determined to compromise on a few things in order to survive. They may not be acknowledged as much as they should, nor are they compensated for the work they do. But they choose to stay. Why? Why would you stay when everything and everyone around you screams go?

Because you still hope. You believe deep down that things will change for the better. And that you will be part of the wheel that will set it all in motion.

There are young Greeks, in their early 30s, educated, full of thirst for life and willing to work. There are those who decide to strive on their own, and, since they can’t find the work they want, they will create it themselves. In a period of crisis, struck on all fronts by austerity measures, stifling bureaucracy and high taxes, these Greeks persist in having their own way. There are many who have launched their own business, determined to change foreign perceptions of their country, making it a model to emulate, rather than one to avoid. It is these Greeks who have been dubbed the crazy ones, the radicals, the dreamers. The ones who people look upon with both admiration and sympathy. But aren’t “those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, usually the ones that do”?

It is not easy being Greek nowadays. And it is certainly not easy being Greek in Greece. But there are still many who insist, persist, and resist all negative waves pounding their way. Maybe it is through them that Greece will arise again. After all, it was Socrates who said that the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but in building the new. And that is just what we need. A new start.

See also related reports with examples of Greeks who try to accomplish more in their own country in English and Greek.

10 Things we’ve learnt during the Greek crisis

greek_financial_crisis__svitalskybrosFor those in Europe, the past few weeks have been a constant game of diplomatic war between Greece and the EU. With countless meetings, summits and councils convening in the course of just a month, Greece and its international creditors reached a breaking point. An irreparable rift, even if none admit to it.

The Greek crisis revealed a lot:

1) That there is no real leadership in Europe or its member states. No politician has demonstrated their worthiness of being the elected representative of the people. Not when so many have been named and shamed at how on the onset of a financial crisis they were the first to take their money out, when they are the ones who should have protected the economy and the nation state, let alone the entire union from financial collapse.

2) That politics is indeed a dirty game. We see images of EU and member state officials hugging, kissing and joking around before their “crucial” summits every couple of days, conveying a light-hearted atmosphere. Yet, two hours later, they are at each other’s throats, accusing one another of acting irrationally, unilaterally and unreasonably. The institutions (European Commission – European Central Bank – International Monetary Fund) accuse Greece of departing from the discussions abruptly and breaking off all negotiations, thus abandoning any hope of reaching a compromise. Greece accuses the institutions of blackmail and of handing them a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum for accepting within 48hours their “harsh, absurd and recessionary proposals”. All making one thing clear: that one is out to break the other in an endless tug of war.

3) That solidarity is just a word. With no meaning. No content. Ever since the financial crisis began, “solidarity” has become part of our everyday vocabulary. Everyone is calling for more solidarity. From the EU, from member states, from international partners. Everything is argued to be done “in the interest of solidarity”, yet this is hardly the case. Right now, one state is left fighting for its own survival, pitting itself against another 18 (Euro area member states), who refuse any extension of the current status quo “because there is no will on their part”. However, if after the crucial referendum on Sunday, Greece wants to discuss another bailout programme, “the door is open, in the spirit of solidarity and responsibility”.

4) That the media still has significant power as the fourth estate. Upon the announcement of a Greek referendum on the institutions’ proposals, media immediately conveyed the message that the referendum was a question of whether or not Greece would remain in the Euro. Misinformation that was reinforced and intensified over the week and came to be replicated by EU officials and member state leaders themselves, resulting in widespread fear among the Greek citizens who continue to flock to ATMs, supermarkets and gas stations in what can only be likened to a state of siege.

5) That propaganda is a politician’s greatest tool. “EU leaders urge Greek citizens to vote ‘yes’ to stay in Euro”. This is the featured headline in media around the world, as the institutions launch a last effort to sway the Greek authorities in their direction and accept their proposals. Some even talk of visiting Greece to convince voters first hand. Regardless that this would be a direct intervention into the internal politics of a sovereign member state…

6) That it is easy to say a lot but hard to act on any of it. Like Mark Twain said “action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” The Greek crisis was the issue of at least 87 meetings of European Ministers since 2010, with around a dozen Eurogroup meetings being held in the last couple of months alone. Yet they have all failed and we have reached the point where a country “on the brink of default” is striving for a last minute agreement.

7) That Europe started off as a vision of a united continent, joining its people against a common cause and demonstrating solidarity when the need arises. But today, that dream has perished with Europe appearing more divided than ever. And it is nowhere near the initial vision of its founding fathers. It revealed its ugliest side in the midst of the harshest crisis it has ever faced and continues to squabble over things its people still do not understand. As Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times states, “The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity.

8) That Europe has come to be divided into the lenders and the indebted. Where the indebted are left with no choice other than to borrow from the lenders who profit from the former’s very need to survive. From the hundreds of billions of bailout fund received by Greece since 2010, less than 10% was invested in the country itself, as the majority was used to pay off debts. In the same context, the indebted are forced to bow down and approve every programme presented to them by the lenders as “necessary reforms for economic recovery and debt sustainability”, even if this is diminishes their living standards and would lead to their own suffering. Let alone the economic jargon that no-one other than the ruling technocratic elites comprehend.

9) That democracy is a concept that has faded in the modern world. Politicians (overuse) the term to justify actions that in essence cannot be explained. They hold meetings behind closed doors with unelected officials who are not accountable to anyone. Yet it all comes down to one thing: “a clash of democratic mandates — pitting Greek voters’ desire to ditch austerity against the voters (and taxpayers) of other EU countries, who want to see their loans repaid and are loath to let an unreformed Greece continue to benefit from EU money.

10) That instead of joining forces against a common enemy – the threat of terrorism and ISIS that is gathering like a black cloud over the region – we are instead devouring our own flesh, wrangling with each other and by ourselves destroying the very consensus we are trying to create. And as such we become a people divided – both within our continent and within our own countries. This internal strife is actually worse than any foreign enemy.

Don’t talk. Just listen….

unknown call– Don’t talk. Just listen. Did you see the fireworks yesterday? Yes, just after the new Prime Minister’s victory speech? It was as if the country was having one huge party. Well, I don’t blame them. I mean the guy’s just 40 years old. And he is not bad to look at either. Plus, the casual, no-tie look makes him more likeable. I think that’s one of the reasons why he won over so many people. He managed to convince them that he relates to them. He is one of them. And like he said, he wants to have a government that belongs to all the people. Well, good luck. It would be great if at least somebody managed to do so. But did you see the fireworks in the capital’s centre? It reminded me of those 4th of July fireworks. You remember then ones. That is when I met him. You know who. That bastard who broke my heart. He played me like a fiddle on the roof. You know I ran into him the other day at the supermarket? He was shopping for groceries. At least that is what he said. He looked good. Was wearing jeans and a shirt. A shirt I got for him. It felt very weird. To be honest I even forgot to buy half my shopping list after I saw him. I was so depressed by the time I got home, that I spent the entire night watching series on TV and going to bed by midnight. I know it’s pathetic, but what do I do? Come on, you know what I am talking about don’t you?

– I’m sorry, who is this?

– Becky? It’s me, Deborah.

– I’m sorry, I’m not Becky and I don’t know any Deborah.

– Oh. Well, this is embarrassing. I am so sorry.

– Not a problem. I hope everything works out. And don’t worry, we’ve all been there. It takes time. Stay strong!

– Thanks! Sorry again for this awkward call!

[Dials Again]

– Don’t talk. Just listen…

 

Also part of Daily Prompt: Unknown Caller

The tomb of a king and the trouble of a peasant

Macedonian starIt was not every day you would visit a King. No matter if he was no longer alive. A King would forever be a King. And that was important and majestic in its own right. Billy had learnt to live with the bare necessities, as his farm would produce all he needed to live and some extras to sell at the market. That was all his income and how he managed to scrape by. So, to him, an audience with a King was something extraordinary. A true privilege. At least he thought so.

The discovery of the royal tomb found deep underground by archaeologists who had devoted a large part of their careers excavating in search of this, had taken the country by surprise. No-one expected they would be lucky enough or even blessed with the honor of witnessing at least some of the riches a past monarch had lived with. And to everyone’s delight, it was announced that this was the Warrior King, the General, the one who had united their country and who had made it the most prosperous in the region, at least during his reign. He was the figure that adorned their national currency, whose name was on countless of streets, buildings and auditoriums. He was the King children first learned about during their history lessons. And now, Billy would go see for himself the magnitude of his greatness.

Even that, though, was no easy task.

It was winter and a heavy one for that matter. The town had never been so snowed down for at least twenty years now. But it was a day when Billy did not have a market to go to and he wanted to escape the frost. The royal tombs were located an hour’s drive away, he was told.

So he went to the train station and purchased a return ticket. It wasn’t too expensive and he was already excited about his venture. Then the delay came.

The train had ran into some bad weather, which caused it to slow down. But it was not too bad, Billy thought. A half-hour delay would only mean he would have to read the inscriptions that accompanied each relic a bit faster now. The museum, after al,l was only open for five hours during the day. It was located in the very space the tomb was found, especially constructed so as to preserve and properly exhibit the findings. So it was only right that it would be open while still daylight – because, really, who would want to be touring a tomb after dark?DSC00784

So, anyway, Billy had an enjoyable train ride to his destination, although the heating seemed to not be working properly because by the time he had arrived he could not feel his feet. He thought two icicles were attached to his lower ends instead. Once off the train, he looked around, hoping to at least find a café where he could grab a hot drink to get his blood flowing normally again. But there was nothing.

Absolutely nothing. This station might as well have been located in the middle of his field. There was no sign of civilization around it. Nor any other train for that matter. There was only a bus, whose driver was hastily announcing that it was departing any minute now. Billy ran up to him and enquired how he could get to the royal tombs. The bus driver said it was another half hour from there but this bus would take him to the centre of the town and from them he would have to take another bus to go to the Museum.

Billy was already getting a headache. But there was no other way, so he took a seat on the bus (after paying of course) and tried to understand how his route would fan out now.

DSC00776It took Billy three and a half hours to finally arrive at the museum. You see, he unfortunately got on the wrong bus at the town centre and was driven off somewhere else, so by the time the next bus came he was already waiting for 20 minutes in the cold. And in this next bus, which rattled like a wooden cart drawn to market, the bus driver said that he should obtain his own ticket from the machine, but the machine would not cooperate, and he could not make any sense out of what the old men on the bus were trying to tell him. In the racket that was going on, he sensed that the stone gates and the large sign that said “Royal Tomb – Museum” was where he should get off. He thanked everyone, still not understanding their response and jumped off.

Billy was awed by the Museum. The Royal Tombs were strategically camouflaged under a hill that had turned white from the snow that was now falling heavily. As you walked inside, you could feel the imperialness overwhelm you. The gold jewelry, together with the silver blades, shields and weapons and other precious ornaments that were found in the sealed-off tomb sparkled in the darkness of the museum. It was all too much for words. It was so much more than Billy ever imagined. There was even the exact entrance of the royal burial chamber, left just as it was found by the archaeologists. You could just feel the magnificence it emanated and the chills that would have filled the very people who first discovered this.

Macedonian-queen's-wreathBilly was enthralled and enraptured by every piece of that museum. So much, that he did not even realise he had seen it all, twice, and that it was now time to go. He had to hurry back if he was to catch the last train home.

But did he have to scramble with bus routes again? Fortunately, there was a tourist group leaving the museum at the same time, and he was smart and lucky enough to smuggle into the back of the bus without being seen; he was small enough and looked foreign so he could easily be assumed to be one of the group. The only problem was, he didn’t know where the bus was heading to.

The group stopped for lunch somewhere, and Billy jumped off, noticing that a bus with the same number as the one that brought him from the station was about to depart across the street. He ran again and jumped in. “I bet the Kings didn’t have such problems,” he thought to himself as he arrived at the train station still panting.

DSC00815Just as he got off the bus, the train stationmaster appeared, straightening his thick white moustache, and pulling up his trousers to cover his oversized belly. It was snowing very heavily now and the train tracks could not even be seen.

I’m afraid you’re gonna have to find alternative transport, young man. There are no trains passing tonight.

Billy froze. Literally. You could stick a hat on him and call him a snowman.

The bus driver who had just dropped him off felt pity for him and offered to take him to the suburban bus station, where after more expenses and another couple of hours, Billy was finally back home, wrapped under a blanket in front of the fireplace.

It’s no easy task visiting a King!

 

N.B. 1 This story was inspired by a visit to the Macedonian Royal Tombs in Vergina, Greece and the adventure to get there.

N.B. 2. The photos are mine, taken in Aegae (Vergina) and Veria respectively on 30 December 2014.

Wishing and hoping

bus-cartoon-comic-breadwig.com_What if everything everyone ever wished for you came true? Wouldn’t that make you super happy? Wouldn’t that make you feel invincible? Megan had the strange ability to realise every wish everyone else ever wished for her.

Not her own though.

And there was one catch. The wishes that came true where those that were spoken by the elderly passengers of a specific bus. The number 23 that followed a circular route up to the town’s old medieval castle.

Megan would take the bus once a week to go to her grandmother’s house. She lived in the hills of the upper city, where the ruins of the old town walls were situated. They were used to fortify the city in the Byzantine times and later even used as a prison when the city came under siege. Now all that remained was ruins. The older townsfolk frequently travelled up there because that is where most of their leisure centres were situated. And tourists travelled up there because it featured one of the most amazing panoramic views of the city below.

Megan first noticed the coincidence when she got up to give her seat to an old woman who got on the bus. The old lady thanked her and wished that Megan would always be as smiling and kind. Megan could not stop smiling for the rest of the day. No matter how much she tried. Even when she was watching a tearful period drama that night on television, she could not shake off that smile.

She did not pay too much attention to that at the time. But the next week, when the same incident happened (Megan thought it was only proper that she would give up her seat for the older passengers), an old man wished her that she would find someone who would appreciate her kindness and good manners. Fate would have it that at her stop she slipped on a small puddle of water that had formed at the middle bus doors and almost fell out. But she conveniently fell (literally) into the arms of a young man who was standing just outside. She fell in love with his smile and strong grip. He was mesmerized by her sparkling eyes. That was the beginning of their long-term relationship.

It just seemed that whatever was said in that “magic bus”, as Megan called it, it came true. And it was all good wishes that brightened her life. She was bound to get it all: to be smiling and happy, to find success and joy, to live a life as she wished.

When Megan decided to tell her grandmother about her special trips up the hill, her grandmother smiled widely. She told her a tale that there was a princess who lived in the castle three hundred years ago. When she was born, she was blessed by all the townsfolk who were invited by the King and Queen to share their joy of having a newborn. The townsfolk were so enchanted by her beauty that they simply wished that the child be happy and have everything she would ever wish for. Megan’s grandmother said that the princess indeed lived a long and happy life and it was under her rule that the city thrived. She joked and told her that the elderly passengers of the bus could be descendants of these townsfolks who believed Megan was the reincarnation of this princess, and so she deserved to have the same fortune. Megan smiled. She was too old to believe in fairy tales.

But on the ride home, an old woman whom she helped onto the bus took her hand and wished her that the kindness she offers be returned to her. And that her children will be as blessed as her. Megan smiled and thanked her kindly. That night, her Prince Charming proposed and ten months later, they had their first child who grew up to be as handsome as his father and as caring as his mother.

Megan slowly started to believe in fairy tales. But maybe it was just the fact that she wanted to believe so much that made all her wishes come true.

Or maybe there truly is a magic bus roaming around each town?

 

N.B. 1 Inspired in Thessaloniki by the Heptapyrgion – Yedi Kule.

N.B. 2 Song that inspired the title of this story is “Wishin’ and hopin’” by Dusty Springfield

Love is an island

DSC08896Every now and again everyone needs to get away for a while. From the routine, the noise, the crowds, the hectic lifestyle, the stress, the things that simply aggravate you. You need to devote some time to yourself, to things and people you love, and most of all to relax and rediscover the beauty of life.

What better place to do so than on a beautiful Greek island just an hour away from the bustling capital city, Athens?

Islands like Aegina offer you the getaway you long for since the start of each week. And it is close enough that you can decide to go for the weekend only a few hours before jumping on the ship. DSC08818Watching the waves foam as the ship skids through the ocean leaving the city behind, you can feel your shoulders lighten a little as you leave your troubles behind.

Calmly sliding through tranquil waters, you can already feel the anticipation of what awaits you on the island – sun, sea and relaxation.

Even the seagulls can sDSC08828ense it and come to escort you into port as a VIP entrance should be!

And then you reach the marina. DSC08928That awesome place with all these shiny white yachts finely lined up for you to gaze and wish you owned the one on the right, between the two smaller ones, that one with the large mast and sail.

Being on an island – aIMG_0916 small one that is, no matter for how long, makes you wish your life was as relaxed and carefree as the days you spend there.

Taking long strolls along the golden beaches and watching your feet sink into the sand.
Watching the sunset in the arms of your loved one.

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Having a drink and a snack at wonderful, picturesque villages.

DSC08935Enjoying a carriage ride by a horse you just met and became friends with before taking you around to see amazing old manor houses that even featured in a movie.

Re-discovering the joys of life, simply by forgetting that every day needs to have a schedule and a to-do list.

Love is like an island. Endless, calm, and ready to embrace you as soon as you set foot there.DSC08838

With friendly smiles greeting you immediately and conversations that can start as easily as you take a breath, it makes you wonder why exactly it is that you live in a busy city where you are constantly pushed and shoved around and not there – there where you walk into the supermarket and the next time you go the cashier even remembers your name. Where you are given discounts simply because you engaged in an amusing conversationIMG_0913 with the proprietor. Where you make friends that are always ready to welcome you back.

We all need a sanctuary to recharge our batteries. To re-energise us, at the same time as it calms us down. To remind us that life is not as hard as we all make it out to be. It’s just that we have forgotten how to live.

 

N.B. All photos are mine taken on the island of Aegina on 03-04 May 2014

P.S. This is my 200th blog post!      

Indebted to the future

DSC05826“We live in a Europe of mistrust”. This is what European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz stated yesterday Monday 4 November speaking at a very interesting conference in Athens. Organised by the EP Information Offices in Greece, Cyprus, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – the countries worst hit by the crisis and forced to implement austerity measures – the first of its kind international conference entitled “South for Growth” aims to address the challenges and prospects faced by the countries on the south of the European map in managing the crisis.

In a densely packed room at the Athens Concert Hall, keynote speaker Schulz uttered “it is time to come to an end with the rhetoric of crisis and start a new debate – the rhetoric of hope”. He outlined four proposals which he said are the key points in forging a strategy that will help the south exit the crisis.

Calling on personal experiences, Schulz stated that during the post-WWII period governments asked parents to make sacrifices, with the promise that this would bring a better future for their children.
“These promises were kept,” he said, noting that his generation lived a better life with unprecedented opportunities. “Europe was a promise”. But now, how can we ask parents to make all the more sacrifices, when their children are unemployed, desperate and have lost hope in their future? It is for this reason, Schulz said that youth unemployment must be the first step in promoting growth.

In a passionate and dynamic speech, the EP president stressed that it is unacceptable that the European Central Bank (ECB) maintains interest rates at such a low  figure (0.5%), but Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) do not have access to liquidity. This money is not injected into the real economy, he said, and for this we need a strategy to overcome the credit crunch and help realize the SMEs’ projects. This in turn, he added, will help with employment opportunities.

“We are not bold enough,” he stated. “Let’s dare more, be more imaginative, let’s seize the potential of the resources and geostrategy of the Mediterranean”. Greater economic cooperation in this region will lead to a stronger south and as a result to a more powerful Union.

But “for all these proposals to be realized we need to regain confidence between north and south, between citizens, politics and institutions”. Using the word “trust” over ten times, Schulz was striving to pass the message that without the trust of its people in the EU and the principles of the EU forefathers, the EU structure cannot move forward.

Himself a probable candidate for the post of European Commission President, Schulz delivered a speech that by far responded to the expectations of all those people from all over Europe, mainly young, who filled the room for this conference. It is unknown as to whether the EU officials’ persistence on immediate actions that deliver results is actually due to the campaigning that has already begun ahead of the 2014 EU elections. Because it is widely acknowledged that to stay on board, you need to have achievements to show in your favour.

“The trust of citizens cannot be gained by speeches. It can only be gained when we deliver solutions,” said Schulz with MEP Thodoros Skylakakis (ALDE) adding that “we are just talking heads…we do not realize the extent of the problems, and for that citizens don’t listen to us”.

We live in a Europe of mistrust and of debt. And as EP Vice President Anni Podimata said, “we are indebted”. Not only because of the money we owe, but because of the hope and future we promised to provide to the next generation.

 

Also part of NaBloPoMo (November 2013)

The Power of Illusions

Perception-3There is a popular saying that “all that glitters is not gold”. And it is true. What appears to be one way, doesn’t necessarily mean it is truly so. A pretty house may hide inside it deserted rooms covered in cobwebs. Just like a big smile, may be masking unexpressed pain. Illusions have a huge part in our lives. But we often fail to realize how great their power actually is.

What appears to give a location or a person wealth, luxury and comfort does not completely cover up the fact that behind the expensive stores and villas, people may be found living out of makeshift homes, just like the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Just because this is not publicized enough, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Recently, for example, with the ongoing demonstrations in Turkey, CNN Turk was avoiding any news on the matter and instead broadcasting cooking shows. Yet, just outside their door a riot was breaking out and overtaking the headlines of international news media.

The amount and type of publicity something takes, greatly impacts on your psychology too. Advertising a destination as rich, colourful and luxurious, creates the illusion that there can be no wrong there, no danger, no risk. And yet, when a tsunami hits the very shores you are bathing at, you are caught unprepared, as that crystalline illusion is washed away in a surge of a tidal wave.

In crisis-struck countries of southern Europe, such as Greece, negative publicity creates an image in tourists’ minds that streets are filled with unbridled immigrants who are waiting for the opportune moment to attack, steal and plunder. That shopping streets are closed and deserted. That nationalistic sentiment has overtaken the calm and peaceful mentality that once was. And that no one is safe in a country full of crime, corruption and offences. But that is not the case. And it is truly a shame that such negative propaganda is what wins over the reality of a country as beautiful as Greece. That despite the crisis, and the unavoidable impact it has had particularly on small businesses, it still maintains its pride and life still goes on as usual, as people try to cope with the new laws, the additional cuts, and the extra taxes. But this negativity spreading internationally does not help. For people enter the country with the illusion that they might get attacked any minute now, and fear overwhelms them, as they look at all those faces travelling alongside them in the metro, and create conspiracy theories in their head. To the point that in the end they become afraid of even their own shadow.

Illusions work both ways. Not everything publicized as bad exists without any hidden trace of good; but neither does all that is advertised as perfect not bury something bad. Just as there are two sides to each coin, there are too sides to each story. And even though looking for both may risk you being dubbed a skeptic, it is better to know the whole story, rather than half the truth.

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