Sunday, June 26, 2011

Greek Island-Skiathos

From Athens we took a bus to Volos- where we boarded  a ferry that would take us to the Island of Skiathos.


Skiathos is a small island in the Aegean Sea belonging to Greece.
Skiathos is the westernmost island in the Northern Sporades  group of islands.
The trip by ferry took about three hours on a navy blue sea.
Beautiful color-dark and intense.

Skiathos at night.

When we reached Skiathos -we recognized our South African friend from London's brother immediately.He was dressed is khaki's and had long hair and beard.He looked more like a Boer than Greek!He has been living in Skiathos for about 5 years and  building houses  to make a living.
This was in the early 70's and the time of free love, free spirit, women's liberation and hippies....
There were quite a few South Africans in Skiathos. A Mrs.Ella  Pienaar of Bloemfontein lost her husband and other family members tragically so she sold up in South Africa and moved to Skiathos in the mid 60's. She ran a B+Bed for a while.

Skiathos Island.

We got into a beat up old truck and started on the dirt road inland. After driving for about 15 minutes he turned back toward the ocean and stopped next to a big new hotel that they were still working on-The Espiredes Hotel-
We got very nervous as we could not afford that!

Espiredes Hotel today-

We passed the hotel and stopped next to a old farm house with a walled garden- right on the beach next to the hotel.

The house had two floors -with the family living on the ground floor.On the second floor there was a covered walkway  with  three guest rooms .A staircase on the outside of the building  lead upstairs.
It was all very primitive -but clean and a magnificent location. When you opened the gate of the yard you were on the beach.

The toilet was further down in the garden .One had to fetch a  bucket - go to the well and draw water before you trekked to the toilet .It was a porcelain toilet but no wooden seat.One had to flush the toilet with the water in the bucket.

The "shower' was a piece of canvas draped around a olive tree.From a branch hung a  tin with holes in the bottom .A ladder was used by a second person to reach the tin and  fill it with water drawn from the well.Thank heavens we had the ocean about 10 steps from the font door -so a shower everyday was not that important. Now and then we had a shower to get rid of the salt water on your skin.The room was clean and had a door onto the balcony and a window facing the hotel's (unfinished) poolAt night we could see the family downstairs through our floorboards.
The family consisted of Grandpa and Grandma . Maria a girl of about 12  years old-with her Dad and Mom.

Early  in the morning Grandpa would get onto his fishing boat and go out and fish.
Grandma would sit on her haunches  against the wall of the house and watch the sea until he came back around noon.

The fish he caught he sold to a restaurant right on the beach .The fish would be thrown on a block of ice and at lunch time one would sit under the grass awning and point to the fish that they would grill .
A big  Greek salad completed the menu.

Dad and Mom did odd jobs around the place during the day.Little Maria was very friendly and tried to talk to us .We did learn to say good morning ( kalimera) to Grandma every morning and  good night (kalispera) and thank you. (afgaristo)
I am sure as the hotel got bigger they must have bought them out so I hope the five are them had some fun with the money .Little Maria must be over 50 today......bless her.

We  spend our days on the beach  relaxing - reading ,swimming, tanning, sleeping eating and drinking.
Neil brought his blow up mattress all the  way from London.- so me took turns drifting on the ocean.
The weather warm and hot being August. 

 Skiathos in the early 70's were rather unspoilt and not such a big tourist attraction as it is now.The Espiredes Hotel next to us, was still being built with some  rooms ready that were filled with mostly German tourists.

The hotel was about 6 miles from town and we use to take the local bus to town.Later a night we would share a taxi with other tourist from the hotel-but when Elsa arrive we used to take it on our own. It was not that expensive- but we were on a budget.

While waiting for the bus- that was filled with locals carrying their wares to sell in the town -we would see some of the Greek women riding their donkeys to town .In most cases they got there before we did.It was not uncommon to share the bus with chickens and even the odd goat that had to be delivered in town that day.

Skiathos village was rather sophisticated with good restaurants and even a night club- that we did not visit. Today it is a tourist trap but it was not overcrowded those days-even it was August- the high season.

Skiathos Airport.

After a week in Skiathos -it was time for Elsa to arrive from Amsterdam
While waiting for the plane we were talking in Afrikaans and I noticed a woman sitting  across from  us trying to hear what we were saying..After a while she  came over and spoke to us in Afrikaans.
Anchen was a school teacher at a  Greek private school in Johannesburg and  traveling through Europe. She would find a job as she went along and when the job ended -she would move on.
As luck had it she was employed by the Espiredes Hotel .She was the Liaison Officer there. She would pick up the German tourist at the airport and take them back to the hotel and take care of their needs. She had a tough job ....the hotel was not 100% completed and there were a LOT of complaints.No warm water,no hot water,  elevators not working etc ....they drove her crazy.
The plane arrived and she welcomed  her tourists and off she went. We arranged to meet that night in the bar of the hotel.
All the passengers were off the plane but no Elsa......?
I took out my holiday planner and then realized that we were a week too early- She was only arriving a week later .Neil was not thrilled as he had enough of Skiathos and wanted to move on.

Koukounaries beach

Elsa arrived the next week and then we started to travel  and visit other parts of the island.It was unspoilt and most of the beaches were deserted.
 Koukounaris Beach is now world famous and rated as one of the best beaches in Greece.

Having Anchen at the hotel helped a lot.She said we could use her room to shower .It was downstairs close to the unfinished pool.When we saw her bathroom we knew why there were so may complaints about the hotel -There was a heap of solid cement  right in the middle of the floor.We did not mind at least ,we had a place to shower.If I came all the way from Germany and paid a lot of money- I would not have been thrilled...They must have sorted  out those problems as it is a five star hotel now-being redone in 2005.
The barman at the hotel, a young Greek, had a motorbike and after the bar closed at 1:00 am we would hear the motorbike roar as he and Anchen left for the town's nightclub.

Lalaria beach

We went to some of the deserted beaches and did a lot of walking.We got tanned brown as berries .
I had two red swollen ankles for days after I overdid  it. We rested in the afternoon and then at night we would take the taxi to the town and have dinner there.
It was all rather affordable and great fun.We shared the bedroom that had only two two beds so we had to take turns .The looser had to sleep on the  blowup mattress .I  remember as you moved, the sand under the mattress grinded on the floor so it was rather noisy.Wondered what the Greeks downstairs thought we were up to!

After  few days Elsa saw what was to be seen in Skiathos and we decided to move on.
We did not have much  time as Elsa only had two weeks vacation.

 We decided to take the ferry to Mykonos, a island further south . This would be a overnight trip and we booked two cabins .
The harbor of Skiathos was not big enough for a the ferry to dock so we had to wait there until the ferry blew it whistle to know that it was close by.We were then taken by a smaller boat into the open sea and our luggage were thrown up to the guys on the ferry to catch and we had to climb aboard with  a rope ladder .Every Tom Dick and Harry  on board came to look at the spectacle- Elsa being tall and blond got a lot of attention from all of the men - so she decided no way was she sleeping in her cabin alone. So the three of had to  us spend another night in one cabin.


Saturday, June 25, 2011


As Neil had 3 months off from his studies and I was free as well- we decided to spend part of the summer in Greece. After being in London and not seeing the sun for so long- we as South Africans needed to feel the sun on our bodies again.Elsa decided to join us and she flew from Amsterdam  to London a few months before- so we could decide where to go -and what to do.

There was a South African girl working at South Africa House that had a brother that lived on Skiathos -one of the north west islands of Greece .She asked him if he could arrange some accommodation for us. We were planning to stay on Skiathos for at least two weeks- so it needed to be cheap as were on a student budget.
As we had more time- Neil and I would fly to Athens for a few days and then meet Elsa on  Skiathos  a week later.

Athens- Greece.
 Landing in Athens and feeling the sun on our faces were wonderful.
 It was a hot day and we found a very nice hotel with a view of the Acropolis. The room  had big windows with shutters to cool off the room and  marble floors .One feels the age of this place and it was so amazing to realize that this city has been occupied for more than 7,000 years.

View of the Acropolis

The Acropolis dominates the city and one is aware of it the whole time:-
It also represents the cradle of Western Civilization and Democracy .

The Acropolis hill (acro - edge, polis - city), so called the "Sacred Rock" of Athens, is the most important site of the city and constitutes one of the most recognizable monuments of the world.
 During Pericle's Golden Age, ancient Greek civilization was represented in an ideal way on the hill and some of the architectural masterpieces of the period were erected on its ground.

The Propylene is the monumental entrances to the sacred area dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of the city.

To the south-west of the Propylene, on a rampart protecting the main entrance to the Acropolis, is the Ionian temple of Apteros Nike.

The Porch of the Caryatids

On the Erechtium there is the famous "Porch of the Maidens", with six draped female figures  as supporting columns, each sculpted in a manner different from the rest and engineered in such a way that their slenderest part, the neck, is capable of supporting the weight of the porch roof while remaining graceful and feminine.The first habitation remains on the Acropolis date from the Neolithic period. Over the centuries, the rocky hill was continuously used either as a cult place or as a residential area or both. The inscriptions on the numerous and precious offerings to the sanctuary of Athena -indicate that the cult of the city's patron goddess was established as early as the Archaic period (650-480 B.C.).

Elgin Marbles

Lord Elgin took most of the marble decorations from these monuments and sold them to the British Museum  where they are now  on display .The Greeks feel he stole them- and they should be returned to Greece.

The Acropolis at night

Mosaic of St Paul in Greece.

St Paul also preached on the Acropolis to the Greek people of his time
It was a great experience to visit this site.
I picked up one of the stones here and kept it as a keep sake for many years.

That night we went to the Plaka with is great restaurants. Greek food is delicious and healthy and we had a great time walking through the old town's streets with one restaurant after the other.

The Plaka

We also visited the Herod Anticus theater on the side of the Acropolis where we saw a piano recital by a Greek pianist. This is one of the oldest Greek theaters in Greece.
 It was built in 161 AD by Herod Atticus in memory of his wife, Aspasis Annina Regilla.She was from a Roman and  of aristocratic birth . He married her when she was 14 and he was 40. 
   It was originally a steep-sloped amphitheater  with a three-story stone front wall and a wooden roof, and was used as a venue for music concerts with a capacity of 5,000.
Many well known artist  performed here like The Vienna Philharmonic  under Herbert von Karajan and Maria Callas.

Herod Anticus Amphitheater.

The next day we visited  the Museum of Archeology and ones idea of age flies out of the window when you see stuff that is mostly BC  . I thought Rome was an old but this city was part of ancient history.The museum houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistoric to late antiquity . It is considered one of the great museums in the world and contains the richest collection of artifacts from Greek antiquity worldwide.

Museum of Archeology

 We also visited the Syntagma Square where the soldiers guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier-


After enjoying  the city of Athens very much we took a bus to Volos to  catch the ferry to the Island of Skiathos- one of the Sporades islands.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Travelling to Vienna-

Being so close to Europe travelling was so much easier being in London than in Africa .We would put the car on the ferry and off we will go.I also needed to get out of England for a while to renew my visitor's visa.

Vienna City of Music

Neil and I  decided to go to Vienna as we both loved opera and  the Vienna State Opera was one of the top opera houses in the world.

The first stop was Amsterdam. Our friend Elsa lived there where she headed the South African Tourist Board. She had a beautiful  apartment on Von Baerle Street near the Vondel Park.I  met Elsa in Cape Town when we both sang in the choir of the opera there .This photo was taken at the opening of the opera in 1969 at the Alhambra Theater in Cape Town .I designed the emerald green silk shantung  gown she wore.

Alhambra Theater. Cape Town.

Elsa and me Cape Town

Henry + Elsa my 21st birthday party in Cape Town

Elsa, Henry and Lydia in London's Kew Gardens.

Vondel Park.

I loved Amsterdam and we also felt at home there as we could understand the language.
South Africa was colonized by the Dutch and they had a big influence on us as Afrikaners.
My mother was also from Dutch background.

Elsa showed us around and we had a "rijstafel" (rice table) dinner that is part of the Indonesian influence on the Dutch.

Cape Town- South Africa

 South Africa was founded as a halfway house for the Dutch ships on their way to the Orient.
The Dutch had a big  presence  in Malaysia and Java and these countries influenced their culture.
 They also  needed slaves to work in South Africa so most of the slaves at the Cape were brought  from these countries by the Dutch.

After a few days in Amsterdam we travelled by car on to Cologne

Marita Knobel

"Die Zauberflote"

Neil knew Marita Knobel the South African mezzo that was singing with the Cologne Opera at that time and she invited us to stay with her.That night we went to hear her in Mozart's "Die Zauberflote"

Helmut Holzapfel

In Cologne we also met Gretchen  that was studying at the Marionette Theater in Germany and we became good friends.
Her brother Helmut  Holzapfel was also an opera singer in Germany
Gretchen Holzapfel and me many years later in New York.

The next day we started again for Vienna via Salzburg.
It was such a thrill to see Mozart's hometown and the venue of the Summer  Music Festival.

Interior of Mozart's house in Salzburg.
It was after Christmas and it was cold with some snow. It was new to see Christmas trees with only white lights. Very beautiful....This was the first time either of us visited this part of Europe.

Hofburg Palace- Vienna
Vienna was a beautiful city but I found the people very unfriendly and everyone told you what not to do and were not to go....It seemed that all the women were dressed in a green loden coat with a fur collar and a matching fur hat....

We also saw the Spanish Riding School with the beautiful white Lipizzaner horses that fought in battle- as well as danced .

Every Sunday the Vienna Boys' Choir sing a mass in Vienna's Hofburg chapel, continuing a tradition unbroken since 1498.We went to listen to them there.

New Year's Eve we went to the Vienna State Opera and heard Johann Strauss's "Die Fledermaus".
We paid a fortune for standing room tickets.The whole night there was an usher  with a prod and as soon as you leaned against the bar behind you he would prod you...You were not allowed to touch the bar as you stood for hours.

Erich Kunz and Mimi Coertse in "Tales of Hoffmann"

 Erich Kunz was the jailer and he went on and on for hours making jokes and talking about insider politics that had the Viennese in stitches -but for us it was very boring as we did not understand it at all. Some people sitting in the boxes passed us some champagne- so that helped.

Vienna State Opera .
A few night later we had tickets for" Il Pagliacci". The only seats available was in a box.
Once again the usher almost had a heart attack when he saw us dressed more casual and with out long hair....He told us not to sit too close to the  front of the box or lean out .He did not want people to see us.I was very annoyed by this .We were not dressed in short and t shirt .It is was cold so were dressed in  jackets  and wool pants, but we were not dressed in a suit and tie.
For what we paid for those seats they should have allowed us to sit there naked!
All this nonsense left me with a sour taste in my mind about Vienna and the Viennese.

We did not hear Mimi Coertse sing but saw her photo in a hairdressing saloon advertising that they styled her hair.


Neil and the grave of Brahms.

Me in front of Beethoven's grave.


Me on the frozen river
and the Schonbrunn Palace


Being the city of music -and composers -we could not miss the grave yard -Zentralfriedhof -
 where Beethoven and Schubert were buried. Johann Strauss, Johannes Brahms, Amadeus Mozart, and Arnold Schonberg are also among the  famous composers  buried here.

We left Vienna a drove to the Monastery of Melk where we visited the winery.
Beautiful church that one could see from miles away.

We stopped in Innsbruck to do some skiing but their was not enough snow.
 I was not impressed but this skiing resort. The hotel lobby smelled of feet and people were bored and were playing games in the arcade.....  nothing glamorous or exciting to me.
I never tried to ski again.


We also made a detour into Switzerland. Zurich was a beautiful clean city-almost boring it was so clean, this country runs like clockwork. No wonder they make great watches.

Me with the Passat station wagon in the snow of Switzerland.
We got back to London without an indecent -and I received an extension on my visa to be in the UK for another 6 months.