Lockdown was announced on 5th November to come into effect on Saturday 7th.
So here we are. We arrived just before travel between regions was forbidden. We see there are no direct flights back to Edinburgh – oh dear, we may have been a little blasé and taken our eye off the ball, but really there is no pressing reason to return home to an increasingly locked down country of our own.
When we leave our ‘home’ which we are permitted to do for a variety of reasons we can send an SMS with a code, depending on our ‘activity’. The SMS didn’t work on our UK phones. The alternative is to write yourself a note, rather like one to the teacher to explain why the dog ate your homework. Armed with my note, all written in Greek (in Greece I choose my second name – Dorothea as it is a Greek name – Gift of God!), I set forth to the beach where I intended to have my early morning exercise. My code is ‘6’ outdoor exercise. I saw a group of antisocially distanced policemen lounging around on their motorbikes and was disappointed not to be challenged so I could flourish my documents. Turned out they were just there for breakfast.
One day we decided to have coffee in a different place, ‘Pasa Porto’ – to my absolute astonishment I recognised two people inside. There were two perfectly familiar faces, it was at once unreal and yet totally expected. I mean I know them! I know the name of their cat, I know Dimitri likes to pick out the slightly damaged fruits in case they are subsequently ignored and wasted. I know they got married recently and how they make a Greek Salad. Of course they didn’t know me from Eve and looked blank as I squeaked my excited hellos. They are Dimitri and Marilena and they host the YouTube channel ‘Easy Greek’ to which I have subscribed for some time. I think I managed to say congratulations on your meal – the word meal I confused with marriage – ugh! It’s always afterwards when I can string together the perfect Greek sentence in my head, in real time I tend to stumble. Extraordinary, if we’d chosen a different cafe, if we had been a little bit later……………. I love these moments, it made my day!
The west beach, Freatida, is a delight but no oil painting. The steps leading down to it are chipped, the tiles cracked and broken and graffiti lines the walls. We are a motley band on this scrappy beach. Mostly we are at the wiser end of the human life span. An old man picks his way over the stones leaning carefully on his stick, there is a group of three, armed with coffee and chat, one man even brings his own chair, the wall is used as a closet and clothes hang from makeshift hooks, the wall catches the sun and is a popular place to be. Some people simply come for the vitamin D. It’s true it is a tonic. We nest, we heap our belongings by a stone to mark our spot. Two Yiayias (grandmas) tread water and chatter, a man in snorkel and mask keeps about 2 metres off the beach and swims parallel back and forth, back and forth. I strike out for the east end marked by large boulders. Here there is a ‘sirena’ who comes each morning, strikingly blond, hair wrapped in colourful material, she sings to herself, she calls a greeting to another lady who has arrived with a bag, she disappears behind into the space behind the large boulders and all the cats follow, The pied piper of Hamelin comes to mind, she must have food. A lady hails me thinking I am her friend Eleni and tells me this ‘mermaid’ is a local icon. I wish I had been her friend, then I could have practised my Greek and learnt some more. Of the two words for mermaid, ‘sirena’ is so much a nicer than ‘gorgona’.
I spend about 25 minutes in the water but, getting chilled, head back to the shore where I dry quickly and let the sun warm me. I return by the marina showers and stand under the hot water, an unusual luxury much appreciated. I feel great, although it is getting more chilly. This morning, day one in this latest Greek lockdown was unbelievable. I watched a strange exodus, first one, then another and on they went, Minoan Lines, Blue Star Ferries, Aegean Lines a stream leaving Piraeus bound for the islands. We understand that only residents are allowed back to their islands so presumably this convoy of ferries was a last chance to return and collect. Last night the roads out of Athens were blocked as people deserted the city.
Continuing on the topic of beaches and swimming….. in the past few weeks I have switched allegiance. The beach to the east of the Marina, Votsalakia Beach, is heaps friendlier. I walk past windows at street level below a block of flats, perfectly ordinary, no one but me gives them a second glance and yet they house the remains of the old boat sheds of Zea (4th C BC) . It is fascinating to peer in and imagine the triremes being hefted out of the sea for maintenance. Across the road and I descend via a guard of honour of cats lining the steps, past the same old boy who always greets me in English, to the tennis courts where swimmers over the years have constructed a windshield and screen on the wire mesh surrounding the courts. Crude nails and hooks protrude; a rickety old bookcase holds empty plastic bottles the use of which became apparent eventually. A bench and chairs run along the edge where, after your swim, you can lounge lizard like in the sun to warm your blood again. The fresh water shower is icily cold and with your container filled with water I clean the sand off the flat stones before washing the soles of my feet. I listen to the talk and struggle to understand, catching words here and there. The women talk about cooking; the men read the newspaper and on colder days sip Tsiporou. A small dog that belongs to everyone and no one settles in front of us and barks at strangers walking nearby. A huge cat lolls beside my towel. Part of my reason for being here is to infiltrate and practice the language which, I must say, is taken in good heart and I do learn new words. The swimmers are not slow in correcting me for which I am grateful. I attempt to say ‘what a big cat’ in Greek to my neighbour using the feminine because ‘cat’ is feminine and he laughs and says this one is a man so ‘μεγαλοσ οχι μεγαλη γατα’.
Returning up the steps I can’t help but notice my friend the huge male cat now reclines with his entourage. He is the sultan and the harem hovers around waiting upon his every wish. There follows a selection of cat pictures!
We go on long walks, sometimes separately sometimes together. We’ve beaten the bounds of both Piraeus and Kastella in one direction and then the other. I ventured inland and was actually stopped by police who looked over my paperwork.
On our latest encounter, when I was chilled to the bone from swimming, as the sun had not obliged to warm me, we spied a blackboard offering coffees and other drinks and a man standing outside. He looked inviting. We asked for coffees. The man, Spiros had a beautiful brown, calm face, his hair tied back in a pony tail at the back in the manner of orthodox priests of which he reminded me. Inside his establishment, ‘la Rocka’, we were asked to wait while he got the coffees. His place was amazing, juke boxes and motor bikes vied with icons and triptychs, worn leather sofas and piled up cushions while a slow clear voice intoned on the radio, amazingly I could understand many words, unable still to grab them together into meaning. He returned and we had gentle conversation, he charged a little over one euro for the two coffees and said that if there was ever anything we needed or he could help with we must come to him and I’m sure he meant it. This is so typically Greek.
There are endless projects for Andy to be getting on with so we are blessing this time. Usually we are in port just before heading home but the relaxed nature of this period and having access to shore power has allowed many long delayed tasks to be completed. To name but a few: an electric socket in the galley, ordering a new hot water tank – sadly not arrived or fitted yet and it’s getting cold! Re riveting the leaking forward saloon hatch, removing the kitchen work top to secure the sink mixer tap – I went shopping, replacing three spotlights with LED’s, re wiring the anchor circuit breaker, wiring in a battery charger for the bow thruster, rinsing the sails, need I continue?! True to stereotype I engaged in pink tasks! I’ve enjoyed listening to novels, Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and A Watermelon, A Fish and A Bible by Christi Lefteri, these are all woven into the tapestry I am doing and of course I cook and shop.
Being in a foreign country makes shopping so much more fun, different products, and unusual presentations. The Thursday market, despite lock down, is allowed to happen and continues noisy and colourful. All non essential shops have closed. Food is important and from so many restaurants and shops we can order ‘take aways’. We have had both Thai and Indian delivered to the end of the pontoon. There are many lovely bakeries and from one we can take away home cooked food and most delicious bread, fresh orange juice and cakes. We are taking full advantage of this.
We are getting ready to depart with mixed feelings. I will love the warmth and comfort of my land home; drawing the curtains, lighting the fire, having a BATH but I will miss that floating feeling I experience living on the boat. Andy is off at his ‘appointment’ with the Port Police as they will hold our papers and we avoid the TEPAI tax.
There are still no direct flights to Scotland so we will fly Athens to Dublin – Dublin to Edinburgh (total of €57 for two) two small suitcases for these two flights (€120) – think again Ryan Air! We scavenged successfully for a box that we could use to send our suitcases home by courier (€63)!
Piraeus is going through a seasonal change too, readying for winter and Christmas; online sales of Christmas decorations have soared. Walking around I see Christmas stockings appearing on doors, balconies suddenly festooned with lights and even shuttered up shops are garlanded, trees are pruned and a strike is planned – ‘Plus ca change’ hang on, wrong language, how about ‘τιποτα δεν αλλαζει’
The timeless fishermen of Piraeus carry on their work regardless, daily arriving with a variety of fish.
So ends 2020. We didn’t expect to finish the year here!
25th November 2020
PS a last sight of our Aegean home…………………..