Taxi service

Taxi service
TAXI SERVICE, for all your holiday needs while you are travelling in Hania. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, maybe we can help you out. For quotes and prompt service, drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Thursday, 27 October 2016


Starbucks - its not just about the coffee.

This is my first time at Starbucks in Hania. Apart from Starbucks, the only other international branded food outlet we have is Dominos pizza. Perhaps this is the reason why I never tried Starbucks before: because I am a snob. I'm into my small and local and I shy away from the large and international. Besides, I've heard and read all the bad stories about Starbucks on the news and social media: they serve standard coffee, it is expensive, the company doesnt pay taxes, etc. I decided to try it out for myself today.

Starbucks Hania

I choose the cappuccino. Safe choice. That caramel brownie also looks tempting. And so does the last outdoor free table. I sit al fresco under a dull grey sky that looks like it's going to rain (the weather forecast was only joking - we haven't seen real rain since March), and a stagnant humid feeling - summer may be over, but the warm weather is still with us. 

Starbucks cappuccino and caramel brownie  

The Venetian port is crawling with young Americans. LA long vowels, NY nasals, Southern drawls. Baseball caps and capri shorts, crew cuts and shaved faces, very white faces and very black faces. Both males and females. And for the males, icky-looking socks pulled up to the mid-shin height, with trainers. It was kind of difficult to find any news on the web about what these Americans were doing here. The USS WASP LHD-1 ( is in town ( no less than nine days, taking a break from its 'six-month tour of the Middle East' (as Wikipedia claims), purely for the pleasure of the crew, and presumably on the President's orders. Hania is nice for breaks. That's probably why the rain is holding out - to make the 1000+ crew members' holiday as pleasurable as possible. 

"We promise the perfect drink. If your drink is not like you want it, we'll make it again."

I'm about to take a sip of my coffee when I overhear the American man sitting behind me all alone talking to what sounds like his family: 
"How are you all?... I can't wait to come home... I know, I know, I miss you too, honey... Love you..."
It sounded just like an American movie. But it wasn't a movie, it was being played out right behind me. My heart broke at that point. he hadn't seen his family since... June, if I'm correct. 

Still no rain: apparently, priests in the Orthodox Church of Greece have begun chanting incantations. 

If only the President - both present and future - could hear that man. I wish him a safe journey home to his loved ones, and hopefully soon.
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Friday, 7 October 2016

Bargains galore

We recently decided that we need new sofas. Our old ones have been with us since we got married, and they have been through all the phases of of our children's childhood, which includes being peed on, vomited all over, and being used as a trampoline. I remember my son in particular, sprinting up to the sofa, crouching to do a little jump, turning his body in mid-air as he performed his somersault and landing -PFAFFFFFF!- onto the sofa. At the time I was worried he might hurt himself. Over time, I realised that he was hurting my bum, as it sank into the underside of the sofa. Now is a good time to change the sofas, we decided, since the kids are almost no longer kids, and these phases are over for the time being. We did think about adding some more padding to our old sofas, but we also felt that it was time for a new look in our house. 

We like to lie on our sofas and watch TV movies as a family, and the sofas in that state are really no good for that. Not only that, but we also discovered during the summer that it would be nice if we could invest in some sofa beds because we had a lot of friends and family staying over at our house. At one point, there were ten of us staying in the house, using three bathrooms. Everyone slept on beds, not the sofas. By investing in sofa-beds, we could even airbnb our house. OK, that's a joke. But, really, you never know: There was a huge surge in tourism this year, at least in Crete, as we felt it here. We keep breaking records in that sector, and the way the world is going, no one really can make predictions for what could be happening next year. 

So here we are, wondering where our next sofa is going to come from. We had some ideas about where we could go. The easiest solution was to go first to the furniture store near our house. It's Friday night, and we enter a very quiet store. As soon as we entered, the owners turned on the lights for us. We explained what we wanted. 

- Alas, the owner said. I sold the last sofa bed a month ago. It was a shop sample. But I've ordered a new sample. It'll be here some time in mid-November. 

Mid-November! We wondered how difficult it was going to be to find something we wanted without resorting to the internet. Sofas, among many other things, are try-before-you-buy items. 

- I used to have half a dozen of these sofa beds in my storage area, the owner continued. But now with the crisis, people don't buy things like they used to. We'll be lucky if we can sell something like that now once or twice a year. That's why we don't store them any longer. People are really hard up these days; mark my words, yo will see many shops closing down before the year is out. 

The owner's saga wasn't really helping us achieve our aim. Out of interest, we asked how much the sofa bed would cost. We probably looked like zombies when we heard the price: €1600. It was made in Italy. 
We left the store feeling quite dejected. 

We then went to another store, where we had bought our children's computer desks a few years ago when we renovated their rooms. Now this store was quite different from the other one. It was crowded with stock, people were coming and going, and it was hard to find an assistant, because they were all busy with prospective customers. When it was finally our turn to be served, the young woman showed about half a dozen sofa beds of various kinds and sizes, and at varying price levels, half of which were made in Greece. Among those sofa bed models, we saw some that were just what we were looking for, and they were all really well priced: the ones we liked cost up to €400 each! We asked how long it would take to have them made up and delivered to us. 

- We've got a dozen in stock in the basic colours. We can deliver them tomorrow if you like. 

What a change form the other store! We took measurements, checked colours and decided on a weekend delivery when we would all be home.

*** *** ***

The difference between the two stores could be stated on a simple level as 'cheap shop' and 'expensive shop'. But there is also the question of 'image': the former offers 'Italian design', while the latter offers 'well-priced quality'. I will admit that marketing strategies don't really help struggling Greek businesses in Greece in general, because people don't have much money to spare: they don't have much disposal income. But if the small Greek businesses want to survive, they need to find a way to diversify so to speak. They may have to drop the 'luxury' image that they may once have had, because people nowadays prefer to sacrifice image for comfort. They may also need to change location, because some places simply don't spin money. The same barely surviving business just might do well in another area by selling similar products that people can afford rather than high-end products. 

In Athens, Ermou St once again has become a shopping destination. Even in Hania, shopping locations have really changed over the crisis period. We now have an established 'high street'. It started off with 'big names like Zara, Bershka and Pull and Bear opening in the same area, presumably all franchises are operated by one business, under different names. Sounds multi-corporate? Yes, but it's had an incredible effect on the local business life. Z, B and P&B brought in other lesser known names like Jennyfer (French), Stradivarius (Spanish) and only just recently, Pink Woman (Greek). And it is helping small local-brand stores in the following way: the small shops (eg one-euro stores, traditional cheese suppliers etc, frozen food warehouses, major coffee supplies stores, etc) began extending their shopping hours, and opening on afternoons when shops in Greece were traditionally closed (eg Monday and Wednesday afternoons) because the big shops were bringing in the customers. So now, we have all-day shopping in Hania, despite the cries of shopkeepers about low trade, falling profits and poor consumers. What's more, even foreigners use our high street. It's really quite interesting watching tourists shop at our big brand outlets - they must have the same shops in their own countries, so we wonder what they like about them: perhaps our stores are cheaper, perhaps also our stores stock designs that theirs don't. 

In a recent survey, it was noted that Greeks spend on average €1419 per month (per household, I think), compared to about €1460 per month the previous year: that sounds quite healthy if you consider that we are supposed to be earning low salary/wages. We spend on food (20,7%) housing (13,3%) και transportation (12,8%), the lowest on education (3,3%), where we used to spend 11% in 2014. 11 out of 12 sectors show a decrease in spending, with the lowest being 1.1% in holidays and 'culture'. The only category that shows a rise is health (1,2%), probably due to people not trusting the state system. The holidays sector stats are very interesting: another survey shows that there has been a 75% increase in Greeks buying online holiday packages: we're becoming so European in our ways!!!

Apart from travel tickets, I rarely shop from the internet these days. Nearly everything I need is available at a local store in my small Mediterranean island town. I hunt down bargains, I always prefer credit card payments to cash, and I've even worked out where to get souvlaki by credit card. Both Greek consumers and business people have woken up so to speak. In the meantime, we are so looking forward to getting those sofas delivered. 

I'd like to show you some photos of the high street, so I'll update this post in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, here are some nice photos of what the Venetian harbour looked like yesterday, when I had an hour to kill between finishing work and picking up the kids from their afternoon activities. 

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Man on the Bench

Last Friday evening was very humid. The temperature reading in the car showed 28C at 7pm. Sweat poured down my back as I trudged through the town, laden with my shopping: chickpea flour, my new sunglasses, a 10-pack of school notebooks, school diaries for the kids, and I hadn't quite finished yet. It was getting dark, and my clothes were sticking to my skin. I felt the need to rest a minute or two, so I sat down on the bench pictured below.

There was a man sitting on the bench on the opposite side from me. He paid no attention to me. We were both, in effect, resting on the bench. I laid my shopping bags around me, and opened my handbag to take out my cellphone. The Man on the Bench was smoking. A closed bottle of water and an open can of coca-cola were set on the bench next to him. There was also a transparent plastic bag near him, sealed at the top, whose contents looked like plastic cutlery, two slices of bread and a single-use white plastic pot with a lid, whose contents were probably food from a soup kitchen. He was, perhaps, wearing a few too many items of clothing for the weather at that moment.

I don't know if he was homeless. He might have been. Homeless people are highly visible in Greek cities from my own experiences, but because of the good weather in the summer, they can make do with less stuff, they can sit virtually anywhere without worrying too much about being moved on by the authorities, and they act in a way that I would call 'normal', ie they don't look too different from non-homeless people. So in many cases, you won't realise that they are homeless.

Both the Man on the Bench and I were fully aware of each other, but we carried on with our own business, not bothering each other. I felt like giving him some money... but he wasn't asking for it. What right did I have to treat him like a homeless beggar? I sat on the bench for just enough time to get back my energy. As I picked up my bags and stood up to leave, the Man on the Bench spoke:

- Can you spare 50 cents? he asked me. Of course I could! I put down my shopping bags, opened my handbag, found my purse, and got out some my small change.

- Here you are, I said. He smiled and said thank you. I had just picked up my shopping bags and was turning to leave when I heard him speak again:

- May God look after you and your family.

I thanked him for that, and went off onto my next chore.

The homeless of Hania, numbering about 25-40 people, mainly men, are provided with shelter in children's summer camp facilities during the winter. Last winter, a bus picked them up from the shelter, took them into the town, where the homeless like to socialise, and a bus was arranged at a pickup stop to take them back at night. Some of the homeless don't like this setup and they prefer to sleep on benches; no one can force them to go to the shelter if they don't want to. Unlike what I have heard about the homeless in the US and other European cities, the homeless of Greece are not hidden away from society during the day. Because homeless people suffer from other problems (eg alcoholism), they don't all get through life easily, like Thomas Deligiannis, a well known homeless man in Hania, who died earlier this month.

It's not quite winter yet, which is why the Man on the Bench came to my mind today, when we had our first torrential downpour since February, coming somewhat unexpectedly. I hope he's OK.

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Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Walkies with my aunty (Βόλτες με την θεία)

My Kiwi aunt who is somewhat advanced in years has come to her homeland on a short visit. She asked me to help her do some shopping. I picked her up yesterday and drove her into town, parking the car on the outskirts of the city, on a street which marks the break between the residential and commercial parts of the town.

- How much do you pay to park here?

I wasn't surprised to hear Thia ask this question. Where she lives, she has to buy parking space to park her own car outside her own home. Imagine her surprise when I told her it was free! I helped her to get out of the car, and we began walking towards the shops. Although she walks very slowly and with a stick, her steps are very firm and she doesn't get tired.

- Is this where (an old friend of hers) lived?

Thia's friend, who had also migrated to NZ from Crete, had died many years ago, but she still remembers them, as she does all the older members of the Greek community of Wellington who have come and gone. The community is now but a shadow of its former self, as members pass away and their children move away and/or intermarry, so that their Greek identity fades off as it is stirred around in the melting pot. Her friend was a widow who had repatriated to the homeland and lived her last few years close to the town where she was born. I decided to detour at this point and took my aunt via another road to the town, where she could see her friend's home. We then continued on to the town centre. Thia chuckled as she looked through the window of a haidresser's salon.

- A lady's getting her hair done, while a dog's sleeping at the entrance, on a shaggy rug!

That sight must have looked like a bad hair day to Thia. It looked normal to me. If we hadn't diverted, I could have shown her the pet salon that opened up recently. We had just passed the green (KTEL) bus station.

- Is this where you take the bus to Galatas?

She was thinking of the blue buses. I explained the difference between the blue and green buses: blue is for the suburbs, green takes you to the villages.

- Ah! The cars!

In her days of living in Crete, the buses were initially known as 'cars' - there were so few wheeled vehicles on the road back then, and very few people owned a private car.

Thia remembers her hometown of Hania when it looked more like this.

We crossed the road at the traffic lights, and continued walking towards the main shops.

- We bought some tupperware together from somewhere here, the last time I came, didn't we?

Despite being advanced in years, Thia doesn't seem to suffer from forgetfulness. She knows how important it is to keep finding ways to remember trivia. We continued walking until she found her first stop: the jeweler's, not just any jeweler's, but the same one she had bought from before. Like she had done for all her grandchildren, she wanted to buy something for the latest arrival, a pendant with a religious figure on it. [A cross is inappropriate from a grandmother since it will be bought by the future godparent of a child.] We entered the store and looked around. The owner came out to help us.

- I want something 'good' and it has to be 'cheap'.

Perhaps Thia was remembering a different time when money was more plentiful. All over the world, our choices have become severely limited. She eventually downsized her original idea, settling on a cheaper version of what she initially asked for. We left the store via Stivanadika, the street that sells a lot of locally made leather products, which was close to where she would make her next purchase.

Modern Hania looks like more like this these days
(The music, a song about Hania sung by Grigoris Bithokotsis, was composed by Mikis Theodorakis, in honour of his origins)

- Mmmmm, nice things here...

She later told me that leather products are very expensive in NZ. Here, hundreds of leather items sell every year, bought mainly by our summer tourists, and the cost of such items is quite reasonable. In the winter, most of the leather shops close throughout the whole off-season. We came out of the alley onto a pedestrian zone, where the smell of freshly ground coffee from the Archontakis shop wafted through the whole street. If Thia could carry more weight in her suitcase, she would have bought some, but she says she can get good Greek-style coffee back in NZ too. She wanted to buy things she could not get so easily, mainly religious paraphernalia, which is rather expensive to buy in NZ. Karvounakia (little charcoals) and livani (incense) are used to remember the dead at their graves. There are many shops that sell these items on the Katola road, near the coffee store. They look very old fashioned but they are highly used by the locals. Many of them are connected with undertaker businesses.

- Have we got time for a walk through the Agora?

For Thia, there is always time. I am treated like a daughter by all my mother's siblings. We walked a few more metres up the road to the Agora, and as we entered, I noticed Thia being amazed by how many varieties of paximadi (rusks and crispbreads) were being sold. She wanted to buy something to take to her brothers' house where she was staying.

- Choose something that doesn't have sugar in it.

She knows the rules for old age: less fat and sugar keep the doctors at bay. We settled on old-fashioned kavroumakia (small swirls of dried out bread) that go well with some sharp cheese and Greek-style coffee. She insisted on buying some for me too. I wondered if she was tired - at that point, we had been walking for more than 2 hours together, which is quite a long time for an old person. We began to walk back to the car.

- That shop's closed, isn't it?

There aren't a lot of closed shops these days in Hania. You could say that deflation and market correction have helped cheap businesses to open up, selling mainly food, as well as modern services like nail clinics and vape goods. The shops that are closed don't stick out so much, since they are few in number now. However, what Thia was pointing to was not actually a closed shop. Its window was covered in the store's colours, a bit like a betting shop in the UK, so you couldn't see what was going on inside. I explained to Thia that this shop is actually open, but you have to press a button to enter . I pointed out the bell. It also had an OPEN sign on it ('ANOIKTO'). It's one of those shops that proliferated when the crisis hit: ΕΝΕΧΥΡΟΔΑΝΕΙΣΤΗΡΙΟ*. No one really wants to go into one of those shops, nor does anyone want to be seen going in there.

- Is the car close by here?

I knew she was getting tired. But I knew just the right place to make her forget about her physical state. We passed by a florist, who I waved to, and she came rushing out to greet me. I then explained to Thia who this person was: her first cousin's daughter (making me and the florist second cousins). Thia's face lit up when they talked about the old times in the mountain village where they were all born, and Thia told our cousin to send lots of good wishes to her mother who is still living in the mountains. As we headed for the car, my aunt was surprised to town cemetery looming ahead.

- Is this Agios Loukas? It was all so different in my time...

In her days, Agios Loukas was completely isolated from the rest of the town. Now, the graves blend in with the neighbouring houses. The road is lined with marble workers and florists.

Thia in London - for a little old Greek lady, she's well travelled.

And that's the end of our little walk through the town. As I forgot my phone in the car, I couldn't take any photos. So I hope my descriptions do the job well enough!

* pawnbroker's

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Cretan gastronomy

Sneak preview of what I'll be discussing soon, in good company (more details later).

Crete is the largest island of Greece, with a permanent population of 600,000. At 8500 sq. km., it is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. Blessed by the gods, unique in the world, thanks to the generous gifts of nature and history, its mild climate, fertile soils and strategic location have bestowed on Crete the gift of year-round agricultural activities with an age-old pastoral culture. Its majestic canyons, caves and plateaus cohabit fields and plains covered in thousands of olive trees, endless vineyards and the richest flora of Europe, all contained within 1000 kilometers of coastline.

Crete is believed to be the cradle of European civilization, and in modern times, the gastronomic traditions of Crete have given rise to what is known as the Mediterranean Diet, with extra-virgin olive oil at its base. For this reason, Cretan cuisine is regarded as one of the healthiest cuisines of the modern world. To this day, Cretan people proudly continue the agricultural and culinary traditions of their ancestors, with a high reliance on grains, grapes and olives, which is what gives us the most famous ingredient of the Mediterranean Diet, extra-virgin olive oil.

The history of Crete is backed up by nearly 8000 years of continuous population of the island. The Minoan civilisation, developed in Crete from 2500 BC to 1100 BC, is regarded as the most significant civilization that first flourished in Europe, attested by the presence of the palace of Knossos. During the period of classical antiquity, Crete was still on the fringes of the Greek world. It did not take part in the Persian wars or the Peloponnesian War. In the Hellenistic, the Roman and the Byzantine periods, Crete remained relatively untouched. This all changed when it was occupied by the Venetians in 1204, when it became an important trading post in the Venetian Republic. Crete maintained its importance in this way for four centuries until it passed into Ottoman occupation 1669. When the Ottoman Empire fell, Crete was declared an autonomous state in 1895, until it was unified with Greece in 1913. In the 20th century, Crete was plagued by post-war circumstances, with poverty and emigration. But the 21st century finds the island in a very different situation, mainly due to the spread of mass tourism. In the summer period alone, Crete hosts over three million visitors a year. If it weren't for tourism, Crete can be said to be relatively independent in its food supply.

Crete is intensively cultivated by the local population, which is engaged in the primary sector, producing mainly extra virgin olive oil, grapes, wine, vegetables and cheese, with a smaller proportion of meat products. Crete also hosts the highest number of PDO and PGI products in Greece. Crete's land-based agricultural traditions provide the impetus for the daily cooking habits of the Cretan people. Cretan food is based on fresh local seasonal produce. The abundance and ease with which a seed grows into a fruit or vegetable on the island provide the source of inspiration for Cretan gastronomy, all based on the the simple olive fruit, with aromatic plants added to dishes to strengthen their flavour. It produces olives and olive oil, grapes and wine, orange and other citrus, many fruits in general, wine and spirits, a wide variety of fresh and hard cheeses, cured meats of all sorts, fresh and dried bread products, thyme flavoured honey, wild greens and aromatic plants, and all manner of vegetables.

The Cretan diet, which is now known worldwide, attracted the interest of the scientific community in 1948, when the Rockefeller Foundation conducted surveys in Crete. The island's culinary traditions were regarded as a model of the Mediterranean cuisine, which was recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Olive oil is actually the biggest secret of the Cretan diet and longevity of Cretans. Around 85 per cent of the olive oil produced in Crete is extra virgin quality. At 35 litres per person per year, Cretan olive oil consumption is the highest in the world. Many families own olive trees that not only meet their daily needs but provide a supplementary income. The island has 40 million olive trees — that’s an average of 70 trees per person. Olive tree cultivation is believed to have been pioneered 5,000 years ago by the Minoans who used it in their diet, as a cleanser, a scent and an ointment. The high quality crop is attributed to the island’s soil and climate — hot dry summers, cool autumns and rainy winters.

The Cretan earth is a botanical paradise with over 1700 species of plants, of which 159 are endemic. The Cretan kitchen uses herbs, especially oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, cumin and fennel, and Cretans still like to brew malotira, a plant gathered from the mountain tops, to make mountain tea), together with other aromatic tisanes like dictamus, sage, marjoram and chamomile. These plants are not only eaten by the people, but also by the animals raised on the island for food purposes, which gives rise to their exceptional flavour. And many Cretans still maintain a tradition of pastoral life from prehistoric times to the present day. Cheese is often served with fresh fruit, it is offered as an appetizer and it is even presented as a dessert wrapped in pastry and topped with honey. Pastry products also form a significant part of the Cretan diet.

Cretans eat less fish than perhaps would be considered normal for an island people. Cretans are more likely to worship snails which they cook in various ways, boiled, fried and stewed. Lamb is roasted in the oven or stewed with vegetables. Meat is often boiled and eaten with rice flavoured in its stock, known as pilafi, which constitutes the main meal of a traditional Cretan wedding. Of the dozens of unique recipes of the island, the most typical local dishes are characterised mainly by wild greens and vegetables. The most well known dish of Crete which has been adopted by the whole of Greece is the dakos, which consists of dried bread slices, also known as rusks, topped by grated tomato, fresh cheese and oregano.

Crete is also believed to have the highest cheese consumption in the world. Dairy products of the island form the basis of many traditional Cretan dishes. Cheese is consumed in Crete at all hours of the day, as an accompaniment, starter, main snack, or even as a dessert. Despite the modernisation of milk production techniques, the traditional form of farming is still based on the experience of many centuries. Nowadays, milk is pasteurized, culture is added, and he milk is heated at specific temperatures to make cheese.

The Cretan diet is all about eating everything that this land produces — organic vegetables and fruit packed full of nutrients, as well as liberal quantities of olive oil, wheat and herbs. Cretan delicacies will delight your taste buds. Cretans linger for hours over freshly-cooked meals. Lunch often extende into dinner. One day, It’s a way of life that is starting to change as youngsters move away from villages to the towns and cities. But Cretans still maintain a passion for their local food and it is this enthusiasm that we want to share with our guests to the island.

So I wish you all bon appetit! As the Greeks say, Kali Orexi!

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