Saturday, 10 January 2009

When Alaska came to town ('Οταν μας έκανε επίσκεψη η Αλάσκα)

(PART 1 of our adventures on the Omalos plateau; clicke here for PART 2 and PART 3)

When Alaska comes to town, the city folk rush to visit her. Everyone joins in the bandwagon, because snow is not a common sight in the town of Hania, except from a distance; I can see it on the mountain range of Lefka Ori from my house.

The view from our house on the first day of snow: One day in Hania

But it's not enough to see it; the townies need to feel it, pick it up, toss it at each other (like they see on television) and make snowmen out of it, with carrots for noses and buttons for eyes.

snowman omalos 2006
Three years ago, on one of Alaska's previous visits...

When Alaska comes to town, she creates a bit of winter madness; as soon as the snow falls, the locals race up to Omalos, the 'in' place to be in the winter.

Luxury autos and 4X4s can be seen on days like this (you say SUV, we say 'tzeep'), as soon as white fluff ices the road at Lakki (Lakkous in the accusative), the last inhabited village leading up to Omalos, which saw a white Christmas this year. The sun is shining most of the way up the hill, until you reach the valley, where it disappears, in deference to the visitors and vehicles that all came to see Alaska, lest it might cause her to depart too quickly, leaving behind a disappointed mob.

lakki lakkous hania chania
Once we drove past the historic village of Lakki...

road leading up to omalos hania chania
... the snow became quite visible.

Hi ho, hi ho, off to Omalos we go,
While the sun's in town and the snow's down low,
Take your 4X4, and the kids in tow,
Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho, hi ho!

The trouble is that sometimes those cars can't seem to find a way to reverse and get back down to Hania without suffering a few scrapes and bruises on the way.

omalos hania chania
Trying our best to create a minor traffic jam; the road stops just up ahead. If you turn your head the other way, facing the direction of Hania, the sun can be seen.
omalos hania chania

When Alaska comes to town, the locals speed-dial their friends from their cellphones: "Let's go up to Omalos for coffee", "Let's go for lunch to Omalos", "Let's take the kids to Omalos to play in the snow". Some see it as a good opportunity to book a room at one of the few hotels in Omalos and spend the Christmas period there, or hopefully see the New Year in with snow - and all just half an hour from their own homes!

omalos hania chania
Any room at the inn? The Greek way to park - right outside the restaurant...

When Alaska comes to town, everyone welcomes her with open arms, even though they don't fully understand her, as snow rarely makes an appearance in the town, and it seldom settles. Ladies dress up in their high heeled stiletto boots and Sunday best for the day's outing, all bundled up in thick polyester coats, which come off only when one enters the Omalos eateries; it's not just the snow that has to be seen.

omalos hania chania
A pretty lake situated in the Omalos valley, below the snowy mountains; what a shame there is no frappedadiko located nearby. Would one not feel like they've just been to the Alps?

The children are wearing the made-to-German-quality-standards ski boots and ski costumes LIDL was selling in November, when the sun was still shining and it was too warm to wear a jacket. Only the men seem to understand her - they wear sensible clothes and footwear, most likely bought (from LIDL) by their wives.

omalos hania chania
And that's about it - the lookout point at the Omalos plateau, looking down onto the entrance of the Samaria Goge, except that the weather conditions make it difficult to see even teh mountains. It's all downhill from here, but the Samaria Gorge is closed for the winter.

When Alaska comes to town, everyone rushes up to the Omalos valley, but not for the Samaria Gorge; it can't be seen anyway from the katsifara that always envelops the Lefka Ori (White Mountains). But just below the lookout point, where the Omalos plateau ends and the downhill narrow path begins, lies the entrance to the Samaria Gorge, one of the wonders of the Mediterranean, the longest narrowest gorge in Europe, its narrow path ending at the Libyan Sea in the coastal village of Ayia Roumeli, with its beaches covered in black sand.

omalos plateau hania chania
The road towards Alaska...

omalos plateau hania chania
... nearly there...

omalosplateau hania chania
... almost done ...

entrance to samaria gorge omalos hania chania
... the entrance to the Samaria Gorge is always guarded - the warden's hut is on the left.

When Alaska comes to town, everyone treats the moment like a happy hour. The fractures clinic at the local hospital has a field day trying to cope with the numbers of idiots who go out into the snow without the right footwear, while insurance agents lay claim after claim for crashed cars.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow (it's only temporary).

When Alaska comes to town, her visits are brief. It's difficult to keep her with us very long; as soon as the sun comes out, she simply melts away.

omalos plateau hania chania
And don't forget to bring home a souvenir!
(Mr Organically Cooked in the pick-up truck

*** *** ***
But when Alaska comes to town (and she makes annual visits to Hania), it is a real treat. The last time she came to town and made her presence clear, it snowed so much that Hania actually did look more like Alaska than a Mediterranean town. But I wasn't here to greet her.

snow in kalithea vamvakopoulo hania chania
Our house is the one on the right - my neighbour took the photo. The snow melted after two days, leaving behind a few large clumps that took a little longer to melt. But the large evergreen Ficus benjamina tree was left with broken boughs and it lost nearly all its leaves.

It was a most ominous day, Friday the 13th, 2004, when my neighbourhood was covered in snow. I was on a Singapore Airlines flight heading to Athens. At 6am Greek time, the Australian captain informed us in a muffled voice that we were descending towards Macedonia Airport in Thessaloniki instead, because Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens was closed to all flights due to the heavy snowfall. As we flew over the whole country, we noticed that icebergs had sprouted in the sea - at least that's what the Greek islands looked like after they were covered in snow.

aegean icebergs
Icebergs in the Aegean (flying over Greece, February 13, 2004)

We landed in Thessaloniki, capital of Macedonia, with the sun shining brightly. It did seem a sort of paradox that the whole country was covered in snow, except the coldest part of it: not a snowflake in sight in the north of Greece; in fact, it was a very sunny day. I'd never been to Thessaloniki before, so I thought my family's winter holiday was going to be extended; we could do some exploring there. We were wearing the summer clothes we had travelled with on our two-month journey to the Antipodes. We left the aeroplane in great excitement.

athens airport in the snow
Our luggage waiting in the snow outside Athens Airport

To our dismay, Alaska greeted us with her deep-freezer breath: -8 degrees Celsius, despite the bright sunlight. But there was no snow, just freezing temperatures. We were taken to Kempinski Hotel for the night (thank goodness we weren't flying Olympic), and there we spent the night, without venturing outdoors, not even once, not even onto the balcony of the hotel room. We left the next morning, slightly dazed, feeling that an opportunity had been lost to the elements. And it was all due to Alaska.

*** *** ***

Alaska came to town rather early this year, so I had to quickly think up of something to make for her arrival.

I know how much she likes these Italian meringue biscuits; she gave me the recipe herself.

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