Greece 2011: the hidden Symi and how I became a fasolakia junkie

Another brilliant start to the day with breakfast on the hotel terrace looking down to the harbour as another large cruise ship pulled into to give people their ‘Symi-fix’.  One more thing to tick of the published list of ‘1000 Things To Do Before You Die’.  I know Symi is listed, I checked it out in a bookshop in Usk.   This ship wasn’t quite as large as the one yesterday, you could just see the top of the clock tower behind it.

Seen from my balcony, another cruise ship pulls in

The plan for Friday was to do the walk I had originally in mind for yesterday.  The first part of it was winding up through the tortuous alleys of Horio with the usual mixture of old houses lived in for ever by local people and in many cases just one room, modern renovations or rebuilds often bought by incomers, particularly Brits and more recently Italians, and ‘ruins’ the left on the property market by declining demand.  You wouldn’t believe the asking price of some of these ruins.

Development opportunity in Horio

Then it was onto established paths and tracks for a while and after that it was matter of taking to paths used only by goats and farmers with donkeys.  The former had left myriad hoof-prints, the latter had left other indications.

Path picking out a route through the rocks, marked by messages from a donkey

This was very much ‘off-piste’ walking and very enjoyable.  My guess is that very few other than farmers see large parts of Symi, a view reinforce by a conversation I overhead.  One Brit Symi habitué enquiring of another whether a particular bar was still open.  It was barely 400 metres from where she was sitting.

Once into the mountains there is clearly a landscape and a way of life firmly rooted in the past and kept alive by an ageing and diminishing agricultural population.  Like the couple I helped to dismantle the bunting on Wednesday.  This is the very margin of Europe.  No fat EU Agricultural Fund cheques to support this way of life.  Yet in many ways it is the last vestiges of a way of life that should be preserved for future generations by more than a few dusty artefacts in a dusty ‘Folk Museum’.  It is important to remind ourselves and the inform the future of where we have come from.

Looking along the length of a high-level valley

Olive trees show it was once more intensively farmed than it is now.

….. closer inspection gives an indication of the antiquity of the tree

Looking back towards an enclosed field for animals and still a few olives produced

It is amazing how a few things still push up through this stony, iron-hard soil

The end of the path I followed led to a farm which could only be reached by a long trek with a donkey.  This had to be all about subsistence farming rather than commercial agriculture.  Yet there was a solar panel on the roof of the house and beehives hinted at the sale of honey, a small high value ‘crop’ transportable over the rocky path by donkey.

Eking out a living at the margins of Europe: Turkey, and Asia, just across the water

High in the crags above the farm are the vestiges of a much older settlement, possibly Pre-Hellenic.  What is going on now is following on from that much earlier tradition about which, as far as I can find out, there is no information. Last year I tried to find out information in the island’s museum but failed.

Monolith on top of vertical crags

Stone walls built into the crag to create a high-level platform

I had a good swim on the way back and then, once in the town, shopped for the ingredients for another batch of fasolakia.

I have to admit that though I have re-adopted the pattern I set when I was living here last year of cooking for myself rather than eating out every night, I have gone for a simplified option.  Basically, I make a large batch of fasolakia, heat up a portion each day and add something like sliced ham or feta.  I’m very fond of fasolakia and I make what is probably a fairly posh version with lots of tasty ingredients like garlic, fennel, black pepper and red wine.  And unlike last year, when the supply of fruit and veg, including green beans, was seriously disrupted by the lorry drivers’ strike on the mainland, this year they are in plentiful supply.  Shame to leave them on the shelves. But in my enthusiasm I think I overdid the quantities a bit on Friday and made enough for 5 verygenerous portions. I’m only here for another 4 nights and I had planned to eat out on my final night.  So it will be a choice between throwing some of it away ….. or overdosing.  Fasolakia anyone?

What a great place to cut up beans


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