Greece, Symi:  The smell of herbs and The Flood

OK, so I’m posting a lot fewer blogs these days.  Cynics are probably sniggering that old-age is catching up on me and I’m spending the days ‘reminiscing’ in tavernas.  Nowhere near the mark.

True, I have less energy and take longer to recover but in six weeks the least walking I have done in a day is 12 kms and that includes two days hopping between islands and waiting around for ferries.  The least height ascended in a day has been 450 feet on the days waiting for ferries.  A couple of days have been more than 25 kms and 2,500 feet.  This is seven days a week for six weeks. Mostly it has been in temperatures ranging between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius in the shade but towards the end of the period it was pushing 40.

So, not guilty of idling my time away.  Just not getting down to writing much.  I’ll be on Symi for much of the summer though with trips back home to see family and friends and sort my vegetable garden. There will also be another visit to Nisyros and hopefully to see friends on Kalymnos.

This is always, of course, God permitting.  The last decade and a half I have been more and more aware that, in the words of the book of Proverbs, “ A man’s mind plans hi s way but the Lord directs his steps”.  I make plans and then completely unexpectedly, left-field, something happens which takes me in another direction

What finally triggered me to post another blog was walking to the mountain-top monastery of Stavros Polemou on Symi (see Walk 1 and Walk 4) and the next day to Agios Vasilios, a monastery teetering on the top of cliffs above the sea, and to Lapathos, a secluded beach on the west side of the island (Walk 1 and Walk 2).   Great walks and great places.

What struck me both days was the strong, almost overpowering, smell of herbs.  On Symi whole mountainsides are covered in oregano or sage or thyme, often though not always only one of the three depending on geology/soil-type.  Most of the flowering plants in my last couple of blog posts are now dry and shrivelled up, crisped brown leaves.  Thistles are coming into their own but the dominant impact is the herbs.

My favourite herb, oregano has now finishing flowering, the massed heads of white flowers turned to seeds, the swarms of bees having done their job.  The plants are looking drab and tired rather than fresh-green but are beginning to show signs of new growth so will soon be ready to pick and dry again for flavouring my meals.

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Massed white flowers turned to seed heads

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…. with new growth sprouting on some plants

The bees have moved on to the thyme, lower-growing with vivid purple cushions.  Walking along the narrow paths through the plants is a bit nerve racking with bees constantly buzzing around your ankles which brush the flowers at every step.  Mostly they just get on with the job and only regard you as a threat if you get too close to the hives.  One day I did and was stung for my lack of attention.

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In places the thyme is dense and close-packed, crowding the path.  Too risky to stop in such places because of the zillions of bees.  Here they are further apart.

In contrast to the dark-green foliage of thyme, in the heat of day the silver/green leaves of sage are curled up tight to reduce the surface area presented to the scorching sun, showing the silvery underside, a typical way plants adapt to extreme heat and aridity.  Not yet in flower, sage is the dominant smell at the moment, perfect for picking and drying.  Because of the heat-stress, the flavour is much more intense than the sage I grow in my garden in the UK.

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Sage, curling leaves combat the heat and aridity and intensify the flavour.

The ever-present, almost overpowering, smell of herbs on Symi mountainsides has to be experienced to be appreciated.

 

If you are coming to Symi or Nisyros, don’t forget to check out the walking guides on the ‘Greek Island Walks’ page of this blog. I must admit to not having updated them as intended but even had I done so, the amendments could not have taken account of the dramatic changes which have happened on Symi.  The exceptionally severe storm of November 2017 led to the Greek Government declaring a state of emergency on the island.  The army was sent in to help sort out the devastation and the damage in the harbour area has now been largely cleared.  Most visitors will see no sign of what happened.

In the mountains it’s a different story.  Footpaths and kalderimia have been damaged, especially where they cross gullys.   However, don’t believe what some travel reps are telling clients – all the paths I have checked out have been passable.  More care is needed but none has been blocked.  Perhaps the one which will impact most is the paved kalderimi past Ag Paraskevi  ( Walk 2 and Walk 4 ).  The church courtyard is filled with mud (now dried), rubble and a broken-down digger sent to clear it.  The path for 100 metres after that is badly damaged.  But it’s perfectly passable.  I walk that way three or four times a week.

Don’t forget, especially if you are an ‘independent traveller’ to take a look at my book now in Amazon’s Kindle Store.  ‘Greece unpackaged: Travels in a foreign language’.

 

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