Greco / Anglo cultural differences

We knew there’d be things we needed to get used to living in Europe, the pace of life and the mañana attitude would be just the start. (Yes, I know that’s Spanish but come on keep up with the stereotyping!!)

We’ve bought a villa on the north-west coast of the beautiful island of Crete, but we haven’t really had an opportunity to live there for more than a few weeks before we rented it out for the summer.  (Yes I know I won’t get any sympathy!) In the time that we had there we spent all of our days cleaning, scrubbing, painting and cutting back hedges, rose bushes, shrubs and trees, weeding and moving gravel (to list but a few of the labours of love to get the house to look how we wanted it) and of course we had to shop for furniture and all the bits n bobs you need when you set up house.

The house was advertised as being sold ‘with some furniture’ – that was our first mistake, we didn’t clarify before they’d accepted our offer what constituted ‘some furniture’.  When we arrived at our new house at just after midnight one dark Tuesday night we found that the previous owners had indeed left ‘some furniture’.

Two green plastic garden chairs and a wobbly outdoor glass topped table in the lounge / kitchen.

the chairs and covers came from B&Q and must have been brought over by the previous owners 11 years ago

Two garden chairs on the balcony

(one which broke as soon as my other half sat on it)

and a sofa bed.  Not quite what we expected!!

Good old Ikea furniture (more comfy than it looks)

I suppose it could have been worse, they’d taken all the curtain rails and shelves and anything which had been screwed into the walls but at least they left the bathroom fittings and a toilet roll (phew).

Our estate agent was an angel and lent us a kettle, mugs, plates, glasses and some cutlery, and she’d also left some bread, coffee, water, etc in the fridge for when we arrived.  She was also able to give us some suggestions of shops to visit to buy everything we needed to make the house habitable.

One of the things she stressed was the shop opening times (my first insight into why there could be an issue with the Greek economy).

All shops are closed for half a day on 3 days each week (Mon, Wed and Sat) and obviously nowhere opens on a Sunday but, I hear you say, that leaves Tues and Thurs when they are open all day ……. only it’s not really all day, as they close for lunch between 1 and 3pm, then of course after lunch, they need a 2-hour siesta to recover, so the shops don’t open until 5 or 6 pm for maybe up to a couple of hours, or maybe not.  I do remember back to when I was a child in the ‘70’s when our local shops closed for a half day on Wed and the Post Office closed at midday on Saturdays, but since 1994 we’ve become used to Sunday trading followed quickly by 24hr trading in supermarkets.  So, this was the first cultural difference we had to get our heads around.  Thankfully we are close to a couple of large supermarkets which do open all day.

Our first visit to the local hardware shop was interesting, we both managed to do a very good mime to explain we wanted to paint – with an imaginary roller and an imaginary paint brush only to find that Vasili spoke very good English.  Why did he leave us to finish our mime before he said anything!!??

After an hour or so, we left the shop loaded down with huge tubs of paint, a couple of rollers (large and small), paint brushes, a set of screwdrivers, sand paper, step ladder, garden implements, etc, etc,.  The most difficult conversation was trying to explain that I wanted Polyfilla.   After a while (and a lot more miming) Vasili understood what I wanted and managed to find an alternative, which worked really well thank goodness, as we had so many holes to fill the place looked like it had been used as a practice ground for the local shooting club!!  (From what we see the shooting club practices extensively in the middle of the countryside and prefers to focus on road signs written in English!)

The next cultural difference was the realisation that each village has a range of shops for example, hardware stores but each one specialises in slightly different type of stock, the one nearest to us has a bathroom showroom but also lots of electrical gadgets, the one in the next village is more of a paint specialist but you can only buy white paint, any other colours have to be mixed on site in a machine which looks like it’s made of bits of and old tractor and a kitchen cupboard.  After a few weeks we found a really big hardware store about 20 mins drive away in Kissamos which sells everything, we were like a couple of kids in a chocolate factory the day we found that shop!!  We filled our arms with all sorts of goodies and staggered to the counter (managed to spend getting on for €500 that day).

Not only does every village along the coast have their own hardware store, but also their own mini market, bakers, butcher, hairdresser, etc, etc.  It seems people tend to shop as close to home as they can, that way keeping their own village economy buoyant. Something I haven’t considered living in a city.

We reflected on our first two weeks of shopping trips, and calculated that we hadn’t managed to leave any of the shops without spending over €100, needless to say we didn’t keep to our overall budget.

We quickly became used to sitting in the middle of a bomb site

Although it had been frustrating having to find specialist shops for each item instead of just finding everything you want in one place, like B&Q or Ikea.  For example, if you want a telephone extension cable you have to drive all the way into Chania to the local telephone company shop rather than buy them from a local hardware store.

On the other hand one of the nicest things we found was that if furniture shops didn’t have exactly what we wanted they would make it for us (at no extra cost). OK so we could only buy beds in the bed shop and sofas in a different shop but as they were family run businesses they bent over backwards to help.

We fell in love with a sofa but I wanted one with a large footstool to go with it, so after explaining and drawing a picture they said yes, father could make us one in his workshop above the shop.  We also liked a set of shelves on display but didn’t like the wood so they made us one from oak, similarly the TV unit we liked was a foot too long for the room and yes, father made us one from scratch to my specifications.  All the time the daughter / assistant kept on saying to us if we had it made from plywood rather than oak it would be much cheaper.  That’s the first time I’ve ever been to a shop where they tried to sell me something cheaper!

Sofa and foot stool look like they always belonged together. Really pleased with the shelves.

In the bedroom shop I wanted two single beds which could be pushed together to make a large double but all the bed frames were ones where the mattress sits inside, which would make for a very large gap in the middle of the ‘double bed’.  So again, once I’d explained what we wanted they said, “No, problem, we make it how you want.”  When the beds arrived they explained they would be at least an hour doing the delivery, when I questioned why it would take so long it seems that the norm is for the delivery men to also act as carpenters and put the beds and bedside cabinets together on site, checking all the way along that we were happy with the finished product.

Pushed together and topped with a mattress cover it makes a comfy king size bed

So not all cultural differences are negative.  I’m sure we’ll find many more differences as time goes by but that’s part of the joy of living somewhere new.

Things to do in Perth, Western Australia

Perth CBD from the water front on the Swan River

Having spent three weeks in Perth back in November last year getting to meet my new grandson, I found myself back there again in February thankfully having missed the hottest of the summer sun.

This time on my trip to Perth I got out and about a bit more as the baby was a bit older and his mum much more used to packing all the paraphernalia needed for even the shortest outing. So we went for trips out to various beaches, vineyard, brewery, marinas, galleries, museums and even to a garden centre.

Perth is one of the most isolated cities in the world the nearest city being Adelaide which is 1,324 miles away and Sydney which is a mere 2,447 miles east (that’s about the same as the distance between London and Moscow).

You don’t find many travel books on Perth, so I naturally went on to TripAdvisor and found that the place voted number 1 to visit is King’s Park & Botanical Gardens, the second most exciting thing to do in Perth is to visit the War Memorial in King’s Park ….. hmm exciting stuff.  The Swan River comes in at number 3, (slightly more exciting!) You can’t blame TripAdvisor as it’s the people who write about the “interesting things to do” should be ‘blamed’ but having said that there really aren’t that many things to visit in Perth (hence a war memorial being high on the list of things to do).

King’s Park

49% of the adult population of Perth are from a non-Australian origin (mostly English and Irish), so I’m guessing the majority of people who visit are either visiting family or friends or are there on business (mostly to do with the mines).  So they write about what they did and saw.  And to be honest everyone goes to King’s Park as it has spectacular views over the CBD (central business district) which sticks out (literally) towering over the expanse of the Swan River and the ever-expanding northern suburbs.  (see the photo at the top of the page).

It seems there are records of Europeans settling in the Swan Valley from the 1600’s but it was when the British government got wind that the French were thinking of annexing western Australia for themselves that they sent out a colony in 1826 and Queen Victoria made Perth a City in 1856.  The size of the colony stayed pretty small until gold fever struck in the early 1900’s.

Perth Mint

Perth Mint was opened in 1899, as a result of the gold rush there was a need for secure storage and somewhere local to mint new coins. The guide was really good and made the most of the demonstrating how to make a gold bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were lucky enough to be able to walk around Government House gardens which is only open for a couple of hours a day on weekdays (and is definitely closed when royalty come to visit!)

very welcome fountains cool the air in the garden
Government House

it’s a very wide river
Claisebrook Cove

We booked to go on a river trip with the Little Ferry Company based in Elizabeth Quay.  It does what it says on the tin, tiny little boats which hold at best 12 people ply their way up and down the Swan River, the journey we chose was from Elizabeth Quay to Claisebrook which took about 40mins.

 

Claisebrook as quite a posh marina community and has a very European look, with the row of tall houses surrounding the marina were all very different styles and painted pretty pastel colours.  There are a number of restaurants and bars where you can have lunch then after a short stroll round you can catch the free bus back into the city (just ask the boatman to point out where the bus stop is).

On Friday evenings during the summer months there is a street food market in the centre of Perth with around 30 or 40 different stalls all vying for your attention.  It’s the most difficult meal choice as there is sooo much to choose from.

It gets very busy so go there early enough to get a seat and listen to the entertainment.

A day out to the Swan Valley is a must, the scenery is lovely, very lush and green, and of course you have to pop in to one of the many vineyards or/and small breweries that are dotted all over the place.

One vineyard that we went to was Mandoon Winery were you can sample their best wines and champagnes in very smart surroundings.  If you have time stay for lunch the food is excellent.

And don’t forget the beaches, that’s another story …..

Chania Town for a weekend break in January

Crete isn’t currently one of the top ten weekend break destinations but I think it could be one day, given better flight connections.  We went to Crete at the end of January so that we could look at some houses for sale around the Chania area but also to see what Crete is like in the middle of winter, it was also an excuse to celebrate our second wedding anniversary in the lovely historical town of Chania.

I searched the internet for accommodation in the Old Town with views overlooking the beautiful Venetian Harbour and its famous lighthouse.  I found the perfect location at the Elia Zampeliou Boutique Hotel the entrance is on the street behind the harbour called Zampeliou (surprise, surprise).  The small entrance door opened into an impressive marble floored  hall and stairs. Our ‘superior double room’, on the first floor, was very tastefully furnished and did have the most stunning views.  The photo above is the view of the harbour front from our bedroom balcony. The lighthouse looked so close.

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View of the lighthouse from our bedroom balcony at night

The only negative was that as it was the winter season the reception and breakfast room at the hotel we were staying at was closed so we had to check in at a sister hotel about 5 mins walk away.  We had been sent an email a week or so before hand to warn of this with an apology and when we arrived at reception they did offer us alternative accommodation at the main hotel to save us the daily walk but I stuck to my guns as I wanted that view. We were also given the option of having breakfast delivered to our room each morning, had the weather been warmer it would have been wonderful to sit out on the balcony in the sunshine.

The next morning we were woken up by sounds of hammering and chiseling which seemed to be coming from the building next door. When we were leaving to walk round the corner for breakfast we had a closer look and both buildings either side of where we were staying were being totally refurbished. In fact it was basically only the shells of the buildings left. We mused that if they did as good a job as the builders had done on our hotel they would be beautifully restored and we appreciated that they can only do this type of work out of season.

Breakfast was a delightful mix of Cretan and European food.  The omelettes were gorgeous, Jim couldn’t decide between the different types of bread and at least 8 different marmalades and jams. No freshly squeezed orange juice but the coffee was good and you could help yourself to some raki with your coffee if you were desperate enough!  All of the staff were very friendly and apologised for their poor English, as our Greek is non existent we told them we were impressed.

Parking is difficult around the harbour as a lot of it is pedestrianised (not that it stopped the locals from driving up streets barely wide enough to get their little cars up.  No wonder they drive with the wing mirrors folded in!). Anyway, there was plenty of on street parking places within a few minutes walk but I’m not sure how easy these would be to find during the high season.  There are a few public car parks but they are a little further out, so take this into consideration and only bring small suitcases as you may be walking with them along windy cobbled streets and up and down steps for quite a while.  I jokingly commented whenever you heard the noise of suitcase wheels echoing around in the darkness that it was the ghost of tourists who’d never found their hotel and were permanently walking the streets with their ghostly suitcases.

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The area behind the fort is a maze of tiny little back streets which in the summer are teeming with little artisan shops and cafes, all decorated with pots of brightly coloured geraniums and Bougainvillea, whereas off-season the colours and the bustle is gone but it still had its charm.  We’ve been to Chania a few times now and it’s always been heaving so to walk around it virtually on our own was heaven.  Unbelievably there were still some touts at the restaurants on the harbour front trying to tempt us in. We found a small restaurant called Tamam  only two doors down from the Hotel on Zampeliou Street, it’s the oldest family run restaurant in Chania (according to them) serving typical Cretan dishes with specials of the day. One special that I tried was a veal, pork and cheese pie. Sounds a bit dodgy but OMG it was amazing I had it with the giant bean starter (which was also divine) and a nice glass of Cretan Sauvignon Blanc.

The next morning we didn’t have to get up as early to meet the estate agent as it was a Saturday and thankfully breakfast was being served till 11am.  However, at 7.30am a large generator was coaxed noisily into non-stop action just below our balcony window. We were up much earlier than anticipated that day!  We also gave in (well I gave in) and asked to be moved to the sister hotel just back from the harbour. They fully appreciated how frustrated we were by the workmen and explained that the renovations are a big job and can only be completed during the winter (yes we know ☹️).  So we packed our bags, rattled our way around the corner and left them in reception whilst we went out for the day.

After a hard day of viewing houses we returned and were shown to our new accommodation which was a suite on the 5th floor overlooking the Church and the rooftops towards the harbour, they’d even left us a free bottle of wine.  Nice touch (shame is was red).

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The Church

The suite composed of a lounge with a door through to a narrow corridor, the bathroom was on the right, straight on to the bedroom, on the left were mirror fronted wardrobes and cupboards which including a good size fridge.  It was cleverly designed so the lounge could be locked off if it were only to be used as a room with en-suite.

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comfy lounge with spitting coffee machine

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This shower looked amazing but we couldn’t figure out how to work all the bits n bobs! The bed was so huge we had problems finding each other … not sure if that was so bad!! lol

Having tried to avoid the restaurants on the front we did actually try one which advertised itself as a wine bar and bistro, it was right at the end of the quay towards the Fort called La Bodega. The staff were brilliant, the service was excellent and the food was really good.  They had a really good choice on the wine list.  We watched two young lads (in their early twenties) have the wine they’d ordered carefully decanted into a massive ship’s decanter.  Once it was poured they delicately swizzled the crimson nectar in their glasses, checking the colour in the candle light before consuming with delicacy and relish.

We were only there for a few days but it was very restful however, unfortunately our flight back from Heraklion airport was at 6.30am, which meant we had to leave Chania at 2.30am to be there in time (its a 2 hour drive on the National Road from Chania to Heraklion).  So we paid our bill the day before.  We were told by the receptionist that we couldn’t possible leave that early without a decent breakfast so she’d organised for a picnic bag for us to take with us.

Bless her, it was full of lots of nice things like cheese and ham sandwiches, and lots of little foil packages containing things like nuts, raisins, figs, sweet pastries, cheese pastries, boiled egg (and salt) and a choice of fruit.

It was such a nice thought. I will definitely give them a good review on TripAdvisor.  Having said that everyone we met was so friendly and chatty. If you haven’t thought of Chania for the weekend consider it.  Ryanair fly direct to Chania from Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Glasgow, East Midlands, Dublin and Manchester from as little as £16.99 one way (in March)

How difficult is it to deal with death?

I didn’t think I’d be spending the first week of my retirement supporting my husband organise his mother’s funeral. The family had been planning her 100th birthday party in 3 week’s time, including the obligatory telegram from the Queen.

Up until three months ago she had been well enough to live on her own in the family house but as she became more frail she moved in with her daughter, my husband’s younger sister, so she could get the extra support she now needed. After an unexpected fall from her bed she was taken into hospital and very quickly her health deteriorated and she passed away only 2 days later.

As my sister-in-law pointed out whilst we were all sitting around her hospital bed, this was not the first time I’d been in this situation.  I’ve been quite inept when it comes to hanging on to my family.

My own mother passed away in November 1994 and my father not even two years later. My middle sister, who was five years older than me, died when she was in her late 40’s and my eldest sister, who was ten years my senior, stressed for years about making it past 60 (as that was how old my mother had reached when she died). She did make it past that goalpost but only by 3 years. So I found myself aged 56 with no immediate living family. How remiss of me!

My goodness how things have changed over the years. No, not death itself but how the NHS deals with the passing of a loved one.

My mother was admitted to hospital in 1984 for tests for a hiatus hernia, in those days making a phone call to a patient involved you phoning the ward then you’d be given the number of the ward pay phone, they’d wheel the pay phone to your relative and you’d phone back and hopefully you’d get through to the right person. The chances of you getting through to the right person was a bit of a lottery. However, on this occasion I was lucky, I got to speak to my mother who was feeling positive that at last she’d get some answers and treatment.  I was excited as only a few hours earlier my baby daughter had taken her first steps unaided. My mother told me I had to buy her a pair of good shoes quoting her old dad who had advocated that as you spend a third of your life in your shoes, a third in your bed and a third in your chair (I was never brave enough to ask where work came into that equation) therefore you need to have good shoes, bed and chair. I promised I’d go to Clarks and get her a pair of good shoes which wouldn’t pinch her tiny little toes and that I’d come down the following weekend so she could see.

Late that night when we were all asleep the phone rang, it was my father saying the hospital had phoned and that mum had died. I jumped in the car and drove the two and a half hours to my parent’s house arriving in the early hours of the morning.  My father was devastated and in shock.

The next morning I went in to the hospital on my own as my dad was too upset.  I went to the ward and was told that ‘the body’ had been moved to the morgue however the ward still had my mother’s belongings. I sat in the ward office as the nurse ticked through a list of the contents of my mother’s bag: her watch, lipstick, powder compact, comb, house keys, handkerchief, cigarettes and lighter, purse, pieces of paper, money. It seems my mother had £40 in carefully folded £5 and £10 notes in different sections of her handbag as well as another £40 in her purse.  My mum always told me to keep £5 in my purse for a ‘rainy day’ and obviously she thought she’d have a few.  How many housewives carried £80 around in cash in 1984?

Clutching the black plastic bag they’d given me for my mother’s possessions; her clothes, underwear, shoes and handbag.  I then had to make my way to the morgue to identify my mother’s body. Have you ever seen signs for the morgue when you walk around a hospital?  It was not easy to find.  I was on my own and at 26 years old had never seen a dead body before.  At least she was on a trolley in a side room and not in a huge drawer.  I will never forget that day.

The ‘pieces of paper’ in my mother’s handbag were many and varied: The card from the bouquet of flowers I’d sent my mum and dad when I went off to university in 1977 thanking them for being such a good parents. A cartoon about a woman getting fatter the more she breast fed her baby (which was how I felt) which she’d cut out of the newspaper that I’d shown my mum a year before. A well warn picture drawn by my niece which depicted her grandmother as a large red stick person with a big smile and curly black hair.  An old cutting from a newspaper which was her own mother’s funeral notice from the early ’70’s, and many more.  These were bits of her life which she had kept with her wherever she was. The last thing they made me sign for was the wedding ring they’d taken off her finger before they sent her off to the morgue.  They made me sign an agreement that there was no engagement ring and no further belongings.

This last weekend, thirty-three years later, the scenario was so different. Despite it being (allegedly) the worst weekend for the NHS ever, the hospital treated my mother in law with so much dignity, so much care and kindness. Even when we knew she was dying the nurses came to make her comfortable every two hours, they gave us sandwiches, they made us tea.  They said that whatever we wanted they would try to accommodate, maybe we’d like to cut a lock of hair, if so they would find something to keep it in for us.  Having found out she was Catholic they organised for the priest from her parish to come in and give her last rites. They put a purple bow on the door of her room so everyone, from the nurses to the cleaners knew that in that the occupant was at an ‘end of life’ situation.  Everyone who came into the room was very mindful of her wellbeing and our feelings.

It still wasn’t easy watching yet another person I’d cared for take their last laboured breath but it was made easier by the sympathy and care shown by the medical team. There has been a lot of media attention about the crises the NHS is in at the moment but all I can say is that we cannot complain.

I’m not saying that the hospital staff 33 years ago didn’t care but they certainly didn’t show as much sympathy and understanding, for them it was part of their job and probably something which happened frequently, but for me it was my first time.