Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wordless Wednesday 59

...going through the family photo album...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Easter hot air lanterns

A weird and wonderful Easter tradition that is only found in one area of Greece (my dad's hometown, as it happens) is the sending up of hot air lanterns. This happens on Saturday night during the church service and all through Easter Sunday and Easter Monday in the town of Leonidio. The lanterns are made of paper tissue in different colours, they have a circular bottom and conical top, and are man-sized. The bottom is kept together by copper wires in the shape of a cross. A rag is soaked in gas and fixed in the centre of the cross, then it is lit and the lantern held in place while it fills with hot air. Once it's ready, it starts flying up and up and up!

It's a spectacular sight against the night sky, especially as there are hundreds of lanterns leaving each of the town's five churches at precisely the same moment, just as the priest in each church announces that "Christ has risen". You can see what it looks and sounds like in the next video, but be warned - there are fireworks, church bells and bangers going off, so it's very loud. You may want to turn down the sound on your PC before you click play.

There are more lanterns being sent up throughout Easter Sunday. You always see people looking up when a lantern goes past - a good idea if you are to avoid the risk of catching fire, as sometimes they fall back down on top of houses or in woodland. Children in particular are fascinated by lanterns and as soon as they're old enough to ride a bike they are on lantern alert. The moment there's a lantern coming down, there are groups of kids rushing to the spot where it falls. The first one to get there can claim the lantern as his/her own, and can take it home to patch it up and send it back up. Sometimes lanterns get patched up again and again.

This is a lantern that my cousin rescued, being sent up for the third or fouth time, judging by the number of patch jobs.

While looking for videos showing the hot air lanterns, I found this next one. It's professionally made and a little longer (just under 10 mins), but if you can spare the time, it shows the whole of the Easter celebrations, starting with the decoration of the Epitaphios on Good Friday and finishing with the hot air lanterns on Sunday evening. My favourite bit is around the 8:25 mark, where you see three young children (too young to chase after the lanterns themselves) discussing how many of them burnt the night before. It's exactly what we were like as kids, and just comes to show that things don't change *that* much from generation to generation!

There are plenty more photos of the hot air lanterns on Flickr. Have a look here for some spectacular ones (not taken by me).

This is officially my last Easter post for this year. Hope you've enjoyed it :-)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Twilight saga

Having read Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse (the last one in 14 hours flat) my dilemma now is whether to buy Breaking Dawn in hardback or wait impatiently until it comes out in paperback. I have a personal rule of not buying hardbacks, and I've only broken it once, when the 7th Harry Potter book came out.

Will this be the second time? I think it might...

Friday, April 24, 2009


Two weeks ago I was looking for postcards to send to a friend who recently moved to the States. This one caught my eye, not only because it's showing Barack and Michelle Obama meeting the Queen, but most importantly because the actual photo was taken just days before it appeared as a postcard.

Wouldn't it be great if big events like this one were produced as postcards almost immediately? It'd sure make Postcrossing so much more interesting.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Easter part 2

On Easter Saturday, the sombre mood lifted and everyone appeared a lot more cheerful in anticipation of Easter. In the morning we went into town for some last minute shopping. These are some of the unusual window displays we spotted: Easter candles, lanterns and of course lamb.

Candles have an important role in the Saturday night church service, as they are lit just after midnight once the priest has announced that "Christ has risen". The light of the candles is considered blessed and people carry it home, sometimes using paper lanterns.

Before we left for church just after 11 PM, we had already prepared the table and put some meat in the oven. The Holy Week is a period of fasting, which is broken only after the return from the Saturday midnight service.

We had red dyed eggs and decorated ones too.

Here are a couple of photos from the midnight service.

The next day we had more eggs, traditional Easter bread (tsoureki) and Easter biscuits (koulouria) for breakfast. Yummie.

Then we went into town to partake in the dancing and lamb eating.

It was a gloriously sunny day and very hot too. Hotter, in fact, than the average English summer day.

Happy Easter! Xristos Anesti!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Good Friday

Orthodox Easter is often celebrated at a different time to Western Easter. This is because the Orthodox church retained the Julian calendar after the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Europe in 1582. This year, Easter in Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania etc. falls on 19th April. Accordingly, yesterday was Good Friday.

Good Friday is a day of mourning. In the morning, people attend church to help decorate a symbolic coffin with flowers, which is called the Epitaphios. This is carried around each town in a procession lamenting the death of Christ. People follow this procession singing hymns and holding lit candles.

Once the procession is over, the Epitaphios is placed inside the church.

People queue to pray and pay their respects one last time.

You may notice the sides of this Epitaphios bear no flowers. This is because people have pulled the flowers off and taken them home as they're considered to be blessed.

After the service and procession, we went for a walk around town, and took some photos of the decorations and shop windows. There were Easter eggs and ladybirds everywhere.

These are decorated Easter candles, which children (and sometimes adults) take to church on Saturday night for the midnight Easter service.

Godparents buy Easter candles for their godchildren, along with chocolate eggs, special Easter bread and shoes or clothes.

The is one of the funniest pictures I took. It's the window of a children's clothes shop, suitably decorated with a farm theme. One of the chickens must have tried to escape, but then discovered it couldn't fly...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Messolongi lagoon

These are some photos I took while driving by the Messolongi lagoon, which forms part of one of the largest wetland areas in Greece with a population size ranging from 25-35,000 birds. The lagoon is not particularly deep; its maximum depth is only 2 meters, hence the houses on stilts and flat boats.

The entire area has been shaped by the alluvial deposits of two major rivers, the Acheloos and Euenos. The area is rich in fish fauna comprising five basic species: striped grey mullet, bass, bream, eel, and gudgeon. Fishing is mainly practised by fish-traps installed at the exit of the lagoon near the sea.

The weather wasn't very nice in Messolongi, so we headed towards the fishing village of Astakos further west.

I took this photo as we were crossing the Acheloos river.

The saltpan of Messolongi produces 65% of Greek salt. The area is a perfect refuge for migratory birds that feed on a microscopic organism (Artemia salina) proliferating in the flooded saltpans.

Mmmm all that salt makes me think of chips.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter part 1

Happy Easter to those of you celebrating Easter today.

To the rest of you, καλή Μ. Εβδομάδα και καλή Ανάσταση.

Greetings from Greece!

Tinsie xxx

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Monday, April 06, 2009

Money down the toilet

I pay my credit card in full every month, and I usually pay online, so I don't tend to look at the paper statements and assorted literature I get sent by the bank, nor am I familiar with the various tactics banks use to make an extra bob or two.

Today I came across my latest credit card statement as I was sorting through a pile of post. On one of the three bits of paper it comes in (who cares for the rainforest, eh?), I saw little blurb titled Minimum Payments and started reading.

If you make only the minimum payment each month, it will take you longer and cost you more to clear your balance.

Yep. This makes perfect sense. So far so good.

If the account is not fully cleared, interest will be charged on the total value of the statement and not just on the outstanding balance.

What?!! So this in essence means that if, say, in January you spent £800 on your credit card, but when the bill came you paid £500, then in the February statement you'd be charged interest on the full £800 for the month of January - although you paid £500 before the payment due date. If in February you pay off another £200, in the March statement you'll still be charged interest on £500 plus any interest you accrued in January.

Am I the only person who thought that the advertised "up to 56 days' free credit" applied whether you paid your balance in full or not? Because, as I understand it, unless you pay the total balance at the end of the month, you get no free credit at all. Which isn't great if you make a lot of purchases in the same month. In fact, with interest rates being what they are (up to 24% in some cases) using your credit card can prove a very costly way of spending money.

How costly? Look at it this way: if you spend £3,000 this month (or euros or dollars or any other currency for that matter), and your credit card provider charges a modest interest rate of 16% APR, next month you'll be charged £40 in interest alone. Leave your balance uncleared for a year, and even if you make no further purchases, you're looking at a whoping £480 in interest. If your bank charges 24% interest, then you're looking at £60 after a month, and £720 after a year! At the same time, you'll be lucky to get 2% interest on an easy access savings account. This means that for every £3000 of savings, the bank will pay you £60 after a year (and you will be taxed on this amount too).

You might as well flash your money down the toilet. Or book a holiday to Dubai. Heh.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Come again?

My email provider is apparently experiencing problems. This is news to me, as I seem to be getting emails just fine, only fewer than normal, but it is the weekend when most people are out and about, enjoying the sunshine etc.

Credit where credit is due, they've been keeping me updated with regular emails about their progress in locating and fixing the fault. This is email No. 4 which arrived earlier this morning, and the only one I've read to the end.

Claranet have identified an incident impacting the following services; Leased Lines, Ethernet Lines and xDSL.

The fault is located deep in a tunnel, deep level structural damage and high CO2 levels mean that BT will be unable to resolve this incident by repairing the existing infrastructure. Mobile units currently on route [sic] to the site and will be used to set up temporary connectivity bypassing the affected tunnel span. It is estimated that all necessary equipment should have arrived on site, been configured and a work-around put in place for all affected services by 5pm this evening. Due to the scale of this incident BT are unable to re-route any individual circuits as they do not have the capacity elsewhere to be able to cope with this.

We will continue to update via notification throughout the lifecycle of this incident. We thank you for your continued patience and apologise for any inconvenience this issue is causing.

Ignoring the grammatical and spelling errors, how much of this message have you actually understood? Assuming you read all of it and didn't give up when you got to the bit about structural damage and CO2 levels. I persevered to the end (twice) and can't help thinking they could have saved themselves some time and effort by sending me a much simpler message:

Big problem with email. Stop. BT working hard to fix it. Stop. Lines back to normal by 5 PM. Stop. Sorry for inconvenience.

This is all I understood of the original message anyway.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Back from Dubai

What are the chances of two girls taking the exact same book on holiday? Pretty high, it would seem.

I liked: Flying cattle class (it was soooo cheap). The warm weather. The food. The 5* hotels. Sunbathing in March. The shopping malls. The architecture. The cosmopolitan feel of the place. Staying with a local who knew all the best haunts (thank you Kosta). The company :-)

I didn't care much for: Flying cattle class (it wasn't cheerful). The sand storms. The traffic. The driving skills of the locals. It's one huge building site.

I was shocked by: The weak pound. Ouch.

I was disappointed by: Afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab - way over hyped.

I was surprised by: How happy I was to return to England. No sand storms in northern Europe, so you can breathe the air.

Would I go back? You bet!