My own Athenian ghost story (Part 1)

Hotel Acropolis House. Plaka Athens.Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

Hotel Acropolis House. Plaka Athens.Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

The Hotel Acropolis House has changed since I first stayed there way back in 1985. It’s in my favourite area of Athens, Plaka.

I had been living on Mykonos for 18 months, but had decided to go and teach in Turkey. For various personal reasons that meant that I needed to go back to Britain for a couple of weeks. I was going by ferry and road, so it was going to take some time to get back to the UK.

I had arranged to have money transferred to me and sent to the National Bank of Greece in central Athens. I had an account on Mykonos, and with typical Greek inefficiency (it’s better now) the bank in Athens sent the money to my account in Mykonos.

When I arrived at the bank in Athens, they told me that they had sent it to Mykonos only half an hour before. I pointed out that it must still be there, so please could they check and give it to me. “Oh no!” was the reply, as now the fax was down. This was a usual occurrence/excuse.

Of course they needed to have it confirmed in writing (fax) that the money was in my account.

“Come back tomorrow” they said.

That was the start of my misfortunes.

I didn’t have much money with me, and really needed to get my hands on some. Luckily I was with a couple of Irish friends of mine, so it wasn’t an immediate problem.

Hotel Acropolis House at night, Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

Hotel Acropolis House at night, Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

It was apparent that we would have to stay in Athens at least for the night. My friends knew the Acropolis House Hotel and the Plaka area, so we went for lunch in what has become my favourite taverna: Taverna Plaka in Kidathenaeion St.

We left the taverna and checked in to the Acropolis House Hotel. The guy we were with was given a dormitory room, sharing with a couple of Aussies. My friend and I had a huge bedroom, which had been half of a ballroom when the house was a family one, in the 19th century.

I have to tell you that there was only one light switch to pull and that was above my friend;s head. I was on the far side of the room.

I was almost drifting off to sleep when I saw a man in evening wear (stiff, starched collar, bow tie and black suit) standing over my bed. He bent down and was just about to kiss me when my friend pulled the light cord.

She had felt cold, and wondered why. I was so glad to have the room illuminated by the antiquated chandelier!

I told her what I had seen, and we grabbed some clothes and went to the reception desk. The person at the desk was not the same one as had been there when we checked in.

We told him about the ghost and he stared at me rather disconcertingly, given the situation.

He pulled a sepia photograph from under the reception desk and asked me if I recognised anyone. I immediately pointed to my ghost. Then he asked me to look more closely. It was my friend who pointed to a woman and said, “Lynne, that’s you.”

I looked and saw that the woman really did look like me, or perhaps I should say that I looked like her.

Hotel Acropolis House, Plaka, Athens. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

Hotel Acropolis House, Plaka, Athens. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

I asked who the people were, and was told that the man and woman had been engaged. The hotel (then a house) had belonged to the man’s family and they had built it.

The woman had come from a wealthy Athenian family and when her father did a little digging into he fiances background, he insisted she break off the engagement because the man’s father had got all his money from gambling.

She did as her father wished and broke off the engagement.

Her betrothed was so distraught that he hanged himself from the chandelier in what was then the ballroom – where I had been trying to sleep.

The next night, and for several after that, we stayed somewhere else.

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And the Booze Arrived in a Taxi

This is how wine is served at Rouchanas Taverna, Corinth. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

This is how wine is served at Rouchounas Taverna, Corinth. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Last weekend, (13th November 2016) it was the Athens Marathon. When this event takes place, the city centre is closed to traffic, as the race ends at the old Olympic stadium. That being the case, my friends can’t ply their trade as taxi drivers, which means a day off to go to our favourite fish taverna just outside Corinth.

Outside taverna Rouchounas. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Outside Taverna Rouchounas. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

This time we were on a mission to buy some tsipourou, almost the local equivalent of fire water if it is not very good. However, as with its fish and seafood, the taverna has some excellent tsipourou.

The owner of Rouchounas FishTaverna near Corinth. Credit: Nikos Kapsalis

The owner of Rouchounas FishTaverna near Corinth. Credit: Nikos Kapsalis

As it was a Sunday, there was a guy playing a bouzouki, and everyone had a bit of a sing-song. The singing was aided by the tsipourou and wine.

My friend asked about taking some tsipourou home with us, but there wasn’t enough, so we were resigned to coming back to Athens without it. We were told that if we wanted any, we should phone a day or two in advance of our next visit. So we were disappointed.

Where the fish and sea food are coked on a grill over wood. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Where the fish and sea food are cooked on a grill over wood. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Then the day was saved by the owner, pictured above with a glass of tsipourou in his hand. He made a phone call, and our tsipourou (3 litres of it) was delivered, by taxi, to the taverna. The owner sat at our table and brought us a couple more glasses of it. He finally allowed us to go back to Athens, and I have to say that a fine time was had by the three of us.

I can’t wait for our next visit!

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Greek Olive Trees

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Old olive tree on the island of Lesbos. Credit: Nikos Kapsalis

The olive tree originally, it is believed, came from the region of Anatolia in modern Turkey. They have various health benefits and people say that they cure cancer. One of the myths about the genesis of the olive tree, is that Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, planted her spear in the soil and that became the very first olive tree. It grew in Athens, Athena’s city. It is said that thousands of cuttings were taken from this tree, and Homer says that the original tree was 10,000 years old when he was writing. It is from Homer we learn that if anyone destroyed an olive tree, they were sentenced to death.

Olive grove in Lesbos. Photo credit: Nikos Kapsalis

Olive grove in Lesbos. Photo credit: Nikos Kapsalis

The olive tree was sacred to the ancient Greeks and Athena was often depicted wearing olive leaves on her helmet. Of course, olive trees get a mention in the Bible, with the dove taking an olive branch to Noah in his ark, when the flood waters subsided.

In the original Olympic Games in 775 BC the victors were presented with wreaths of olive leaves.

Interesting bark on an olive tree. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

Interesting bark on an olive tree. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

We have cultivated olive trees for thousands of years, and it is believed that they can live for a thousand years or more. In Laconia, Greece, there is one tree that is supposed to be a thousand years old. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it last time we were there. It’s difficult following directions given by locals, as they give various landmarks as pointers, but these  are unknown to visitors to the region. I guess we’ll try again next time.

It isn’t just the olives that are good for our health. The leaves can be made into a tisane to calm the nerves. Just use a handful of leaves and let them steep in boiling water for about 15 minutes. Strain and add honey.

It is thought that the cholesterol-lowering effects of the leaves comes from the oleuropein they contain. They have been good for reducing malarial fever, as reported by Both French and Spanish doctors who had treated soldiers in the war of 1808-1813. Later, in 1843, fever swept through the island of Lesbos, and the tisane made from olive leaves was thought to have been responsible for curing many.

Interesting rock formation opposite the hotel beach. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Interesting rock formation opposite the Aigeiros  hotel beach on Lesbos. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Olive trees produce olives every alternate year. They can be black or green, depending on the tree. The flowers are small and white, and the oil produced from the fruit of the tree can vary in colour, from a rich green, to a pale yellow. Of course, it is very beneficial to our health.

It would appear that most Greek families have their own olive groves. This means that the land owned by the forbears of Athenians, is still cultivated, and olives are still grown and sent to relatives who live in  the city.

If you travel in the Peloponnese, deep into Mani, you will see a sea of olive trees. They are everywhere you look, there’s no escaping them (not that you would want to of course). The first time I saw them, I was astounded!

View from the hotel Aigeiros' taverna. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

View from the hotel Aigeiros’ taverna. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis.

The trees in this post are all from Lesbos.

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The Faris Hotel, Laconia, Greece

My Facebook friends have heard so much about this hotel, they are probably getting fed up by now. However, I am back again, writing this while it rains. I can’t see the Tayegetus mountains an…

Source: The Faris Hotel, Laconia, Greece

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The Faris Hotel, Laconia, Greece

Sunset from the Faris Hotel, Laconia, Greece. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Sunset from the Faris Hotel, Laconia, Greece. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

My Facebook friends have heard so much about this hotel, they are probably getting fed up by now. However, I am back again, writing this while it rains. I can’t see the Tayegetus mountains and the pyramid, because the hotel is engulfed in a low-lying cloud. I can’t even see the walnut trees, which are not far away!

Low-cloud over the Faris Hotel and the Tayegetus mountains. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Low-cloud over the Faris Hotel and the Tayegetus mountains. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

The hotel is on top of a mountain and is one of the most tranquil places I have visited. It really is far away from the “Madding Crowd.” The roads around this area are not of the best, with hairpin bends and a road that is in need of resurfacing. Suffice to say that my friend is currently searching for a garage so that he can put more air into one of the tyres after a trip down the mountain to Potamia,  one of the nearby villages.

View of the Tayegetus mountains from the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

View of the Tayegetus mountains from the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Even though the weather is the best I’ve experienced here, there are compensations, such as chestnuts roasting in the open fire. Then, of course, there is some respite from the clouds, and I know that soon the sun will shine again. It isn’t like the UK where winter sets in around October and stays until April!

Open fire in the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Open fire in the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

The puppies, one big and 2 small are huddles with their mother right in front of the door of the hotel, making entrance and egress problematic, as Argos, the big black puppy is extremely friendly and can easily trip us up if he gets between our legs.

The 2 small puppies outside the main door of the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

The 2 small puppies and their cat friend outside the main door of the Faris Hotel. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Next time we go to the Faris Hotel, these two smaller puppies will be gone, one to the village close by, and the other to Austria.

Mosaic in the lobby of the Faris Hotel. Credit: Nikos Kapsalis

Mosaic in the lobby of the Faris Hotel. Credit: Nikos Kapsalis

Most people know about the mosaics in Knossos, but this is a modern one. The double-headed eagle is a symbol of Greece, but there are at least four eagles that fly around the hotel and the village of Goranis. Actually, I didn’t see them very often this time, probably because of poor visibility and the weather.

A break in the clouds over the Tayegetus mountains. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

A break in the clouds over the Tayegetus mountains. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Now I have been to the Faris Hotel in all seasons and weather. I think that each season is special and have enjoyed being there in all weather conditions. I can’t wait to go again in December/January.

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Of course, on the way there and on our return trip, we stopped in Rouchounas Taverna in Corinth. (Of course, my elbow got in the way in this photo!) As you can see from the chairs and wine pitcher, it really is a no frills traditional taverna but it has excellent fish and seafood. Unfortunately octopus is not in season now until March. Looking for ward to it!!!

My favourite dog, Argos,  a Greek mountain shepherd dog. Photo Nikos Kapsalis

My favourite dog, Argos, a Greek mountain shepherd dog. Photo Nikos Kapsalis

Book a room direct from the Faris Hotel’s owner, George by emailing him at info@faris.gr., or by calling his landline number, +30.2731 075 447, or his mobile number, +30.6945 364. Check out the hotel’s website at: http://www.faris.gr

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Taverna Pikoulianika, Mystras, Laconia, Greece

Taverna Pikoulianika, Mystras, Laconia, Greece. Photo: Nikos Kapsalis

Taverna Pikoulianika, Mystras, Laconia, Greece. Photo: Nikos Kapsalis

If you go to visit the Byzantine city of Mystras, it is worth driving a little further up the hill to find this traditional taverna with its home made food. of course, if you are going to Mystras from Kalamata on the old road, you will find it on your right, before you get to the old city of Mystras.

Inside this traditional taverna with one of the friendly owners.

Inside this traditional taverna with one of the friendly owners.

I had been here before, and had had assorted mezedes (starters) while waiting to meet people who had walked around Mystras.

Outdoor seating in good weather. Credit:Nikos Kapsalis

Outdoor seating in good weather. Credit:Nikos Kapsalis

The people who currently own this taverna have had it for approximately 20 years, and that it is still being visited in the autumn attests to its success and the quality of its food.

Sit outside Taverna Pikoulianika when the weather is good. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Sit outside Taverna Pikoulianika when the weather is good. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

There are other tavernas in Mystras, but having found this one, it seems pointless to go to any other, as the food is so good. We opted for the rabbit and pork dishes, both of which were delicious.

Taverna Pikoulianika, overlooking the main Mystras - Kalamata road. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Taverna Pikoulianika, overlooking the main Mystras – Kalamata road. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

These photos were taken in mid-October, but it looked like rain, so we sat inside. There’s a car park opposite the taverna and you can also park on the sire of the road should it be full.

You can book a table in advance by calling 27310 82403, or 6944 684789 (mobile). You can also email the owners at: Tavernakoulianika@gmail.com and the website address is mystras.restaurant.

The taverna is open all year round, and if you cant find the dish you are looking for,  it can be cooked for you as long as they have the ingredients. So if you are passing through Mystras, try the traditional Greek cuisine at this taverna.

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Cats, Dogs and Greeks

A rescued dog from Corinth, now living in Athens. Photo and owner, Nikos Kapsalis

A rescued dog from Corinth, now living in Athens. Photo and owner, Nikos Kapsalis

I love both cats and dogs, although if I had to choose, I’d probably opt for dogs; not small dogs that are easy to fall over, but medium-sized ones and large ones. The dog in the photo above was in a poor state when we took her from Corinth to Athens. Her people had abandoned her outside a fish taverna – my favourite. We thought about it for a while and then my friend picked her up and put, or rather thew her in the back of the car. Later he took her to the vet and as you can see, she’s looking much healthier now. The object in her mouth is a traditional Greek biscuit. She will eat anything, although bones and meat are her favourite things.

Mani, another rescued dog- from the Peloponnese, now living happily in Athens. Photo: Nikos Kapsalis

Mani, another rescued dog- from the Peloponnese, now living happily in Athens. Photo: Nikos Kapsalis

The dog above now lives with another one. Both are similar colours and luckily they get along well together, except when food is around. he is an even-tempered dog, although if she doesn’t like someone she gives a low, throaty growl, just in case… She came from an animal rescue centre in the Peloponnese and had been badly abused by her previous owner. It took her present carer a lot of patience and love to have her an almost normal dog as she is now.

Argos, my favourite dog. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Argos, my favourite dog. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Much as I like these two dogs, they are not my favourite. Argos, a Greek mountain shepherd dog holds that special accolade. He is a gentle giant and it is really wonderful to be greeted so well by him when we go to his home in the Peloponnese, the Faris Hotel. We were there recently and saw two of his siblings from a new litter. I’d like to have one, but they are to big for a flat in Athens. Here they are – fluffy hair balls.

Argos younger brother and sister. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

Argos younger brother and sister. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

And then of course, there are the many cats that miraculously (or perhaps not) find there ways to fish tavernas! If a fish taverna is not frequented by cats, it probably isn’t worth going to. This cat was a resident of the taverna/ouzeri in Scala Loutron, owned by Apostolis and Rena. They have 23 of them I am reliably informed by Apostolis.

One of the 23 cats living near Apostolis'and Rena's fish taverna.Credit Nikos Kapsalis

One of the 23 cats living near Apostolis’and Rena’s fish taverna.Credit Nikos Kapsalis

We couldn’t get the cats to pose – they were too interested in the fishy bits we gave them, but below are two more kittens.

2 more kittens at the fish taverna. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

2 more kittens at the fish taverna. Photo credit Nikos Kapsalis

And finally a typical cat pose!

Cat posing and waiting for a fishy treat. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

Cat posing and waiting for a fishy treat. Credit Nikos Kapsalis

 

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