Sunday, 26 October 2008

Knitting and Not

Once again, it has been a ridiculously long time since my last post. In part this is because, for much of September at least, C. and I were off enjoying a long and luxurious holiday. I came back with grand plans of blogging it all in detail, but once back, a series of very busy weekends, and work, and various other more pressing things pushed it out of my mind, and somehow it never happened. For similar reasons my knitting has also been at something of a low ebb, and I haven't had much to report on that front either, but finally I thought I should devote my extra hour this weekend to catching up a bit, albeit in a slightly potted version.

So, the holiday... We started off, (like a large number of other rather more newsworthy people this summer) in Corfu. I hadn't been to Corfu before except to change ferries (well my mum tells me I had but I was about 3 at the time and don't remember it, so it doesn't really count). On reflection, arriving at 7am on a Sunday after an overnight flight when we couldn't check in until 1 might have been a mistake. It did give us the chance to look around the old town whilst it was quiet and empty, but by the time we'd spent 6 hours wandering around in the increasing heat we were wilting slightly. Our cunning plan only to sleep for an hour in order to avoid getting out of sync and not being able to sleep later also came to grief, as we returned to the hotel in the evening to find that the Greek Communist Party were holding some sort of festival in the park outside the window. Not that it kept us awake for very long, mind.

However, the following day proved to be much more successful. We knew that it was possible to cross from Corfu to Albania and take a day trip to the ancient site of Butrint, but we weren't quite sure how. At breakfast in the morning, though, we bumped into a chap who was working in Albania (though actually from Kidlington!), and who not only allowed us to share his taxi to the port (and blagged us onto the hydrofoil in spite of the fact that we hadn't got tickets in advance as we should have), but also put us in touch with a retired school teacher in Saranda, who, for a small consideration, hired a taxi-driver and acted as our guide for the day. As a result, we not only made it to Butrint,

but also to the Ottoman town (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) of Gjirokaster,

and most importantly for me, into the mountains along the Greek border to the village of Sotira, where both my dad's parents were born.

Driving in Albania was a bit of an experience, but the driver was very good and, since every car in Albania seems to be a Mercedes, it was accomplished in relative comfort (and with the temperature at 39 we were definitely glad of the air con). Perhaps the weirdest thing about the whole experience, though, was the landscape: incredibly high mountains either side of a completely flat plain, and hundreds and hundreds of concrete bunkers everywhere. Across the plain they were strung out in lines barely 100m apart (the lines of little white dots in this photo are all pillboxes).

The only downside to this packed schedule was that, with the boat back at 5pm we had to do everything at a bit of a run, with the result that we didn't really get to see anything in detail. We basically sprinted around Butrint and Gjirocaster before leaping back in the car and setting off down increasingly tiny roads to Sotira, which according to Vangel, the guide, is locally known as the village that only has sun for 6 hours a day even in the summer, because the mountains on either side are so high. Despite having quite an impressive church and school-house (both we were told built with money sent back by people who had left the village to work abroad) Sotira is tiny and almost entirely empty these days. The few locals who were around were very friendly, Greek-speaking and happy to talk to me, but unfortunately, the aforementioned mountains meant that when I texted my dad to tell him where we were going, his message telling me which relatives to ask after and where the house Papou used to live in was, only reached me as we cleared the mountains on leaving. Nevertheless, finally getting there was definitely the highlight of the holiday to me, and having discovered that it really wasn't all that hard, perhaps one day we can go back for a bit longer.

Back on Corfu we spent another couple of days trying to see a bit more of the island. Unfortunately we spent rather more time than we'd bargained for looking for the place we'd booked to stay on the Tuesday, until finally, having established that the contact phone number had been cut off, the fax number indicated it was in a different part of the island to where the address said it was, and no one in the area it was supposed to be had ever heard of it, we gave up and found somewhere else. We spent a fair bit of time exploring the villages up in the mountains most of which still seemed to be quiet and picturesque, with some lovely traditional buildings (a novelty for us since we're use to Zakynthos where the 1953 earthquake flattened pretty much anything earlier), but although the landscape around the coast was beautiful, the amount of development and tourism meant that I couldn't help finding myself continually thinking "it must have been so much nicer when mum and dad came 30-odd years ago". On the other hand as the 4-wheel drive hire car struggled to drag us up the (really quite impressive) Pantokratoras mountain I was quite glad that we weren't doing it, as my parents did, on an unmade road in a Wartburg estate with a 900cc 2-stroke engine and 5 people in the back! Not all change is necessarily for the worse.

Finally, having packed as much as possible into five days we hoped on a little jolly plane with propellers and flew down the Ionian, via Preveza and Kefalonia, to Zakynthos, where we spent a week and a bit at The House* doing the exact opposite - i.e. practically nothing. We pottered about doing a few odd gardening and diy jobs - putting up some guttering, planting some plants, and creating a compost bin out of an old water barrel (on my mum's insistance I tried to decorate it using some acrylic spray paint left over from some other job but the result looks rather like a floral dalek) - mostly, however, we went swimming twice a day and lay around reading and sleeping. Most enjoyable.

The new extension makes a big difference to the general aspect of The House, especially from the outside, though inside it is still a little on the "basic" side since the floors need retiling and the walls replastering. But at least this year the bathroom had both a door and a wall, which is better than the last time we were there, when rather weirdly it only had the door. We also got to take advantage of the "solar water heater" my brother had rigged up when he was there the month before, which meant warm showers after swimming for the first time ever. Sadly however, autumn arrived in the form of a Biblical-style deluge towards the end of the week and there was no longer enough sun to make it work, so we were once more reduced to begging warm showers from family friend Christina down the road. The cascading rain also washed away all my carefully planted seeds, rushed off the roof so fast that it completely bypassed the newly installed gutters, and came up through the floor in the back room having been successfully thwarted by the new roof and retaining wall from taking any of its more traditional routes into the house. Ho-hum.

The change in the weather did finally spur me to do some knitting though, since up to then the many projects I had brought with me had been languishing in my bag untouched, being altogether too woolly for handling in warm weather. Concentrated knitting in the last couple of days on Zakynthos, on the 6 hour bus journey to Athens, and on the flight on the way home allowed me finally to finish the Bluestockings for my mum, though not quite in time for her birthday.

So far, however, I'm ashamed to admit that that remains my last FO. At least my last knitted one. Part of the reason for not immediately starting something else is that, the weekend after we got back I went on a mosaic-making course and started making a name-plate for The House. The original plan was to complete it in the weekend, but it soon became apparent that that wasn't going to happen. As a result quite a lot of weekends and evenings were subsequently devoted to cutting and sticking tiny bits of tile. But I'm quite pleased with the result.

Since then I have been faffing about trying to decide what to make next and casting things on and then frogging them in a desultory manner. Hopefully sooner or later normal knitting services will be resumed. Must do better.

*For some reason, amongst our family, the small and (until recently at any rate) slightly decrepit building on Zakynthos where we tend to spend only a few weeks a year is generally known as 'The House', despite the fact that a) it is it much less like a house than any of the other houses that we actually live in all the time, and b) it already has a name, albeit one based on a gratuitous pun (see above).