Back to basics and ‘KALO PASKA!!

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
— Albert Camus


I returned to a freezing cold, windy and very wet Skiathos and unable to locate my key-holder right away, I had time to assess the extent of the winter damage and the work that lay in store for me. It was overwhelming! The old Kalivi roof had all but collapsed

and the garden was completely overgrown: a jungle of waist high weeds and asphodels!

When I finally got inside, I found the water pump had seized, the mains electricity had fused, the phone (and internet connection!) was dead. With damp walls all around and having missed a whole night’s sleep traveling, I felt so depressed and if there had been a flight would probably have headed straight back to the airport. Instead I took to my bed hoping to wake up and find it was all just a bad dream.

As it happens (some 10 hours later!) I woke up completely refreshed and raring to go. I threw open the shutters and even though everything was indeed as I first found it, somehow, greeted by the sun now pouring in, clear blue skies offering a clear view across the water to Evia, and a fresh smell of spring in the air, it didn’t look quite so daunting after all – It felt so good to be back!
A few phone calls later and water and power were quickly restored but it took over a week and several attempts, to get the phone line repaired! I couldn’t wait to spring into action….and apologies for this long silence but, well, haven’t stopped since!.

At last the house is feeling like a home again, dry, aired and swept and polished:


The garden is taking shape too, slowly (18 barrow loads of weeds to the compost heap yesterday!) but with renovation work on the kalivi already in full swing;

it’s hard to see beyond the bombsite it is at the moment, with wood, tiles and rubbish everywhere!

Best of all, I’m painting again – but no, not canvasses!

All the chestnut beams and wood panels for the roof have had a couple of coats of preservative. Thank fully I had some help (my daughter visited for a few days).

The kalivi is going to look so lovely, I’ve decided to use it as my studio, as it’s more conveniently situated, nearer the house – and the old one will revert to being a pretty cottage – more accommodation for guests.

With Easter week upon us – and early this year – there’s been a sudden burst of energy all over the island and it’s very infectious! Once again the familiar sounds of spring: chain saws, strimmers (along with the frogs and geese!) break the silence.

and the scent of pine and sweet fresh grass and meadow flowers fills the air:

Thank fully the weather has been absolutely glorious so much has been done, All over the town the sparkling street and newly painted houses, shops and tavernas are glowing and ready for business.

There was even a well-organised incentive to clean the beaches and for a week keen volunteers, Skiathites and expats alike, have made their way round the islands shore line, working like Trojans!

Lucky I managed to do some beach-combing and gather some driftwood before it all disappeared on the bonfires:

well you just never know when some old fishing net will come in handy!


Skiathos has, over the years, been home to many ex-pat residents, some of whom married into local Greek families, some who came and left as quickly (and mysteriously!) as they arrived and some who stayed on and, through successive generations, continue to do so.

Sadly, of the first generation to arrive, back in the late 50’s/early 60’s, few are still with us today. Names are not forgotten but what is little known, is that many of them had quite exceptional and distinguished careers, before retiring to this peaceful little island.

Long before the days of celebrities evading prying lenses of the paparazzi, the more notable personalities came here in search of a peaceful, simple life with a quiet humility, hoping to live out the remainder of their days in relative anonymity. Almost fifty years on, however, I feel it would be sad if Skiathos continued to remain unaware of jut how distinguished many of its first residents actually were. Aside from names in the land registry deed books (still held in the archives on the Sporades capitol, the island of Skopleos) the only written record of them ever being here, as far as I know, is the ‘Skiathos, The Shaded Isle’ book, first published in 1972 and affectionately known as the ‘Blue book’(after three editions, it is, alas, no longer in print). Edited by Jack Causton, it was mine of local information: a compilation of articles on a variety of aspects of Skiathos life, as experienced by the then residents.

Few in number, I’d like, in time to provide an insight to each of their lives but first, one contributor, Elizabeth Irons, was a remarkable woman, the first woman war correspondent to have been decorated with the ‘Croix de Guerre’ and renowned for, amongst other things, having broken the heart of Vita Sackville West. Her fascinating life and distinguished career is well worth a read in itself (see Elizabeth Irons) but the reason I single her out now is because of her contribution, ‘Christos Anesti!’ (Christ is Risen) which is particularly pertinent with this being Easter week. Although much of what was written in 1972 has long since become outdated, in this case, with Skiathos’ Easter traditions remaining unchanged for centuries (falling as it does under the diocese of Mount Athos) and as my own accompanying photographs, taken this week, confirm, Miss Irons observations are every bit as valid and accurate today as they were when she first penned them, Here are some excepts:

“ The man on the bus said: “Christ rises this Sunday”. He was a middle-aged gentleman in a neat business suit and he spoke in a matter of fact tone as if he were telling me that the steamer Kyknos was due at four o’clock. There is no mystery about the resurrection here. Quite simply, it happens. As soon as the clock strikes midnight and Saturday becomes Easter Sunday. So it is a natural item of topical interest to mention to a stranger on the way from Tzaneria to the village………

…..April is not the best month of the year to be in Skiathos. Dark and evil caterpillars descend from the pines and march across the villa’s terrace, in endless single-line procession, like animated rope. Infecting humans with an intolerable itch. Because of the damp a lot of time is spent hanging the sheets out to dry. It is too cold to swim. But forget all that. The fields are carpeted with wild flowers, everything from lupins to pink and purple and dusky red orchis”.

“….Centuries before Christ died and rose again in Jerusalem, Greeks joyfully celebrated the return of Persephone from Pluto’s dark kingdom, and the greening of the land after winter. The roots of this April festival run deep. Easter is the crown of the Orthodox year, as Patrick Leigh –Fermor says in Roumeli, ‘It must be experienced’.

Visitors from all over Greece and beyond, travel from far and wide to celebrate the truly unique experience of a ‘Skiathos’ Easter.

……On that Thursday in Easter week, the day of the encounter on the bus, children roamed the streets carrying bamboo crosses

decorated with arum lillies

and the white irises that grow wild in the olive groves….”.

“In the grocer’s shop, amongst all the jabbering of the customers, a radio was broadcasting a church service; oblivious of their surroundings, two small boys chanted their responses.

It was a busy day for household shopping. Many people had been hungry ever since Clean Monday, the first in Lent, eating no animal product and this week, for the strictly faithful, even wine and olive were out too. Now they were beginning to lay in the supplies for the breaking of the great fast on Sunday…..”

After a chance to catch up with some old friends in the now bustling cafes along the waterfront:

I climbed the steep and narrow alleys of the old town to enjoy a delicious lunch of Shrimp Yiouvetsi, fried calamari, potatoes, salad and beans and peas in oil. lunch with my Greek friends:

in their festively decorated home:

Followed by an afternoon in a shaded courtyard town garden preparing the Stefani (wreaths) for the evening church ceremony.

Not everyone makes these. Traditionally, they’re only made by those who have miraculously escaped an accident or recovered from serious illness and they are a way of offering thanks for their (or their loved ones) lives being spared:

“Miraculously the sun shone. Freshly white-washed houses dazzled the eye; here and there a woman (or man) hurriedly splashed on the last of the asvesti: every wall must sparkle by Easter day”.

As I left for home in the now quiet streets,

deserted by all but the occasional sleepy-eyed alley cat:

I spotted Ian, a relatively new ‘expat’ and dear friend, happily continuing with tradition out side his new home: a beautifully renovated townhouse in the heart of the old town.

(to be continued……I’ll be back with more of the Easter festivities as they unfold)

Till then, ‘KALO PASKA!’ Everyone – Happy Easter!

(Oh, and Ian? You missed a bit!)

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16 thoughts on “Back to basics and ‘KALO PASKA!!

  1. Hi Yvonne
    What nice posts and beautiful pictures as always. I enjoy reading them so much. You have so much eye for the details. And you also brought me back to my childhood where my parents took us on these long, long, neverending car travels, and how boring that was for us kids.
    many greetings, Frieda


  2. What a lovely read Yvonne. Sorry you returned to your home in such a sorry state and I am glad to see you are getting straight now. Its wonderful reading yours, and other people like Victoria’s, stories … I sit and wish with envy that I could live your dream. Ahhh one day maybe. Until then, I look forward to popping along to Kolios in June to say hello. Chris.


  3. Thanks for the post. I had no idea Skiathos had such a tough winter this year. Spent the time in Athens, where the winter was disturbingly mild. Lilacs bloomed in January! I arrived on the island yesterday. Spent today doing winter cleanup at a friend’s house in Profitis Elias. No damage there, but is a protected spot. I have to return after the holiday and may not get to see you. I hope to visit Ian and Kamila in town. Let’s stay in touch. Hope the spring promises good sprouts for you.


    • Hi Margarita! Lovely to hear from you and glad you’re back. Hope we can meet up….may see you at the church or later in the week, before you go. Otherwise when you return for the summer. Hope all’s well. Much love, Yvonne x


  4. Dear Yvonne,

    I just loved your blog…and the pictures, you are such a talented writer and photographer

    Sorry about the Kalivi and I think I know the feeling of arriving to a house after the winter,
    I have done so in the past in the pouring rain, when it rained for days and I just spent the
    whole time under the duvet reading books. Then the sun came out, and voila, so did the paint
    and asvesti, cleaned up the garden and the plants, put on some music and all was well again.

    These days I have wonderful Monosakia and Andreas who do everything for me before I
    arrive, gone are the days of waist high weeds in the driveway, it makes all the difference,
    and also do not come until June when the warm weather has set in.

    I miss seeing all the wonderful wild flowers in the Spring, I used to drive into the Paraskevi
    Valley with my flower press in hand gathering wild cyclamen. I thank you and Victoria of
    Skiathosbooks for keeping us “summer only” people uptodate on all the local customs of
    the island and for all the photographs, I would come more often but it is such a hassle coming from the US.

    The wreath making looks like such fun and how pretty they are, I look forward to meeting
    you this summer Yvonne.

    Kalo Paska..



    • Ooh, thank you so much, Sandra – you’re too kind – such generous comments!! Very sensible to have help. I do have a company check in regularly and I did have help at one point but they always left the island for some reason….I think now , after the last winter, I really will have to find someone more permanent and responsible – there’s always so much to do each time, I’m exhausted before the season starts!!! Hope you’re not too cold over there in the US. Keep warm and yes, I’m looking forward to meeting you too this summer. Much love, Yvonne x


  5. Hi Yvonne,

    A lovely read, as always, love the photos – even the one of me !
    I finished at 19.30 last night, and so far no bits missed 🙂

    The Tries Hieraches church is packed as eveyone is visiting to see the decorated “Ephitaphos” which will be carried around the town tonight in a candlelit procession, after the funeral mass, at 4am …

    The funeral bells have just started pealing at 1pm, and will go on into the night.

    Kalo Pasca x


    • Thanks so much Ian- hope you didn’t mind me putting your pic up – and I was only joking!!! You were doing a grand job! If I can stay awake, I plan to be at the church in time, so hopefully see you there….x


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