Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Don't Worry Worrying Beads

On our adventure to Ioannia, when we were almost done for the day we stopped to get some Pita Gyros. Then we bought some Worry Beads, (in greek Komboloi) my beads protect me from the evil eye, and Zachs are a football club (AEK).
Worry Beads are sometimes used to try to stop smoking and to keep their hands busy.
But the bad thing is we don't quite know how to use them, but we might see if one of the people from the church could teach us.
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So here is Nick giving us both Greek language and worry bead lessons!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dinner - Greek Style

On Sunday we went out for dinner with Andreas Carillo. We were going to go with both Andreas Carillo and Andreas Flouris but Flouris had to mark some exam papers, which had Daddy laughing. We went to one of the taverns downtown. We got there at about 7:30 but we were still the first ones there. First we had some souvlaki, roasted cheese (Choulami from Cyprus), frites, tzatziki, and calamari. After that they came and brought some loukamathis. we finished about 9:30 and there were still only a few people there.
LoukaMania (a shop name we saw in Ioanina)! Jacob and I are attacking the Loukamathes! 
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Here's a video of me doing a back-flip snow angel

Friday, 24 February 2012

Oh YEAH!!


On the day to the Pindos mountains, I bored Andres Carrillo nonstop by constantly saying "oh man, I have GOT to bike this!" as we're driving up and down the mountain pass. You could easily tell from driving it that it would be unbelievably gorgeous as a bike ride - one of those drives that would have made me mental if I didn't have the bike on this trip!
The village of Pyli ("Gate") is about 18 km directly west from Trikala. On the left are the high mountains soaring over the town church. From the neat 16th century stone bridge that Debbie wrote about previously, the steady climb starts. The climb is one of those perfect combinations: stunning mountain scenery, on the sunny side of the mountain, gentle curves so that it's not a boring straight grind, and about 6-7% steady grade makes it a hard but enjoyable effort rather than a death march.
There was no snow on the ground in Pyli, but that quickly changed as I started ascending. There's something incredibly cool about climbing a mountain with a big wall of snow on the side of the road. You can see how high the piled snow gets from the white car on the right. And on the left, you can bet this van isn't getting out any time soon - Into The Wild!
The Elati town sign on the right, 11 km and 643 m up from Pyli. This was where we went for the fancy hot chocolate. Did the bulk of the climb in my 36x23. Was broiling on the way up with my thermal jacket, thick leg warmers, and booties, but I did certainly appreciate the extra warmth when I descended. Had a banana and started the fun descent, averaging about 50 km/h. The scenery was so terrific that I had to remind myself to keep at least one eye occasionally on the road. Just happened that my iPod shuffled to Yello's "Oh Yeah" (remember the song from the classic 80s movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off) - perfect song to be rattling in my brain during such a fantastic descent!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Greek Doughnuts

The Greek version of the doughnut is called Loukoumades (Pronounced - Loukouma-thees). We have had these several times as they often come complimentary at the end of a Greek meal. We found several recipes for them but since we were rather limited on baking implements, we decided to make a first try making them from a mix. Fairly easy but a little messy - you just mix the flour mix, with the yeast packet, add lukewarm water and allow to rise.

Then comes the technical part - you need to squeeze the dough out of your fist onto a spoon and then drop into hot oil and cook until golden on both sides. Some of the recipes call for a thick syrup with a lot of sugar and honey, but we just drizzled ours with a little bit of honey, a shake of cinnamon and vanilla ice cream. Jacob proclaimed them as good as the ones we had at the restaurant.  Next time I think I will try the recipe at this link:   http://allrecipes.com/recipe/loukoumades/
Bon appetit or "kali orexi" as the Greeks would say.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Stone Bridges to Ski Hills

Today we went for a drive into the Pindos Mountains with Andreas, Irene and Andres Carillo. The Pindos are a mountain chain that extend from north of Greece down into the Peloponnesian Peninsula. The aren't extremely high mountains but right now they are snow covered and they had large areas of pine forests. We drove through a town called Pyli which means "gate" because this town is the gateway into the mountains and also into the valley from the other direction.

On the far side of the town there is an ancient stone bridge. This bridge was built between 1514 and 1527 and until the 20th century it was the only passage across the Pinlieos River from Northern Greece into Thessaly. Travellers and caravans would use this bridge to cross the river. It is unusual in that it has a very high arch and would have been technically difficult to design and build in those days. There are hiking trails into the mountain on the other side of the bridge.
The EEL (Environmental Ergonomics Lab) reunion at Pyli: Andreas Flouris (Ph.D. 2008), Stephen (Big Boss EEL), and Andres Carrillo (M.Sc. 2006).
It's been a very long absence, but at last here's a new handstand picture! Check out the wicked bridge on the right too. That's the start of the climb up to Elati and the ski hill beyond.
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We drove up to a small ski resort in the mountains but decided not to snowboard today. The weather was beautiful though, warm (11-12C and sunny). We hoped to stop at a small hotel with a good view of the valley but were unable to get there with the snow-covered road.
Instead we stopped at another small village on the way back, called Elati. Elathos  means pine tree in Greek and above the village of Elati is where the pine forests are located.  We went to a cafe where we all had decadent hot chocolates before the drive home.
 Thirty-two different decadent hot chocolate flavours - even more than the 31 Baskin-Robbins ice creams!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Lunch - Greek Style

Last Sunday we had lunch with the pastor of the evangelical church here in Trikala, Giorgos and his wife, Paraskevi, also with their daughter Litsa and son-in-law, Nick who is our English translator at church. Giorgos is around 83 years old and has told stories about during WW II when he was  13 years old and all the people in his village were being rounded up in the town square by the Germans. They knew what their fate might be because in another town nearby over 300 people had been killed. 
The priest in the village offered his life to the captors and pleaded with them to spare the villagers. He said we have beef, pork, and vegetables - take what you need but spare the people.  And the Germans did that, they took the food and spared the villages, even the priest.  Giorgos thanks God for sparing his life when he was 13 years old.  He became a Christian when someone visited him in the hospital in the 1960's and in 1971 they founded a small church in Trikala - the small city near the village where he grew up.  
The new church endured persecution in the town and had the building permits revoked and they had to fight until 1978 when they were able to start  in a new building by registering it first as a business. That building is close to the downtown and Giorgos is still leading the small congregation there 34 years later. We had a really nice time with them even though they don't speak English and we don't speak Greek (very well yet!) They were delighted though to hear us use the few words that we know. We've been going through a Pimsleur's audio course daily, and Nick will also be giving the boys some lessons.
 We also bought a Valentine's Day cake and shared it with Petros and his parents.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Scary Carnivale

A caption is kinda pointless for something like this, right? Happy Carnivale!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Art History - The Age of Impressionism in Romania - Nicolae Grigorescu (1838-1907)

To dead airmen of WWI
While we were in Brussels, we went to an art exhibit by Romanian Impressionist, Nicolae Grigorescu. He is considered to be the founder of modern painting in Romania. He was able to combine the avant garde of painting which he experienced during his travels throughout Europe with local characteristics of Romania.

Coming from peasant origins and starting as a painter of religious scenes in monasteries, his career developed with the advanced painting techniques in Europe. In 1861 he was awarded a grant to study at the Beaux-Arts in Paris and there he met the greatest artists of the time, from Millet and Corot to Renoir and Monet.

As the leading modern artist in Romania, Grigorescu  painted everyday scenes from the country of Romania, including people, countryside, flocks, lakes, forests, fields and homes.  There were 95 works included in the exhibition. Unfortunately, we were unable to take any pictures, so here are some pictures around Brussels instead. I was unable to find an online picture of 2 oof my favourite paintings but here is a link to a small collection of the paintings of Nicolae Grigorescu.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Little Limoncella Story...

Overall, it was a short but fabulous time in the Eternal City. Had a great talk, met and got to know interesting new colleagues, ate lots of Italian pasta, pizza, and tiramisu. And thanks to Christina and Inge, I had a great short and very wet tour of the Vatican and the Colosseum. Grazie Cri & Inge!
Cri in the Roman "Snow"
All the euros drink espresso, but I wimped out and just went with cappuccinos instead. Apparently, drinking cappuccinos after 1000h irreparably brands you as a gauche non-Italian (unless you're on a diet apparently, but the contradiction between having extra milk calories in a diet drink doesnt seem to register). Oh well...
For a speaker gift, Laura Capranica gave us a small glass jug of limoncella (an after dinner drink that's made from lemon rinds steeped into pure alcohol. Yeah that's got a kick!) that she made herself from lemons along the Amalfi coast. She also gave us a small ceramic tile and tumbler from the region. Grazie mille Laura!
Pasta, Pizza, and Vino, the holy trinity of Italian cuisine...
Unfortunately, as I only had hand luggage, there was no way that the limoncella was going to "fly" so to speak. Was humming and hawing about whether to even try to pass it through security, but the huge lineup convinced me not to take chances. However, desperate as I was to sample some of the lovely liqueur, I chugged a bit straight from the jug in the airport bathroom before pouring it all out. In retrospect, given my famous alcohol tolerance, drinking some hard liqueur in the airport bathroom stall (hopefully not video-taped), pouring the yellow liquid into the toilet, and then weaving through the security line with alcohol steaming out of me likely wasn't one of the greatest decisions I've made in my life!
Giving my lecture on heat stress and exercise in the tiny hotel dining room due to the university being closed due to threat of snow. I guess it's appropriate, as my research is all about adapting to environmental extremes!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Michelangelo's "Pieta"

Despite my being a bit of a Philistine when it comes to actually understanding great art and what makes it great, some things just smack you upside the head and leaves you quaking at the knees and in no doubt of its greatness. That was absolutely the case when I walked into St. Peter's Basilica, turned right, and saw Michelangelo's "Pieta" of Mary holding the dead body of Christ.
Commissioned to Michelangelo in 1499, when he was all of TWENTY-THREE years old, it's a cliche but I just could not take my eyes off of this stunning sculpture.
There's the sheer technical mastery (check out the incredibly intricate folds of the clothing) and the utter realism (look at Christ's right shoulder and the way it "hangs" on Mary's hands - the body is so clearly dead and limp). Yet there's the magnificent composition and unity, with Mary grieving and yet having the strength to hold up her dead child. Wow, wow, and wow again. In going through my Rome pictures, I just keep coming back to Pieta over and over again and staring in wonder.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Ponte Milvio - That's Amore!

The Hotel Farnesina is on Via de Farnesina, which is a block up from the river and the very nice Ponte Milvio (Milvian Bridge). I'm going to need to look up some history of the bridge, but it certainly was incredibly beautiful walking across it in the late afternoon sun.

 Being the bridge of love, there are well over a thousand locks tied up throughout the bridge. I love shots of reflections off the water like the one on the left, looking east from Ponte Milvio.