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Oleander, Jacaranda. Blue and white are not the only colours of Greece.


On seeing Penelope Lively’s informative book, “Oleander, Jacaranda” mentioned in a magazine, I thought to myself;

”I must read this book again”

Penelope Lively, born and raised in Egypt, just before World War II, writes about her childhood in such a way as to make you feel that you grew up there with her, in the narrow streets and souks of Egypt.

She takes you into another era, another country, you can smell the aroma of herbs and spices wafting in the air; hear the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.

You feel the very essence of Egypt.

Click on the link below to read about Penelope Lively's book: "Oleander, Jacaranda"

At a certain point in the book, Penelope remembers a street, lined with Oleander and Jacaranda trees, here, I pictured Greece, not Egypt, as once, not too long ago, Greece’s streets were awash in a sea of pink, white and purple.

Oleander in our garden, seen from above.

Sadly, as Greece progresses, building new roads, widening existing ones and tearing down old houses to make way for new apartment blocks, Oleander and Jacaranda are becoming a thing of the past.

Where once there was a profusion of colour, motorways are now lined with conifers; dual carriageways have centre islands with palm trees standing to attention, and along the edges of the town’s pavements are numerous, run of the mill, nondescript trees.

I much preferred the oleander, so much more colourful, so much more Greek, but, for some reason, Greeks do not like oleander.

White oleander
White oleander

I have asked the Greeks why they don't like oleander but never got a straight answer, they tell me;

 “Because its pathetic” or “It’s not nice”

Not once though, was the reason that Oleander is poisonous, given, maybe this is not so well known by them, well, by the younger ones at least, my son of thirty two didn’t know, until I told him.

They just don’t like it, a friend of mine had rented a beautiful house, here in Greece, the garden though, was very bare, with  tatty fencing, she planted oleander all around the borders, which, when it blossomed, was a delight to behold.

When they left, the owners ordered them to uproot it all before vacating the premises.
That was a job and half, I can tell you!

I have searched and searched the internet, trying to find some old wives tale, or that oleander is unlucky, or cursed, but no, nothing, just that it’s poisonous, mainly to animals, no human fatalities are recorded.

Anyway, I adore it, our garden is filled with it, the pink had seeded itself, but after nurturing countless seedlings, that all turned out to also be pink,I bought a white one, much to the horror of the Greeks, who were shocked that I would pay good, hard-earned money for this monstrosity of a plant.


One man, when he saw our garden, took one look at the oleander and said;
 “You need to get rid of that”


Why can’t they see the beauty of it, is it the equivalent of English people cultivating willowherb in their gardens, quite beautiful, but they just wouldn’t would they?


The first thing to greet me every morning, on opening my kitchen door to the world, is a mass of tiny pink flowers, that last the whole summer long, and need no attention whatsoever.

Oleander, the first thing I see,
 on opening my kitchen door every morning.

Oleander are quite happy with a good drink of water three or four times a week, and they seem to grow anywhere, a very hardy plant indeed.

Coffee and oleander
Morning coffee in the shade of an oleander tree

Jacaranda, we don’t have in our garden, why I haven’t grown any from seed, I don’t know, I shall have to give it a go.

Jacaranda in Loutraki
Jacaranda in Loutraki

There are a few good specimens of jacaranda in our local park, I had gathered some seeds from one there, and posted them to our good friend Robert, in England, who has grown some excellent bonsai.

Wouldn't a jacaranda bonsai be something?

 His treasured bonsai, over thirty years old, had a slight mishap a couple of years ago and was partially devoured by a snail, happy to say though, it did make a full recovery.

Robert lovingly planted the jacaranda seeds, one of which took off nicely and was going great guns, but come winter, even though he took it indoors, it gave up the ghost.

Jacaranda Loutraki
The jacaranda tree in Loutraki park,
 from where I collected seeds for Robert.

I have been enjoying the jacaranda trees here in Loutraki from early spring, when they first put out their delicate purple blossoms, when I went to take photographs of them yesterday, they were a bit past their prime.

 April is when they can be seen in all their glory.

I only found three in the park, I’m sure there used to be more, or is just that they look so much more profuse when in full bloom?

Jacaranda Athens
Jacaranda in full bloom on an Athens street.

Happily, a spectacular jacaranda, growing in the courtyard of the local Soldier’s club, is still there and looking magnificent.

Jacaranda Loutraki
Jacaranda tree in the soldiers club courtyard, Loutraki.

I have a feeling that maybe the soldiers are not so happy, when I walk past the club, and the tree is in full bloom, there is always a soldier sweeping up the fallen blossoms!

I must make a note to myself to gather up some jacaranda seeds, once they are dropping from the trees, and who knows?

 I could be sitting in my garden, some time in the future, saying to myself, as Penelope Lively did, many years ago in Egypt;

“Oleander, jacaranda, oleander, Jacaranda.
Jacaranda, oleander, jacarander, oleander”

Read the book to discover why she repeats it the second time in reverse!

From souvenirs to souvenirs. Benaki museum shops, Athens,Greece.

Benaki souvenirs

Summer has well and truly arrived here in Greece, which means tourist shops are out of hibernation, and once again, spreading their wares along the pavements and alleyways, in all their garish glory.

To give them their due, things in this field, are getting better, there are now some tasteful little shops selling local produce geared towards tourists.

Golden olive oil, delicious Greek honey, dried herbs, shiny black olives, not to mention ouzo and the firewater known as raki, are just an example of the marvelous authentic Greek products being taken home as souvenirs.

Greek olive oil
Greek olive oil

Things really have progressed in the Greek souvenir business.

 How much nicer it is, to be presented with a bottle of Greek wine, or a jar of amber Greek honey to spread on the morning toast, than having to pretend you are over the moon about that clockwork bouzouki, or the plastic donkey that came from Santorini via China.

Donkey souvenir
Donkey souvenir

Olive oil, honey, ouzo and wine are perfect presents from Greece, but, they can be bulky and you don’t want to be paying excess baggage at the airport, just because you thought Uncle George would love that five litre bottle of ouzo.


Neither, once home, on opening your suitcases, do you wish to see your clothes marinating in olive oil!

 Holiday time is precious, not to be spent hunting for souvenirs, so, kill two birds with one stone; whilst visiting Greece’s admirable museums buy gifts in the excellent museum shops.

There’s a huge range to choose from; replicas of ancient artifacts, informative books,
plates and bowls depicting Greek scenes, just right for the Greek salad you are going to try your hand at, once you are back home.

Along with the more well-known New Acropolis Museum, The Benaki Museum is not to be missed when visiting Athens.

Benaki Museum Main building
Benaki Museum
Main building

Established in 1930 by Antonis Benakis, the Benaki Museum was the first private museum in Greece, displaying items that Antonis Benakis, had collected on his travels.

Items from prehistoric to modern times, from Europe to Asia made up this extensive collection.

In 2000, a state-of the-art restoration programme, created The New Benaki Museum, in Piraeus Str. Gazi, a very avant- garde area of Athens, leaving the original building, located on Queen Sophias Avenue, to house an entirely Greek collection.

The New Benaki Museum, hosts contemporary art exhibitions, alternative drama performances and a most wonderful shop, in fact, there are actually four Benaki Museum Shops:

Pireos St. Annexe
Pireos St. Annexe

1. Pireos St. Annexe

138 Pireos & Andronikou, Athens

Thursday, Sunday: 10.00-18.00
Friday, Saturday: 10.00-22.00
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday: Closed

Main Building
 Main Building

2. Main Building

1 Koumbari St. & Vas. Sofias Ave., Athens.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 9.00-17.00
Thursday, Saturday: 9.00-20.00
Sunday: 9.00-15.00
Tuesday: Closed

 The Hajikyriakos-Ghika Gallery
 The Hajikyriakos-Ghika Gallery 

3.  The Hajikyriakos-Ghika Gallery at:

Kriezotou 3, Athens

Monday, Wednesday, Saturday: 10.00-15.00
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 10.00-19.00
Sunday: Closed

Museum of Islamic Art
Museum of Islamic Art

4. Museum of Islamic Art at:

Dipulou 12 & Asomaton, Athens

Thursday-Sunday: 9.00-17.00
Monday-Wednesday: Closed

At any one of these four shops, you can solve all your souvenir problems; there’s something for everyone, for all tastes, all ages and all pockets.

Below are a few things that I would choose as souvenirs from Greece, to give to friends, or indeed, to keep for myself!


Replicas of ancient Greek statues
Various sizes
These are the smallest 
Prices start at 40 euros.

Tree of life

 Paperweight depicting the tree of life
30 Euros

 replica of ancient Greek coin from Corinth

Paperweight; replica of ancient Greek coin from Corinth
25 Euros

Bowl shaped in the form of a roman oil lamp mould

40 Euros
Sarong 35 Euros
Canvas bag 45 Euros
I love the pareo/sarong  and the large canvas bag, above, both showing characteristic Greek faces.
They are both also available in this quirky Greek "Fish Market" pattern.

Sarong 35 Euros
Canvas bag 45 Euros
Sarong 35 Euros

13 Euros

Cardboard box
Decorated with Yiannis Tsaruchis image.
13 Euros

Glass paperweight with Yiannis Tsaruchis image.
15 Euros

 80 Euros

Above, Mariniere style T-shirts in the colours of Greece, blue and white, showing the national star of Greece, the legendary Melina Mercuri, her best know film being "Never On A Sunday"
Available in long or short sleeves.
From Gautier
 80 Euros

Mini puzzle in a tin
Mini puzzle in a tin

Above; miniature jigsaw puzzle in a tin,
Showing painting by Yiannis Tsaruchis, Greek Painter.
15 Euros
72 Euros

Hand made, colourful wooden puzzle.
  Old-fashioned Greek bride on horseback
72 Euros

paper models.
Paper models.

Colourful paper models.
Children will love these.
10.50 Euros

Silver eye
Silver eye

Silver "Evil eye" 
38 Euros


Beautiful golden-coloured wreath.
730 Euros
Way out of my price range, but, isn't it amazing?

26 Euros

Above; Small dove figurine.
26 Euros

Above; Box of 7  Notelets in a varied choice of pattern.
7 Euros

55 Euros

Above: A sweet little ceramic dish, decorated with a painting by Aleco Fassianos,
my favourite Greek painter, this, I am going to buy for myself!
55 Euros

If you are planning on visiting the Benaki Museum in Athens this year, go there on a Thursday.
Every Thursday, the Benaki  has free entrance and stays open until twelve midnight.

If you won't be hanging out in Athens this year, no worries, you can still buy from these unique shops,
Order online, they deliver worldwide!

 Pictures from the Benaki website

Greek Wine, Barrels and Art. Semeli Winery, Nemea, Greece.

Barrel art
Barrel art

Last week, whilst on a trip to nearby Nemea, I had the unexpected opportunity of seeing the most amazing art work.

Nemea, a small, picturesque, typically Greek town, at the heart of the Peloponnese wine country, produces some of Greece’s bes twines, and is home to more than forty excellent Greek wineries.


On visiting the Semeli winery, named after Semele, the mother of  Dyonysus, God of wine, I was greeted by barrels and barrels of art, literally!

Bacchus (Dyonisus) Caravaggio
Bacchus (Dionysus) Caravaggio

Every year, in the month of March, the Zappeion  Megaron exhibition hall, located in the centre of Athens, hosts Oenorama, Athens’s wine week, Greece’s largest wine fair.

Oenorama  Athens Wine Week.
Oenorama  Athens Wine Week.

This year, for the first time, thirty artists had teamed up with thirty, huge, used, oak wine barrels, to create a spectacular art show, named:

 “Oak Sessions”

Oak wine barrels
Oak wine barrels

The concept was;

 What had these barrels seen?

 Where had they been?

If only they could talk, what would they say?

These thirty talented artists transferred their thoughts, to the thirty wine barrels, in unique art form.

Barrel art at Semeli Winery, Nemea
Barrel art at Semeli Winery, Nemea

As luck would have it, after the wine fair closed in Athens, these wonderful barrels had been brought to Nemea and put on display at the Semeli winery, the very place I was to visit!

Semeli winery & vineyards, Nemea
Semeli winery & vineyards, Nemea

Not only did I take in the breathtaking views of Nemea, acres and acres of vineyards, stretching for as far as the eye could see, but I had the bonus of seeing this incredible barrel art.

View from Semeli Winery
View from Semeli Winery

Not all thirty barrels were on display at Semeli, the ones I didn't get to see, I found in

 “The Oak Sessions”  Catalogue.
You will find a link to the catalogue, towards the end of this post.

Savvas Georgiades
Savvas Georgiades

This barrel, maybe my favourite, together with the olive tree barrel, which you will see in a minute, was painted by Savvas Georgiades, for the Mediterra winery.

 No title.

 Kostas Lavdas
 Kostas Lavdas

This was created by Kostas Lavdas for the Avantis Estate, using different sized barrels.

 "Angel Ksoano"

Olga Goulandri.
Olga Goulandri.

 This one for Hatsimichalis Estate by Olga Goulandri.

 "In Vino Libertas"

Eleutheria Tseiko
Eleutheria Tseiko

Lego has been used here for the Palivou Estate in Nemea, by Eleutheria Tseiko.  

 "Playing with Lego"

 Mary Samouli
 Mary Samouli

 A very fancy one here by Mary Samouli for the Semeli Estate, Nemea, the Estate where I actually saw these astounding barrels.

 " Drops of optimism In Deep Ruby"

Pavlos Habides
Pavlos Habides

By artist Pavlos Habides for Paparuan Estate

 "Saying goodbye to Polyphimo"

Pavlos Habides
Pavlos Habides

Painted by Pavlos Habides  for the Oenoforos Estate


 Georgia Bliatsou
 Georgia Bliatsou

Lovely spring poppies here painted by Georgia Bliatsou for Boyatzi Estate.

 "Spring Brings....."

Stelios Panagiotopoulos
Stelios Panagiotopoulos

An unusual one painted by Stelios Panagiotopoulos for the Gaia Estate Nemea.

 "Breaking Free"

Daphne Stergidi
Daphne Stergidi 

Stranger still, a lot of fantasy has been put into this barrel created by Daphne Stergidi for the Tour Melas Estate. 

 "Apollo and Daphne"

Vasilis Peros
Vasilis Peros

Vasilis Peros
Vasilis Peros

Here's my other favourite, with the olive tree, it roots bursting through the barrel, I love the tiny swing detail.

Created by Vasilis Peros for Nemeion Estate.

"The Red Swing"

 Athina Hatzi.
 Athina Hatzi.

Here's a more traditional idea, grapes in baskets for the Vasiliou Estate by Athina Hatzi.

 "Bench With Grapes"

Marcos Kabanis & Christina Aktidi
Marcos Kabanis & Christina Aktidi

The barrel on the left was painted by Marcos Kabanis for the Tsandali Estate.


 The one on the right, by Christina Aktidi for Estate Mouson.


Yiannis Dedes & Panagiotis Beldekos
Yiannis Dedes & Panagiotis Beldekos

On the left here, we have two rows of figures, painted by Yiannis Dedes for the Bairaktari Estate,


 and, on the right, Panagiotis Beldekos, sketched ancient Greek boats onto the barrel for The Estate Wine Art. (Kτήμα Τέχνη Οίνου)

No title

Marios Boutsinos & Harris Pressas,
Marios Boutsinos & Harris Pressas,

In the foreground is the barrel made for Estate Sigali by Marios Boutsinos, a perspex top, decorated with copper vine leaves, please have a look at this in the catalogue, (Link further down the page) the picture is much, much better than my amateur photography!
 AQs they all are actually!

"Wine Pleases The Heart"

The barrel behind, is for the Estate Kokotou ,and is painted by Harris Pressas.

 "The Four Seasons"

Tania Dimitrakopoulou &  Alina Matsa.
Tania Dimitrakopoulou &  Alina Matsa.

At the forefront, sky blue with horses, painted by Tania Dimitrakopoulou for the Aivali Estate, titled, you guessed it:


The one behind, showing the hand, is for the Estate Alfa by Alina Matsa.

"This Side Up"

Do please refer to the link for the catalogue  HERE, as you can see them in much better detail, and, 

also, have a look at the seven or eight other barrels that were not on display at the Semeli winery.

After inspecting these glorious barrels, we said our goodbyes, left Semeli winery, and went on to the

Palivou Winery, where Mr George Palivos (Owner & manager) told us the most interesting things

 about vines,wines and vineyards.

I don't pretend to be a wine buff, but, after speaking with Mr. George, I felt I was!

 Such a nice man.

Palivou Estate.Nemea  Photo by Nemea Press.
Palivou Estate.Nemea
Photo by Nemea Press.

Mr. George Palivos is so passionate about his vineyards, he very kindly piled us into his truck, and took us to see, as he put it;

"The Best View In The World"

He wasn't wrong, it truly was an astonishing thing to see!

View from Palivou Estate.Nemea.
View from Palivou Estate.Nemea.

Before heading  home to Loutraki, we stopped off at The Sofos Restaurant in the centre of Nemea, run by an absolutely delightful couple, George and Eirene, and had a delicious traditional Greek meal.

The perfect end to the perfect day.

If you are ever in Nemea, do go and see George and Eirene Sofos, believe me, if you do, you will become a customer for life, their food is to die for!

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