December 2009

December 2009

The real father christmas

The real father christmas, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

A few nights ago my excited young daughter looked up from the letter she was writing to Father Christmas and asked me if he could read Greek? If not she would have to start again and write it in English, she cried!! Don't worry he manages to read them in any language "By magic", I replied! "Oh come on daddy," came the response, along with a withering look "we all know there's no such thing as magic. How does he do it really?"

After a momentary hesitation I sat down and explained. I might not know how he does it but thought I should explain how Christmas is celebrated in other countries....

In Britain, as you know, Father Christmas, or St Nicholas to give him his real name, makes it down the chimney on Christmas Eve, 24th December, leaving gifts under the tree for you on Christmas morning.

The real father christmas, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

In Greece he does a double trip. In fact I think he probably gets a bit of help as there seem to be two saints claiming Father Christmas status. St Nicholas' day is on 6th December, and some children who've been particularly good might expect a visit from him then. He's also the patron saint of sailors here, and in years gone by rather than decorating a tree, seafaring men would trim their boats in celebration.

But then of course there's Agios Vassilis, or St Basil, who will climb down many a Greek chimney on New Year's Eve, laden with gifts. You must remember to leave a log in front of the grate though so he can step out without getting burnt. It really wouldn't do to find a singed Santa in your kitchen now would it?!

The real father christmas, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

In Italy things are different yet again! Daniele, from our Italian office, reports that children leave their winter coats under the Christmas tree in the hope that 'Babbo Natale' (Father Christmas) will cover them with gifts!

You might think that Turkey, being a Muslim country, doesn't have a visit from Father C, but in fact children there too can expect a visit from Noel Baba on New Year's Eve to help them celebrate the incoming year; and many homes will have a decorated Christmas, or New Year's tree.

The real father christmas, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

Stories and legends about Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, Jultomten to give him his Swedish name, and even Shengdan Laoren, as he's popularly known in China, abound. But one thing remains unchanged, the story of who St Nicholas really was.

Agios Nikolaos was Greek. He was the Christian bishop of Myra, a town in the province of Byzantine Anatolia, during the 4th century AD. Today Myra is better known as Demre, and is in the Lycia region of Turkey. Strangely enough Lycia is where I've spent quite a while in recent months, finding some fabulous new villas to add to the Agni Travel 2010 portfolio.

It's nice to know that Santa has had such a long and eventful history in the countries that we feature. We hope that you will enjoy a visit from him during the festive period, and perhaps visit his original homelands in the coming year.

The real father christmas, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

From all of us at the Agni Travel offices (UK, Greece, Italy and Turkey), wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful, prosperous New Year.

Typically Tuscan!

Typically Tuscan!, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

Well, as you've probably gathered from recent newsletters, I've been out and about looking for new and ever more wonderful villas and apartments for our guests to enjoy.

One particular evening I was dining with Daniele, our Italian expert. We were enjoying a taste of the real Tuscany in a fabulous little ristorante which still serves Chianti in squat bottles with raffia baskets. We'd missed lunch and therefore, if not quite doing it 'the Italian way', were finding room for an above average meal.

We'd ordered a substantial antipasto, followed by primo piatto, in this case a shellfish rissotto, before embarking on the main course, or secondi piatto as it's known. I, remembering my waistline, had opted for a relatively small dish of grilled chicken, but Daniele, a true Italian, ordered beef chop.

Typically Tuscan!, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

When his meal was placed in front of him I found myself spluttering the famous McEnroe expletive "you cannot be serious!" Beef chop? More like half a cow. This 'chop' was a full rib of beef, weighing in at at least 1.5kg. Chargrilled lightly on each side and served with... and knife and fork.

Credit where due, Daniele polished off the lot, albeit that he had to order a second bottle of Chianti to wash it down with. I meanwhile struggled through my chicken and decided against ordering the zucotto that I had promised myself for dessert.

Typically Tuscan!, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

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Sofri's Long Wait

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

One sunny lunchtime in mid November my friend Stephanos and I left Corfu, taking the ferry to Igoumenitsa. From there we drove to a village just outside from Florina, where Stefano's parents live and where we'd be staying, on and off, for a few days. After a warming Greek fasolada (beans soup) we headed into Florina make the arrangements for the next day. We were going to make 'Tsipouro'.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

In case you're not familiar with it, Tsipouro is a distilled alcoholic drink. It is normally made from pomace, the residue of the wine press. However, in this particular part of Greece, Tsipouro is considered a superior beverage, being produced not from the pomace but whole grapes. It would be insulting to suggest that its distillers made it from leftovers.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

After a whistlestop tour of the city we called in at the Kazani distillery where we would go next morning with Mr Giannis, Stephanos' father, to make some Tsipouro of our own. It was busy, filled with people who would be working through the night to get their own batch decanted. After a heated discussion with the manager it was agreed that we could return at 9 the next morning with our raw ingredients, ready for a day of distilling.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

We woke early and enjoyed a hearty breakfast before braving the morning chill. Outside, everything was covered with frost and the temperature was only just above freezing, brrr!
Adding extra layers of clothing we went and helped Mr Giannis load up his truck with barrels containing around 3 tonnes of crushed grapes as well as 350 kilos of old wine that Stephanos had insisted we bring with us from Corfu. "I want to make an experiment" he confided. "Let us see how well this old wine will do being turned into Tsipouro".

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

On arrival at the distillery we met some of the people who had been there the previous evening. It had obviously been a long night for them and they looked tired out. It dawned on me that I may have underestimated quite how long it takes to make Tsipouro, and I wondered how I would feel by the end of it.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

Our truck parked up at the distillery entrance, from where Stephanos and Zisis, one of the distillery owners, began to pump the contents of one of our barrels into a big boiler that steamed like an old train engine. Zisis then opened a fire trap door under the boiler and loaded some hardwood logs into it before settling down on his couch for a rest. I guess he deserved it as he'd already been at work for over 15 hours!
And then we waited. It took 45 minutes for the first drop to start coming out of the liquefier tube and fall in the collection basin.



, Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel 

, Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

Stefanos did an first alcohol test, discovering that it was about 22 'grada' (grada x 2.5 = alcohol %).
After about 10 minutes the basin was half full. The flow of Tsipouro much faster now, like a small spring. A second test showed the fluid to be about 20 grada. Stephanos continued testing until the grada reached 18.5 (about 45% abv). Commercially distributed Tispouro tends to be closer to 40%, but traditionally it is a bit stronger, and Stefanos' family hold with that tradition.
By 11am we had both boilers at our disposal and the long wait has started in earnest.



, Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel 

, Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

Thanks to modern technology, making Tsipouro is no longer a difficult process, but it is still a long one. Each boiler can make 35 litres at a time, and each batch takes about an hour and half. If you try to rush things by turning the pressure up too far you'll end up with a 'methismeno kazani' or drunken boiler! The heat turns the wine to steam before returning it to liquid form as it cools, which isn't good.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

But as you probably know, we Greeks like nothing more than to socialise and celebrate; and the production of Tsipouro is certainly an occasion to do just that.
Traditionally, the long wait becomes a party. The host is the person doing the distilling, whilst family members and friends have an open invitation to come and taste the new Tsipouro (if they can handle it) as well as enjoy a meal of salads and barbecued meat. Our first wave of visitors arrived at about 1pm, although the main celebration didn't start until much later in the evening. Uncles and aunts, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends all arrived, along with their offspring, and joined the feast. Eat, drink, relax is most definitely the motto here.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

By about 1am the following morning the festivities had died down and people not essential to the process had headed off to bed. But for us the wait continued. Of course you can sleep, but being woken every 45 minutes is not ideal so it's easier to enjoy plenty of coffee and conversation with a good friend to keep yourself going.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

After what felt like forever the sunrise started to appear, filling the sky with its pink and orange hues that told us that the long wait would soon be over. By about 8am the last drop of our 720 litres of Tsipouro was decanted and at long last we were able to head for home.

Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel Sofri's Long Wait, December 2009, Newsletters, Agni Travel

After another hearty breakfast we headed for bed and slept soundly for most of the day. The following morning we packed up Stephanos' share of the Tsipouro and headed back to the warmer climes of Corfu.
Despite the cold, and the long, long wait, my first experience of making this nectar has been one that I've thoroughly enjoyed and will remain in my memory for many years to come. If you happen to be in the Florina area in mid November I recommend you take the time to call in at the Gazeas family's Kazani Distillery and see how it is done for yourself. You'll be made very welcome!

Did you know?

This month's tasty bit of trivia...

So impressed have I been with the cuisine I've enjoyed on my travels that whilst working on our new brochure I decided to do a bit of research into the subject, and made an intriguing gastronomic discovery. It is said that the wonderful French cuisine we recognise today was founded in the Court of France's Henry II. When he married Florentine born Catherine de Medici, she brought with her not only a dowry, but her own Tuscan cooks to staff the Court kitchen.

I want to add this snippet to our brochure, but Daniele is concerned that it may spark some sort of international unrest and perhaps even lead to the breakdown of the EU. Personally though, I think we should leave it in; it says a great deal about the quality of Tuscan cuisine.

A doctor Calls

Little Aphrodite has been ill; nothing serious.The local doctor was called. He arrived clutching the typical doctors' medical bag. While examining our darling daughter, Eleni offered him a drink. Water, Coffee, soft drink; she enquired? Any whyskie he replied!!!!

He raised his glass, said "Stin Eyia" (To life) and declared ur daughter as fine!
How refreshing the Greek doctors!

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