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20 Weird, Crazy and Incredible Facts About Greece and the Greeks


20 totally weird ways to be Greek
20 totally weird ways to be Greek
Illustration Dimitra Tzanos
Art Source Publishing

After forty years of living in Greece, I thought I knew all there was to know about Greece and the Greeks, but underneath every tidbit of information, there’s yet another story, and even more weird and crazy facts than before!

Here are just a few of the most bizarre, hard to believe, positively mind-blowing facts which I’ve recently come across.

1. Greeks love sex
(Confirmed by the condom giant Durex)

Hey, let's go for coffee! Sexy Greek
Hey, let's go for coffee!
Sexy Greek
Well, I had my suspicions about that, but now it’s official, according to the company “Durex”, Greeks have the most sex in the world, and have held that title for the last ten years!

2. Greeks were first to go “The Full Monty”

Apollon Marsyas and Loucy Matli   Daphnis kai Chloe (1931)
Apollon Marsyas and Loucy Matli
 Daphnis kai Chloe (1931)
Never ones to be shy, Greeks performed the first nude scene in the history of European cinema, which was aired in the film “Daphnis and Chloe”, shown in cinemas in 1931.

“Daphnis and Chloe” was the only work known by Longus, or Longos, a second century Greek novelist.

 The story goes like this; Lanonas, a Greek shepherd, finds an abandoned baby boy, and then along comes another shepherd; Dyaitas, who finds an abandoned baby girl.

The two babies grow up together and eventually, yes, you guessed it, fall in love.

3. Greeks stick together

Til death us do part
Til death us do part
Photo by Sarah
Saving With Sarah
With so much going on between the sheets (See fact number 1), it’s no surprise that Greece has the lowest divorce rate in Europe, on the other hand, they have the highest rate of abortion in Europe, this could be due to the next fact; read on!

4. Sneezing prevents you becoming pregnant

Atishoo atishoo We all fall down
Atishoo atishoo
We all fall down
Soranus, an ancient Greek physician, swore by sneezing as a form of contraception (The women’s responsibility, not much changed there then), after making love, women were told to; squat, sneeze and rinse; atchoo!

If this was not successful, the next time they were advised to use plan B;

Rub honey, or cedar resin over your privates; what a sticky mess, enough to put anyone off, maybe plan B worked!

5. Doctor knows best

Hippocrates Father of Western medicine
Hippocrates
Father of Western medicine
Photo: Getty Images
Hippocrates, father of Western medicine, considered the human body to be just a bag of fluid, each fluid having its own special taste, urine, for example was  said to be akin to fig juice.

 To Hippocrates’ way of thinking, the best way to diagnose an ailment was to chew on a bit of earwax or sip a wee dram of vomit, to see if it was sweet or bitter, and rub  offending phlegm between thumb and forefinger, to check its consistency.

Now that’s called being dedicated to your profession!

6. We’ve run out of pebbles

“Three stones are enough to wipe”
“Three stones are enough to wipe”
Those smiles will soon be wiped off their faces!
Before the invention of loo paper, before yesterday’s newspapers, what was one to do after morning ablutions?

Ancient Greeks, not people to waste natural resources, used sea sponges tied to a stick (I could say something about something on a stick here, but, I’ll refrain), lesser mortals, without access to sponges, or the ones who lived inland, gathered pebbles.

Pebbles were kept in piles, next to wherever the lavatory was located, and, always ones to save a drachma here and there, the saying went as follows;

“Three stones are enough to wipe”

If someone had really got your goat; literally, to wreak revenge, pots were smashed, the enemies name written on the shards, and used as were the pebbles.

7. Will the real Santa Claus please stand up

Saint Nicholas Santa Claus
Saint Nicholas
Santa Claus
The original Santa Claus; Saint Nicholas, was born a Greek, on the fifteenth of March 270, in Patara in Lycia (Modern day Turkey)

He died, on the sixth of December 343, which is now celebrated as the feast day of Saint Nicholas.

His reputation for generosity was boundless; his giving of gifts was usually done secretly, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

Today, we are more likely to hang up our stockings!

8. Hands off our columns

Marble columns of the Parthenon Acropolis, Athens Greece
Marble columns of the Parthenon
Acropolis, Athens
Greece
One day, on the Acropolis, whilst fighting for their independence from the Turks, the Greeks succeeded in surrounding the Turkish stronghold, which caused a panic amongst the Turks; they were running low on ammunition.

In desperation the Turks began to smash the marble columns to smithereens, so as to get to the lead inside, and use it for bullets.

On witnessing the desecration of their sacred Parthenon, the Greeks yelled out;

“Here are bullets, don’t touch our columns”

And they directly sent ammunition over to the Turks.

9. No women allowed

Greek Orthodox Monk Greek Orthodox cats Mount Athos
Greek Orthodox Monk
Greek Orthodox cats
Mount Athos
Women and even female animals are prohibited from setting foot in any of  the twenty monasteries of Mount Athos, (A mountain and peninsula in Halkidiki, Northern Greece) which house more than one thousand four hundred monks.

This is not an actual written law, but is the “Avaton” a monastic principle, which is respected.

There is a legislation which prohibits eunuchs and beardless youths from entering the monasteries.

10. People forget to die

Ikaria Where people forget to die
Ikaria
Where people forget to die
In the North Aegean Sea is the island of Ikaria, the island of longevity, where people, so they say, forget to die.

Ikaria is one of the five “Blue Zones” (places where the highest number of people live to a hundred), the other four being; the  Barbagia region in Sardinia, the Nycoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, The Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda , California and Okinawa, Japan.

On Ikaria people sleep late, get up late, take frequent naps, wear no watches and pay no heed to time.

They live off the land; herbs for flavour, and also medication, goat’s milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, honey; a type found only on Ikaria, very little meat, plenty of  local wine, the true “Mediterranean Diet”.

Not only do the inhabitants of Ikaria live up to a hundred, but they are healthy with it, many working in the fields up to their nineties, and here’s a thing, most of the men smoke; heavily!

11. Vrontados - the rocket wars

Every Easter Saturday two rival churches in Vrondados, Greece engage in a “rocket war” with the aim to hit the other’s belltower; they use up to 80,000 fireworks in the display.
Every Easter Saturday two rival churches in Vrondatos, Greece engage in a “rocket war” with the aim to hit the other’s bell tower; they use up to 80,000 fireworks in the display.

The rocket wars; the “Rouketopolemos” of the island of Chios, give Guy Fawkes Night in England, a run for its money!

Each Easter Saturday, at midnight, all hell is let loose, thousands of homemade rockets are fired, between two rival churches, Saint Marks and Panagias Ereithani, located on hilltops about four hundred meters apart, the object is to hit the bell tower of the rival church.

Days beforehand, all properties within the vicinity, are boarded up and protected with metal sheets and mesh.

The origin of this wild custom goes back to the Ottoman era, and, up until 1889, when it was banned by the Ottomans, real canons were used!

12. Sweat it out

Pills, potions and oinment
Pills, potions and oinment
In ancient Greece, athletes performed naked, their bodies slathered with glistening olive oil.

Considered to be the strongest and healthiest of Greeks by their fellow man, the sweat which they produced during competitions, was thought to have magical healing powers.

Slaves hung around the gymnasiums, where these highly-regarded athletes showed of their prowess, waiting for the events to come to an end, when they would rush to scrape, with special metal tools called “strigil”, the sweaty, oily mixture, known as “gloios’ from the skin of the worn out competitors.

The “gloios” was bottled and sold as ointment, which when rubbed on the limbs or torso, calmed and relieved aches and pains.


13. The curious story of how potatoes were introduced to Greece

Potatoes Photographic Print by David Aubrey
Potatoes
Photographic Print by David Aubrey
After four hundred years of Turkish occupation, Greece’s first Prime Minister, in 1928, Ioannis Kapodistrias, wanted to do something for his country; he would introduce them to the potato.

What a letdown for him then, when, on arrival of the shipment, the Greeks showed no interest whatsoever in the potatoes.

After a big think, Kapodistrias, who knew the Greek mentality well, positioned a wall of armed guards around the potatoes, the Greeks, presuming this must mean the potatoes were of great value, began to steal them, and crops of potatoes gradually spread through Greece.

14. All is not what it seems

In all their glorious colour
In all their glorious colour

The pristine, gleaming white, marble monuments, temples and statues of Greece, which we see today, didn’t start out that way.

Originally, when they were created, thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece, they were decorated with the brightest colours imaginable.

Time and the weather has taken its toll, slowly eating away at the bright paint work, leaving us with the pure white we see today.

15. Grounds for divorce

Spinalonga Crete
Spinalonga
Crete
The terrible disease, leprosy, was contained in Greece, within the leper colony of Spinalonga, a tiny island off the coast of Crete, which was  established in 1903 and closed in 1957.

Even though a cure was discovered, available in the 1950s, and the disease has been eradicated in Greece, Leprosy was grounds for divorce in Greece up until 1983.


16. Water with the wine

Water with the wine
Water with the wine

Ancient Greeks considered drinking undiluted wine a barbaric habit indeed, no Greek of any standing would ever drink wine as it came, straight from the barrel.

Wine was to be appreciated and savoured, not used as a means to become intoxicated and lose all self-esteem.

The usual ratio was three parts water to one part wine, rather like wine with your water than water with your wine!

17. Wine on tap

Let it flow Custom Tapped Wine Tower by TappedBeer
Let it flow
Custom Tapped Wine Tower by TappedBeer
It is said, that in the ancient Greek city of Sybaris, a wealthy city with a busy port and fertile lands, located in Magna Graecia, Southern Italy, Greeks were known for their hedonistic, luxurious and opulent lifestyle.

They went as far as to have pipelines,leading from the country vineyards, bringing wine straight into their homes.

From this decadent, ancient city of Sybaris, originate the words “Sybarite” and “Sybaritic”

18. Bring on the oxen

Ancient Greek Olympic Athletes
Ancient Greek Olympic Athletes
In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were held in honour to Zeus, king of Greek gods.

After a splendid opening ceremony, and the competing of athletes, the climax was the closing ceremony, where a hundred oxen were sacrificed to Zeus.

After repetitive sacrifice, of so many oxen, the sacrificial alter was built from neither stone nor wood, but was a mass of dried blood, flesh and fat.

19. No speaka de lingo

Greek Alphabet
Greek Alphabet

Many thousands of years ago, in ancient times, when Greek was the most common language spoken, to the Greeks, who thought themselves a cut above others, any other language, to them, sounded like “bar bar bar”.

And so, to these heathens, to anyone who did not speak Greek, they gave the name barbarians, because they were just so, well, just so barbaric!

And that is where we get the word barbarian, originally meaning anyone who did not speak Greek.

20. Stupid is as stupid does

El Loco The Fool Picasso
El Loco
The Fool
Picasso
In ancient Athens, among the wise old men, the philosophers, top army men and revered statesmen, it was considered “not the done thing old chap”, to keep to yourself, not be present in public affairs, not to be a political animal, not a politician.

It was not correct to be a private person, an “Idiotes” (ΙΔΙΩΤΕΣ), a civilian, outside of public life.

So, if you were not interested in politics or not a politician, you were an idiot!

 “Idiotes” (ΙΔΙΩΤΕΣ), in English means idiot, to my thinking; I should think it is rather the other way around today!

Aren’t there some gems in the above twenty facts?

I shall keep on searching for more, any contributions welcome, I surely need to do a part two, Greeks never fail to amaze!

     







Simple, Quick and Easy Homemade Greek Plum Jam Recipe - 100% Natural


Plum Crazy Jam By Greeker than the Greeks
Plum Crazy
Homemade Jam
By Greeker than the Greeks
Thirteen years ago, in 2004, I planted a plum stone (pit), against all odds and despite, in its baby stage, having to be nurtured by my son, while I was living it up in Italy, it flourished!

Homegrown Plums
Homegrown
Plums
I’m not sure what type of plum it is, in Greece it is called “Vanillia”, to me it looks like a Victoria plum, but what do I know?

As 2004 was the year the Olympic Games were held in Greece, I named it “Olympic plum”.

My little plum tree grew into a big plum tree, with not much help from me, just plenty of water and lots of Greek sunshine, and after maybe six or seven years produced its first flowers, not many, but oh, my excitement when the flowers became fruit.

Each year, my tree produced more and more plums, not enough to actually do anything with, until last year, a bumper crop I thought, resulting in a couple of crispy plum crumbles and deliciously sticky plum cake.

Sticky Plum Cake
Sticky Plum Cake
Well, compared to this year’s crop of plums, last years, which I was quite happy with, was positively meager.

When the tree blossomed this spring, it was a picture; a cloud of delicate, honey-scented, white flowers which became tiny, hard, green plums, which, as they grew larger, bent the frail branches earthwards under their weight.

Plum Tree in Blossom
Plum Tree in Blossom
We gathered a few bowls of plums, but mostly they were ignored, that is, until one evening, sitting and listening to the “plop” of falling, ripe plums I began to feel guilty, “I must do something with these plums” I thought to myself.

Plums from our tree
Plums from our tree
MGG (My Greek God) was sent up the ladder and we collected twelve kilos of plums, but how much plum crumble can you take?

Plum crumble and ice cream.
Plum crumble and ice cream.

I must think of something else to do with my plums; “Make jam” I was told.

I’ve never made jam before and was under the impression it was difficult and time-consuming and that strange equipment, such as funny thermometers and special pans were needed, and then there was the rigmarole of sterilizing jars.

Time to phone a friend; my friend Sophia, who, with her husband Georgos, run a thriving business;


To filema tis Lelas, in nearby Kiato, produces the most mouthwatering jams, Greek spoon sweets, chutneys and many more fruity concoctions, all one hundred percent natural, check them out them HERE on Facebook.

Sophia and Georgos To filema tis Lelas Kiato, Greece
Sophia and Georgos
To filema tis Lelas
Kiato, Greece

Just a sample of the delicious delights cooked up  by Sophia and Georogos at To filema tis Lelas, Kiato, Greece
Just a sample of the delicious delights cooked up  by Sophia and Georogos
at To filema tis Lelas, Kiato, Greece

Sophia had great faith in me; gave me a simple recipe and patiently explained how I was to go about making the perfect jam.

Recipe for Sophia’s plum jam

Ingredients

Ingredients for Sophia's plum jam.
Ingredients for Sophia's plum jam.

1 kilo plums

700 g Sugar

Juice of half a lemon

200 ml Water

Method

Sterilize jars by heating them in a microwave for a couple of minutes, heating them for twenty minutes in the oven at 100 degrees C, or running them through the dishwasher.

Remove the stones from the plums, cut into small pieces and place in a large pan, along with the sugar, lemon juice and water.

Stir everything together, bring to the boil and lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally.

Remove any foam that forms with a slotted spoon.

Remove any foam that forms
Remove any foam that forms
As the jam begins to thicken, stir continuously to avoid jam sticking to the pan and burning.

After about thirty minutes of cooking, test to see if the jam is ready by dropping a spoonful of the jam onto a plate, gently push it with your finger, a line should form, and remain in the jam, if not, boil for a further five to ten minutes and test again.

Once the jam is ready, immediately pour into hot, dry, sterilized jars.

Pour jam into sterilized jars
Pour jam into sterilized jars
Place the lids on the jars tightly and turn the jars upside down (this helps make the jars airtight) and leave to cool.

Once opened, keep the jam in the fridge.

As I had so many plums (Twelve kilos), I decided to make three kilos of jam at a time, so I trebled the recipe.

Twelve kilos of plums.
Twelve kilos of plums.
Removing the stones from three kilos of plums is no joke, it’s time consuming, MGG and MJGG (My Junior Greek God), were asked to help, which surprisingly, they did quite happily!

MGG lending a helping hand
MGG lending a helping hand

MJGG of Extremers Base getting in on the act
MJGG of Extremers Base getting in on the act
After the stones are removed, the plums need to be cut into small pieces, also time-consuming!

Plums; cut into small pieces!
Plums; cut into small pieces!
At last, I can begin with my jam making, but not before I prepare the jars, I took the easy way out and ran them through the dish washer, timing it to finish at around the same time as the jam would be ready, so the jars would be hot.

I used my largest pan, which really was not large enough, everything fit in, but once the ingredients came to the boil, it began to bubble and spit; everywhere, on me, the walls, the cupboards and even the floor, which became rather sticky underfoot.

Hubble Bubble Toil and Trouble
Hubble Bubble
Toil and Trouble
After about forty minutes of this hubble and bubble, I tested the jam, and yes, a line remained in the dollop on the plate, it was ready.

The jam is ready!
The jam is ready!
I poured the ruby, steaming syrup into the jars, quickly put on the lids, and turned them upside down, just as Sophia had told me to.

Flip jars upside down to help keep them airtight
Flip jars upside down to help keep them airtight

Then I stood back, and proudly surveyed my morning’s work; I had made jam!

Plum Crazy Homemade jam by Greeker than the Greeks! Labels by  Mando Handmade
Plum Crazy
Homemade jam by
Greeker than the Greeks!
Labels by
 Mando Handmade
I waited anxiously for the jam to cool, I was not only eager to taste the fruit of my labours, but also, to see if the jars had sealed properly, if the lids did not bend and give, making a clicking sound, all was well, it meant they were airtight; to my great surprise, and joy, there was no clicking noise when I pressed the center of the lids, and no give; I had done it!

I spread butter onto a slice of fresh, crusty bread and slathered on my jam; lovingly looked at it and took a bite; delicious, I had succeeded, Sophia would be proud of me.

The fruit of my labours
The fruit of my labours


But this is not the end my friends, I still had another nine kilos of plums left, and so, for the next three days, I stoned, chopped and boiled.

 My finger nails became sore from digging out the stones, and because I was using a pan that really wasn't large enough for three kilos of plums, I washed down splattered cupboard doors, walls, and myself, more times than I care to remember.

I produced another six kilos of jam, and on the third day decided to try making Greek spoon sweet with plums; now, I had not asked Sophia about this, so went into it blindly, more or less, I did take a glance at spoon sweet recipes on the internet.

Plums Galore
Plums Galore
Things went awfully wrong with my Greek spoon sweet, the plums, which should have remained in plump halves, turned to a pulp, not one to be defeated, I made plum syrup, or coulis, call it what you will, by boiling up the plums, zapping them (while still in the pan) with a hand blender, and then passing the mixture through a sieve.

Sieving plum syrup
Sieving plum syrup
I bottled the syrup as I did with the jam, in sterilized jars, and shall pour it over Greek yogurt, ice cream, my old-fashioned blancmange and creamy panna cotta, and use to top cheesecake, the next time I make one.

Greek yogurt with plum syrup
Greek yogurt with plum syrup

I don’t know how long it will be before my family become sick at the sight of plum jam, but right now, I am feeling ridiculously proud of myself for making something which turned out to be so simple.

Plum Crazy All my own work; with a lot of help from Sophia
Plum Crazy
All my own work;
with a lot of help from Sophia
I shall take my jam to Sophia, and ask her to give me marks out of ten, and to find out what went wrong with my Greek spoon sweet, although I really already know;

I didn’t have Sophia’s expert advice on how to do it!

See more mouthwatering Greek recipes below;

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