As the story goes, Santa should be loading up his sleigh just about now, preparing to bring gifts to the good children of the world during the late evening and overnight hours of ChristmasEve, December 24. No, wait. It’s the elves that load the sleigh. So what does Santa do other than hang out in department stores to get an ear full of children’s wishes?
This photo gallery has Santa caught on camera all over the world.
It only takes a minute to buy a souvenir from someone on a beach but if you stop to find out about that person’s life, you might take away more than just the memory you’re holding in your hand. In May, while visiting the Greek island of Kos, I took an excursion boat to Pserimos, a tiny little island with just a few dozen inhabitants, and bought a handmade magnet (see photo below) from a local woman who spoke English with an Australian twang.
I was excited by the fact that she spoke English because all of the other people I’d encountered on my brief visit did not and I was curious to know what it was like to live on a remote little island with a tiny population. But almost as soon as I bought the magnet, the skipper of our boat called us back onto the boat, so I lost an opportunity to find out what it was like to live on Pserimos. I know that I’d hate living on a remote island but every time I take an excursion boat to these kinds of places, I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to not get back on the ship.
Weeks after my visit, I thought about the experience again and recalled that I’d seen a sign in Pserimos which read, “Welcome to Pserimos, Pserimos@gmail.com.” The fact that the island had its own Gmail account amused me, so I fired off an email to the address on the off chance that the person would be able to hook me up with my souvenir lady.
I received a reply right away from George Karaiskos, who, oddly enough, lives on the nearby island of Kalymnos, which is famous for its sponge divers. George wasn’t immediately sure of whom I was talking about, but he filled me in on his own interesting story. He was born in L.A., but at age 8, his father died in a car accident and his mother took him and his siblings and moved to Kalymnos, where he has worked for the municipality for the last 28 years.
A few days ago, George got back to me to give me the souvenir woman’s name and mobile phone number. Her name is Vaggelio Koukouvas and she’s 53 years old. She was born on Kalymnos and immigrated to Darwin, Australia, at 13. She married her husband, who is from Pserimos, in Australia and the couple returned to live on Pserimos in 1994. When I called her, she was initially surprised to hear from me. “Do you know you are calling Greece?” she asked. But once she understood the nature of my call, she was happy to share her thoughts on what it’s like to live on a remote Greek island. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Why did you and your husband move back to Pserimos?
We bought a sailboat, a day-trip boat and came back from Australia with our four boys, and started a family business. My husband grew up until age 10 on Pserimos, then moved to Kalymnos and then to Australia at age 17. He never forgot Pserimos for one minute when we were in Australia; every day he was talking about how much he loved Pserimos. So we saved our money to go back.
How many people live in Pserimos?
About 35 people live here year round. Up until two years ago, we had a primary school here, but the kids grew up and moved on, so the school closed down. The nearest school now is in Kalymnos.
When your husband grew up on the island in the ’60s, were there more people living there?
When my husband grew up there, they had 150 kids. There were fewer houses than now, but everyone had a lot of kids – at least four. His grandmother had 11 kids, for example.
And your husband returned to look for work in Australia?
He left. We sold the boat because we got tired of it and there was too much competition in Kos with other boats. And you can only make a living doing that for five months out of the year. In Australia now, he’s working as a heavy machinery operator – something completely different. And my sons are all working in Australia, because there’s a crisis here and there’s no work at the moment.
I have my little business selling souvenirs that I make here in Pserimos and I don’t really want to leave because I’m happy. It was hard this year with the bad economy; even the tourists who are coming are really watching their money. It’s hard for me but I like this work. I’m fighting for my bread here but I want to stay.
Is it difficult to make it through the winter there?
In the winter, Pserimos is nice and quiet, especially if you’re a pensioner and have enough money to get by. But if someone gets sick, there are problems because we have no doctor on the island. No one has died though because we can always find a boat out to Kalymnos or Kos, but it isn’t always easy in winter. If the seas are bad, we can go two weeks without a way to leave the island.
Who lives on Pserimos?
We have a priest, some fishermen, pensioners and me. Pserimos is known for producing sea captains – one family can have three captains in it. There are some families that have goats and sheep. That’s all you can do on a place like this. There aren’t very many young people.
How do people pass the time?
If you have animals to care for, there is always something to do. The old people watch T.V., talk to each other, and have coffee. If we get bored, we go to Kalymnos.
But you have to be careful not to make enemies on a small island, right?
(Laughs) That’s true. Almost everyone here is related in some way by blood.
And do you all get along?
We have arguments sometimes. And there’s gossiping too, just like any small village. But this makes life a little more interesting, doesn’t it? Otherwise, we’d be really bored.
But if you get into an argument with someone on an island with only 35 people, it’s pretty hard to avoid them, isn’t it?
You can’t avoid anyone here, that’s for sure, so we do have to get along. People are busy and our houses aren’t that close to each other though, so in some ways, we are on our own, especially in winter.
I didn’t see much in the way of shops. Where do you buy food?
There is no supermarket, that’s for sure. We have a minimarket that’s open in the summer. In summer, the boats come every day from Kalymnos, so there’s plenty of food available. In the winter, the boats come three times a week, or less if the seas are bad, so it’s harder to find products – that’s why people stockpile food here.
Is it lonely living there on your own?
Yeah, it is sometimes. Now, it’s September and it’s already quiet. Most of the tourists are all gone. Sometimes I go down to the beach and I feel like I’m the only one living on the whole island. It’s really quiet – people come out of their houses when the boat arrives from Kalymnos to see what’s going on.
Is your husband planning on coming back to Pserimos?
He does come back to visit and he’ll return. He’s in Australia for work – a lot of men do that now, because there’s not much work here. He’ll come back one day because he loves it here.
How has the crisis in Greece affected Pserimos?
A lot of the people who live here are pensioners and their pensions have all been cut. And they used to get a bonus in their pension, an extra 50% payment that would come at Christmas and Easter but that’s gone now. It’s hard to live on what they get now – impossible I would say.
What do you like about living on Pserimos?
Every day is a new day. It’s quiet. It makes me happy to see the sea. I don’t care if there are people. I enjoy it here. Everybody loves Pserimos. If people could make a living here, we’d have so many more people living on the island.
During the summer season, how many hours a day do you work selling the things you make to people that arrive on the excursion boats?
About 12-14 hours per day, seven days a week. I start at 6 a.m., making the items I sell, and getting my stand ready. I’m there in the sun, the wind, with the sand blowing in my face all day. By the time I get to sleep, it’s 2 o’clock in the morning. This is how I make a living for five months of the year. People think it’s fun, but it’s not.
Will you go off to Kalymnos to look for work this winter?
I might, but there’s not much work there. If I can clean some houses that would be good but I need time to make the items I sell to get ready for next summer. You always have to be ready.
I love the little souvenir I bought from you because I can look at it in my home here in Chicago and it transports me back to Pserimos.
That’s why I make these things. I don’t make much money, but I don’t care because life isn’t just about getting rich. I know that people like the things I make and that makes me happy.
Nearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.
So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:
Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.
Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.
Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.
All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?
*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!
Right now, I’m cruising at 35,000 feet on a Delta flight surfing the Web with Gogo’s Inflight internet access. My flight has been delayed, and I want to tell my wife that she can pick me up later. And it occurred to me: I wonder if Google’s new “Call from Gmail” feature would work while flying.
Sure enough, I opened Gmail’s “Google Talk Plugin” interface, entered Gadling editor Grant Martin’s phone number and pressed “call.” As it turned out, he answered the phone — and he could hear me.
What does this mean? Well, it means that, if you’re in-flight, and you have a headset and a Gmail account (and a Gogo Internet pass), you can make free calls from the air (to the US and Canada only) to landlines. This is not new for VOIP (Skype’s infrastructure allows this, though it’s hit and miss), but this is a first for Google.
Is it a win for airline passengers? We’re undecided at this point. While the convenience is certainly nice, do we really need to hear the girl next to us on the plane cooing to her boyfriend via her Gmail account?
Although I use Gmail primarily to stay in touch while I travel, my account has proved enormously useful for plenty of other reasons. Rather than visiting 3-4 different airline and hotel sites, I collect and “star” all my itinerary info within my Gmail for easy reference. And rather than carrying around all those annoying frequent flier cards, I created a single file in Google Documents that lists my member number for every airline. Not to mention the hundreds of othergreatways you can take advantage of Google when you travel.
Now I have another reason to keep coming back to my Gmail – an add-on for Firefox users called Gspace. Gspace turns any Gmail account into 2 gigabytes of free online storage with an easy-to-use interface. Think of it as an easy way to store your photos, videos, favorite music and important travel documents on the road. When you log into Gmail, you’ll see the files you’ve uploaded listed as emails in your account. Head over to the Gspace site, download their Firefox application, and you’re ready to go. You access Gspace from the pull-down “Tools” file menu in your Firefox browser. Check the How It Works page if you’re having any problems.
If you don’t have Firefox, you can download it for free – trust me, it’s better than Internet Explorer. Also, if you’re not already a Gmail user, it’s time to sign up. The best part? You can sign up for unlimited Gmail accounts, so there’s technically no limit to what you can store.