Tuesday, 26 January 2016

A Little Envelope

Just about anyone who knows anything about Greece and her economic woes will have heard of the "fakelaki". What's a "fakelaki"? You cry? Well, it literally means "little envelope". Got it now eh? Thought so. The whole scenario whereby one passes a little brown envelope under the desk to one's lawyer, surgeon, accountant or other professional is so well known here that it's almost part of the culture.

It's odd isn't it, that the very professionals who we're all supposed to look up to seem to have made an art form - if what we read and watch in the media is to be believed - of accepting cash for doing stuff that ought to be done officially and thus the appropriate amount of tax paid for the sum earned. 

I'm sure you know the form. Someone needs surgery, so the surgeon says "It'll cost €5,000, but if you like, I can do it for three if you accept a bill for two and I pocket another grand from the fakelaki you're going to give me. Great eh? That way we both win, agreed?"

But, I wish to make an observation here. See, if the professional in question offers something shady like that to avoid paying tax on the full amount, then OK it's just plain wrong. It's robbing the government of taxes that it is justifiably entitled to collect, right? If I had a Euro for every Greek I've heard complaining about the austerity measures, while at the same time fidgiting so they can sit comfortably at a kafeneion table with such a huge wad of notes in his back pocket that it makes him lopsided then I'd have a pretty penny by now. Probably be in the tax bracket.

But there is another way in which cash changes hands that I confess I do have a little sympathy for. There are occasions when someone sits with a surgeon in the municipal hospital and agrees for a surgical procedure to be carried out. The surgeon says, "I'll book you in on such-and-such-a-date" and that's it, all done and dusted. It's not a private consultation. Then, at that point the patient thrusts an envelope at the Doc across the table and says "This is a token of my appreciation for your professional expertise." The surgeon may not even know how much is in the fakelaki, but there it is before his eyes just the same. Now, OK, one could argue that the surgeon should refuse, or at the very least tell the government abut this extra windfall he's being gifted for his services.

But, see, the last I heard is that many medical staff working in the public sector aren't getting paid all that regularly, yet many soldier on, going from crisis to crisis in their own personal financial affairs.They do this because they're dedicated to their vocation. They care about the patient. What would we do if such dedicated professionals upped and left and went to live in another country because they simply want to get paid on time?

You see where I'm coming from here, yea? OK, the letter of the law would say that the surgeon must declare that gift from his patient. That's the thing though, it is a gift, not a fiddle being worked by the surgeon. Plus it will probably help him pay a few bills until he gets his next paycheck, whenever that may be.

I only mention this because when I had my hernia op., I was in a ward with a couple or three Greek men, all of us receiving the same professional care and treatment. None of us had been obliged to offer the surgeon anything, yet for sure one or two had. If you or I were that surgeon, what would we have done?

Didn't Christ once say, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?"  Well, actually he may not have done, that passage is in dispute, but the principle holds true though doesn't it?

And before I sign off of this post, I'd like to mention that I have a good friend of many decades now living in India. Some years ago he told me that to simply purchase a train ticket there one had to also make a "gift" to the ticket seller in the booth at the station!! If you don't grease his or her hand with a little extra, suddenly that train is full and no more tickets are available. My friend told me it was normal. In India everyone budgets for the bribe.

So, I'm not making any moral judgments here, just making an observation.

Now, where did I put those envelopes..?

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Honey, Health and some Hardy Holidaymakers


I know I’ve posted photos of these jars of honey before, but each time it happens I’m so dead chuffed that I can’t help but snap another one. Last week I was out at the far end of the orchard digging over a small bed when the honey men came by again in their white truck. Spotting me over the fence and the oleander bushes, as per usual they stopped, backed up and one of them jumped down from the cab, rummaged around on the flatbed and then extracted the jar you see in the photo, handing it to me over the fence. If it’s happened once it’a happened at least half a dozen times in the past few winters.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries and then he said to me, 

“See the phone number on the label?” His finger jabbing at the appropriate spot, “Keep a note of it and call us if you see anything untoward. Would you do that for us please?”

I assured him that I’d be only too pleased to repay their kindness if I did indeed see anything out of the ordinary and they were once more on their way. What exactly would ‘something untoward’ be then? Well, I’ve probably mentioned before some time ago that they have had beehives half-inched before now. It seems almost impossible that anyone would steal beehives, but honey-making is a serious business and the obtaining of new swarms and their queens is evidently an expensive outlay. I spend a lot of time during the summer months telling guests on my excursions about how low the crime rate is on Rhodes, which broadly speaking is still true, yet sadly our local bee-keepers have been victims. They’ve had to resort (as I believe I’ve mentioned before) to placing a group of empty hives here and there to frustrate the would be thieves.

We know the bee-keepers’ truck very well now and indeed have seen various other vehicles (including the occasional closed box van) trundling up and down the lane from time to time. These could well be entirely innocent and yet now it seems it would be a good idea for us to call our friends the honey-men and at least describe what we’ve seen, in case there is indeed a theft about to take place. 

It is a cause of some sadness the thought that in the wilds of the Greek mountainsides there may be sculduggery afoot. Alas, our modern world, eh?

• 

Last Friday (January 15th) we held our fund-raising event here in Kiotari to garner funds to purchase medical supplies for our local Health Centre in the village of Gennadi. The staff there work tireless and sometimes without wages to help keep people living in the area healthy. A large number of ex-pats living here as well as local Greeks, Albanians, Bulgarians and a few more besides rely on the place for their immediate health needs. 

The centre is run by a young doctor, Dr. Nikos. As it happens I’d consulted him myself a few years back when I needed to arrange an operation to correct my abdominal hernia and found him a very personable and patient young man. He gets a “mench” in this post, the first of several in which I narrate the experience. My wife too had the benefit of his assistance a while back and not a few of the ex-pats we know here attend his surgery regularly owing to ongoing health issues that they suffer with.

So we organised a coffee morning at a local friend’s house and people came. they brought along a wonderful array of muffins, cakes, homemade biscuits, cheese scones and a collection of bric-a-brac to be sold for the cause and we held a raffle which consisted of names in a hat for prizes all of which were donated by local folk wanting to help the whole thing along. I’ve probably mentioned far too often that a Rhodean winter rather resembles a British summer and I mention it again here to remind you that the weather can be capricious in January. One day it can be hot sunshine and t-shirt weather, whereas the next it can be thunder and lightning, strong winds and temperatures that demand a thick coat and the log-burner to be fired up PDQ.

So, we’d been watching the forecast avidly and were delighted that it proved right and we were treated to a hot sunny day, sunburning weather in fact, which certainly contributed to the whole event going off with a bang. 

By the time the last few stragglers were hanging around sipping the remnants of their cold coffee and others were packing away the stuff that they couldn’t shift, we popped open the contribution boxes to see what we’d managed to cobble together. We’d have been well pleased if we’d made two or three hundred, but we ended up with well over €700 by the time the last few contributions drifted in over the succeeding day or two. TBH I was quite choked up. I know, I exude this air of gritty toughness, but inside I’m a kitten really.

Owing to the ridiculous rules here, we couldn’t simply give Dr. Nikos the cash because in all probability the tax men would have pounced and taken a sizeable percentage of it off of him before he could consult the medical supplies catalogue, so he advised us that we’d need to donate “goods to the value of” and thus this is the arrangement that we came to. That didn’t stop us doing a photo shoot of a presentation though, which we did at the centre on Monday 18th. I have to say I enjoyed the whole process and feel like we’ve achieved something good there. Who knows, we may even do it again some time.



We actually got into the local paper with this event too. It's in Greek, but click here if you like.


Finally, last Tuesday, which turned out to be a bright sunny day again after a wild wet and windy Sunday night and Monday, we spent a while hacking back some oleander bushes in the garden, you know, showing them who’s boss really, before setting out quite late in the afternoon for a walk around the block. By the time we finally left the house it was approaching 4.30pm and, since we’re entering another two or three day cold spell, with the dreaded north winds coming down from the Urals (I don’t really know why it always has to be the Urals, but it makes it sound, like, really cold eh?), it was starting to feel quite chilly, so we actually dug out our leather gloves, which we almost didn’t bring with us when we moved here, thinking as everyone does, that it’s always warm and sunny on Rhodes. We do get to wear them once or twice a year and this was going to be one of those rare occasions.

When I talk about a walk “around the block” I refer to primarily dirt tracks among olive groves, but one of our circuitous routes does take in a few hundred metres of the man road, on to which empties out our lane 1km down the valley below us. 

On a recent walk up to Asklipio


The kastro at Asklipio, just last week


That's my girl. She finds it impossible to walk without finding something to drag home (apart from me that is). In this case we sectioned that bough and it was added to the wood-store.

So, there we were walking briskly to keep warm when a metallic blue Nissan MPV sped past and honked its horn a couple of times at us. Now, the fact is, we’re such a rarity around here, owing to the fact that we actually walk a lot, that we get quite used to locals who know us honking their horns as they drive past. There is, of course, the Major (Colonel, General, I’m never quite sure) who lives down the valley from us and walks every day with a cane, but apart from him no one, and I mean no one, walks anywhere.

The locals by and large have finally given up on pulling over and offering us a lift, since it doesn’t compute that we may actually be walking for pleasure, having long since concluded that we’re either quite mad or desperately poor and can’t afford fuel for the car. The vehicle in question, however, came to a halt a couple of hundred metres ahead of us at the entrance to the upper car park of the Rodos Princess Hotel, whereupon it reversed around so that it was at right angles to the road as we approached. There were four persons inside as far as we could tell, but no one got out. Ever-so slightly scary, eh? It was like one of those movies where you’re under surveillance and are about to be apprehended as felons, even though you protest your innocence. Vivid imagination, I know. I’ve been cursed with it since I was little. 

Remember that old Spielberg movie “Duel”, where that sales rep (Dennis Weaver if my memory isn’t defective) is relentlessly pursued by a dusty old tanker, which seems hell-bent on ending his tawdry existence as son as it can? Well, I almost had the idea that someone in that car was planning something, …something I wouldn’t like. All ridiculous I know, but see, I didn’t recognise the car.

When we got to within about 30 metres or so the doors opened, out climbed four (to my relief) very normal-looking people and they strode purposefully toward us, all smiles and hands extended for a shake. They’ll forgive me for not remembering their names, but the first of them, a smiling woman, said: 

“It IS you isn’t it? It’s John, right? You don’t know us, sorry, but we thought it was you when we drove past.”

It only turns out that they were four people from Scotland who actually read this stuff!! They were taking, if I remember right, their second winter holiday on Rhodes, staying in Lindos and having a thoroughly enjoyable time. They were finding plenty to do and were able to eat out as and when they wanted to. Seems, though that they had an idea that we lived in Kiotari and so as they drove past they were amazed to see that, as circumstance would have it, here was that loopy blogger out for an afternoon walk with his better half, so they stopped to say hello.

I wanted to give them a mention for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s always a delight to meet friends who follow the blog, which means that someone out there actually is reading this prattle, even dare I say, enjoying it, and secondly I’ve often championed the idea for the more adventurous of taking a DIY holiday here during winter time and they were actually doing it. It’s an entirely different experience from a summer holiday of course, and you run the risk of experiencing some changeable weather (like a British summer!), but there’s lots to do and see if you don’t simply want a beach holiday. There is always accommodation to be had, especially if you’ve been here during the summer and taken the contact details of a few locals who keep apartments and rooms. Our new friends were staying right in Lindos village, gloriously quiet during January, and even had a log burner to warm them on their evenings in.

Lindos, just a couple of weeks ago.


Ditto.
Maria’s Taverna in the centre of the village is open all year round and patronised by quite a few locals. In fact on the Monday when we arrived home from Crete (November 30th) we ate lunch there with our neighbours who’d collected us from the airport. In Lardos the wonderful Savvas Grill is always open too, plus loads of other restaurants dotted about the island are open at the very least on the weekends. If you’re fond of walking there’s no shortage of spectacular countryside to explore, plus the village kafeneions are always there to slake your thirst in the process. Rhodes town too buzzes with pavement café culture all year round.

All it takes is a little enterprise. Yes, you’ll fly into Athens first, then the short hop from Athens to Rhodes, but this winter has seen even more flight options becoming available at even better prices than ever before. You can plot the route from several UK airports through EasyJet, RyanAir and Aegean for starters. Go on, have a go some time.

So, another “hi” to those hardy holidaymakers who quite made our day by stopping to say hello. I hope they didn’t see that huge sense of relief on my face that I was actually going to survive when they proved themselves harmless and friendly!

Steven Spielberg, you have a lot to answer for.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Spring (or Seven) in One's Step

Well, it seemed like a good idea. A couple of years ago when my sister and hubby were here. they brought with them a rather useful and interesting book called "Walk and Eat Rhodes". I like the cut of its jib, because it's a series of walks that always include a watering hole or eating establishment to make it just that bit more interesting. Good eh?

When they set off home again they left it with us and it's languished on a shelf in my "office" ever since. So, on a gloriously sunny day a couple of weeks ago (on Boxing Day in fact) we decided that it was high time we tried one of the walks for ourselves. Walk number 4 is Arhangelos to Seven Springs (Epta Piges) through olive groves and forest, not using mettled roads anywhere apart from the first hundred metres or so.

In fact, leaving the car just a few metres down the lane from the main road just north of the huge soft furnishing store there, we set off past this olive grove on the lane that leads (if you follow it all the way) to the cemetery, although you branch off of it on to a dirt track before you get that far...

There's a Jay there somewhere, honest!

Now be honest, if you were a dog, the doghouse could be a lot worse.
According to the book, this walk is a circuit of about 12 km, or 7.7 miles, easily within our capabilities and also the timescale we had before darkness was due to fall. The book says the walk takes 3.5 hours, but both of us have long legs and we reckoned we'd do it in less time than that. The book also says that the gradients are easy to moderate and that most of the route follows tracks of one kind or another. Can't go wrong really, eh?

You're soon striking out along a broad single-track lane which is quite level and passes numerous citrus groves and yet more olive groves, occasionally granting one views like these...



This is gonna be a doddle we told each other. A walk in the park. Well, in the picturesque Rhodean countryside anyway. We got into our stride and the terrain soon began to open up a little...

I'm standing at a junction where the book tells you to take a right. The route seemed to be working out OK
All the while for the first hour or so it's uphill, but only gradually, along a gently meandering track, with no really steep sections, making it a leisurely walk in hot sunshine. Since it was December 26th, we didn't expect to see a soul on this predominantly rural walk. But by the time we'd reached the junction in this photo, which is also the one below, but a bit closer, we'd already been passed by two pick-ups, a young couple on a scooter and several other walkers. Seemed like the usual scenario we used to remember in the UK. After a whole day at home falling out with other family members, a lot of people are desperate to get out of the house on boxing day.

Reaching the first real test of the accuracy of the instructions in the book (there is a map too, which is OK but not brilliant), which was a right turn down a steeply descending track, we were quite confident that this was going to be easy. Easy peasy in fact. Maybe even easy peasy lemon squeezy. Well, OK, maybe not that last one. But as we descended we were mega-impressed by the scenery. It is breathtaking. Steeply wooded hills hid secret groves of fruit or olive trees with birds of prey circling above. All in all up until now we were dead pleased with ourselves. We'd left the car at around 12 noon, fully expecting to picnic at Seven Springs before continuing around the rest of the route to get back to the car for around four-ish. At that time of year the sun sets at around 5.20pm, with darkness following quite soon afterward.




Looking at the map in the book, as we approached Seven Springs we decided that we'd probably complete the route in something like two and a half hours, deciding that the book must be designed for the extremely leisurely walker if it estimates three and a half. Arriving at a deserted Seven Springs, where there was actually a small car parked on the terrace that's normally covered in tables and chairs during the tourist season, we were instructed to cross the bridge below the restaurant area and then strike left up through the majesty pine forest, following the steeply sided valley in which the seven springs actually rise.

Yup, even here the Russians are coming!

If you're familiar with this place in summer, you'll find this quite a contrast.



Once you get a couple of hundred metres up along the valley on the other side of the bridge, that's when you start to wonder if this was such a good idea. The instructions are a little vague and you find yourself scrambling up a very steep hillside, occasionally stepping over boughs, scrambling around boulders and reaching forks in the tiny, steep path every few minutes, at not one of which does the correct route seem to be obvious to you. After we'd all but decided to turn back, we arrived, after quite a strenuous and occasionally alarming climb, at a small plateau sprinkled with olive trees which seemed to match the description given in the book. 

"Yup," we congratulated ourselves, "We must still be on the right track." We still hadn't stopped for lunch, which was jiggling around in the rucksack on my back all the while, since it was only around 1.30pm and we though we'd get a little further before seeking out a nice place to park our bums whilst hopefully enjoying a spectacular view.

After the small plateau containing the olive grove we rose a further few metres up a rocky  slope and all of a sudden we were confronted by a wide plain of olive groves, stretching off in all directions. There were fenced-in areas here and there, but whichever way you looked the land stretched into the distance until falling away, obscured by literally thousands of olive trees.

The instructions in the book tell you to follow a low stone way for about a hundred metres and then it says, and I quote, "Strike off diagonally right across the olive grove."

Now, seriously, 'diagonally' if you're standing where we were, could have meant any one of ten directions, the landscape all looked the same at this point. So there was nothing for it but to pick a direction and set off. After ten minutes of nothing looking right, we re-traced our steps.

"Right, then," We told ourselves, "It has to be this way then." Off we set once again. And, once again, after half a mile or so of similar terrain, nothing seemed to match the description in the book. After skirting a "low hill" on the left we were supposed to pass a [quote] "fountain dated 1996."  Frankly the only man-made things around for miles were chainlink fences and a few old stone ruins of cottages long since abandoned. 

I'll not beat about the bush. After another half an hour wandering around and fearing that we'd end up going much too far in the wrong direction, we did begin to worry a little. The location we were at was probably the furthest point on the whole walk from the start-finish point. Nothing in the landscape was making any sense and the sun was fast descending toward the West and the shadows were lengthening. We were both starving and thirsty but there wasn't even anywhere to sit down, just endless meandering tracks amidst thousands of olive trees.

Now, if you're used to walking in Greece you'll know that goats usually give you a very wide berth. It can be quite frustrating in winter time, because all the herds have really cute 'ickle' babies running around keeping close to their mothers and you just want to molly-coddle one or two. You can't usually, however, get to within fifty metres of the blighters before they all run off into the undergrowth, or to the nearest knoll where they then stop and turn around and glare at you with that, "Huh! Try getting up HERE why don't you, eh?" smugness on their faces.

Up where we were at this moment though, the goats that we were encountering would wait until you were within an arm's length before sauntering off just a little further. No panic, no running and bleating. You know what this means though, right? These particular caprines (impressive, eh? Isn't Google wonderful?) don't get an awful lot of human contact. They don't see anthropoids that often it seems. This reaction on their part only served to further raise our alarm level. I began to seriously think that we'd end up still wandering the hills as darkness fell and then we'd be in deep poo, literally as well as figuratively as it happens.

Of course, the very fact that I'm typing this tale takes all the suspense out of it, because we obviously did survive to tell it. But when we were safely back home and heaving huge sighs of relief and taking comfort in a medicinal gin and tonic or two, I decided to Google Earth the area which, had I known how things would turn out, I ought to have done before we undertook the expedition. I'm not kidding, but it's a near impossibility to make out the route even scanning the satellite images. All the way from Arhangelos to Seven Springs one could trace the route we took. As for seeing the route from then on for a good 5k or so, may as well been looking for a snow drop in summer on Rhodes.

Starving and thirsty, we nevertheless finally decided that, if we were to make it back to car before dark, there was nothing for it but to double back and find our way down through the pine forest to Seven Springs, where, assuming we made it, we knew we'd at least have a wall to sit on to eat our egg and tomato rolls before heading back the way we'd come.

Even finding our way back to that small olive grove on the plateau just below the high plain where we'd been wandering about in a daze, proved to be difficult. Why is it that if you turn around and head back in featureless landscape, nothing looks quite the same? Frankly, more by luck than judgement we chanced upon the landmark in question and once again were soon scrambling down slippery, damp steep, pine-needle-covered slopes to the bridge at Seven Springs (what did the book say again? Oh yes... "easy-to-moderate" Yes, well, if you're a mountaineer that would be about right). All the while when we'd been up on that high plain we'd seen no signs of human life at all. If we'd wanted to ask the way, the  best we could have done was to hope to speak goat.

Once back at the restaurant area of Seven Springs we ate a much needed lunch under that cathedral of pines and listened to the peacocks calling.

Hobbit country I'll be bound!

Phew, almost back to the Seven Springs restaurant terrace.

"Oh, you and that ruddy camera!" She said, affectionately.
Tracing our way back the way we'd come we were once again reminded of the steepness of some of the route. Boy did our hamstrings ache the following day...

It's a darned sight steeper than it looks, trust me.
Well, I suppose it all ended OK. We got back to the car before anyone called a search party and it was still in daylight. Next time we plan to try the route from the opposite direction.  After all, there are a few goats up there whom we promised to look up next time we're passing.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Brrrrr

Well, whilst November and December brought us clear skies and warm weather, leading to us swimming in the sea right up until a few days before the festivities, we're now quite glad that we nevertheless continued gathering wood for the log-burner, because we've just "enjoyed" the lowest temperatures that we've witnessed in ten years on the island.

When people ask me what a Rhodean winter is like, my usual reply is that it's like a good British summer. By and large that's a pretty good description of our winters, yet just now and then we get what I'd call a "cold snap", when freezing cold air from the Ukraine and Russia is brought down across the Black Sea and Turkey to afflict us with frigid temperatures. These are usually lows of around 5 or 6ºC, with daytime temperatures hovering in maybe the lower teens, but this past two days we've dipped well below that. In fact, driving home on Friday evening through Lardos, where we dropped off a friend on our way, the car registered -1.5ºC outside. A first. Plus, yesterday it only managed a measly 10º in the middle of the day. Like the title of the post says, Brrrr! (Did I put enough "r"s in there?)

It did cause us some amusement then, to be watching a TV show from the UK where the presenter was talking to a couple about their wanting to move out to the Paphos region of Cyprus, which has a climate very similar to ours. The couple were shown three different properties to see if any of them would tempt them to part with the readies. Of course, as per usual in these programmes, they wouldn't make a decision. But what caused us a degree of amusement was that in each of the properties the couple were shown a log-burning stove in the lounge area. The couple seemed to think that these, whilst nice to look at, would be a bit surplus to requirements, surely. More than once they said that they expected to be living in shorts and t-shirts most of the time, dining outside and so forth.

Yea, well, OK. It's true that at any time of the year it's a possibility. But the couple seemed to be suffering from what we all used to suffer from before we did our homework, the "Isn't it always hot and sunny out here?" syndrome. Anyone considering making the move would do well to either visit at least once during the winter months, or definitely talk to locals and get the low-down on what kind of weather we can experience from time to time from November through March.

The presenter, Anita, who was recently a celebrity contestant on "Strictly Come Dancing" (and flippin' good she was too. That bolero - phew!) actually tried to make the point that it can be raw on occasion during the winter, but the couple didn't really seem to want to hear it.

A rude awakening awaits, one can't help wondering.

They also, as part of the 'research' done on their behalf by the programme, were taken to meet another couple from the UK who'd been out there for some years and were (yup, you guessed it) helping out at a dog sanctuary. During their little natter the subject of the language came up and it was so much like what we hear here on Rhodes very often. The woman from the couple considering the move commented to the effect that one of her worries about moving out there was the potential language difficulties. They were assured by the couple already living there that this wouldn't be a problem. All the Greeks love the British and they're very friendly too. The fella actually said something like:

 "As long as you make the effort with the occasional Kalimera or efharisto, it goes a long way". Sorry and all that, but it did sound rather patronising of the Greeks. It was a bit like saying, 'keep the natives happy, you know.'

I do confess to being slightly frustrated at a lot of British living out here. It's not like they're really busy or anything. To learn Greek only requires determination and a little motivation. Time is seldom an issue. Laziness though, well, shoot me down in flames (and some will) but I'd say that's the main problem.

"Ah, but," as indeed the couple living on Cyprus did say, "Talk to them in Greek and they'll reply in English anyway."

True, but that's not because they don't think you should learn Greek. It's because they want to practice their English. I've yet to meet a Greek who didn't applaud my having taken the trouble to learn the language. I often try and put the shoe on the other foot. I know what we Brits think about foreigners living in our country who don't learn English. Right, eh?

Anyway, no good soapboxing is it. Sorry. But it is a bit of a bee under my bonnet, as you'll have guessed, no doubt. Being deadly serious, the Brits often don't seem to notice that they're 'colonising' villages and creating British ex-pat 'ghettos' that the locals become more and more resentful of. It's understandable isn't it? Making more of an attempt to assimilate would go a long way towards assuaging the build-up of that resentment.

I keep telling myself, "John, you're a guest in their country. Treat them with due deference." Learning the language has brought a huge amount of friendship and respect from Greek friends that we've made here. It's always going to be worth the effort.

Changing the subject slightly. We took a long walk all around the perimeter of Pefkos yesterday (Saturday Jan 2nd). It was about 10ºC and mainly cloudy. In fact my wife had one of those rare opportunities that only happen two or three times in a winter, that of wearing her long winter coat. We even wore our gloves! Pefkos at this time of the year is a world away from what it's like during the season. As it was cold and, of course January 2nd, the place was nigh on deserted and it was a really enjoyable walk. That's when I snapped this with my phone...


You even get a glimpse of the better half in her winter coat!
And finally. I'm not going to say "happy new year." Know why? because I'm an old pedant, and to me the number on the calendar changes every single day. Why not say "happy new day, week, month" too? Who thought up this calendar we're using anyway? Some sixteenth century pope by all accounts.

I do, though, sincerely wish happiness, prosperity and good health to everyone. I would wish such things on you at any time, any day. Spread a little positivity and it'll come back to you in time. 

And don't be minding an old curmudgeon like me!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Spina-wrong-a Part the Second

The island is visible through the restaurant seating area.


At the small café on the front in Plaka, there was one customer. It was a man, a rather portly man who was probably in his sixties and evidently a regular. I tell a lie, across the other side of the path there were tables under a canopy where two other people were sitting, one puffing away at a cigarette. Neither seemed to be interested in us.

I tell another lie. It’s not a café, it’s a taverna, and one with two names apparently. Its sign reads “Taverna Plaka Giorgos Giovanni’s” - Take your pick. Maybe they get a lot of Italian tourists, I don’t know. Anyway, this man soon gave us a cheery “kalimera” and so we trotted over to him. He was fiddling with a mobile phone. Times have changed. Once upon a time it would have been a komboloi.

After we’d exchanged a few pleasantries, he asked us what we were doing, evidently expecting us to say that we wanted to make the crossing to the island. Of course we didn’t disappoint him and so he asked us how many of us there were. We replied that we were just the two of us, but that down on the jetty there was a French couple and also there were the two German ladies who were mooching about nearby. 

“Ooh, at least six of us,” we replied, hopefully.

“Hold on then,” he said, “I’ll make a call.” And he did. He was soon talking to someone at the other end who apparently runs a boat that makes the crossing to Spinalonga and was telling him “Yes, some tourists here want to visit the island… About six, seven at least… Yes, they’re here now.”

He waited while the bloke at the other end made his excuses, all the while glancing occasionally at us with a look that said, “Don’t get your hopes up”, whilst his eyes rolled upward slightly.

After the person at the other end had talked a while, he added, “Yes, of course they’re willing to pay.”

‘Ooer,’ I thought, ‘…Could be costly this. Personal service and all that.’ My wife gestured to get his attention, so he looked her way and she said: “Our friend. Well, no, our friend has a friend, I think he’s called Tassos. He used to work here. He’s an archeologist or something. He told us… well, no, he told our friend, that there are crossings to the island off season, at least on Saturdays and that’s why we came today. it’s our only chance. We’ve come a long way. The weather’s perfect…” She was right on that score. But the man, who evidently had been trying to get his pal on the end of the phone to hear this too, raised his head slightly in that tell-tale Greek backward nod that says, uh oh. He placed the phone back to his ear.

Another minute or so passed before he hung up, placed the phone back the table beside him and said, “He won’t come.”

“Really? But we were told that there would be boats. There would…”

“If you were here last Saturday, there were boats. But they’ve stopped for the winter now.”

Great eh? 

Ah, well, there was nothing for it but to have a little further stroll around Plaka and then make for Elounda and then Agios Nikolaos. Seeing the island up close and personal would have to wait for another year. But before we could leave a young chap appeared at the door of the taverna and asked us where we were from. He spoke perfect English, explaining to us that he’d been schooled in the UK, although he hailed from Plaka. Not that we’d spoken to him in English at all but, like so many Greeks, he wanted to practise his English on us and he did so. Not that he needed practise. I even detected a regional accent from the UK in his speech!

Whether he was hoping that we’d take a seat and order a coffee I don’t know, but he was nice enough and, after a natter of five minutes or so we made our excuses and headed back to the car.


TTFN, then "island". Maybe next time...

Before we reached the car, the two German ladies that we’d seen approached us and asked, 

“Do you know if there will be boats? To the island?” 

Why they were asking us wasn’t too clear. As I’ve often said, although my wife looks Greek enough, I look more like one of their countrymen than do quite a few of their countrymen. We explained what had just gone on around the corner, which anyway they’d been observing from a distance and they were as disappointed as we were. We’d actually followed them along the coast road from Elounda earlier and surmised that they were off-season travellers hoping for what we’d hoped for. Their little Japanese car had the name of the hire company emblazoned on each of the doors. A dead giveaway. Turns out they were friends and were staying with other friends in Heraklion. They, like us, love the islands when the tourist hordes aren’t in evidence.

After we’d wished them a happy remainder of the stay and they’d slumped off dejectedly, we hopped into Tim’s car and made our way back to Elounda. Of course, it never occurred to us until much later that the two women would have thought that we’d know what was going on since the car we were driving is very obviously not a hire car and looks very much like it’s owned by locals. You know what I mean, liberally sprinkled with scrapes, bumps and cracks in the bumpers. Never thought about that at the time.

Elounda has a pleasant enough harbour area, but we weren’t so impressed by the buildings, which seemed to us to be quite modern. It has the Kefallonia feel about it. We decided though on balance that we could have had a nice holiday there. After a brief stroll along the front, we made off to Ag Nik. where we so wanted to see the bridge and the lake.

Have you been to Agios Nikolaus (various spellings, we know!)? It had been on our “to do” list for years, after all those fabulous photographs one keeps seeing showing the outer “port”, the bridge and the inner lake. TBH, when we got there and found a place to leave the car, then began to explore we missed it first time around. It all seemed to us to be much too small. I had the impression that the harbour and lake were pretty huge, when they’re actually not much larger that a couple of tennis courts. Mind you, once we’d adjusted to it and eventually come to realise that the bridge was in fact the one we’d been seeing in all the photos, we found that we really liked the place. Once again, all the photos of the area seem to be taken from a height. When you actually walk on ground level it comes as a shock to see how steep the streets are that lead away from the waterfront.

Anyway, by now it was well past frappé time and so we plonked ourselves down on a pavement table outside the Asteria Café/cake shop and ordered. Thus the photos that now follow…

Elounda harbour.

Still Elounda. or was this Ag. Nik? help!

Frappé at the Asteria, Agios Nikolaos

Taken from upstairs at the Asteria.

Ditto.

Umm, ditto again.

That's the Asteria, across the way, to the left of the bridge.

Of course, while we were sitting there a woman sauntered past with a little dog on a lead and a couple of newspapers under her arm. The Daily Mirror was one of them.

Hey ho, ex-pats are everywhere, eh?



The lake, which is reputed to be bottomless, hence the dark colour of the water, whilst it's quite blue in the harbour outside.

We'd crossed the bridge twice before realising that it was the one in the photos.


Monday, 21 December 2015

Lazy I know, but...

While I beaver away not only at my new novel, but also at part two of the Spinalonga story, Here's a post mainly of photographs which hopefully will hit the spot for lots of Grecophiles...


This is the rather impressive Farangi Gorge, juts a few miles north of Ierapetra. I know, I thought it was named after an alien race in Star Trek too.

Words can't quite capture the grandeur of the palace at Knossos. All excavated by an English chappie too, Sir Arthur Evans.

See what I mean?

Yea Tim, nice portico, needs a decent patio set though...

Two models on a shoot? Well, I wanted to score a few points.

The rather delightful Agios Nikolaos off season. Loved it, but it was all a bit smaller than photos I'd seen had led me to believe.

Not a bad place to sit for one's morning Elliniko.

The sea front at Myrtos.

Ditto. Incredibly, there was one bar open. A group of what we concluded to be German ex-pats were sitting on the promenade sipping their drinks as the sun went down.

Archetypal Greek caique shot at Sitia. Good calendar photo I thought.

Vai. They came in search of paradise.

The beachfront restaurant at Vai. A bit of an understatement I thought.

Sea front at Ierapetra. Late November. Good eh?

The Old Kastro on the sea front at Ierapetra. Quite a surprize.

Ierapetra sea front again. Two blocks down from our friends' place. That's some of the wife's hair on the left by the way. Just in case you were wondering.
Mandraki, Rhodes, just last week. Ugly maybe, but a virtually brand new chic charter cruiser, called Tortoise. Google it. If you've a couple of million to spare you can hire it for a week or so.

I stuck this on the "Novels" Facebook page recently. Literally snapped it as we were walking past. In the old town of course. Experts will recognise it. I love this shot. Looks rather Français, oui?

Click to enlarge. The aaah factor. Near the beach road at Kiotari a few days ago.

Don't tell me you don't know where THIS is.

...or this.