Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Venture to the Interior

(A selection of photos appears at the bottom of this post, just to [hopefully] whet your appetite)

After having ensured that we'd be able to get the bus back to Naxos Town in the afternoon (see previous post), we set off on Saturday morning to catch the bus and see some of the island's landscape away from the coast.

Fifteen minutes after leaving our room we arrived at the KTEL office near the port where our friend from the day before (when we'd enquired about the bus timetable) sold us our bus tickets and pointed us at a large green coach which was sitting out there on the tarmac. We were early and so picked up a couple of take-away frappés from the café nearby, the same one where the woman had tapped us for a couple of Euros. The warm sunshine held the promise of a good day to come as we sat on a bench and awaited the approach of the bus' departure time.

It's always the same here in Greece when you're waiting for a boat, a bus, sometimes even a taxi. It looks like you're the only ones there. No signs indicate that many people are going to join you once the bus arrives, or in this case the driver arrives to open the door ad let us on. There are precious few people about and those that are don't look as though they're remotely interested in the public transport that you're waiting on. Things soon change, however, when the bus, boat, etc. turns up. In this case, as we drained the last of our iced coffee up through our straws and jettisoned the plastic containers into a nearby bin, the hour of eleven approached and a man turned up and opened the luggage compartment on the nearside of the bus, which, as mentioned above, was actually a coach. No sooner had he done so than we casually approached the passenger door in expectation of his opening it and were soon under assault from all directions as tourists, Greek grandmas and other assorted locals carrying packages of all descriptions descended on us from out of nowhere. There was a young couple from China, their backpacks almost bigger than they were, there were two sixty-something German-looking fellas who might just have been an item, a young (and very brave in my opinion) French couple with a very young baby (see?), a selection of old Greeks of various shapes and sizes, there were young Greeks of both sexes all with headphones hanging out of at least one ear and all with their mobile phones glued to one of their hands, plus there was one elderly Greek bloke who quickly took up station at the door as the driver, having climbed in from his own side of the vehicle, pressed the button that caused that air-release sound which indicates that the door is about to open. 

Neither the driver nor this old bloke by the passenger door wore anything to remotely indicate any connection with the bus company. They both sported the ubiquitous denim jeans and the old guy had on a quite tatty woolen jumper over a frayed cotton shirt that had seen better days, probably a few decades ago in all probability. His white hair was cropped short and his skin was a deep wrinkled brown born from years of not wearing sun protection. 

One we'd finally made it aboard and wound our way back to a couple of seats just behind the coach's middle passenger door, after having let the old guy check and tear our tickets, the engine fired up and we were on our way. As the bus wound its way around a few backstreets before heading out into open country, the old guy came and sat across the aisle from us and smiled. My wife was sitting on the aisle seat and so she asked him his name. He told her it was Stefanos. Now having the opportunity to study him more closely we though that he could well have been only a couple of years older than us, but his lifestyle and in all probability a few decades of heavy smoking had taken its toll on his physique and skin.

He asked us where we were from and was soon immersed in conversation with my better half. I chipped in occasionally so as not to appear rude. He surprised us be telling us that he had no children, thus making it easier for him to accept the fact that we'd never really wanted them either, a fact that of course to most Greeks is anathema, if not totally imponderable. The village culture being what it is here, in all probability he'd had older (or younger, depending on their sex) siblings who'd taken so long to get paired up that he lost his chance. He lives alone in the large village of Filoti, which was our destination. He told my wife that he worked on the bus daily and at the time we took that on face value as true. Each time the bus entered a village, he called out to anyone who cared to hear the village's name and often got off the bus to assist some doddery ya-ya or other in their descent of the bus steps. One old woman, seated directly behind us, soon joined in the fray and declared on several occasions that Naxos was the most beautiful island in Greece. If I had a Euro for every time I've heard someone say that...

The conversation, now three-way, did become interesting though. The old woman declared that she'd been born in 1930 and thus was now 84. She had lost most of her family under the Nazis during the Second World War.

A note here about my use of the word "Nazi". The old woman continually said "the Germans", but I prefer to use the term Nazi. Why? Well, you may well be ahead of me here, but this is why: Lots of very nice German tourists come here nowadays and they're all from later generations that have nothing whatever to do with the atrocities that were committed by the Nazis all those decades ago. Had I been born a German, how would I feel about being continually reminded that my nation were the baddies during the largest and most deathly war in human history? The fact is that many elderly folk still remember all too vividly the events of the 1930s and 40s and thus probably have difficulty coming to terms with meeting German tourists today. I don't know if you've read the novel "The Book Thief" (there is a movie too I hear) but I would heartily recommend it. The story presents a side to the events of the war that we in "the west" all too often don't consider. It concerns some Germans living through the Nazi era in their own country and how they felt about the ruling powers at the time. The family around which most of the action centres are Germans who shelter a young Jewish man at considerable risk to their own lives and I found it both gripping an enlightening.

The old woman seated behind us on the bus was soon relating about how the Italians had proven to be benign conquerors, having behaved in quite a civilized manner and, by the time they left under a pact with the Nazis which the latter failed to honour, had in many cases become friends with their Greek subjects. Yet she said [to quote her] "The 'Germans' were barbaric. They left us all to starve, taking all the food for their troops. If anyone raised a hand against them, twenty villagers would be rounded up and shot..." and so on. Thus I substitute in my mind the word "Germans" for "Nazis", since it's not good to tar all of that nation with the same brush. I only refer to this at all because there are still so many people who remember what happened and this old lady was one of them. She lost all her immediate family under the Nazis and has lived alone in her village ever since. She has no one to leave her house to when she dies, a fact which seemed to preoccupy her. Her village was Halki (pronounced with the emphasis in the last "i" and not as with the island of the same spelling, where the emphasis is on the first syllable). This village is reputed to have once been the capital of the island and, interestingly, is situated almost slap bang in the middle of the island geographically. She took delight in telling us repeatedly that her village is "the third most traditional village in all of Greece." Quite what she meant by that we couldn't quite put our finger on, but never mind.

Once she'd descended the steps of the bus at Halki, with the able assistance of both my wife and old Stefanos, both of whom were required to ensure that both the woman and her assortment of bulging bags and packages found their way safely to the roadside, Stefanos seized the opportunity now afforded to regain the initiative in the conversation. Having told us that he lived in Filoti, it then seemed a good idea to him to invite us to his house. Had we been staying nearby we might well have considered accepting the invitation, but since our visit to the largest village on the island was going to be a one-off, we secretly resolved that we'd decline.

Something that made it even less a likelyhood was the fact that he told us that they'd be slaughtering a few goats for "Pasca" (Easter) and wouldn't we like to witness the whole event? Umm, why does that idea not appeal? Especially to a couple of vegetarians?

Once on the subject of slaughtering animals, Stefanos asked about Rhodes, since my wife had told him that we lived there. He's never been and one of his first questions was, "and do they have slaughterhouses on Rhodes?" Of course, you would want to know that wouldn't you? Never know when such knowledge may come in handy, eh?

The countryside, as we wound our way along tiny roads that twisted and turned and passed through villages that had me wondering whether the bus driver may have smeared Vaseline along the sides of the vehicle to get it between some of the houses, bore evidence of much cultivation. Not only do you see the ubiquitous olive groves everywhere, but huge fields of potatoes. It was at this point, as our elderly guide helpfully confirmed that we were indeed looking at potato plants in everlasting rows along the bottoms of some of the valleys, that my wife chose to grant me a pearl of wisdom that hitherto she'd been keeping to herself in all the years of our marriage - the fact that Naxian potatoes are famed through all of Greece. I mean, c'mon, what other secrets may she be keeping from me, eh? Not only that, they're known for their cattle too. On Rhodes we don't see cows very often, but here on Naxos, they're much more common. That no doubt accounted for old Stefanos wanting to know about Rhodean slaughterhouses.

Finally, about an hour and a quarter after leaving the harbour front in Naxos Town, having passed through a selection of villages like Galanado, Biblos (Vivlos), Kana and Ano Sagkri, Damalas, Vournouria, Halki, Akadami and Keramio, we pulled into Filoti, which boasts a population of some 2,000, large indeed for a village in the hinterland. The village sprawls along the side of a steep hill and has a rather pleasing central "plateia" which offers a good selection of tavernas and bars, even a couple of branches of the larger banks in Greece too. Civilized indeed. As you enter the village the lanes leading off to your left rise up steep inclines, whilst those to your right drop away quite steeply too.

Having climbed down from the bus we immediately found a couple of seats in one of the café/bars and ordered a couple of frappés. I know, you knew I was going to say that didn't you. There was a smattering of "old boys" of the village in each establishment (each loyal to their 'local' no doubt) so we didn't need to think too hard about which one to choose. The nearest sufficed. I have to say (and indeed did, to the proprietor) that I here enjoyed the best frappé I'd so far consumed on the island.

A few pics of the central plateia area....






After half an hour or so enjoying the excellent frappé, as well as glancing nervously in Stefano's direction (since he'd sat down at the same bar as us) hoping he wouldn't insist we join him for a session of slicing the throats of a few goats, we arose, paid the host and set off to explore the area on foot. It was around 1.00pm and the bus back to town was due to depart at 4.30. So we ought to have plenty of time to explore.

The first direction we took was up a lane leading through the village to the mountain above. At this time of year the roadsides and countryside in general is abundant with verdant growth and wild flowers. It really did feel like walking in the English countryside much if the time, with some variations in the plant life around us, granted. As the lane rose up above the village we passed the old washing station, a stone building with open-topped cisterns inside its archways, in which once the villagers would wash their clothes communally, before the advent of piped water and drains. Emerging well above the village we took in a spectacular view across the island's interior to the blue Aegean in the distance...



Having satisfied ourselves with that view we traced our way back through the labyrinthine streets of the village to the main road passing through its middle and set off down hill from the square to walk a circuit of other villages. A most enjoyable, if somewhat tiring, walk of about 15 kilometres followed, during which we passed through some of the villages that we'd driven through on the bus. Everyone we passed was friendliness itself and we even took advantage of a public well, where locals turned up to top up barrels with water for their sheep and goats (one pick-up even bring a clutch of sheep with him in the back), to wash our hands after devouring a couple of delicious brown rolls stuffed with boiled egg mayo from the eggs (2nd batch!) that our landlady Georgia had given us.

By the time we staggered back into Filoti to order a well earned Fix beer in the café across the road from the one we'd first visited, it was approaching 4.00pm and still the sun shone out of a cloudless sky. Half an hour remained before the bus was due. It had been a magic experience. As we supped our cold drinks my better half spotted old Stefanos sitting not too far from us. We didn't want to upset him, as he was a nice old guy, but we didn't want our ears chewed off right now, so we just proffered a friendly wave and he returned it, arose from his seat and made his way in our direction.

"Oh shoot!" we both thought, but just as he drew closer he was hailed by a fellow "old boy" who bade him sit down at his table. He threw us an apologetic shrug, to which we did our best to respond with an "aw shucks. never mind, eh?" type expression in return and gratefully watched him sit down with his friend.

No doubt about it, the countryside on Naxos in April is breathtaking...








 
Something I didn't mention before the photos. Just before we came back into the village on our walk, we passed an olive grove to our right and our attention was drawn to what looked like a goat hanging from a branch of one of the trees. It looked like a goat because that's exactly what it was. As we stopped to look, drawn irresistibly by a desire to be sure we knew what we were seeing, we could see clearly that there was a man setting about the carcass, which was hanging from its hind legs from above head-height, with a sharp knife while his wife stood and looked on. A large pool of blood was soaking into the dust beneath the carcass, which had evidently been killed very recently. the man worked away methodically with his knife as we became aware that we weren't the only audience.

Just a few feet below us and actually within the same olive grove, a couple more goats, including a young kid, also stood and watched in rapt attention, as their probable former family member was systematically butchered for the 'Pasca' table.

I don't know how intelligent goats are, but I could have sworn I saw a look of resignation about their future prospects written across the faces of our fellow observers of this scene.

I wonder how many goats, sheep, and pigs no doubt, will die in this few days leading up to the Greek Easter weekend. Still, can't say we haven't witnessed firsthand a way of life that goes back for thousands of years. 

The irony wasn't lost on us that we'd escaped being witness to Stefanos and his friends slaughtering their goats for Pasca, only to see it right by the side of the road a couple of hours later!

Once the bus turned up, just a few minutes after 4.30pm, we fully expected Stefanos to join us for our journey back, but he remained seated and sent us a wave as we departed. A couple of days later, yesterday, in fact, as we were walking to the jetty for our trip to Santorini, he was there again seeing people aboard the Filoti bus. We were left with the feeling the he doesn't really actually work for the bus company, but they let him do his little bit of shepherding anyway, because it gives him a reason to get up in the morning. We kind of hope that's true in a way, as it would be nice to think that they're considering his welfare in such a way, wouldn't it.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Two Rip-offs, No Less...

 Friday April 11th.

Went out for our daily coffee this morning. Getting into a nice little groove now and starting to really feel like we're on holiday. Like the old days. We've been selecting a different café/bar each day and this morning we went to one at the far end of the harbour, almost as far as the KTEL ticket office [buses] and the causeway out to Apollo's Portal.

I was a bit miffed to find out after five minutes during which no one approached to take our order, that it was a self-service establishment, something that we normally avoid like the plague. But the chairs were comfy and the place was full of Greeks, always something which makes it hard to drag the other half away 'cos, like all women (oops, some offense sure to be taken somewhere there!), she's an expert eavesdropper. C'mon fellas, at least you know what I'm on about. You've just finished one of your fave anecdotes and she's miles away. You ask her why she hasn't heard what you've just said and she says "Ssssshh!! I'm listening…" Yea? Yeah? Mind you, it works the other way around too I suppose. "Will you look at me when I'm talking to you?" is one of the expressions I hear often. Quite what connection such occasions have with women walking past I'm not even going to go into here.

Ahem!! To return to today's events.

Having decided (well, having had it decided for me) that it was I who was going into the scrum inside the establishment in order to procure us a couple of frappés, I checked that I had some cash in the purse and crossed the walkway between the tables and the front door and went inside. It's a kind of bakery-stroke-cakeshop really, rather than a regular café. Smelt amazing in there. The trouble was, I could see that you had to first queue up to pay for what you wanted and then, if it was hot drinks, you'd have to take your receipt with you along to a further area of the serve-over where they'd knock up your order. Of course there was a queue at both places and so I was rather a long time inside and found myself occasionally glancing out through the windows through the melée of clientele to see what my beloved was up to.

The second time I glanced out there it was to see a woman sat in my chair and evidently engaged in an animated conversation with Y-Maria. "Hmmph!" I thought, "where did she turn up from?" I didn't recognize her as anyone we'd so far met since arriving on the island on Tuesday morning. She had long, lank, dark hair and wore a dark-coloured floor-length skirt and light coloured cardigan. Tell-tale indications that she was a street vendor of some kind. She had the Romany look about her. When I finally emerged with an iced coffee in each hand (in those transparent plastic dome-topped cups that you always get at a take-away) I approached the table through a maze of carrier bags all scattered about the paving slabs around the table and all spilling over with tablecloths and throws made from that slightly off-white lacey stuff that old grannies like to drape all over their furniture.

Yup, the woman had spotted my better half, thought for some reason that she looked affluent enough to be worth pitching her stuff to and got stuck in. Her face was almost in my wife's and so she didn't notice me until I stood above her, a coffee in either hand and politely told her that she was sitting in my chair. She jumped up all apologies and stuff and then proceeded to sit down at one of the empty chairs on the other side of the table. Off she went with all this "Your wife is very beautiful" stuff, which she capped with the old "you're such a fine looking couple, you are both very lucky" gambit and thus we realized that, even when told directly, she wasn't going to give up and go away without a fight.

We replied with polite thank you's and assured her that, whilst we weren't questioning the quality of her merchandise, it simply wasn't to our taste. Realizing that she wasn't going to make a sale, she  decided to change tack and went for the jugular. She asked us directly for ten Euro because and I quote, "I'm hungry" she said plaintifully. I made an executive decision that if we were going to be able to sup our frappes in peace then it would require a small cash outlay, so I slid a two Euro coin across the table toward her and told her that was a small gift and would she kindly leave us please. Immediately she grabbed the coin and was across the pavement and in through the bakery's front door faster than you could say "Zorba's dance".

My wife turned to me and told me that she'd been trying in vain to get rid of the woman the whole time I was inside trying to buy our iced coffees. She also told me that the woman had started off with a price of €50 for a lace tablecloth. Anyway, it appeared as though we'd finally seen the last of her when she emerged from the store munching a spinach pie, which prompted my wife to suggest that she may have been telling the truth when she'd said that she was hungry. Yesterday we'd paid €6.50 for two drinks (I'd had the iced mochachino) and so today, knowing exactly what would put a smile on Y-Maria's face I asked her how much she thought I'd paid for our serve-yourself frappes. Boy did she smile when I showed her the receipt for 2 x €1.30, totalling €2.60. Immediately she decided that this was her favourite establishment and that she'd be happy to come here all the time from now on. My arguments to the contrary would serve no useful purpose being further discussed here.

No sooner had we seen the woman with her spinach pie, when a Greek fella with what we theorized was his teenage daughter came striding along the pavement and began sweeping the woman's plastic bags full of lacey wares off the ground from beside our table. Aha, we remarked, he's going to evict her for causing a nuisance to the clientele. Wrong! Instead he and his young companion - making a couple of trips - marched the bags over to a waiting hatchback car and dropped the bags into the already open rear of the vehicle. As if from nowhere another Romany-looking woman joined our would-be friend and the two of them walked over to the car, where we assumed they were going to remonstrate with this bloke and the girl but no, what actually happened was that once all the bags were in the back, the man shut the rear door and all four of them climbed in and he drove off!! The car wasn't more than four or five years old either, it appeared to be quite a smart compact hatch.

Now, make of that what you will, but my ever-sage other half immediately remarked, "Well, looks like we paid €4.60 for two frappes today then."
Spilt milk are two words that sprung immediately to mind.

Anyway, since we've decided that tomorrow we're going to take the bus and make a trip to the hinterland of the island, we decided that, before walking off for our daily constitutional, we'd nip along to the nearby KTEL (Bus company) office to check the timetables, since we knew that there was an A4 photocopy of such sellotaped to the glass door. We'd already noticed the other day when we'd had a glance that one could catch a bus to a village up in the hills on weekdays at either 9.30 or 11.00am and then take the return bus at 4. But as tomorrow is a Saturday we wanted to be doubly sure that the timetable was still the same.

Arriving at the front door of the KTEL office we quickly scanned the timetable for the Saturday schedules and were pretty disappointed to find that it didn't show a bus coming back at 4.00pm, which meant that we'd have to postpone the excursion until one day next week or risk being stranded up in the hills. Well, pooey mooey. Mentally my mind was already playing duelling banjos.

"Hold on," I suggested, "why don't we go in and ask, just to be sure?" The beloved agreed and so we pushed open the door to the compact office and once inside were greeted by a smiling young man seated behind the desk.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

"Yes, please. The timetable shows that on weekdays we can get a bus up to Filoti village at 11.00am and take the bus back at 4. But it doesn't show the 4.00pm return bus on Saturdays. Are we reading it right?"

Immediately, if not sooner, he leapt up from his chair, came around to our side of the desk and crossed to the glass front door, whereupon he grabbed the edge of the A4 photocopied timetable and ripped it from the door. We assumed that he was going to take a good look at it himself, but instead he glanced down at the bus times for Saturday, promptly screwed up the piece of paper and tossed it into a waste bin near his desk.

"You can come back the same day. Look…" he said, directing our attention with both hands to another A4 timetable which lay on the desk beside us. We both scanned this other sheet, which at first glance looked to be the same as the one he'd screwed up and tossed in the bin, but on closer inspection, it showed a bus returning at 4.00pm also on Saturdays. Yay!!

"Glad you came in," he said with a grin, "because I'd completely forgotten to post the new summer schedules on the window. Anything else I can help you with?"

We assured him that we were now fine and exited the office well satisfied.
It had been an interesting morning. One rip off we didn't like, another we'd been well happy with.


More photos to follow next post!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sounds Familiar



More photos further down (This is the portal of the unfinished Temple of Apollo, Naxos' most famous landmark)


It's photo time folks. Looks well and truly like we landed on our feet with our accommodation here on Naxos. We found the Oniro Studios by Googling around on line and so had no idea if we'd made the right decision until we were greeted by the owner Mrs. Georgia Kontopoulos on arrival. Georgia, who looks a lot younger that her 42 years is a very intelligent and "modern" person and runs the apartments with her husband Petros, whom we met for the first time last night.

We hadn't been here more than a few minutes when she rustled up a frappé each for us and took us up to the stunning roof terrace, where we had an introductory chat and she promised to give us some eggs from her own hens. True to her word she turned up around early evening time with a half a dozen freshly-laid eggs, a couple of which we boiled up and mixed with a little mayo from a local supermarket and my wonderful missus filled a couple of psoma'kia that I bought from the bakery around the corner yesterday morning to eat for lunch. I've never seen yolks so yellow or tasted eggs so delicious. I've told you a thousand times, I never exaggerate!
 

We got here at around mid-morning in Tuesday and had our first exploratory "wander" yesterday, after first - of course - stopping for a frappé in the nearby plateia. Walking along the harbour-front we soon heard the boom of loud bouzouki music and, as we approached, saw a man rigging up a large banner made from a trimmed down bedsheet, by the look of it. My wife's expectations of a musical event were soon dashed as we read the banner, which said, in approximate translation, "RESISTANCE IS A NECESSITY" and we realized that this was a public demonstration in support of yet another general strike which had been called for yesterday in protest against the austerity measures. I must confess to wondering why they do it this way, as we've seen this kind of demo before. Whenever there's a general strike, there'll be a few blokes with a huge banner in some public place and they'll always have a sound system rigged up to blare out traditional music. I don't want to get into the rights and wrongs of all these strikes, which have been a lot less frequent in recent times, but we were struck (notice how I just slipped that one in there, good eh?) with the feeling of how different the way they go about such things is here compared to the UK.

My wife could almost not have cared what the whole thing was all about anyway, since she was already dancing on the pavement. We did find ourselves feeling grateful, however, that they'd not chosen Tuesday for this one, because it would have meant us hanging around on Syros for yet another day and we'd already been pushed back three days with our plans last week by a national ferry strike that had lasted 3 days and took a couple more after that for the ferry companies to get their ships back on to their correct schedules.

I did, however, get the fleeting urge to wander over to this bloke with the banner and suggest that he consider what the country's alternatives are to the "austerity" measures and perhaps to ask him if he himself had always been straight with the tax man, but then he was considerably larger than me and so I very soon came over all indifferent and thought it best to allow him and his mates to have their little rant. At least the music cheered everyone up, even if there were no banks or offices open and no ferries running - yet again. Mind you, the coffee bars were heaving.

We soon found ourselves at the north end of the harbour front, where it's just a short walk along a causeway to the trademark relic that identifies Naxos every time if you see it in a photograph. That's the Portara of the Temple of Apollo, which some ancient despot around 500 BC or thereabouts, had started to build and never actually finished.

So that's where they get it from, eh? Problem solved. Anyway, here are a few photos from today's and yesterday's walks...















Back soon folks...

Monday, 7 April 2014

Moonlight Serenade?

Sunday 6th April, 1.20pm. 
Waiting for the neighbours to come pick us and take us to ferry port in Rhodes. Glad we’re not flying, or we’d take up all the baggage allowance for the whole plane with all the stuff we’re taking with us.

Monday April 7th, 1.20am. Air Seats, Blue Star Ferry. 

It’s quiet now, but it hasn’t been for long. Travelling at this time of the year is quite a novelty for us. The last time we were on a huge ship like this was when we moved out here in 2005 and that was in August, when to be on board an inter-island ferry crossing the Aegean was distinctly like being one of the “boat people” in the South China seas; bodies everywhere and, if you didn’t have a cabin (which on that occasion we did, fortunately) you’d spend half the trip wandering up and down the passenger deck fruitlessly looking for somewhere to doss down, with your head on your suitcase.
 

Tonight it’s wonderful how much space we have, but we were somewhat dismayed when, after setting sail from Rhodes and having ensconced ourselves in our pre-booked “Airseats” in the “Airseat Lounge” fully expecting plenty of peace and quiet as the night wore on, our ears very soon picked up the sound of group singing coming from somewhere very close by.
 

Here in the Airseats, of which there are probably seventy or eighty in this lounge (which doubles as a “Conference Room” if the sign at the entrance is anything to go by) only a scant half a dozen or so were occupied as we sailed out of Rhodes on our way north-west to the first port of call, which was to be Kos, en route to our stop-off island, Syros. Thus we could have been forgiven for expecting to be able to gently doze off whilst reading a novel without too much difficulty. Having done a quick reccy elsewhere and found that the general level of occupancy of the entire ship was probably only about 25%, we’d congratulated ourselves on having chosen to travel by sea rather than fly, where it’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare between those far-too-close-together seats on the plane.
 

No, here on the Blue Star 2, there’s room to move, you can stretch your legs at will or go sit in the café or restaurant, perhaps take a stroll along the exterior deck in the starlight, yep, a pretty laid back way to start one’s holiday.
 

The only trouble was, there were - seated at the tables and chairs just outside our Airseat Lounge’s entrance, where there was to be found one of the ship’s several cafés - about twenty Greek ya-yas, all dressed in black and all sporting photocopied hymn-sheets from which they were soon belting out religious-sounding dirges fit to make you want to top yourself with depression. There we’d been, moments before they piped up with this droning cacophony, observing a group of Greek lads, all looking decidedly fresh and clean in their designer jeans and with earphones hanging from the usual orifices each side of their heads, telling ourselves in conspiratorial whispers how refreshingly different they were from the way they’d have looked and behaved had they been British, which would have meant us staring at tattoos galore and piercings liberally dotted about their exposed areas of skin, not to mention the ubiquitous beer cans which would have been glued to their right hands while they “goooarred!” “F-ed and blinded” and “wassupped” their way through the voyage thus disturbing the peace of their fellow passengers and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
 

Generalise? Me? Perish the thought.
 

Anyway, just as we got ourselves settled in our reclining Airseats and I’d noticed that there was a huge 60 inch flat screen TV facing towards all the seats which, just as I was about to groan about the constant presence of such devices these days, began showing the Formula 1 Grand Prix from Bahrain, thus instantly changing my view about such essential modern conveniences, this bunch of old women started up with their chants. Talk about disturbing your other passengers in not just your immediate vicinity. Give me a bunch of British yoof any day.
 

The only hope we could muster was that they’d be disembarking when we got to Patmos, which is a particularly popular place of pilgrimage for old Orthodox grannies, owing to it having been where the apostle John had been exiled and all that. What with easter fast approaching we surmised that they just might be heading off to Patmos for a week’s hand-wringing and weeping over the death of their lord before joyfully crying out “Christos Anesti!!” for yet another year, and we were right. Phew!! After several hours of this cat’s choir (sorry ladies, but facts are facts and it was noise pollution of the purest kind) we were not a little relieved to see them all salt away their songsheets, pick up their carpetbags and shuffle off fiddling with the gold crosses on their neckchains to descend the stairs and disembark when we tied up at Patmos.
 

We’d already stopped off at Kos and Leros by this time and thus had begun to have our doubts as to whether we’d lose them. If we hadn’t it would have been much more difficult to kick our shoes off and stretch out on two or three seats each and doze away the hours until we arrived at Syros, which is scheduled to be around 4.00am. Yea, I know, I didn’t realise there was such an hour either.
 

This ferry, tied up beside us at Leros, is dwarfed by the mighty Blue Star

The thing is, since we’d decided not to scrimp on the spending for this holiday, since it is to mark a particularly big anniversary, you could be forgiven for asking why we didn’t splash out on a cabin. Well we would have, but it would have meant having to get up at 3.30am anyway in order to get ourselves ready to disembark at Syros. It didn’t see worth the bother of having a cabin for such a short night.
 

Sitting here now though, my wife stretched out across three chairs just in front of me and snoring everso slightly, with the minute hand on my watch just approaching the twelve and the hour hand the two, here I am not sleeping as usual and coming to the conclusion that “Airseats” are all very well, but they don’t make good beds.
 

No firm plan has yet materialised for what we’re going to do after ten days or so on Naxos, but we’re leaning more and more towards heading off to Poros, which will mean a ferry to Piraeus, then another from there to Poros, but it looks like it can all be done in one day, so that’s good. I’ve e-mailed Mrs. Mellou, the lady who’s kept rooms there for the past three or four decades and where we’d stayed no less than five times between 1977 and 1982, so I’m hoping she (well, her son to be accurate) will have replied by the time I get some wi-fi going on Syros, thus we’ll make our decision based on that.
 

Assuming we do go to Poros, it will then mean that our return trip home to Rhodes will be Poros-Piraeus, then Piraeus-Rhodes, which is a grueller, so we shall definitely be pushing the boat out (well, climbing aboard a big one to be accurate) and booking ourselves a cabin with a window.
 

After all, we won’t be wanting to take any chances on a repeat serenade from the Rhodean Grannies female voice choir during the last leg of the trip home now, will we?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Step On Up - Smell the Roses

Well, hard-working George has almost finished the alterations to the entrance to the Pelican's Nest down on the beach road here in Kiotari and he's making a mighty fine job of it. See if you agree...


The mill stone on the right mirrors one on the left, which isn't quite as easily seen in this shot as it's also not yet been cleaned up to match the other one in colour and texture, but the steps - as you can see above - are finished and looking splendid. He's just got to tidy up the terrace then and it'll be open well in time for the first clutch of holidaymakers who'll arrive in Kiotari for their Rhodean break in just a few weeks' time.


Everywhere we walk at the moment we're confronted with a staggering array of wild flowers and it's probably the best they've ever been since we moved out here in 2005. There are thousands of white and pink rock-roses all across the hillsides, plus a wonderful scattering of flowering purple sage, the aroma of which makes your mouth water as you brush past it. 

There is French Lavender in abundance and the scarlet poppies are still putting on a blousy display too, plus the margaritas are just coming to their peak, adding the "cheesecake" effect to the meadows.

The photos below don't really do this miraculous natural display justice, but I had a go...






Friday, 28 March 2014

On a Doily and Driving Up Lanes

Making the latest of our regular visits with out friend Gilma way down South the other day, he was just pouring boiling hot coffee from his "briki" into my tiny bone china cup for a most agreeable Elliniko when his telephone began to ring. I glanced in the direction of the tinny electronic tone and couldn't see a phone anywhere. Beside his flat-screen TV which looks so incongruous in a hundred-year-old cottage, there was a white lace doily which displayed evidence of something lumpy beneath it. Acting as though it was the most normal thing in the world, he put down the briki, turned toward the doily and whipped it away with a flourish to reveal a surprisingly state-of-the-art snazzy cordless phone sitting on its cradle beneath.

The illuminated display on the handset revealed that it was his wife calling from town, at a safe distance the other end of the island. He picked up the phone, tapped the green button and held it up about two inches away from his right ear. Me and the better half exchanged amused glances as the easily audible high-pitched chatter of an unmistakable old woman's voice began rattling on immediately, in response to which Gilma quickly fell into a pattern of saying "Yes, no, entaxi, sure" at intervals of about five seconds each. Those words he then continued repeating in various permutations whilst regularly rolling his eyes heavenward and throwing us a smile.

This conversation… correction, it wasn't really a conversation, it was what? An audience, a lecture, whatever, you get the picture, went on for the best part of a quarter of an hour. All the while the longest word Gilma got in was "entaxi [Fine, or OK]". It got so that I fully expected him to place the phone on the shelf and carry on preparing his own Greek coffee whilst just approaching the phone and calling the occasional "yes" or "no" into it just to give his wife the impression that he was paying rapt attention. She could talk for Greece and no mistake, judging by the pace she was keeping up. After what seemed much longer, but was probably (as I said above) only about fifteen minutes he was able to get a comment in with "Well, got to go, Gianni and Maria are here" and finally replaced the phone on its cradle.

The best bit was the way in which he grabbed the doily and tossed it skillfully back over the phone so that it rested crease-free in the same way as it had done before the phone had rung, completely covering the pesky device. As he did this he cast a glance our way as if to say, "There! Now she can't see us!"

I got the distinct impression that keeping that doily there was some kind of statement, one which he took great satisfaction from and which his wife probably never got to "hear".




"I take you on shortcut. Is much quicker. Take the right here," says Fotis, an elderly relative of our friends Lena and Petros, they of the cooker saga in chapter 10 ("Just Being Careful") of "Tzatziki For You to Say".

You don't want to take Fotis anywhere by car. No really, you don't. His penchant for suggesting alternative routes is legendary among his family and, since they all now know the possible consequences, they leave it to others who haven't yet had the pleasure of having him "back seat drive" to experience it for themselves.

You can be simply driving from one village to another, or embarking on a trek half way across the country, it won't matter because you won't be in the car long before old Fotis will say, "I tell you quick way. You make the right here." You may well reply "Yea, but Theio Foti, this road that we're already on takes us all the way there." It won't make any difference, he'll still say, "I tell you. Make the right here and I show you. See if we don't get there quicker. See if we don't."

It's as though he suffers from an irrational need to get himself (and anyone else who happens to be in a vehicle with him) lost in the "interior" as often as he possibly can.

Petros told me that he's lost count of the number of times they've gone up narrow lanes together, the kind that usually very quickly turn into boulder-strewn tracks where birds of prey circle in the thermals above them and lazy goats chew on the prickly undergrowth in that odd way they have of moving their jaws as they eye the travellers disinterestedly as they trundle past with a deep sense of foreboding written all over their faces. The last straw, Petros said, was the time when, after half an hour or so of this, culminating in a skid-ridden climb up a very steep fissure-laden dirt track that ended up disintegrating into simply wild scrub land, they'd had to try and turn the car around with the track only being one vehicle width across and with a deep ravine looming menacingly to their right.

Petros says that this one single occasion was probably the reason why he needed a new clutch shortly afterwards. Plus, by the time they'd got back to the tarmacadam road and finally set off in the right direction, they'd lost the best part of an hour from a journey that need only have taken twenty minutes in the first place - had Petros of course not given in to uncle Foti's insistence that he knew a short cut.

Once they were back on the properly-surfaced road, Fotis declared, "Well, I told you but you didn't listen. You took the wrong lane my boy. Now, you see this next one…"

Petros didn't tell me if they were still on speaking terms.





PS: Latest clutch of snaps...

A foal in a field along the quiet beach road in Kiotari.

And here she is with mum.

A quiet corner of Lardos village just before sundown.

This is Sea Lavender. It's very rare around these parts and we've been keeping an eye on this patch for a few years. If you pick it the flowers keep their colour in a vase even after the stems have dried out. In view of its scarcity around these parts, we tried to uproot some a while back and plant it in the garden. It didn't take.

I never get fed up of the colour of the sea here, all year round. In the foreground are Margaritas, which are just coming out now and give a spectacular show every April.

Another youth, this time a donkey in a Pilona olive grove.

Once mum became aware of my presence, she resolutely kept herself between me and her bairn.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

How to be Greek - No.2

Something that's essential if you want to be a Greek is always to talk with both hands. It's a constant source of amusement to me to watch Greek TV sitcoms, because the actors always act as though they're on stage in a theatre, where the distance from the actors to the audience demands exaggerated gestures.

I remember years ago listening to a distinguished British actor talking about the difference between TV and Movie acting and the kind of acting required in front of a live audience. British and American (and no doubt Australian and a host of other places too) actors and directors learnt long ago that the camera brings the action right up close and personal, thus meaning that the actors need only to hint at a gesture, tweak the corners of their mouths or lightly move an arm and the viewer gets the message. Two actors I think in my humble opinion who can carry this off with great aplomb are Hugh Bonneville and Michael Kitchen. I'm sure you can think of others too.

Anyway, here in Greece it seems that as a general rule they have yet to cotton on to this and even on daytime TV the hosts (usually blonde shapely females, the blonde colour coming out of a bottle of course) are inclined to do it. 

Thus dear reader, whether you get the opportunity to watch any Greek TV or not, here are your initial exercises, practise them...



Of course, a shoulder shrug every couple of seconds adds oodles of credibility too.



...because the fact is, on every street corner and over every garden wall, you'll also see the melodrama unfold with both hands!!

I'm sure every Greek wants to be an actor in a Greek tragedy really!