Friday, 18 July 2014

Getting His Goat

The day before yesterday, which was Wednesday the 16th, I was doing Bay-to-Bay again as usual and the coach driver was once again "Old" Yiannis, who'd surprised me last week with his tales of life in Russia (see previous post). On our way back, as we were dropping the guests off at their accommodations, we were confronted by a particularly brazen goat, which didn't seem at all to be in a hurry to get off the road in front of us.

He stood broadside to us as we approached from about a hundred metres away and didn't move, merely turning his head toward us in what was either a gesture of curiosity or, as it looked to me, one of defiance. Yiannis leaned on his horn, which I must say doesn't seem to me to to be of much use where goats are concerned. However, our caprine obstruction did actually move. However, rather than scramming off the road to join his mates on the hillside to our right, he turned his body so as to be entirely in line with the approaching coach and began to stare us out.

I had the distinct impressions that he was saying, at least with his body language, "listen, you may be bigger then me buster, but I move when I'm good and ready and not before, OK?" I think it may have escaped his notice that a 59-seater coach is considerably more solid than he is and, were it to come to a collision, the chances were overwhelmingly in our favour. Stubborn goats most certainly are, but intelligent and logical? The jury's out. I was reminded of the old Frank Sinatra song "High Hopes", where the words went something like:

Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he'd punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram scram
He kept buttin' that dam


I think we'd just encountered that ram's cousin, or maybe grandson. Yiannis had no choice but to stand on the brakes, but a coach doesn't stop in a few metres. Fortunately the showoff with the horns decided that his mates beside the road had seen his courage amply demonstrated by now, were suitably impressed and there was no need to actually take it to the point of impact. He trotted off to the roadside just in time to avoid becoming considerably flatter than he'd have liked.

"You know it's illegal Yianni?" Said Yianni (Yea, I know, confusing eh?).

"What is?" I asked.

"Allowing your goats to wander on the road. Law says if you hit one you can take it home for your table. Downright dangerous anyway. Causes a lot of accidents."

Now, I had been told years ago that if a goat gets into your garden then you're allowed by law to kill it and eat it, but I was rather under the impression that the goatherds had an ancient and inalienable right to let their goats roam on public land, which included, so I'd thought, the highways and byways. Yiannis the driver, though, believes otherwise.

"Some years back, Yianni," he went on, "I was driving a truck. It was a big pickup, twenty tonner, when a line of five goats decided to saunter across the road in front of me, cool as you like. There was nothing I could do. I slammed on the brakes and the truck slid sideways, but those goats acted as though I wasn't even there. They just carried on crossing the road like they had all the time in the world. The long and the short of it is, I ran over the last one. It was out of my hands, it was either that or thr truck was going to roll.

"Anyway, I finally stopped, jumped out of the cab and ran back to see what state the goat I'd run over was in. There was no doubt that it was terminal."

"So," I asked, "What did you do, leave it there? Call a vet or something?"

"Leave it there? You must be joking. I threw it in the back of the truck, took it home, slit its throat, skinned, cleaned and diced it. Yianni, I had 30 kilo of meat for the freezer. I tell you, saved me a lot of money did that goat!"

My driver's smile spread from ear to ear and he rubbed his tummy as he recalled the sweet taste of 30 kilo of free goat meat.

Of course, our guests behind us in the bus had no idea what he was going on about. I'd heard the collective "Aaaah" as the goat before us had finally strolled out of our way. No doubt they were thinking: "how cute, our driver stops for goats."

Friday, 11 July 2014

Moscow, I'm Russian (There IS a joke there, keep trying!)

It's been an OK week. Bit hot, but not as hot as usual for July, so that's a bonus. We had a free day on Monday and so, several-hundred-yard-long list of things to do in town tucked into the back pocket, off we set.

The town chores went fairly well, as long as you don't count discovering a distinctly strong pull to the right on the steering wheel (after returning to the car and almost dying from the furnace-like temperature within - now that's when I do appreciate air-con) as we pulled away from the parking space we'd shoehorned the car into earlier. No sooner had we turned a corner or two I had to find a place to pull over, right in the thick of the town traffic, and see what the problem was. Yup, sure enough, almost no air left in the front right tyre. Ger-reat! It's always when you've got your half-decent casual wear on that you have a flat tyre isn't it. Of course, living here it's almost a hobby getting punctures. We've probably averaged a couple per year ever since we moved out here. But I could have done without one in 36º of Celsius heat beside a busy road in Rhodes town. Out came all the stuff in the boot (trunk - fellas) and that all went on to the back seat and then out came the tyre-changing kit. 

Why do car manufacturers do that? I mean, place the spare under the floor in the boot? I found myself musing over all those classic cars of the twenties and thirties that had the spare in a wheel-shaped compartment situated outside on the rear of the vehicle. That's such a good idea, don't you think? As my hands became ever blacker, so did my mood. Bless her - my dearly beloved offered to help, but I couldn't bring myself to let her. She couldn't have done much anyway and so she retired to the other side of the pavement (sidewalk!) to gaze into a shop window or three, under the awnings and out of the blazing sun that was adding to my misery by the second.

It had all gone OK up until then. We'd even had a good frappé in the People and People Café beside Mandraki harbour and mused on how pleasant life can be occasionally. A good spot of people-watching always sets one up, eh?


Spare tyre now on and flat tucked away under the floor of the boot, we decided we needed a pick-me-up before confronting the food shopping. So we decided to go somewhere we hadn't been for several years, the last time had been during the wintertime too, to Kallithea Springs, between Koskinou and Faliraki, a few kilometres south of town on the east coast.

Kallithea Springs is an oasis of "cool" (that's "cool" as in chic) in a little stretch of wild and forested coastline between two rather built-up areas. Once you arrive and pay your 2 Euros each (worth every cent I say) to go in, it's like you've arrived on the French Riviera - there are that many elegant people around, usually dressed in very little, but it's very little that nevertheless smells of money. Yes, there are a few local youths about too, they'll have a coffee and make it last for hours, and that's good, but the overwhelming feeling one gets is that the slightly more well-heeled leisure-seeker plonks his or her rump on these loungers or café chairs once you've made the short walk to the waterfront café/restaurant.

There is a small beach, about the size of a hankie, but most of the tiny secluded bay in which the resort is set is rocks and stone terraces, all of which are well equipped with umbrellas and sun beds. The only building not yet fully renovated here is the Rotunda (and they're working on it now), which is the one right on the bay where the hot springs used to rise, even though they're scarcely more than a trickle these days. Check out the rather good website, where you can learn all about the history of the place, here. Mind you, the site's English isn't much to write home about.

So, to the snaps we took as we partook of cold drinks and tortilla wraps at our table in the shade...


The Rotunda, rarther fetchingly swathed in a half-hearted curtain-wall and scaffolding, since they chose the summer season to carry on with the renovations. It doesn't detract from the environment at the Café though.

Approaching the café, which is run by a local company called Pane di Capo

Yea, OK, so I don't quite get this "looking cool" thing. Don't you dare refer back to a "spare tyre" at this point!

The food's rather good. A little more pricey than elsewhere perhaps, but pushing the boat out now and then doesn't hurt, eh?

I took a swim  right from the café's terrace and returned dripping to the table. The staff don't mind.

The pavillions are so beautiful they're in danger of eclipsing the brides at the weddings that take place here, of which there are many during the summer season, and understandably so.


A member of staff "hangs tough"


The ice creams were a freebie from the two guys who served us. Good eh? It worked, we tipped them generously!



The only piece of beach in the place, not that it matters.


On the coach for the Bay-to-Bay excursion on Wednesday, I was remarking to the driver (also a Yianni) that we had a few Russian families to pick up and I didn't have a clue how to communicate with them if they didn't understand English. This driver, whom I've worked with several times already this season, is a big guy who I'd have said was about 70 years old. I decided not to react when he told me he was in fact, 55, and had to wait a further seven years before he'd be getting a pension. This guy's younger than me and he felt like he could have been my dad!! Gawd knows what kind of life he's led. But then, read on...

The main things is he's very nice guy and we get on really well. He likes to chat away as he wipes the sweat regularly from his brow whilst we're trundling along and I thought I'd found out all there was to know about him that was of interest, when he came out with...

"No problem, Yianni, I understand Russian."

Now, I've met a lot of Greeks and I'd say that apart from the odd professor or two, none of 'em speak Russian! You'd have been intrigued too, agreed?

Well, it all has to do with what happened in 1967 here in Greece. It was then that a right wing Military government took over which lasted until 1974. Under this regime left wing supporters either fled, were banished, or risked imprisonment. One high profile victim of this regime was the prolific composer and highly esteemed Greek musician Mikis Theodorakis.

My driver's parents were communists and hence they fled to Russia, with of course their 8 year-old son, who was now sitting beside me driving the coach. He told me they'd spent a couple of decades in Russia, hence his ability to speak the language. He's been back in his native Rhodes for well over 20 years now, but still understands the language, which of course he'd used when in school.

The only trouble was, he came over all shy when I waved the microphone under his nose and asked him to say a few words to the Russian guests once they'd climbed aboard. Of course, I needn't have worried, since most Russians under about 45 years of age speak at least a smattering of English anyway. Nevertheless though, after we'd boarded the coach for the return following our immensely enjoyable cruise up the east coast as far as Stegna Bay (where we go ashore to take lunch) he was able to tell me that the Russians had expressed their ecstatic thanks and appreciation for a day well-spent on board the "Lindos" after I'd asked in French and English "Did we all have a good day?" The Russians had replied:

"Это было замечательно!"

...Yea, I thought so too.

Walking back up the steep path from the boat's mooring in St. Paul's Bay to meet the coach, I snapped this...


Go on, you do wish you were here, eh?

On the cruise this week I had guests from France, Italy, Poland (where the women are all gorgeous), Russia and, oh yes, ...the UK!! Last week I'd had a very nice young couple from Holland too, who were euphoric about their teams' progress in the World Cup, whatever that is.

Anyway, Moscow now, I'm Russian (You do get that, don't you!?)

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A Tale of Two Cities

The Athens of 1982 was a very different place from the Athens of today. The last time I'd walked in the city was over thirty years ago and I went there last weekend with mixed feelings after all that I'd seen on the TV over the last few years. Since there has been a financial crisis in this country, there has been a rise in right wing political activism, often involving violence against racial minorities, civil unrest in parts of both Athens and Thessalonika and a rise in certain kinds of crime, the kinds that were simply unheard of back in the Athens of the 1980's. 

What kinds of crime am I referring to? Well, in the past couple of years there have been ram-raids on bank machines, drive-by shootings, armed robberies and the like. Things we've seen on our TV screens were simply of another world when I walked in Athens in the years from 1977 thru 1982. 

Something that I was kind of prepared for was the graffiti. The last time I'd been there it was non-existent. You could go anywhere in Greece's capital and see not one single incidence of spray-can vandalism, for that is what it is in my view. I fail to see any positives in it. Now, sadly, it is endemic. There is scarcely a vertical surface anywhere that's larger than the size of an A4 sheet of paper that's not simply covered in the stuff. I say that I was prepared simply from what I'd seen on national TV over the past few years. Where do these people get the money from, that's what I'd like to know? On that note, on Sunday, the last evening we were there, whilst we waited at the Neratziotissa station for the Suburban Train back to the airport, I was studying the graffiti that was plastered all over the wall just across the tracks from our platform and was rather bemused to read the following (in Greek, but here translated):

€510!! At that wage, there won't even be the cash for the spraycans anymore!

That figure refers to the national minimum monthly wage that a person up to 25 years of age should earn.  I found myself thinking, "well, every cloud..."

The Athens Metro, its underground train system, which now boasts three lines plus the suburban line that runs to the new airport, actually functions very well. We used it all the time we were there and were well impressed with the speed and regularity of the trains. Not so enjoyable was the fact that one had to deal with the beggars who patrol the carriages holding out in grubby hands cut-off plastic bottles adorned with religious icons whilst they cry out in pathetic, childlike voices, "Help Me!! Jesus and Mary, help me!! I'm hungry. Please, please, you must help me!!" or something similar. 

One could go down a long road discussing the why's and wherefore's of whether one ought to help these people, and we did find ourselves chucking the odd coin in their receptacles, but the experience of having one of these often grotesquely disfigured individuals lean against your seat for a few moments can be obnoxious to say the least. Some of them emit such body odour that it almost makes you gag. There was a young Rhodean couple on the train from the airport into the city who'd attached themselves to us as it was their first tme away from Rhodes and I felt deeply sorry for the girl, who found herself almost vomiting with the smell of one of the more persistent of these poor individuals as he leaned against her rather clean t-shirt top for a couple of minutes before he could be persuaded to move on.

On the whole, the Greek travellers on these trains completely ignored these beggars. We did find ourselves wondering whether the Police or security guards ever come aboard the trains to eject such individuals. They obviously hadn't paid for a ticket since they were begging for small coins. The entire system works on trust as you find ticket machines or a ticket booth at the stations, then validate the ticket in a machine as you pass it before proceeding to your platform. We found ourselves discussing the fact that, since we never saw an inspector for the whole three days we were there, anyone who wanted to could ride the system for free perpetually with little risk of being caught.

So, you're probably thinking that you'd prefer to go anywhere but Athens right now. But that's where you'd be wrong and I'd have misled you. See, the thing is, graffiti apart and the fact that the modern city is rife with closed down businesses whose roller shutters have become the playground of the spray-can artist, it's still a pretty safe place to be. Even at night.

A corner of Ommonia Square, early morning

The street where our hotel was situated, looking toward Ommonia. the hill in the background is the magnificent Lykavittos

Arriving on foot at Monasteraki, early evening. Fifteen minutes from the hotel

The Delphi Art Hotel, where we stayed

Another view of a corner at Ommonia, early evening

The view from our breakfast table in the hotel
We'd made a reservation online with the Achilion Hotel, in Ag. Konstantinou Street. It's right next door to the National Theatre and minutes from both Syntagma and Ommonia. When we arrived they told us they'd moved us over the road to the Delphi, which we didn't mind because a very courteous young lady escorted us over the road to see that we got checked in safely and the standards of both hotels were on a par. They're not the most luxurious hostelries on the planet, but they are very clean, well kept and the rooms comfy enough. The breakfast (included in our deal) was excellent and consisted of every type of breakfast food imaginable.

If you've read the book "Blue Skies and Black Olives" by British journalist John Humphrys and his son Christopher, you may remember an experience that Christopher relates in which he compares the city of Athens with London. Christopher is married to a girl from Athens and, if I remember correctly, relates how on one particular evening whilst walking in the city of London with his wife and children, they were approached by a group of rather unsociable-looking young men on the pavement (uh, sidewalk, guys, ok?). Christopher advises his wife that they'd be well advised to cross the road to avoid any trouble. His wife, hailing as I said from Athens, doesn't understand the reason for her husband's caution at all.

This experience well illustrates the diiference between Athens and not only London but I'd guess many other European cities. Having just spent three nights walking the inner city streets of Athens I can testify to the fact that, despite all you may have heard in the media, we felt very safe. Yes, the modern city is tatty, scruffy and run-down. It rather put me in mind of bleak council estates in the UK in the 80's. In the US I believe you'd think of what you call "the projects". But, that aside, there are delis open, pavement cafés, kiosks on every street just as there had been thirty and more years ago, selling newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, confectionery, hats, umbrellas, cold drinks, the list is endless. Walking home late in the evening after many of these kiosks were closed, we remarked on the fact that they still left all kinds of stuff hanging outside, including papers and magazines that we were quite sure that in the UK would have in the very least been torn asunder and scattered all over the road to the four winds or, in the worst case scenario, set fire to, I shouldn't wonder.

On our first evening we found a giros place in a side street not far from Ommonia Square and sat and ate as a group of about 12. There was a duo playing Bouzouki and guitar sitting in the doorway and the tables and chairs filled the alleyway. There we were in the heart of the modern city, which - were you to try and describe it - the word picturesque would not be the one you'd call to mind, eating in the street around tables with waiter service and all the passers-by were regular folk going about their daily lives.

What I really wanted to do, though, was get down to Monateraki, which is the place where the modern city rubs shoulders with the ancient. From Monasteraki you can wander the flea markets as you go deeper into either the ancient Agora, or the area known as "Plaka" which is a maze of old streets rather like a larger Lindos, all sporting a range of eating places in impossibly pretty steeply stepped street locations.

Had this area changed? That's what I wanted to know. Monasteraki always had an amazing vibe going on during summer evenings. I was surprised and delighted to find that, apart from a burst of graffiti on the awning of the local "periptero" [kiosk] outside Monasteraki tube station, I found myself being mentally transported back thirty years, the place was so unaltered. What joy.

So, folks, for your delectation and delight, here are some photos from Saturday evening June 28th 2014, taken at Monasteraki and in the Plaka district, under the shadow of the mighty Athens Acropolis...

The many-arched building is Monasteraki tube station

The magnificent Acropolis towers above this area of Athens


Entering Plaka district




This was where we finally chose to sit and eat

I never miss the opportunity to get my Fix in-shot!!

The unexpected bonus at our taverna. Had trouble stopping her indoors from joining in though.


I'm told that a live band plays in Monasteraki Square frequently during summer time


So, then, the verdict. 
Afer more than thirty years apart, we were re-united with Greece's ancient capital, where we found the modern city to be tatty, yes, but nevertheless a safe place by and large to wander around in on foot after dark. There are many cosy hotels in the downtown district and they're certainly reasonably priced and cosy enough. They're only a base anyway.

The pièce de resistance, though, is still the Monasteraki and Plaka areas, leading up to the marvel that is the Athens Acropolis, atop which stands the Parthenon. 

Would I recommend you visit Athens? Too right I would. Two cities it may be, the modern and the ancient, but both will beguile you still and you'll want another fix. We're already thinking of trying to get away for a few days some time soon for another visit.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Phew!!

You don't do anything fast. Not in this heat. The cicadas are rasping away in the trees and the temperature, offering a threatening harbinger of weeks to come, touched 40ºC for the first time yesterday and, boy, was I glad to be out on the ocean doing a "Bay to Bay" swimming cruise on the vessel "Lindos".

The "Lindos" awaits us below

Lindos Acropolis shrinks behind us as we head north for the first stop in Haraki Bay

Yesterday's was an interesting cruise to say the least. Of the 40 guests I had on the coach, more than half were Italians, the rest were French, there were four Germans and one British couple. Not a lot of hope of communicating with the Italians then, save for the fact that their Tour operator was savvy enough to supply a rep (Martina - hi Martina!! You're the bizz, by the way) along with them too, yippee! It's funny, but you get used to knowing which nationalities will usually understand English and which ones will pose potential problems. In my experience every Scandinavian speaks my mother tongue probably better than wot I do. When I've dealt with Russians the same applies - if they're under 40. Germans usually the same. Fortunately, I do speak French, although more often than not it comes out as Freek these days, but the French guests usually see the funny side, thank goodness. Italians, by and large, nope, no English. They do, though, make up for this by an enduring bonhomie and they smile a lot too.

So, after an exhausting day of swimming in various beautiful bays and lunch in Grigori's Taverna at Stegna, I was collected at the roadside by my dearly-beloved who declared that the car had told her moments before that the temperature had crested the 40 mark (104 in the old money, ...or you're American!) for the first time this year. 

Air-con in a vehicle is wonderful, yes. The problem is that you have to get out. each time I see guests off the bus after an excursion it feels like I've just stepped into the oven as I graciously descend the steps to assist where necessary any guests who may have trouble getting off. of course, there's always the chance that a little courtesy will elicit some appreciation on the form of a small monetary contribution pressed into my sweaty palm as they leave and I wish them a fab remainder of their holiday. My hopes are usually dashed in that department. People just don't tip like they used to, ah well.

I was in Rhodes Town on Tuesday, so I thought you may like to see these...



Too small that pool, couldn't get more than one stroke done before I reached the other side.

Actually, one very nice gentleman (British, sometimes I'm proud to admit!!) did leave a ten Euro note in the driver's little dish (They usually share a bit with us escorts) and another gave me a five Euro note as he left the coach as we said goodbye after that trip, so occasionally I'm pleasantly surprised. 


Anyway, we're off to Athens this very afternoon for the first visit (on my part anyway) for a staggering 32 years. We're making a flying visit (only a "short" hour by plane from Rhodes) and will be back home late on Sunday evening; so, rest assured, my impressions on how much the city has changed in the three decades since I last trod her pavements will follow some time next week. Photographic evidence will also be involved I shouldn't wonder.

Got to go now, need another outdoor shower before togging up for the trip. Only my third shower so far today...phew. 

I'm walking outside slowly. You don't do anything fast, not in this heat.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Bay to Bay and a Bachelor Boy


Well, after all sorts of false starts and worries, this week I finally got under way with the "Bay to Bay" cruise this season. Yes folks, this year it's called "Bay to Bay" and, among other tour operators (Polish, French and Italian for starters), I have guests who are holidaying with Olympic Holidays (UK) on my excursions for the first time in several years. 

I've been escorting excursions since 2007 now and every year I have done at least one (and often more) excursion(s) which involve the sea. I've done Symi, Marmaris, Halki and a plethora of different swimming cruises with all sorts of different boats and this year I'm adding yet another one to the list. The "Lindos" is the vessel's name and I bet you can't guess where she sails from. 'Course you can, eh?

In seven years of water-based excursions, which must mean that the number of times I've leaned over the rail of a boat whilst gazing at the wonderfully azure Aegean sea waters below is way up in the hundreds, I have seen dolphins probably only as many times as I have fingers on one hand. The best ever sighting, though, was this very Wednesday. We set out from St. Paul's Bay with the sea looking like it damn well ought to at this time of year (finally!); as the Greeks would say, it was "san lathi" (soft "th") which translates into "like [olive]oil". Of course we English-speakers are more used to "Like glass", or "Like a mill pond", but the Greeks always say "san lathi", so that'll do for me.

We hadn't even reached our first swim-stop, which was to be Haraki Bay, when the visitors arrived and set everyone off in a frenzy of excitement. I'm getting to know yet another crew on this boat, which consists entirely of the father and son team of Kostas (the dad) and Dimitri. Dimitri is tall and his hair quite fair for a Greek. He rather put me in mind of an American footballer or something. He's not the most outgoing of people, but he's OK. I've decided that he'll get chattier the more I get to know him. Kostas is about my age and rather more genial in nature. Both men were quick to spot the visitors, spying two dorsal fins breaking the surface of the almost flat-calm sea as we traversed Kalathos Bay going northward.

They gave me the nod, so I announced it to the 27 guests, many of whom were just settling down for a serious bit of sunbasting, sorry, sunbathing, and thus were not scanning the water's surface. Once the magic word "dolphins" was heard, every guest to a man (well, to a woman and to a child too if I'm to be PC about this) was leaning over the rail and pointing. Our visitors treated us to a leisurely swim this way and that, at times approaching to within a few metres of the wide-eyed aboard the Lindos (me included) before finally ceasing to surface and allowing us to drift back to what we were all doing before they'd arrived, which was basically nothing at all. Isn't that what this kind of boat trip is meant to be all about?

Kostas was quick to drop the engine speed to idle and bring the boat to a halt while we watched the show. It may well have been a mother and calf since both remained very close together. I'm afraid I only had the iPad available for photographing them and so the best I could do was the photo at the top of this post. But if you scan it carefully (perhaps clicking on it to get the larger view will help) you can clearly make out the smaller fin just in front of the submerged nose of "mum". Quite what it is that enchants us about these most intelligent of sea creatures it's hard to put one's finger on. But everyone feels enriched when enjoying such an encounter. I like to think it has to do with the fact that they rather like to approach boats and accompany them for a while, ostensibly simply out of curiosity. Whatever it is, bring it on. Here's hoping that we'll repeat the experience on many occasions this summer.

Whilst we were chugging sedately along with not much else to do but watch the exquisite coastline of South East Rhodes lazily sliding by, I made attempts to get a conversation out of Dimitri. I got the feeling that Kostas' occasional absence had something to do with the fact that there is a large room (cabin? Sorry, I'm not very nautical) below decks, which I rather fancy he'd retire to for a spot of the old "shut-eye" whenever he saw the opportunity, leaving his son to steer.

There are some more random candid photos of the day on the Facebook album here by the way. The first photo following the dolphin shots is a rear view of Kostas and Dimitri, Kostas to the left, obviously. So, anyway, I opened with "So, you married, Dimitri?" His reply was classic Greek bachelor-speak. 

"Me? No!! No!! I'm not forty yet. plenty of time, plenty of time."

I've mentioned on many occasions in the books and on this blog that it's entirely normal to meet a Greek married couple where the husband is at least 10 years older than his wife. Greek young men do their military service, then they concentrate on the serious business of business - ie: making a living, all the time playing the field until some time in their thirties when they finally turn their attention to the idea of choosing just the one girl (usually many years their junior, to enhance the chances of them producing a few sprogs in short order once they've jumped the broomstick) to settle down with.

Now, far be it from me to cast aspersions, but it could be added here by the more cynical commentator that, once the young (or not quite so young, by this time) Greek man gets wed, he then sets out to enjoy the fruits of the fair sex in much the same manner as he had before, while his young spouse grows plump with their first progeny. But I won't go there, OK? Right.

Anyway, as I said above, I shall look forward to prizing open yet more cracks in Dimitri's armour as the summer progesses. Meantime, here's a shot of that cozy corner of St. Paul's Bay which sits right beneath the Acropolis, taken as we chugged back into the bay at just before 5.00pm, after what had turned out to be a pretty good day on the whole.

For anyone who'd heard that the car parks at this end of the bay had been closed off a while back; you'll be pleased to see from the evidence below that they are now open once again. 

Now then, where did I put that Polish phrasebook..?


Friday, 13 June 2014

An Old, Wise Greek and Some Other Stuff

Can't believe it's already a couple of weeks since we last enjoyed the hospitality of our old friend Gilma, way down South, where we always get served up a perfectly-brewed Elliniko and are usually offered some interesting nibble or other to accompany it.

Sitting with him in his very old, yet sprucely maintained cottage around the turn of the month, the conversation turned to the weather. Made us feel quite British, but frankly, this year everyone's on about it. It's been the weirdest start to a summer for over fifty years, and that's official. If I had a Euro for every "false start" that this summer has made I'd have, ooh, about ten Euros by now. My better half is the weather expert, walking database that she is, and she usually says that at the start of May the daily temperatures usually crank up by about 5ºC virtually overnight. Where, during April they'd been hovering in the lower 20's, they usually turn into the mid to upper twenties and don't look back until October comes.

The same usually happens with the start of June, when they'll normally crank up even further to 30 and over. Plus, the cloud we see is sparse and scattered once May is under way. Yes, we can get a short blip and a shower now and then, but often we don't.

This year, however, the summer has made as if to start umpteen times, only to then bring us a surprise drop in temperatures and some cloudbursts well suited to the depths of winter. We're all feeling decidedly sorry for the holidaymakers, although by and large they tend to make the best of it anyway. On one of my excursions a couple of weeks back, on a day that had begun full of promise and unbroken sunshine, but had turned very murky and the rain had "spat" at us for a while in early afternoon, I'd remarked to a guest as we sat in the Top 3 Bar awaiting the arrival of the coach for the return journey, that the weather was a bit "British" and how sorry I was (like it was all my fault. Must try and get rid of this guilt complex), only to receive the reply, "Hadn't noticed. It's a darned sight warmer here than back home, so why should I worry?" Good old British Stoicism, eh?

So, returning to our chat with our wise old Greek friend, he made an interesting observation concerning the meteorological goings on this year. In answer to a comment from me about how strange it had been so far he said, and I quote, "This kind of thing often means we're in for a big one Yianni."

"A big one?" I asked. I already knew what I think he meant, but needed clarification, which soon followed. Assuming his usual conspiratorial stance, he whispered, all the while thrusting out both hands before him in a distinctly "Tommy Cooper-esque" gesture, "Seizmo, Yianni. We could be in for our next earthquake!" Now, the last big one we had here was in 2008, when we had a 6.4 on the Richter scale. Everyone remembers it because it lasted for 20 seconds or so, time enough for me and her indoors to get out of bed, slip into our robes and walk calmly (!!?**) out on to the drive before the ground stopped vibrating. It's easy to remember which year it was, because it came hot on the heels of the worst forest fires in a couple of decades, the year when even Kiotari Hotels were evacuating guests as a precaution.

So, if the earth does indeed move for us this coming summer, I'll let you know. That's always assuming that Reuters don't get there first, of course.

Actually, yesterday it really did feel like it's supposed to feel in the middle of June. The temperature hovered around 31-33ºC all day and we took a shower outside without worrying how cool the water may be on our skin. Plus, this past few days we've even taken our first real swim in the sea at our favourite stretch of beach, so things do finally look as though they're getting back to normal.



At 5.30am this morning, after what was for me a really good night's sleep for a change, I went out to water the garden. Even though we have an extensive watering system, there are still enough plants in pots and some that are too far from an available water pipe as to require about half an hour's work every couple of days keeping them all from shrivelling up. With the temperatures finally clocking in at around normal, it's the best time of day to be exerting oneself. Only about 25ºC out and with the light just beginning to grow from the murk of night to the morning "gloaming", it was truly wonderful to be wandering around outside. Plus, it had been a full moon last night and I was stunned to see the "moonset" approaching as I stepped out with my trusty watering can in hand. Hanging just above the hill to our right (West of course) was this bright, white globe, so I dashed back inside for the camera. Now, as you'll know if you follow this stuff on a regular basis, my camera's not a posh contraption, but I took these anyway, plus one with the iPad...






Wouldn't have missed that for the world. Of course, with the naked eye I could see all the details on the moon's surface, but the camera couldn't quite manage that.



Returning to the subject of the weather for a moment. We bumped into a couple of old friends from Germany last night, Mo and Angela, who holiday on Rhodes regularly, usually staying in the Lindos Blu hotel. I usually remark to people who stay there that "that's the hotel with the rubbish view, isn't it?" Check out that website folks, see the irony!! Frankly, it's even a bit "Santorini-ish" here and there the view from that hotel.

Anyway, Mo told us that they'd arrived on Tuesday and we remarked right away that they've come at the right time, because had they come earlier they may have experienced some of this year's weather-vagaries. He replied right away that the weather's been pretty strange in Germany too. He told us that when they'd flown out here on Tuesday from Dusseldorf, it had taken them so long to reach the airport owing to heavy rains, wind and floods, that they almost didn't make it. Then he said that flights had been delayed, cancelled and diverted too owing to the wild weather, which was totally out of character for this time of year. 

See I have my own theory about all of this. I distinctly remember reading probably twenty years ago now that experts were warning that, owing to the melting ice-caps at the two poles, the worldwide seawater levels were set to rise by about a meter in the coming decades. If the sea level were to rise by a mere meter, it would drastically alter the world map almost beyond recognition. The Maldives, for example, would cease to exist. Now, despite the proof that the ice at both poles is receding at a rapid rate, the sea levels haven't changed to any appreciable degree, so where's all that extra water gone then? Want my opinion? (OK, OK, no need for that!) Well, it stands to reason to me that it's all in the atmosphere, hence higher humidity that in decades past on Greek islands, more frequent incidences of storms and deluges than ever before here, there and everywhere and in places that simply never used to experience such phenomena. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it!



So, what we need now is something cheery, eh? I remarked at the outset that I'd had a good night's sleep, which is something I rarely experience. I've tried just about every suggested therapy, diet and potion to combat the problem. But now I'm wondering if what I really need at 10 o'clock every evening is one of these (with the contents still in it of course - well, at the outset anyway)...



Tell you what, Corona never tasted like this when I was a lad!!!

My wife was cleaning a villa or two yesterday and returned home as per usual with a couple of bags of spoil. In one of them was this at-the-time unopened bottle of Corona, which is evidently from Mexico (very Greek, eh?). Now, since we'd been out for most of the evening, at something like 10 pm we called in at Panayioti's "Meat and Grill" on the lower beach road just below the Princess Adriana hotel for a few vegetarian pittas to have for our "tea". Last night his fellow proprietor Alexi (may be his son, must ask next time) prepared them after I'd phoned our order through in advance (0030-22440-42038) and we dropped by, collected them and high-tailed it home to slob out on the sofa and munch them in front of the TV. 

Last night's were arguable the best takeaway pittas we've ever, ever had. They usually pack them solid with salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion), tzatziki and chips (see this post PDQ!), but Alexi pulled a stroke of genius and asked if we'd like some Halloumi in there too. Boy am I glad I said yes!! Anyway, so there we were tumbling in through the front door, tearing off outer garments to cool down (no other reason, OK? This is a family site) and ripping paper off the pittas too to get at them when I opened the fridge for something to wash mine down with and there was this chilled bottle of Corona, all glistening with tempting condensation on the outside, so I thought "Yea! That'll do."

Having chomped through the pittas and guzzled the Corona we went to bed and I slept and I slept and I slept. I think I've finally discovered the best sleep potion. It's evidently from Mexico and steeped in tribal tradition, ahem... yes, these ancient herbal recipes are definitely the best. Pass me another Corona...


Saturday, 7 June 2014

Roots and Culture

I'm a big Bouzouki fan. It never ceases to amaze me how much variety of music and sound can come out of this instrument. OK, so it's not quite the six-stringed orchestra that is the guitar, but it's a pretty close second. Many years ago I went to the Music Live exhibition in the NEC, Birmingham (UK) with a close friend of mine from South Wales and we were privileged to watch the guitarist Doyle Dykes playing close up. He blew the audience away with a rendering of a U2 song from the Joshua tree; can't rightly remember now, but I think it was "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". Whatever, with just six strings he produced the entire song with all its parts, vocal, overdubbed guitars, drums and bass and it all came from that one guitar.

 
Photo courtesy of http://family-studios.com/perfect-ten-live/


Well, the Bouzouki isn't quite so versatile, yet it is capable of wringing an incredible amount of emotion out of the listener. One of Greece's greatest exponents of this instrument was the late and much revered George Zambetas (another link about him here too). Many of the songs and instrumentals that he wrote have become Bouzouki "standards" and often crop up on those Greek music CD's you buy in tourist shops, the ones that attempt to give the listener a true taste of Greece.

When we were in Naxos back in April, wandering around the old citadel above the Old Town Market area we passed a building that houses a very intimate venue for live performances. It's a very old building and one enters the performance area from the rear and above to see rough stone walls and an arena that probably doesn't even seat an audience of 100. It's a very interesting building and also serves as a museum, which has a website, here. The banner photo collage at the top of that page gives you an idea of the performance area.

The museum's curator was at the door and offered to show us around, ostensibly to get us to come to a musical event that was scheduled for the following evening. Had we not been seasoned Greek music-o-philes, we'd probably have gone, but the recital in question was very much for the kind of tourist who doesn't already know the dances and history of the Greek Rembetiko movement, which revolves around the Bouzouki as an instrument, plus they wanted 20 Euros a head. Now I'm not saying that it wouldn't be worth it for someone wishing to learn about this stuff, but all we needed was a knees-up. We found something along those lines at the Maro taverna a few nights later...



What we were on the hunt for was a bit of real "action", so to speak, but I was nevertheless pleased to pick up a piece of paper whilst looking around the place that explained very concisely the history of Bouzouki music in Greece. At the risk of boring you (but I'm kind of thinking that you're reading this because you love all things Greeks, yeh?) I'll reproduce part of the text of that leaflet here (the italic bits), augmented with some of my own research too...

"The roots of Greek music lie in the Ancient Greek and Byzantine periods. During this time a very complex system of scales and rhythmic structures was developed, which still form the basis of traditional Greek music today." Much of the music known as 'Rembetiko' is heavily infused with influences from Asia Minor, since many Greeks lived there until the great Greco-Turkish population exchange of 1923. During this fraught time, many ex-pat Greeks came back to the country of their origin, often forcibly and with only the clothes they stood up in, yet they brought with them many musical ideas steeped in Asian rhythms and scales.

Despite the origins of the term "Rembetiko", it's nowadays generally understood to apply to the Bouzouki culture of Athens and - even more so - Thessalonika, the region where most of the Greeks from Asia Minor resettled. 

"Concerning the Bouzouki as an instrument, it can be said that in its present shape it's a relatively new instrument. It was developed in the 1920's using the traditional shape of much older string instruments such as the Tamburaz (which strongly resembles an Indian Sitar) or Saz, but with changes to the tuning. Instead of using the oriental system of fine tuning, that includes microtones, it uses the Western system, which cuts the octave at even intervals. This is what the name refers to. "Bouzouk" means "broken" or "gone bad" in Arabic.

The Bouzouki, with its full, clear sound, offers to a good musician  the possibility to express himself freely through a wide range of rhythmic, melodic and harmonic elements."

Bet you'd been wondering for ages about all that stuff, eh? All those nights you've lost sleep wondering where the Bouzouki came from, yea? 

See, never let it be said that I don't make the occasional effort to raise the tone a little (there's even a pun in there. Sometimes I just can't help myself) ...