Sunday, 25 September 2016

Smashing

We were sitting at a table outside the bakery in Kalathos, happily enjoying a frappé together, our loaf of fresh village bread, still warm, sitting on the table between us, when I watched four young tourists, probably Scandinavian, possibly German, get up from their table and walk out to their parked hire car, a little white Nissan Micra. Parked four or five feet behind it along the kerbside was another car. Same model, same make. You see a lot of white Nissan Micras around during the season, usually with colourful hire company decals on the drivers' and passenger doors. The second Micra was in the charge of a more mature British couple, who were sitting at a table in the souvlaki joint next-door, which also does morning coffees. The British couple were sipping at their cappuccinos, also relaxing while they took their short break before continuing on their sightseeing adventure no doubt.

The car in front of the one that the two young couples were now climbing into was ours. Our car belongs to us, it matters to us that we keep it in good condition. If we have a "prang" as we used to call it when I was a young motor racing freak, it'll be for us to sort out with the insurance company and that's not as straightforward here as it is in the UK.

Now, someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but from the experience of a few other UK ex-pats that we've known over the years, we've learned that although one has to have car insurance here in Greece, even if one has fully comprehensive cover with all the frills, it's much rarer than in the UK for the insurance company to provide a hire car while yours is being repaired. It's also more likely that the insurance company will expect you to fork out for the repairs, which could amount to a painful four-figure sum, before they'll deign to reimburse you a few months (if you're lucky) down the line. Ouch indeed.

So, as I sipped at my straw I watched the young tourists climb into their Micra and promptly reverse it straight into the car behind, with a very audible crump! 

The car behind actually jerked back a few inches from the impact and the more mature couple leaped from their seats in alarm and strode out to the kerbside to confront those to blame and inspect the damage. Since our car was only a few feet in front of the offending vehicle and there was yet room in front of that, I also leapt from my seat, strode out to my car and pulled forward a few feet to be sure that once the two parties in the collision had sorted out what they were going to do, the driver wouldn't slam his foot on the accelerator and prang my car up the rear end before they sped off.

See, the thing is, the summer season is smash time folks. It's crash, bang, wallop and collide time. This little incident thankfully didn't amount to anything since by some stroke of luck neither car had sustained any damage of note, nothing that the hirers would be wanting to point out when they dropped the keys back on the hire company's desk anyway. So, after some consternation, then some tugging of the forelock in deepest humble apology, the young foursome drove off, without hitting our car (phew), although not without stalling the engine once whilst half out into the carriageway, and the older couple returned to their cappuccinos. This was one of the lucky ones. There haven't been many of those.

Since the season began I personally have seen cars upside down, wrapped around trees, lamp-posts and electricity poles, wrapped around other cars or buses and trucks and sitting beside the road with just about every panel smashed in. I've also read reports almost daily in the two main Rhodean newspapers (well, on their Facebook pages to be precise, with photos though) of people being killed on motorcycles, mopeds, and especially those lethal quad-bikes that have no business on proper roads anyway. Sorry if you're the type that hires these highly dangerous contraptions, but it's true. They're designed for off-road use and are often to be seen in a well-pulverised state along the roadside, their "riders" having been rushed to hospital with half their skin missing along their arms or legs. Their centre of gravity is much too high and the riders often try and take corners too fast and they simply flip over on to their side. It only takes a momentary lapse in concentration too for this to happen. RIP Rik Mayall (read it all folks!).

Plus they only chug along at about 40mph, thus causing immense frustration to the vehicles behind them, especially Rhodean residents who aren't out for a pleasant holiday drive but actually have somewhere to go in a specific period of time. With my work I travel on coaches every week during the season and I have every sympathy with the coach drivers on this one. To find enough space between oncoming traffic to pass one of these things is a major logistic problem when your vehicle is 40 feet long. Frustration builds!

This year for some reason there has been a crash-fest, sadly. There have been numerous holidaymakers from various countries shocked, maimed, concussed, or killed on the roads of Rhodes. Of course, the larger islands like this one do have substantial road systems, thus enticing those coming here on vacation to hire a vehicle and get out exploring. Nothing wrong with that, but it seems that for some odd reason many such folk leave their sensible brain behind at home. They often fail to use their mirrors at all and make last minute manoeuvres without signalling, thus causing other vehicles to collide with them. Perhaps surprisingly too, many ex-pats living here seem to think that because we're on an island it's fine to drink a skinful then drive home. Several ex-pats here have wrapped their cars around trees and barely survived in such circumstances. I can only say I'm glad they didn't wrap themselves around some poor innocent pedestrian or their car in the process.

One element too, although it only accounts for a very small percentage of the carnage, is the number of ancient old Greeks in their nineties who refuse to give up driving. One I've talked about on this blog before now, who lives in Asklipio, still drives a pickup using any part of the road he feels he wants to, even after his fifty-something year-old son has hidden the keys, threatened his old dad and even tried to block the pickup in so it can't be extracted from where it's parked. Yet sooner or later there he is, head barely higher than the steering wheel, trundling down the lane with all and sundry fleeing for the kerbs and banks in a desperate bid to avoid a collision, with often only limited success.

The majority of serious accidents though involve tourists. Often a wreck can be seen beside the road, having been left there (I almost believe intentionally) for a week or two before being towed or lifted away, in order to alert other drivers to the dangers.

One of the problems is that holidaymakers seem to think that since we have no rain for months on end then the roads will not be slippery. Bad mistake to make. Firstly, the sun converts the tarmac into a skid pan all too often and secondly, rubber dust builds up, especially on the corners, and there is your instant cause for caution, often sadly unheeded. Also, at this time of the year when we may get the first cloudburst of the autumn, rain on rubber dust equally makes for a very slippery road surface. There are so many pieces of car bumper and shards of shattered glass on some corners that you'd think it might just wake up some of the folk driving around these unfamiliar roads in hired vehicles, but it only takes one...

Then again you'll see these couples wobbling along, snakelike on a scooter. I could be quite wrong, but I get the distinct impression that many who never ride scooters or motorbikes in their own country hire them when on a Greek island. I wonder how many of such people either know that their travel insurance small print tells them that they're not covered if they do so, or indeed that they are many times more likely to have an accident out here than they would be in the UK. Riding a two-wheeled machine is dangerous. I know, I have my motorcycle license and have owned some quite big machines in times past. You can be the safest rider out there and still not be seen by distracted drivers of vehicles with a few more wheels.

It's not an exaggeration to say that almost daily this summer we've seen reports of, or seen first hand, some pretty awful accidents. It's such an unnecessary way of spoiling one's holiday, even of not surviving it at all, as has been the case for quite a few this year.

Be safe folks, be extra vigilant when you're driving abroad. Have a smashing time if you're over here for a holiday, but not for the wrong reason!

Monday, 19 September 2016

Proof

There's a taverna I know that does OK during the tourist season. It's right on the harbour front on a small Greek island and when I passed by the other day it was closed. Normally it's never closed while the season's still in full swing, which of course it is at the moment, since it's mid-September and businesses like that ought to be making their money while they can, since during the winter there will be no income for almost six months.

Since the Greek financial crisis finally came to light about six years ago now, the government, governments in fact, have been trying various ways of making businesses declare their correct income in order not to evade the taxes that the country badly needs paid in order to help it turn a corner and start progressing toward solvency (now then, don't laugh!). 

For decades leading up to the crisis really hitting home regular visitors to Greece will know how so often you'd spend an evening in a traditional taverna and, when it came time to pay your bill, the owner would scribble the list of what you'd had from memory on the paper table cloth, then round it down to the nearest Drachma and - more recently - Euro. He'd say, "Call it twenty five Euro," You'd probably give him thirty and wander off happily, marvelling at how laid back such things are in wonderful, quirky, beguiling Greece.

Of course, back then very few of us would have given a thought to the fact that such methods of payment and income were an ideal way for businesses to fabricate the amount they told the government that they were earning. To us visitors it was one of the things that we loved about Greece. How laid back everything was, how quaint.

It's now legendary the ways in which various professional people have been avoiding paying taxes. How many surgeons, for example, since the government has been investigating their finances, were found to be declaring an income of around €10,000 per annum, while a €30,000 Mercedes was sitting on their drive? How many homes in the affluent districts of Athens had special covers laid over their swimming pools to make them look like enormous paved patios from the air? Drones have proved exceedingly useful in exposing such crafty ways of trying to get out of paying for licences.

It's now law that every retail establishment in the country has to display the sign (I mentioned this recently in another post, click here to read it) that informs the customer of the fact that, if they aren't given a printed receipt then they are not obliged to pay for the goods or services involved. We have a favourite bar (no names, no pack drill) which isn't all that far away from where we live, that never places your receipt, your "tab", on the table when they bring your drinks or snacks. In fact, the other evening while enjoying a pleasant drink there with two close friends from the UK, I reminded one of the family that runs the place that we were ready to pay and yet hadn't been given our apodeixi

"Haven't you? Sorry, no problem," He replied and disappeared behind the counter inside the building. 

"Aha!" We thought, "now he'll bring it." He didn't. Instead he trotted over to our table, told us the amount and waited while we fumbled in our purses for the cash. 

It's easy to be self righteous when reading about such scenarios; to say to us: "Well, you should have insisted!" Yes, it's easy, but when you're talking about one of your favourite bars on the island, run by a family you've known for many years, you do - however wrong it may perhaps be - but you do tend to reason that it's their lookout if they choose to do things wrongly. Why should we as members of the public be made to become policemen or women and force the staff to apply the letter of the law? Especially is this so when you'd be pretty sure that it would cook your goose for ever patronising the place again. 

Frankly it amazes me that there are cafés and bars, tavernas too, that still aren't obeying the law to provide an apodeixi (till receipt, lit: "proof"). I say this because it's common knowledge that the excise people are paying random visits to such businesses under cover and keeping a watchful eye for tax evasion techniques. They detect such practices going on? They close the place down - immediately. The owners then face stiff penalties and rightly so.

The taverna I refer to at the top of this piece is a case in point. While sipping an Elliniko further along the harbour yesterday my host told me what had happened. The tax inspectors had taken a table and observed what was going on. They even gave the proprietor the benefit of the doubt a couple of times, but after they'd witnesses five different groups at table paying for their meals and not being given their till receipt, the Inspectors revealed their true identity and closed the place on the spot.

Maybe the establishment in question thought that because they are situated on a small island that's difficult to get to they'd be OK, they'd be able to get away with it, but it seems not.

Another crafty scheme that has recently been reported on national TV is on first glance ingenious. The waiter does indeed place your receipt on the table when your drinks are delivered and, when you pay, you waltz off thinking that you've just patronised an establishment that's keeping to the law and paying the VAT. Ah, but, what the staff then do is void the transaction on the electronic register and then trash the receipt. Hey presto, no sale recorded. 



While sitting talking to Mihalis, who, along with his mum and siblings, runs Lefkosia's taverna on Halki the other day, I asked about the recently installed desalination plant. Where was it situated and how much did it cost? Was it partly financed by money sent back from the Halkiot community in Tarpon Springs, Florida? He told me that it cost a seven figure sum, but that in five or six years it would have paid for itself. In times past when they'd had to have their water supply brought in by boat from Rhodes, Mihalis told me that every load used to cost the island €4,000. And in the high season that would be three times a week. €12,000 per week for drinking water, brackish drinking water at that. Since they commissioned the new plant in 2014 they haven't looked back. The pressure in the taps in Halki is excellent and the water 100% potable, drinkable.

They've situated the plant in a small bay well out of sight of the village, so as not to mar the beauty of the place for the thousands of tourists and holidaymakers that visit each year. The local council on Halki is forward thinking, since the larger communities on Kastellorizo and Symi have yet to follow suit and still have their water brought over from Rhodes (Kalathos Bay, in fact) by tanker. Apparently too, the islanders had a stash of cash from the Tarpon Springs community set aside from some years ago, so that was used to supplement the amount paid for the new plant. 

In case you're wondering, the electricity supply on Halki is brought to the island by underwater cable from Rhodes. Symi, of course, does have its own modest power station, which if I remember correctly is diesel powered.

When the local council on Symi have to place an order with the water company on Rhodes to bring the tanker over, I'm assuming that they insist on a receipt.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Real Greece



We often talk about people experiencing the "real Greece", but what do we actually mean? I know that when I talk to holidaymakers we often discuss the difference between the islands, more often still the difference between places on the same island. Take Rhodes as an example. One of the larger of the Greek islands, it has a fairly extensive road system. It has some pretty lively 'resorts' (I hate using that word if I'm honest) and yet still some very quiet backwaters where old village women still hobble around in their headscarves and bake bread in stone ovens in their outdoor kitchens.

Before coming to live here on Rhodes we'd never holidayed here. We'd always mistakenly taken Rhodes to be over-commercialised and far too "touristy" for our taste. Of course, through happenstance we came to be living in the south of the island and now see that we were quite wrong. Most certainly there are areas on the island where we most definitely would have been miserable if we'd had to spend a week or two there on holiday, but there are equally areas where you can still find what we tend to call "the real Greece."

I don't doubt that different people would probably have different parameters for describing what they perceive to be the "real Greece," but I'll attempt to outline mine. If you come here for a holiday and you think of yourself as a "Grecophile" you'll probably want to find traditional tavernas, perhaps too ouzeries, where the house wine is still served in those little aluminium jugs and you always get a glass of water along with any alcoholic drink in a café or bar. You'll expect to interact with local people who'll without prompting want to sit you down on their terrace and ply you with ouzo, some freshly baked delicacy or at the very least a cool drink and some water melon. They'll take the time to communicate with you, even if through sign language, and they'll want to know all about your family, your job and your financial situation without at all thinking that they're prying.

In the "real Greece" you'll wander down to a beach that's not packed to the gills with umbrellas and screaming kids, but rather one where on Sundays half the people there taking a dip and relaxing are the local Greeks on "Volta" day, with their families. In the first hours of daylight or during the evening there will be old Greek women and a few men treading water a few metres from the shore putting the world to rights as they enjoy a conversation in the cool of the sea for half an hour. There won't be "water sport" centres with speed boats tearing around the bay creating unwanted wakes while you're taking your dip in the otherwise flat calm waters as they put the fear of God into a few screaming youths clinging on for grim life to some inflatable rubber thingamybob.

In the "real Greece" you'll wander through village streets that are too narrow for most vehicles, you'll see donkeys making their way to and from their workplace to their home enclosures, sometimes accompanied by their owners but, often as not, making the trip alone, knowing exactly where they're going. You'll see them tethered in olive groves, staring languidly at you as they position themselves in the shade of the most convenient tree. You'll spot goatherds hanging around while a few metres away their charges nibble at anything they feel is edible.

You'll probably expect that old geezers in pickup trucks almost as old as their drivers will wave to you as you pass them, even though you've never seen them before. You'll eat out in the evening and find that after midnight you're still sitting there, probably sipping at a Metaxa and popping those fresh grapes into your mouth that the taverna owner brought out as a freebie at the end of your meal. You'll be answering all those questions that the family who own the place are firing at you. They'll be asking questions like how the Brexit will affect you, where else in Greece you've been and how it compares with where they live. Wherever else you've been will of course always not be quite as nice as where you are having this conversation now. At least that's what the folk you're talking to will want to get you to agree on.

In the "real Greece" you'll have discovered the occasional taverna where, as the evening draws on and the clients thin out a little, the owner will spontaneously break into a dance as the speakers pump out a traditional old "Hasapiko" tune, or perhaps a "Zebehiko".

There are just now and again, little things that happen that kind of say to you subliminally, "Yes, this is the real Greece". These may be quite unexpected and all the more pleasure-inducing as a result. I'll cite an example from last Thursday on Halki.

I had about a dozen guests from the UK to 'look after', which means giving them some basic info about the island, including, of course the time of the boat's departure on its return to Rhodes, before letting them loose to spend a few hours exploring this most delightful of islands on their own. Along with the UK guests I had a young Swedish couple and a woman from the Czech republic with two small children. The Swedish couple were soon off on their own, drinking in the torpor-inducing environs of the little port of Nymborio and the UK guests wanted to know how to get to a beach for a cool off. On Halki there is a kind of bus service. I say "kind of" because it's a minibus that goes up and down the solitary road from time to time, always returning to the quayside to hang about for a while before making the same trip again. I've always had the impression that the bus goes and comes as and when it wants to, but is never more than fifteen or twenty minutes from arriving back at the quay.

Having explained to the guests that the beach was about a fifteen minute walk away, in the still searing heat of a Greek late morning in September, the Czech lady asked me if the bus would take her to the beach, since her two children were not much more than toddlers and would find making that walk possibly just a little too taxing. Their little legs were little indeed and so I replied that, well, yes, if she'd care to wait around near the quayside long enough then the minibus would surely be back and she'd be able to jump on and get taken to the beach in minutes. I assured her too that she'd be able to flag the bus down on its return as it passed the beach and get brought back to the harbour later as well. She seemed happy with this and so set about waiting for the bus to turn up. This would have been around 11.30am. It was probably in the lower thirties C.

Along with a couple of fellow reps, I repaired to the quayside café-bar and we ordered soft drinks and began our usual natter about life as excursion escorts. I was unaware of the time passing, but at something like 12.15pm the Czech lady appeared beside our table and said that the bus hadn't put in an appearance and she and her two very young children had been waiting around for all that time. She looked hot and bothered. I leapt to my feet and told her I'd ask our host, the nice man whose family run this bar, if he had an idea when the bus was supposed to run. Wonder of wonders, he only had a timetable (of sorts) pinned to the door of the building, didn't he.

Sadly, that timetable suggested that my Czech client may have a long wait, in fact too long a wait since it appeared to suggest that the bus wouldn't put in an appearance again here at the quayside until 3.30pm, only half an hour before we were due to leave.

Imagine how I was feeling. Owing to my poor advice this poor woman and two small children had already hung around for 45 minutes, and now they found that they still had no way of getting to that beach to cool off unless they were prepared to leg it. I felt duty-bound to do something and do something I did.

"Hold on," I told her, "I have an idea." My Greek friend Mihalis was seated at the bar next-door, where he usually hangs out, and I knew that I'd seen him whizzing back and forth along the quayside on someone's motor scooter most weeks while I've been here. I sprinted the thirty metres or so to his stool and was pleased to see that he'd finished his Elliniko and thus I explained my dilemma. Was there any way he could borrow some wheels and take my poor exasperated guest and her toddlers to the beach?

I knew that he'd rise to the challenge. He immediately leapt from his stool and trotted off to Babis Taverna, which he subsequently emerged from jangling some keys, the keys to Zois' scooter in fact. He kick started it and was soon right beside us at the front of the café on the quayside. 

"Come on then," he said, with an enthusiastic grin.

The Czech lady was hesitant. There were three of them, she and her two small daughters. How exactly did Mihalis intend to get them to the beach? It didn't take them long to follow his instructions, so the first of the toddlers climbed on to the footplate area in front of the rider, standing between his legs and grabbing on to each of the still-existing (amazing, eh?) rear view mirror stalks for stability. The mum climbed on behind Mihalis and he told the other toddler to stand by as he'd be back in five minutes. As the Czech lady threw a leg across the saddle behind him there was a beam of delight all over her face. She said:

"Well, it may have come as a bit of a surprise, but I suppose I can now say I've experienced a little of the real Greece, right?"

You know what she meant. That unselfish willingness that so many local folk display to do whatever it takes to help you out. Yes, they'll be a bit inventive with the laws of the road, but let's face it, this is a very small island we're talking about, with hardly any vehicles anyway.

As the time drew around for us and our guests to gather at the quayside to board the boat back to Kamiros Skala on Rhodes, I spotted my Czech mum and her children, both of which were doing a fine job of covering their cheeks with ice cream from the cornets that they were both licking. I strolled over to her and asked, ever so slightly anxious about how she'd reply, "So, did it turn out OK in the end?"

"Oh, yes! Perfect!!" She replied. 

"And, you got back all right?"

"No problem at all. It's been wonderful!" She added.

Doesn't it give you a warm feeling all over, and not just from the weather?

Just last night me dearly beloved and I walked the 20 minutes or so down to our local beach for our customary early evening swim. Walking back up we were just approaching the olive grove and vegetable garden of our friend Agapitos, situated along the dusty lane quite far from anywhere, when we head the engine of his pick-up truck growl into life just around the curve behind a strawberry tree.

I gently urged my wife with a hand behind the small of her back to stand to the side while we let the old man drive past as the bonnet of the truck put in an appearance a few metres ahead of us, coming our way. Spotting us he slowed, opened his window and reached for something on his passenger seat.

His hand extended from the driver's window and he dropped two freshly picked pears into our hands. We had no idea that he even had a pear tree in his "allotment" as we call it. 

We thanked him and he sped off in a cloud of dust with the words "They're clean, I've washed them," floating out from his window. Before he'd gone ten metres along the lane behind us I wash chewing on the most delicious yellow pear I'd ever tasted.

Maybe that little experience - those little experiences - help explain what the "real Greece" is perhaps?


"It's called Kinigos!" he shouted as I snapped this picture of a local arriving with some freshly caught fish for Lefkosia's fridge. "Kinigos" means "hunter", but the fish is known in English as the Common Dolphinfish, a name that could put one off. They are no relatives at all of actual dolphins of course, which are mammals.

Lunch at Lefkosia's. Three British couples joined me and I was delighted to tell them the "Moussaka" story. They ordered the best moussaka in Greece. I think from their comments afterwards that they were glad that they did so. If you don't know the "Moussaka" story, it's in one of the "Ramblings From Rhodes" series of books, but blowed if I can remember which!
Once Mihalis, by the way, had shipped the Czech lady and her kids off to the beach on the borrowed motor scooter, not fifteen minutes passed before the bus trundled back on to the quayside, and this at 12.30pm. The timetable had suggested that it wouldn't appear for another three hours.

Ah, the real Greece. Don't you just love it?

Sunday, 4 September 2016

An Onomatopoeic Post

Y'know, I've called this blog "Ramblings From Rhodes" ever since I started it a long time ago, but until now I've never actually called a post a "rambling" or "some ramblings". Of course, they all are in truth, but this one's got a sort of, well, even more rambly feel to it, with no specific subject, just a bunch of observations from the past week or so. Thus, since it's truly some "ramblings" this time, I've called it an onomatopoeic post.

Incidentally, it's quite appropriate really. Onomatopoeia is, after all, a word derived from the Greek. Onoma means of course, name, while the other bit is an old fashioned Greek word for make or do, in fact poieo would be best be translated as maketh, or doeth, forsooth.


So, I hereby doeth, or indeed maketh this new post, which, in keeping with the above introduction, shall doubtless ramble on a bit about different stuff. Sorry if I tend to inject the odd bit of King James English here and there. It'll be entirely involuntarily, in truth I doth admit.


Last week, as I was travelling back (after the Halki trip) from Kamiros Skala with a mere handful of guests from our part of the island, we were being driven by Mihalis, in his slightly ageing 19-seater minibus. It's OK, the seats are all in pretty good condition, but when he operates the door, which of course opens and closes immediately to the right of my "rep's" seat beside him, he often has to reach across my lap when closing it and tug vigorously at the substantial metal bar that is attached to the inside of the door and swings outward as the door opens and slides back. He gives it a tug to ensure when the door is closing that it actually closes all the way and engages with the lock with a confidence-inducing "clunk". When he opens it, I usually have to give it a helping hand with my elbow too, just to get it started on its outward and backward trajectory. I just hope that the guests don't notice too much. 


We'd arrived back at Kamiros Skala and two hundred or so passengers had spread out on to the quayside like an enthusiastic family of ants, and I'd located our chariot only to find another surly Greek of about Mihalis' age standing beside the door with a huge smile on his weather-worn countenance. He bellowed to an out-of-sight Mihalis that it was time to get back here and open the door and, once our guests had shoehorned themselves in, also climbed aboard and sat right behind me, in my "rep's" seat.


As soon as we were on the road the two Greek fired up a lively banter about folk in their village, those who'd just died, were about to pop their clogs, or perhaps had recently contracted some dire illness that would surely lead to their imminent demise. There were too, it has to be said in fairness, the occasional references to someone's business, or son or daughter in far away Canada or Australia. It soon became apparent to me that these two men went back a long way. 


Mihalis is one of the drivers I work with who is difficult to put an age on. He's stocky, without being overweight and doesn't have too much of a "beer-belly". His face is square and framed by a good head of only slightly greying thick hair and its colour (the face that is, not the hair) betrays long years of living under a Greek sun and not using moisturiser. On first meeting, you'd probably understandably put him down as a Horiatis, a villager, the rural type. He surprised me some weeks back when we'd worked together by coming out with the fact that he'd spent a month in Australia last winter with his daughter and family, who lived somewhere near Perth. I throw my hands up and admit that I'd sort of concluded that the furthest he'd probably ever travelled would have been to Rhodes Town. It is true that many a village type from the more remote villages do consider a trip to Rhodes Town as being quite an adventure, verging on the reckless.


Mihalis, though, once you engage him in conversation, is far more widely read and travelled than his appearance would have the casual observer give him credit for. I find him immensely likeable and very affable. This other chap that last Thursday was sitting behind me and nattering away with Mihalis must surely have been his brother, they looked that much alike to me, even down to the fading jeans and red polo shirt. All Greek men of a certain age live in comfy-fit jeans, never shorts. Shorts are still a new-fangled fashion statement that's one step too far for these chaps. Definitely something those younger men of, say up to 40, may be daring enough to put on, but your average horiatis of any age upward of that? No chance.


Their conversation gave away their closeness and easiness in each other's company, since occasionally one would say to the other, "No. You're wrong there. Stamatis will be well over 70 now and it was Soula, his sister, not Vaggeli's, who had that hysterectomy last year." This comment wouldn't in the least cause offence, however and the conversation would remain wholly and entirely relaxed and affable. Thus I was led to interject when I saw an opportunity, "So, you two related then?"


The bloke behind me (never did catch his name) answered, as Mihalis just cast me a sideways smile, "No, just friends from the same village. You thought we were brothers, right? A lot of people do. We do even look alike, don't we!"


He was right, they did. Mihalis told me that they went back to their childhood years and thus was explained their total ease with each other. Judging by how old I'd estimate them to be, their friendship must have been well over 5 decades long, maybe longer.


And thus I found myself experiencing a moment of melancholia. Making the move as I had, eleven years ago last week in fact, from my home turf to this island some 2,000 miles away, I was no longer in a position to have such enjoyable chats with any friend of mine. Isn't it true anyway that the habit of 'getting on the housing ladder' and moving home into something ever bigger and better as one's career progresses tends to rob us of the joy of such friendships now? Yet that seems to be the modern way of the world in the UK. When I was brought up, which means to begin with in the fifties, married couples still had the habit of living in the same house for virtually all of their married life. The children would grow up there and, after having flown the nest, always return to spend high days and holidays with mum and dad, watching dad prune his roses or cut a cabbage for Sunday lunch, which we used to call dinner when I was small. 


Then along came this idea that a house was no longer a home, but rather an asset to be disposed of should one find oneself in a position to acquire a more desirable one. I'm not saying that moving house is always a bad thing, of course. But the expression "starter home" does betray a lot about the way society has changed in places like the UK.


Here it's still very different. Local people hardly ever sell their property. They always gravitate back to their home village and community. This is a huge factor in why the crime rates are so low and people don't lock their doors in villages even today. By and large they still allow their small children to go out and play anywhere in the village, safe in the knowledge that they only have to put a foot on the doorstep and yell, and their offspring will soon come scampering back safe and sound for their meal or bed time.


I found myself envying these two men. Mind you, I am full of praise for the positive aspects of the internet, which, although now used to promote child porn and ways to build your own nuclear device, is a marvellous way of getting back in touch with old friends, isn't it? Only about a year, maybe 18 months, ago I got back in touch with someone I was at school with, someone who was a fairly good friend at the old City of Bath Boys' School of the late sixties and very early seventies. Alan in fact is in the habit of driving, with his wife, down across Europe most summers and sends some exceptionally witty, erudite and photo-filled reports of these trips to his friends as a PDF file via e-mail. I find it immensely pleasurable to receive these bulletins and exchange a bit of news with him now and then. It's still not the same as face to face banter with lifelong friends though, is it?




Just a couple of weeks ago, we'd been accompanied by a dolphin on our Sunday "Bay to Bay " boat trip [see this post, last two photos]. As the guests scrambled to the bow to watch the spectacle, Makis, the captain of the boat, told me a couple of amazing facts about dolphins. We talked about how intelligent they are and how they seem to join boats chugging along at a stately 10 knots simply for fun and can swim alongside effortlessly without the benefit of a diesel engine and screw under the surface of the water. Makis reckons that since, as we know, they breathe air like we do, it's phenomenal that they are able to dive up to 1200 metres down below the surface and then get back up for air in about nine minutes. Makes my lungs ache just thinking about it.


Somehow the conversation with a couple of guests came around to the deer on the island of Rhodes too. As it happens we had a very big stag in our lane just two nights ago as we were coming home in the car after dark. Never tire of seeing them. But I seem to remember being told that the reason they were introduced to Rhodes was to help keep the snake population down. For some reason I'd never thought of this before but, since deer don't eat snakes, how exactly were they meant to be of help in controlling the population? Makis reckons that deer are very adept at trampling on snakes, thus killing them. Maybe some reader out there will know if that's the case.




But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Yup, it's about time I got myself back off to bed to see if sweet slumber shall I encounter. A post I hath made and thus I shall give it a rest for now. Nighty night.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

A Greek Island Mystery


Well it may well be that I only do Halki one more time this summer, since I only expected to be doing it for the high season of late July into August. Each week we have guests from countries like France (very popular with the French is Halki), Scandinavia, Germany, Slovenia and Poland for starters.


No need to worry though, because a maximum of maybe three or four hundred day-trippers are on the island on any one day and within minutes of having disembarked from the boats they've been assimilated (sounds like a threat from "The Borg" on Star Trek) into the environs and Halki's glorious sleepiness isn't ruffled. BTW, that white house in the photo above is the same one I talked about in the last-but-one post "A Huge Helping of Halki" and if you've read that you'll know that it's available for rent through Olympic Holidays (UK).

Once again I went for a swim off the rocks there and it was sublime. The sea was a calm and as flat as a sheet of glass and the fishes were zipping around as I peered out at them through my swimming goggles.

What mystifies me is that every week οn this excursion (we go on Thursdays) I only seem to have a handful, if any at all, of UK guests and, frankly, I don't get it. To me - and all modesty is thrust aside here folks - I've been around the tetragono (Greek for block. I know, you probably did get it anyway, but just in case) a few times - to me this island is one of the most superb essentially-Greek islands that is to be found anywhere in the Aegean, or indeed the Ionian Seas. The people are especially welcoming and friendly and the prices in the bars and tavernas usually have my guests smiling in surprise.

"You'd have thought that a select little island like this would be expensive" I so often hear someone say, "and yet we'd say you can eat out here for less than you'd pay on Rhodes." It's true folks, because a lot of our guests on the day excursion take advantage of the impossibly evocative harbour-side environment and enjoy a Greek lunch just a few feet from the bobbing boats and fishermen fixing their nets. 

My good friend Zois, who runs the Babis Taverna (photo below) asked me this week, he said, "Gianni, where are the British?"

I didn't have an answer. Whenever I talk with anyone who's on holiday on Rhodes I make it very clear that the'd be missing out on something very special not to visit Halki, and yet that still translates into very few Olympic guests actually booking the trip. I know that TUI and Thomas Cook do it on different days. I used to be the rep for TUI from the south of Rhodes, as you'll know if you've been reading my ramblings for a few years, yet if I remember correctly, my guests were still more numerous from Scandinavia, Germany and France than from the UK.


If you are in any doubts about whether this wonderful little hidden Greek gem is worth a visit, check this video out, now!

And if you're staying on Rhodes now or in the next few weeks, don't miss out on seeing the place you'll truly fall in love with if you're searching for what we so often call the "real Greece". Tell you what too, apart from Olympic Holidays, there's also an excellent little outfit called "Nissia" who offer Halki as a holiday destination.

If I didn't live here in Greece, I know where most of my Greek holidays would be spent. Of course my better half disagrees, she'd prefer Naxos. To me, though, it's not a good idea to make that comparison, they're very different (especially in size) and I love both Naxos and Paros for very different reasons. I love Symi too, but maybe for me it gets just a little too busy with day-trippers around the harbour area during the high season.

There you are. It's a mystery to me, but those UK holidaymakers who don't come, they're the ones missing out. TBH, I wouldn't want to live on Halki, which only has around three to four hundred winter residents. It would be a little too quiet for me during the winter months. But to visit and stay a while. Can't beat it.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

H2-Oh Dear.

It's that "all-hot-weathered-out" time of the year when you've lost count of how many days you've been feeling sweaty and you have no idea when it last rained. You just know that it was far too long ago.

I read on the Facebook page of one of the local newspapers several weeks ago about the possible crisis we could be facing with regard to our water supply here on Rhodes, owing to the fact that we had an exceptionally dry winter. The new reservoir is apparently much too low and it's touch and go as to whether we'll make it to the the first rains before there's a serious shortage.

I've spoken many times about how the Greeks, especially women washing down their courtyards and terraces, do have to habit of using a hose pipe without a gun/nozzle on the business end and leaving it running for half an hour while they casually brush the whole area over, often stopping for a chat in the process too. The result is that quite often you see huge amounts of precious, glistening, potable water flowing along the ground when it ought really to be still in a reservoir/tank somewhere.

Each week when I do my excursions there are places we pass on the coach where the entire road is flowing with water where someone's washed down a café/bar or taverna terrace at the crack of dawn. I do find it difficult understanding why the water company don't send people around to inspect such places and inflict penalties, or at the very least give people warnings, or even tips on how to conserve water in these circumstances. But then, if one adopts a slightly cynical view, maybe the water company thinks that if they turn a blind eye then they'll be able to send out bigger bills and reap more income. Surely not.

You can't really blame the locals because, although in the UK for decades now they've been learning how to be thrifty with water (and look how much it rains there), here the problem is that before the national water company took over the water bills a couple of years ago, when the water supply and billing was all done by the local councils, water was so cheap that it never really hit anyone's pocket to waste water wantonly. Local people haven't really taken on board the fact too that in recent decades the proliferation in construction of new hotels and apartment blocks for tourists has meant that there's been an ever increasing drain on a finite water supply. 

Yes, Rhodes is blessed with some wonderful fresh water springs up in the mountains, but these aren't going to step up production to cope with the ever more literally mammoth sized swimming pools that the new hotels are now constructing. Time was when a hotel had a swimming pool, end of story. Nowadays they have to build individual plunge pools for every room, long snaking pools along the fronts of other apartment blocks where each front terrace allows the guests to jump straight in, plus ever larger central pools (often these days two or three) for the general use of guests. One hotel near us has so many pools, and so huge are they that they would probably empty about ten of our local reservoirs just to fill them. When I say "local reservoir" I refer to the concrete water reservoirs that you usually see positioned on hillsides or hilltops near villages, which supply water at an acceptable pressure (owing to their height above the village) in the taps. Quite a number of these concrete tanks have in recent years been supplemented by circular metal ones, often installed alongside, to cope with increasing demand.

But, like I said, whilst demand may be increasing, supply is still finite. The day of reckoning approaches, it's a certainty.

Rhodes still sends water by tanker to both Kastellorizo and Symi, water that it can ill afford to send. The small but forward-thinking population of Halki have for two years now had the luxury of their own desalination plant and the water in their taps is not only potable but also has a much better and regular pressure nowadays. I once read a book called "Bus Stop Symi" in which the author, a British man called William Travis explained how the Symiots did once install a desalination plant there, using money sent home from Symiots living abroad. The only problem was, they built the thing slap, bang in the middle of the square behind the harbour, the very same square where today they hold dancing during their festivals. You can imagine what it did for the fledgling tourism industry on the island. So, after a few years they took it apart and never bothered to reconstruct it anywhere else. Once again, the availability of cheap water virtually on demand from Rhodes was doubtless a contributing factor in the decision not to bother to keep the plant. Today though? I bet the Halkiots are laughing all the way to the bank (the river bank?).

What will happen here on Rhodes as we move swelteringly on into September, who knows? The fact cannot be evaded though that the days of a cheap, endless supply of potable drinking water are numbered unless something drastic can be done and done imminently.

It's too flamin' hot. I'm off for a shower...

Friday, 19 August 2016

A Huge Helping of Halki...

Yesterday I was on Halki again (no surprises there then!) and, since it's impossible to walk around the place without taking photos, I thought that in this post I'd share my shots from that visit with you. Not much text, just glorious photos that once again show why Halki is so special.

Are you sitting comfortably? then I'll begin (captions on some of them, not all)...



The trouble with walking to one of the beaches for a swim is that, by the time you've walked back to the harbour, you're so hot and sticky that you need a ...swim. Solution? Just amble along to the end of the harbour and swim from there. The white building to the right, with the steps, is bookable through Olympic Holidays by the way. I can't think of anywhere I've ever stayed that could top it. It's Villa Tsandou. I swam from that quayside.

Villa Tsandou again.

These small balconies, not too good for entertaining (even if the building has been renovated!) were actually fitted so that the women could watch for their sponge-fishing husbands returning after months at sea. Of course, they were always anxious because it wasn't unusual for a husband or father not to return at all having succumbed to the bends. They'd have been buried at sea because it wasn't practical to keep a body on the boat for the length of time that would have been necessary to bring the poor soul home.

Same spot. Those two snorkelers were French. I had a chat with them because they were wearing these and I want one!!

Villa Tsandou terrace. Go on, tell me you wouldn't like to stay here!!



Oh, I can be arty too y'know.



The tables below belong to Taverna Babis.

Everyone can have a garden. Just takes a little inventiveness. It doesn't show it very well, but there's a ripe aubergine hanging in this photo!

This chap was just trotting home after a spot of rod-fishing. Looks like he caught something. 

And finally, my lunch at Lefkosia's. Her delicious briam and "pseftikes [meatless]" dolmades. She's promised me a vegetarian moussaka to take home with me next week. Hell of a job getting it back, but worth the effort!