Sunday, 19 November 2017

Newsy or What?

There's been lots to talk about in the last few days and most of it good. Wow, there's a first!

One has been the weather. Now, I know that many reading this will be wondering how we've coped with the terrible weather that much of Greece has been subjected to in the past week or so. Well, as is so often the case, it largely passed Rhodes by. Yes, last Monday we had some heavy rain, but even the local paper said it was just what the island needed and it was certainly nothing like the deluge that hit the mainland and even the island of Symi, just a few nautical miles north from us. Incidentally, regarding what happened there, please take a look at the piece entitled "Support For Symi" on my "News and Stuff" page. Thank you.

Here in Rhodes though, the weather during this past week has been simply a joy. It's been around 23-25ºC during the days with just the occasional bout of cloudiness. In fact, we're rather hoping for some rain in this next couple of days. Once or twice a week during winter would be just what the weather-doctor ordered. The café-bars have been a delight to sit in...

The Galaxy Internet Café in Arhangelos, where knots of young folk sit around and revel in the seemingly endless amount of free time they now have after six or seven months of waiting tables or working in hotels etc. Time now to pose with a vengeance.

Zucchero Café, next door to the Flevaris supermarket just outside of Kalathos. It's the middle of November, I keep reminding myself.

When we first moved here in 2005, the bloke who built the house had a favourite expression. Well, he had several and most of them not too popular with the locals. One he'd often come out with if for any reason he decided that he'd been let down or disappointed in any way was, "How do you know when a Greek is lying? His lips are moving."

Now, I'm a Grecophile (or, if you prefer, a Hellenophile, whatever), but that doesn't mean I'm blind to some of the cultural mores that sometimes we foreigners find odd, or hard to come to terms with. For example Greeks will often tell porkies with no malicious intent, it's just the expedient way to progress with a situation, in their view. Ask the electrician when he's coming and he'll say for example, "Tomorrow." Now, he probably knows full well that tomorrow he's got something planned, but for the time being it gets you off his back and for the present everyone's happy. When he turns up four days later he'll not quite understand your chagrin, after all, he came didn't he? That's not being deliberately awkward or deceptive, it's just ...well, something you have to get used to.

To show how great they can be, instead of griping (as so many ex-pats seem to, even though they wouldn't dream of moving back to the UK) I'll proceed to give two shining examples of kindness and helpfulness that I've experienced in just this last week. 

Firstly, in the new year there will probably be another "Help For Health Gennadi" event (see this post from February 2016 and this page on Facebook) to raise money for supplies for the local doctor's surgery in nearby Gennadi. Last year, as I stood and talked with Dimitri, one of the local businessmen who's really taken up the baton of this event and thrown his enthusiasm into it, while he cooked souvlaki...

The man himself (Dimitri, who runs the very cosy Summer Breeze Hotel in the village)
...he suggested we have a banner made to show passers-by what the event was all about, since even with the grapevine in the village, many residents still weren't sure what they were seeing as they walked past. Since my career has been as a graphic designer, I said I'd prepare some artwork and see if I could get a local sign/print company to produce a banner for us for free, in return for which we'd of course agree to them placing their logo on it. I duly approached three major companies on the island with a request as to whether they'd be prepared to help us out, either by producing the banner F.O.C. or at a discount perhaps.

The first company (which advertises all the time on local radio), whose office I visited in person, could only offer us a discount, but wouldn't produce a two metre-wide vinyl banner for free. The second company I approached by email and they didn't even bother to reply. The third, who I'd also approached initially by email, came back to me within a day with an offer to produce it for nothing, as long as we'd agree to them putting their logo on it, which I'd already suggested would be fine with us. They're called Hedera and had produced a few signs for me many years ago. In fact, if you take a peek at my "Play, Eat, Visit" page and scroll down to the Dino's Boats sign, that was the one they did for me. Of course, that was a commercial venture for a friend and they were paid for the job, but even then I was impressed by their professionalism.

Within another 24 hours they'd submitted their amended version of the artwork to me for our approval and commissioned the production of the banner. Now I call that a result. This is what they're going to fabricate for us in vinyl banner form...

In fact, I really like their splash of colour and I think it'll go a long way to adding to the sign's optical appeal. Anyway, Maria, the girl with whom I've been communicating at the company has been helpfulness personified and I have nothing but praise for both her and the company.

Secondly, Our router stopped working last Monday lunchtime. It just packed in and the first thing I did was to call the neighbours up the hill to see if they'd lost internet too, because there have been occasions where it's been a problem with the line somewhere further down the valley. Both of our only two neighbours replied that theirs was working fine, so there was nothing for it but to call OTE, the Greek equivalent of BT in the UK. I wasn't waiting long before I was talking to a techno-bod who ran a few tests on the line and said it checked out OK. He told me that he'd put in a request for local engineers to check the situation out and that they'd be on it and have it fixed within 24 hours. Fortunately, I'd kept my old router when we'd ordered the new one earlier this summer. I'd done this for exactly such a situation. I really didn't want to have a router blow up on us and be without internet until a new one could arrive in the post. I wanted a back-up because I not only write a lot but still do business with a couple of my graphic design clients back in the UK, who get instant reaction from me to their requirement and are used to it being that way.

So, the next morning, bright and early I received a phone call from the OTE engineer, who assured me that, yes, it was the router that had gone down, because the line checked out as OK. "Do you want me to order one to be sent to you in the mail, or would you like to be able to visit the local Germanos store and collect a new one from there?" he asked me.

I elected to visit the store, because there is one in Arhangelos, about twenty minutes up the road from us, and I knew that if I had one sent out, there would be the issue of having to send the broken one back and all the rigmarole that would have entailed. 

"No problem," said the engineer, "I'll do the paperwork now and you'll be able to drop into Germanos in the next couple of days and collect a new one, plus deposit the failed one for return."

I thanked him, put the phone down and patted myself on the back (did I tell you I'm double-jointed?) for having had the insight to order a new router so I could keep a spare, ie. the old one. With the old one back on the system and the internet working, we were able to leave it until we had the time, which proved to be yesterday (Saturday), before dropping into the Germanos store for the exchange of routers.

So, with the better half installed in a café and ordering a couple of frappés, in I strolled to the Germanos store, with the new-but-failed router all boxed up and ready for the exchange. There were two girls in there and no other customers. Yippee. One of the girls instantly asked me what I wanted and I explained, full of confidence (idiot alert!) that they should have the job on their system which involved them giving me a replacement router. She asked me for our home phone number, tapped it into her keyboard while staring at her screen and then there began a kind of silence. You know, the kind that says, "This ain't goin' so good."

"Hmm," she said, "nothing showing here. Maybe you are too soon."
"Uh? Oh, no." I replied, "The engineer and I talked last Tuesday morning and he told me that within 48 hours I'd be able to come in for it." 

"Well, I can't give you a router if we have no job ticket on the system." She replied. 

Resisting the urge both to scream and to start a rant, I told her, "The thing is, I live in Kiotari, it's not like you're that close to home. What am I supposed to do? It'll mean another trip up here when I get it sorted with the engineers." What's really galling at this point is, that if you stand in a Germanos store, you'll see a dozen or so of these routers all boxed up and waiting to be found good homes.

"Hold on," She said, "I'll call 13888 (The OTE customer help line) myself and see if I can find anything out." That girl tried for ten minutes to get through and failed. Putting the phone down she said. "Look, tell you what. I'll do the exchange, and you take a new router home, but you'll need to call 13888 in the next few days and be sure that they send the job ticket through the system. If you don't you may get charged €50. How's that?"

Now I'd call that another result. That girl went above and beyond in order to help me out. No worries too, that tomorrow morning (Monday) I'll be on the phone to OTE and they'll be in no doubt that this local engineer needs a kick up the backside as there's no way I'll be paying €50 because he forgot to process my job ticket.

Either way, two things happened just this past week that to me puts the locals in a very good light. OK, so the engineer is a plonker, but I'll soon sort that out. But the Hedera and Germanos girls saved the day.

You know it's November when...

Straight from the tree, well, the mandarins anyway.

Plus, everywhere you go at this time of the year you see sights like these...

You know what I like? I like, or probably I should say 'love' ,the smell of freshly harvested olives. Lucky as we are to live in close proximity to lots of olive groves, when we walk the lanes, which we've done this afternoon to start collecting wood in anticipation of soon lighting up the logburning stove, that damp, pungent smell that always fills the air in rural areas at this time of the year leaves one in no doubt as to the fact the the olive harvest is under way.

Everywhere you go you see pickups and cars parked in all kinds of unlikely places, anywhere where it's only a few metres to the nearest olive trees. Look among the trees and you'll see folk spreading nets, carrying heavy crates or sacks to be piled on to the backs of the pickups, you'll see those portable generators and those long hairbrush-looking agitators on poles that they use to shake the upper branches in order to get those delicious, precious, miraculous elliptical balls to tumble to the ground. You smell the freshly cut boughs of the quite beautiful olive wood that can be fed into your fire during its very first winter owing to the fact that it doesn't contain sap like the pine and burns longer too. You spot herds of inquisitive and expectant goats, hanging around the periphery, awaiting their chance to get in there and sample some of the leftovers and leaves on the culled branches and boughs. It's normally a family affair and, if you go to the mill, you see men who've known each other for decades chewing the fat over how good, bad or average this year's crop is. It is the rhythm of the seasons taking place before one's eyes and it is good.

Oh, yes, I can wax lyrical when I want to.

The beaches are now empty too. We've been intent on going for a 'desert island' swim for the last week or two, but have simply been too busy to make it as of now. But we still have time. The sea is easily swimmable until late December, we just need a calm morning when we haven't got a list of stuff to get done. We usually manage it at least once or twice between the end of the season and the end of the year and it's simply luxurious to have a gorgeous stretch of sandy Greek beach to yourselves. 

Well, there we are peeps, the highlights of the past week. As the seasons roll past ever more quickly, I can't help but become reflective. We're now in our thirteenth winter here. I can scarcely believe it myself. Tell you what though, all in all, it's good and it's fulfilling to be so close to nature. We've been watching the deer and the hares, the buzzards and blackbirds, the robins and the black redstarts all going about their business. Nature seems to exult in the cooler days with the occasional bout of rain. The valley below is turning greener by the day it seems and we've begun our almost daily walks in earnest.

As we traipsed back up the lane this afternoon, each of us with a log on our shoulders, we looked at each other and said, almost in unison - 'We really are in winter mode now, aren't we?"

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

A Furry Friend For Coffee

Well, after the humdinger of a storm yesterday, today it dawned clear and bright and blue, which is par for the course ...of course. Since the day stretched before us like a naughty hooky day off school, we decided that a good walk was in order. After a pretty busy summer, having quite a lot of days off together each week is still a novelty at this time of the year.

We'd seen from the forecast that some pretty wild weather was on its way for yesterday (Monday 13th), so on Sunday I trolled off down the lane with my trusty spade to cut a few run-offs for the water that gathers on the lane's surface. It's a kilometre long and has a couple of spots where the water can gather and become a temporary lake after a heavy downpour. Cue sticky mud patches that seriously gunge up your car's wheel arches. I was eager to see, since it had rained torrentially at times yesterday, if my efforts had paid off. Often the temporary lakes can take days to dry up, always assuming that the next storm doesn't come too soon. Walking the length of the lane we were amazed and excited to see no standing water at all - a result! Plus, whereas in times past a torrential storm would have cut gullies across the lane deep enough for your wheels to drop so far into that the car can 'bottom' if you're not careful, our previous efforts from last spring of filling the 'gullies' with gravel has also worked, leaving the lane easily negotiable for a regular car, which ours is. Right, with that out of the way we set off along the coast road with a view to reaching Glystra Beach, which takes about an hour at a normal walking pace.

We hadn't gone a quarter of the way, which meant we were walking past the Rodos Princess hotel, when we realised that we'd underestimated the temperature. We'd both decided before setting out that we ought to wear long trousers, which turned out to have been a mistake. We were both too hot! It reached about 24ºC and, in the sun, felt considerably hotter. We'd planned anyway to stop at the Blue Dreams coffee bar en route, and we were pretty glad to reach it at around 12.15pm, well ready for a frappé and some shade.

The Blue Dreams can be pretty lively in the evenings, especially during the season, but in the day time it's a very acceptable laid back place for a frappé with a rather nice panoramic sea view. You get a very good Frappé there (large glass too) along with a long glass of cool water for 2€. It's about 300 metres down the road from our other favourite, the Gré café. What's also nice is that this winter they're planning to stay open, whereas in past years we've arrived there on one of our marathons à pied, only to find the place all closed up.

Now I probably haven't mentioned this yet, but our neighbour's beautiful ginger cat, Simba, went missing some three weeks ago now and all three households up here on the hill are in mourning. This whole cozy corner of our beautiful, forested valley where the three houses and gardens are situated seems somehow bereft without Simba patrolling his favourite routes around the place. We've been agonising about whether we ought to get a cat of our own and keep oscillating between the sentimental feeling of 'Yes, it would be nice to have a moggie about the place again' and the more level-headed 'Think about the responsibility, even about how we'd feel if this one too were to go missing and put us through the emotional mill again.'

So there we were, just about to enjoy our newly-arrived frappés, when someone else arrived too...

Nice warm fur collar...

Oh, NOW look what you've done...
Maria, who runs the bar along with her brother, told us that this little chap appeared as soon as the season ended, which happens a lot. They get fed, either by the staff of nearby establishments that close down for the winter, or by successive tourists staying in the area. Once those benefactors are gone, cats like this nice little fellow soon see the need to go looking for another source of sustenance, since they've been domesticated by now by the well-meaning but ever-so-slightly misguided seasonal visitors.

He looked to be in pretty good condition and was exceptionally affectionate. Even after Maria's brother came and took him away to give us the chance to sip our frappés in peace, he soon found his way back to our table and was once again climbing on to our shoulders and rubbing his face against our ears. We were wavering I have to admit. Especially when Maria and her brother said, "Take him home if you like." Well, frankly it would have been impractical at that precise moment, since we were a few kilometres from home and on foot. But I may well be back there with the car and a cardboard box yet...

Maria came and had a long chat with us while we sipped. She's a very attractive and intelligent woman who looks nowhere near her years, since she has two grown-up daughters. Maybe it's being the age that I am, but to me she could have been 35. She was well pleased when I mentioned that too. Charm? C'mon guys, I wrote the book.

We talked about the season's work, the olive harvest and growing vegetables. Even though she is every inch a modern-looking woman, she learned from her mother and grandparents the art of growing all her vegetables from seed. She grows tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, water melon, honeydew melon and onions, all by drying out the seeds from one year's crop and planting them up for the next. Her family is from Asklipio, where we go to collect our mail. We talked too about the new hotels being built along the coastal plain by a local Asklipian businessman who doubtless has a serious shilling or two, since he already owns a clutch of swish hotels in the area. I have to confess to holding quite strong views about all-inclusive, yet she could only see the positives. She said that [figuratively or literally] the entire village has found work on the construction projects and many will also be employed once the hotels open for business. 

All-inclusive may have some pretty serious flaws when it comes to local businesses and their chances of survival, but there's no getting away from the fact that there are now 5 café/bars between the area where the Sofos supermarket is situated, down towards Gennadi, and the Blue Dreams itself. When we first moved here in 2005 there was only one. Also, despite the fact that many all-inclusive guests eat 'in' most of the time, the more there are in the area, the more there are who decide that enough is enough of the same faces and the same food every night, so they go out and hang the expense. Thus there are 11 restaurants in the stretch of both the main and coast roads from Angelaki's Taverna and the Lighthouse toward Gennadi to the south and the Mourella, not far from the Princess Andriana hotel toward the north end of the Kiotari area.

Thus, it was pretty difficult to get on one's high horse when Maria was talking about such things and their effect on the locals right here. Of course, there are other areas (Kolymbia, for example) where it's a completely different story.

Anyway, after a pleasant chat that lasted for half an hour or so we were set to continue with the walk. Only, we didn't. Looking across the table at each other we both concluded that the best direction from here was home. By the time we got back, which was around 2.30pm, we were well ready for one of my signature tomato and onion salads (with the statutary cold beer of course) and a few slices of my better half's delicious, nutty homemade brown bread. We'd still walked around four miles by the time we came in through the front gate and both in need of a good cool shower.

It's November 14th, it's 24ºC, it's nice living on Rhodes.

Friday, 10 November 2017

No November Blues

November on Rhodes has got to me my favourite month of the year. Why? Well, for starters it's completely the opposite of the Novembers I remember from living in the UK. In Britain, November was always the most depressing month, it seemed to me. The nights were closing in fast, the weather was bleak and you still had most of the winter to come. Long grey days one after the other seem to be what I recall the most about British Novembers. Here it's, as my dad would have said, 'glorious'. Yes we've had some rain and there will be more hopefully next week. But, true to form, it arrives, does its necessary business and then departs in time for the following day to dawn bright, blue, clear and warm.

Temperatures at the moment are hovering in the lower to mid twenties during the day (that's 70-77ºF in the old money, or if you're American!) and around 10 overnight. The high humidity of the summer months is gone and the atmosphere wonderfully clear, making the light perfect for photography. We've been out in the garden quite a bit because we can now work out there without very soon fainting from the heat and perspiring as if our skin leaked. In fact, after well over a decade of staring at three concrete tubes that were sticking out of the ground, not far from the house, I've recently built some wooden 'planters' to disguise them. These 'tubes' are the tops of the three cess pits that serve the property and the builder never did get around to finishing them off properly.

We'd tried disguising the concrete 'tubes' with slabs, gravel and pebbles, but with only limited success. they still looked scruffy.

Not bad eh? You wouldn't know what lurked beneath these now, would you?
They may have looked rather unsightly, but they do their job well. They're meant to be ecologically designed. One filters into the next and the third one has no solid bottom but is rather stacked at the bottom with gravel, through which the contents are meant to seep away as they decay naturally. It's important not to put strong chemicals down the drains because it would kill the bacteria that do the work. They must be working because the house is now well over twelve years old and we've only had the truck up to 'empty' the pits and flush them out once in all that time, which was early last year.

That's why I didn't worry about filling my planters (made from old pallets - of course!) with gravel and coloured pebbles, because it won't be that often that we have to clear them out for 'servicing'.

Of course, the rains that we have had, while welcome, are nowhere near enough. Mihalis, my farmer friend still tuts and looks up at the sky with evident disgust. 

"I wish it would rain all winter, Gianni." He says. "Even then we'd be behind with the water supply for the villages. And the olives won't be very good this year." Mind you, he does approve of my aubergine plant [see this post]. I only have the one, yes, but it produces enough for my family of two and so we're well pleased. Nevertheless, he only exhibits a genuine smile when it's stair-rodding outside.

Old Agapitos, who has the vegetable patch and olive grove in the compound surrounding the local water reservoir (a huge concrete rectangle about the size of a detached bungalow, together with the 'extension' that they built a few years ago, a circular galvanised cistern with a gently pitched roof), also tch tches a lot when he looks at his olive trees. Mind you, we can be thankful for one thing, after months of the tap water being like seawater, what comes out of the taps now is delightfully sweet and, apart from running it through a filter jug, we can drink it once again.

The 'thalassino' water did kill a lot of people's plants though. We dropped by the local garden centre on the main road just this side of Gennadi yesterday, to buy a few plants to replace the ones we'd lost. The man who runs it is a truly decent bloke who's a joy to shop with. You really enjoy parting with your money when you buy from him because he dispenses horticultural advice with every breath. The premises had been an estate agent prior to the brown stuff hitting the fan when the Greek crisis broke, not long after the 2008 financial crash, both things together having put paid to the existence of thousands of estate agents all over Greece as foreigners stopped buying here in their droves. Where once smart, white bloused and pencil skirted girls dished out A4 spec sheets on as yet unbuilt properties to willing foreigners hoping to live the dream, you can now buy a 70 litre sack of general purpose garden compost or some canes for your tomatoes.

We stocked up on a few lettuce plants and a couple of nice new shrubs (don't even ask what they're called), and whilst handing over the dosh received detailed instructions on how to keep them all healthy. All of it delivered in earnest with a friendly smile while he also hoisted my sack of compost on to a shoulder and deposited it in the boot of the car.

Ah well, sorry folks if you live in the UK, but it'll soon be dawn and I think after we've pottered around for an hour or two tomorrow, we'll dig out the sun loungers again (we dozed on them a couple of days ago too) and fall asleep in the warm November sunshine. I may have a go at varnishing my new planters. Then again, I may put it off for another day.

Keep the noise down, will you.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Season's End

Well the season has finally drawn to a close. OK, so there a just a few visitors left in some accommodations that will be closing this coming weekend, but by and large we're done and dusted.

It already seems an age ago that we spend a few nights in a hotel in Rhodes Town. In fact it was only the weekend before last. Here are a few more photos from that break...

This was a bit of a 'find'. It's a new coffee shop not far from the Cosmote office and it's very cheap. It looks like a lot of coffee shops in the UK (only with more outdoor seating!) and specialises in real coffee. On the wall inside there are probably at least twenty varieties of beans in containers from which one can choose one either to take home or have ground there and then for a drink. It's called (as the photo shows) Coffee Island.

No idea what this was about, but it was very photogenic. (click for larger view)

My better half seated up above the restored amphitheatre at the Rhodes Acropolis (formerly Monte Smith)

Every time I walk this stadium it amazes me. It's 2300 years old and when you take an eye-line along the length of each seating tier you detect a very subtle, almost imperceptible curve. The engineering involved in building this was of the highest order.
I mentioned in the previous post about the Megiston taverna in the Old Town. What a delightful taverna it is too. We'd been looking for somewhere to eat that we hadn't been before and so had been wandering for quite some time around the warren of tiny streets, looking for something that would take our fancy. I should have taken a few more notes, so no names spring to mind, but it's a family-run establishment, that's for sure. As usual the man who was waiting tables approached us as we examined the menu, but he wasn't at all 'pushy'. In fact, when we told him we just wanted to browse the menu on the lectern out front he withdrew for a while. Having satisfied ourselves that they offered a good enough selection for vegetarians, we gave him the nod and he showed us to a table. Once we told him that we were looking for anything that didn't contain meat he immediately offered to have the kitchen rustle up a veggie moussaka if that was what we would like. As it happened we didn't take him up on it, but may well do another time.

We ordered green salad, gigantes, and several other dishes, including some definitely home-made fried potatoes sliced into ovals and sprinkled with oregano. We ate some excellent kollokithokeftedes and drank some Retsina, CAIR label, Rhodes' own. All in all we were stuffed and the bill came to just under €27. Plus they brought us not one but two freebies at the end. They brought us a slice of home-made galaktoboureko and then a plate of chopped fresh fruit. In fact they brought us three freebies, because after we'd had quite a conversation with the family about where we came from and how long we'd lived on Rhodes and all that stuff that every Greek you first meet wants to know about, they brought us a dish of smoked fish, one of their own specialities, which was rather nice and the taste put me in mind of the kippers we used to eat for breakfast when I was a lad.

I rather think that we'll be going there again next season. I can definitely recommend it. Sat at the table next to us was a couple from Finland who have been coming to Rhodes for decades. They didn't look that old, but in fact he was 50 and his wife a few years younger. They have grown-up kids who don't come on holiday with mum and dad any more. They were both keen joggers as it turned out. They'd only come to the Megiston every night during every stay for the past 15 years (may have been more. the memory's defective on that score) hadn't they, and Dimitri, the rather rotund chef and 'father' of the restaurant, has actually visited Finland and had his photo taken with the basketball team that the Finnish hubby was involved with. Such stories, of course, abound all over Greece.

Returning to the subject of the season ending, it's almost frightening now how fast the years are ticking by. We're now in our 13th year here and, as I reflect on the fact that the bee eaters have all now flown south, along with the swallows, martins and swifts, I also notice how the deer (see photos below) and the birds of prey have returned to our valley. It's only my theory, not based on any actual knowledge, but I reckon that many species that are indeginous to Rhodes move to higher altitudes once the summer comes upon us. Thus they find slightly cooler temperatures and probably more verdant vegetation (or more abundant insect life) on which to feed. But this past week I've seen blackbirds aplenty, many of which are using our plant pot tray on the floor of the car port to drink and bathe, plus jays and robins. We never see robins during the high summer. This year we've seen precious few raptors in the sky above the house too, but just lately they've been in evidence once again. I'm always certain of buzzards, but the smaller birds of prey, like hawks and falcons, well they do present me with some difficulty. I can't tell the difference between them. I always used to know kestrels when we saw them in the UK, but here, well, all I know is that they are hawks or falcons.

Since we've had a couple of rain days in the past three weeks the garden has been completely rejuvenated. The roses are putting on fresh new ruby-red leaf growth. the gazanias are coming into flower again, as are the lantana bushes. Several of our yucca have produced gorgeous great white flower heads and the geraniums are starting to look like they're going to survive. Well, most of them. Hummingbird moths are hovering and inserting their amazing probosces into flower after flower.

Here's another bunch of photos from the last few days...

Perfect temperatures this time of year. Upper 20's in the day time. You can do stuff outdoors!

Me and her at the La Strada restaurant on Kiotari beach. Late afternoon.

I absolutely love the light at this time of year. All that humidity is gone and everything is sharp and clear. Light fluffy clouds are nice to look at. After all, for months we hardly see one.

View from the front terrace of the house out though the garden gates. We never tire of looking at that green, wooded hillside across the way.

A palm in the garden of the Rodos Princess Hotel.

Nice homely touch at the La Strada.

Sunday afternoon at the Il Porto, Kiotari.

The deer are back in our valley. This handsome fellow allowed us to get quite close while walking back up our lane the day before yesterday.

Same chap as above.


Me and her. La Strada wall. I used my nifty little bendy tripod for the camera.

Well, the winter's tuning up. bring it on. Lots of free days to work in the garden, stroll out for a coffee, gather wood for the log-burner during cozy nights. I do love the roll of the seasons. 

It's just that they tend to roll a little too quickly!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Three Days in Finland?

We found it back in July, after I'd met someone there who wanted a signed copy of 'Jacaranda Tree' and, as we were sitting on the pool terrace chatting I thought to myself, "I could do with some of this." So, when I got home I went on line and checked out the web site for the Cactus Hotel and noticed that they had an offer on for October. Since it was nearing the end of the season one could book a room with a sea view for 30% discount, so I up and booked us three nights. Thanks Ann Marie!

We usually take a short break before the season ends if we can, fitting it around our various work obligations, and in the past have gone to Halki, Crete, Kalymnos and a couple of other hotels in Rhodes town. It's great going to a hotel in town because whatever we pack isn't going to get thrown into an aircraft's hold, so we can just chuck all kinds of stuff into the car and off we go. It wasn't until we went down for breakfast on our first full day at the hotel that we noticed that we'd effectively moved to Scandinavia, Finland to be precise. All the guests were tall and blond and they all sounded to us a bit like the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. Now I've met lots of people from Finland and they're not all like Kimi Raikkonen. Most are, in fact very personable, but we did find their choice of breakfast a little strange for our tastes. I mean, sliced cheese, lots of sliced processed meats and white wine...for breakfast? And what's with fried eggs and sliced oranges - on the same plate? Hmm. 

Now I wouldn't want to stereotype, but I found it heard spotting anyone among those other guests who wasn't overweight. Small wonder quite a few of the fairly good quality sun beds around the pool were broken. No offence intended, merely observing.

Anyway, we parked up the car, traipsed into the hotel lobby with that much 'stuff' I was surprised that the staff didn't take us for squatters and kick us out as soon as we arrived. Luckily they didn't and we made it up to our sixth floor room and took in the stupendous view.

It's odd and admittedly somewhat contradictory I suppose, but we were 'up' for a spot of pampering and luxury and this fitted the bill. I'm the first to champion what I often go on about, you know the 'real Greece' of check-tableclothed tavernas, donkeys with old women riding side-saddle, little village kafeneions with old men playing dominoes or backgammon over their Ellinikos. I'm the first to champion Retsina and kalamari, a spot of impromptu Sirtaki between the tables if the right kind of music comes on. I love those rickety old chairs perched oh-so-close to the water's edge where you can sip your ouzo and stare out across the Greek Aegean and experience that clarity of light that's so peculiar to the Greek islands. All that stuff is, of course, what people coming here ought to experience.

Yet I have to say that there is another 'real Greece' that's just as valid as the one I've just described. During our evenings at the hotel we strolled down to the Old Town to eat and afterwards found ourselves enjoying an end-of-the-evening nightcap in one of the buzzing pedestrian streets of the new town that's crammed full of modern café-bars, all full of the young and beautiful people. There's one street in particular (Theodoraki) where we really love to sit. You can feed off the sheer energy in that street, lined as it it is with modern inviting-looking tables and chairs whilst thumping music oozes out from the open-fronted premised into and out of which the waiting staff flit endlessly. Groups of elegantly-clad people sit and talk excitedly in that way only the Greeks seem to do, some (although not as many as it used to be, thankfully) with one hand at the end of a forearm that's pointing vertically from the elbow and a smouldering cigarette glowing at the end of the fingertips.

Theodoraki, Rhodes Town, after midnight, October 21st.

Here you can sit and order a Metaxa that will arrive in a brandy balloon that's never in its life been violated by being shoved from below up against an optic measure. You know, those little devices that fit under inverted spirit bottles in bars. Here you still usually get a quintuple for the same as you'd pay in the UK for about a thimble-full. Sitting there at midnight a few evenings ago, it was inevitable that we'd draw comparisons with the culture, or lack of it, back in the UK. In a street crammed with hundreds of people there was no aggression, no tension in the air. There was no drunkenness, in fact many were still drinking freddo espresso at midnight. How they can do that is beyond me. I don't sleep well as it is. If I drank coffee at any time after about 3.00pm I'd be running around the garden all night; or, in this case, the balcony of my hotel room.

You arrive at a table here and within a few seconds a polite attentive waiter will take your order and you can sit back, in late October in nothing more than a long-sleeved t-shirt, and people-watch for Greece. It's magic. It may not be the 'old' Greece, but it definitely can be termed the 'real' Greece. OK, I'm sure that this applies to some degree all across the Mediterranean, but you know what I mean. There weren't a lot of people in that street on this particular evening that were even more than half my age, but it didn't matter. Squeezing past some young person to gain access to my chair I was not surprised to see them move their chair slightly and say "signomi" as I passed, and with a smile of apology. It wasn't even their fault anyway, it was simply a proximity issue. One can't fail to note the difference. I find so many people in the UK these days to be of the 'swagger' type. They're saying with their body language 'I'm somebody. Don't mess with me.' The amount of alcohol that gets consumed is also of some concern, not least because of the way it affects the folk who are drinking it.

Tell you what too, apart from an excellent evening spent (inevitably) in the Odyssey taverna in the Old Town, we also enjoyed a very good meal at the modestly sized taverna called 'To Megiston'.

More about that in the next post.

Back in the hotel, after a ten minute walk along the sea front and up past the Casino, we squeezed into the lift with a couple of portly (I'm being kind here) Scandinavian ladies. Every time I enter a lift (elevator) and find myself facing the other occupants, especially in a small lift where it's quite difficult to turn around, I'm reminded of the old Woody Allen scene (can't remember which movie it was now) where he did the same and, in order to hopefully break the ice, he said, "I expect you're wondering why I called this meeting." Classic.

Instead I smiled and enquired, "So, where are you from?"

"From Finland" they replied. 

The conversation ended there. I couldn't think of anything else to say. The thirty seconds before they exited at their floor were very long indeed. But at least my face muscles didn't ache from the smile I sustained throughout.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Strolling in the Sun and a Scandinavian Surprise

Yesterday I was in town on my regular excursion ("Rhodes by Day") which, as you can tell then, is still running, and I decided to do the Moat Walk. I always try and do at least an hour's power walk to avoid spending the entire five hours sitting around. Not good for the middle-age spread or indeed the circulation.

The last time I circumnavigated the entire moat was when I did the "Rhodes For Life" charity run in November a couple of years ago. I hadn't actually walked it for a long time before that. On the way into town I usually tell the guests on the coach about how impressive the old town walls are. Completed in 1465, one can only get a true impression of the sheer scale of the whole thing by walking the moat, so I decided to refresh the old memory on the subject.

Thus, this post is primarily a lot of photos (that's a lot of photos!!) taken during my moat walk of Tuesday October 17th 2017. Temperatures around 26-28ºC, wind light. Off we go then (there's a map at the end)...

(For some odd reason, even though I tried to upload these in the correct order, they seem to have shuffled themselves somewhat. If I try moving them around they lose the 'click for a larger view' facility, Hopefully most are where they should be, but if not, just bear with it folks...)

Not long after entering the moat from the gate behind the taxi rank, you turn a corner below the imposing wall of the Grand Master's Palace and see this gate. Going through it, you enter the 'Sound and Light' garden. See next photo and also previous post.

The 'Sound and Light' garden, recently heavily pruned to allow visitors to roam again. Hard to believe that just to the left through those trees is the New Market and Bus Station street.

That's the bridge across to the St. Athanasios Gate

You come across these quite often. barely large enough for a man to get into. Seems they may be access to an underground quarry beneath the medieval town.

Just around that next 'bend' is the gate of St. John

Yeah, this one ought to have been at the top. It's the uphill section soon after you enter the walk. The Grand Master's Palace is above left.

Rounding a bend at the top of the climb past the Grand Master's Palace, you get the first glimpse of the widest section and the bridge leading to the Gate d'Amboise.

Beneath the bridge leading to the Gate d'Amboise.

Standing, staring at all this, it seems incredible that it all could have been completed in a couple of centuries. Really must check out where they could have got all the stone from too. Underground quarry a clue I suppose.

Beneath St. John's Gate

Approaching the Melina Mercouri amphitheatre a little way down from St. John's Gate. I noted that the further I went, the fewer the number of pedestrians! Seems a lot of people give up part-way around.

Closer still to the Melina Mercouri Theatre.

What an amazing place for a concert. Really must try and do one some day.

By now you are only a couple of hundred metres from the exit near the commercial harbour.

The exit gate can now be seen in the distance.

A good link to information about the medieval town and moat is here.

About half an hour's easy stroll after entering the moat at the South end of Mandraki, you reach this exit, beside the Akandia Gate... 

You can re-enter the old town here, just metres from the exit of the moat.

Rather than entering the Old Town at the Akandia Gate though, I decided to skirt the walls past the commercial harbour and re-enter via the much smaller and less easy to find Virgin Mary's Gate. On my way around I gazed up at a couple of huge cruise ships...

This one caught my eye because...

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but should the 'h' be in that word? Must admit to having laughed aloud when I saw this!! Apologies to my German (Deutch) readers. Actually, I had a few guests from Germany on the coach, who proved to be good sports when we drove past this on our way out of town and I casually made mention of the apparent spelling mistake! OK, British humour I suppose.

Entering the Old Town again through the Virgin Mary Gate...

Later, I exited the Old Town through the gate that most people use, Eleftherias, which sits between Mandraki and the Old Fishing Harbour. As I approached the courtyard just outside the archway leading out of the Old Town, I was aware of a live concert going on there, and the music was "Dancing Queen" by Abba. Hmm, I wonder...

Now, as it happens I have an old friend called Mehmet who used to work with me on the Halki trip some years ago. He's the mainstay of the Abba tribute band Abba Dreams that plays all over the island. He plays keyboards. Ηe's bald as a coot and wears a very dodgy wig. I've no idea which was Benny and which was Bjorn, but he was one of them!! As the band came into view I was pretty delighted to see that it was indeed Mehmet's band. The two girl singers were sensational. In fact, since the last time I'd seen them perform at Pefkos By Night some years ago, all the personnel have changed except Mehmet. This bunch were the biz, if slightly out of context! I have to say that apart from the scale of the thing, you could easily have been listening to the real McCoy.

That's him!! Arrest him for wearing a dodgy wig!

TBH, the crowd was larger than it seems from this shot, as lots of people were standing on the roadway beside me.

Coming full circle, as you enter the moat from the old gate to the rear of the taxi rank at the south end of Mandraki, you pass a souvlaki joint that has tables on both sides of the path. To the right it's all table cloths and tourists, but on the left the tables are bare wood and seem to serve as an acceptable kafeneion for a few 'old boys'...

And, here's a map of the Old Town, courtesy of the Municipality of Rhodes:

I'm sure you know the drill. Click on it for a larger view.