Thursday, 11 July 2019

Looking on the Bright Side - Part the Second

Don't you just love it? the sign says: "PLEASE! Don't park motorcycles on the pavement [sidewalk]"!
Where was I? Oh yes, in Piraeus. The first feeling I got as we walked about the place was, "It's just like New York." We don't watch many movies or TV series, yet my abiding impression of the side-streets of the big apple as seen in movies was very much what I saw as we walked around downtown Piraeus. The only difference was that the buildings weren't as tall. And the signs are all, obviously, in Greek.

Even the taxi cabs there are now yellow. It seems that the whole world wants to be like America sometimes. All the Greek schoolbuses too, for instance, are now yellow, carbon copies of the school buses all over the USA. A few decades past, this would not have been the case. So, when you're walking city streets, all set at 90º angles to one-another, dumpsters on most corners, graffiti everywhere, vehicles dancing to the traffic light rhythm and horns sounding every second or two, fast-food joints and roller-shuttered shops everywhere, well, you have to resist the urge to start humming the theme music to Kojak. And that shows you how long it is since I watched such stuff, doesn't it.

On our first evening at the hotel, we headed straight for a fast food joint that my wife had discovered on (the very dubious...) TripAdvisor. It's called To Kalamaki tis Troumpas, and it seemed to have good reports re value and atmosphere. We weren't overly impressed, sadly. It was OK, but the location and the feel of the place felt very downbeat, slightly shabby. The salad was humungus, but swimming in water, and the pittas, well, they were OK. There was hardly any outdoor dining and we had to settle for an inside table beside a wide-open glass patio door. Nevertheless, this was July and we were sweltering. There didn't seem to be any air-con and the cooking area of the kitchen was just the other side of a counter from our table. The staff though, yeah, they were friendly, I'll give them that.

The thing is, the pavements in the area where we were staying were dirty, with quite a bit of detritus laying around. Couple that with all the graffiti (it truly is everywhere, and I mean everywhere) and small wonder that I imagined I was in back-street New York. the big difference though, thankfully, was the fact that, even though some of the pedestrians looked decidedly like they may have been living slightly shady lives, we didn't feel unsafe after dark. 

The next night we opted to walk the ten minutes or so over the hill (yet more New York street scenes) to the Marina that I'd seen on the street map. The marina is quite a pleasant place, if you can handle the fact that the traffic is manic most of the time. But at least on the marina-side of the road there is a wide walkway, with a low wall on which locals sit to take in the view, or simply pass the time. Even though the wall is only knee-height, it still has graffiti covering most of it. We strolled the pavement on the opposite side of the road and ended up at Kali Pita, which is situated about here:

The 'pin' in the map is the location of Kali Pita. Photo courtesy of Google Earth Pro.
They had a rather nice setup of check-table clothed tables with traditional chairs across the pavement from the front of store, with a nice view of the yacht masts over the way. The only drawback is the constant traffic that's zipping past you as you eat. That said, we had a good meal there, with my beloved having falafel wraps and me a veggie pitta wrap, plus they do some delicious desserts. I opted for one portokalopita (orange sponge-cake pie) and the beloved for a walnut cake pie, both of which came in good-sized portions that had us wishing we'd only ordered one of them and cut it in two.

You can eat well and cheaply on any street in downtown Piraeus, there's no doubt about that. We did, however, find ourselves saying over and over, we simply couldn't live in such an environment. We're spoilt now, having lived far away from the city for so long, both in the UK and out here in Greece.

By the time our third and last evening before returning to the airport had arrived, we'd kind of written off the place as too noisy, too dirty, too frenetic for us. Just around the corner from our admittedly comfy, if modest hotel (it's called the Filon, BTW. Although that link isn't very helpful, unless you want to book a room at a hotel you've never seen any photos of, so try this one too), we'd walked past a strip joint as well. Across the street from that was a μεζεδοπωλείο (virtually a taverna, the difference is so slight) which could have done with a facelift, but just inside the permanently open frontage (at this time of the year) was a live bouzouki band, evidently the source of the music we'd heard from our hotel room all night long.

We decided to make one last attempt at finding a positive view of Piraeus. And we succeeded. On our last whole day I finally noticed an A3 tear-off street map of the whole area on the hotel reception desk. Taking it up to the room, I pored over it for a while, and spotted what looked like a clutch of eateries and bars along the sea front near the entrance to the marina. That would be where we aimed for that evening. A fifteen minute walk from the hotel found us strolling down a curved access road, lined with cooling trees and greenery, which emptied out on to a two-hundred-metre-long strip that was a sheer delight.

We made our way down while there was still some daylight...

Once we arrived at the bottom, this quayside welcomed us...

Here's the Google Earth shot to show you where it is. The road leading down to the front is clearly visible, emptying out on to the boulevard about one third of the way along from the marina entrance.

Now, finally, we'd come up trumps. This strip, lined along one side with some pretty impressive super-yachts, and on the other with some tastefully decorated bars and eateries, was much more like it. We decided to eat at Lamarina, which turned out to be an excellent choice. The Haloumi pittas were cheaper that at the Kali Pita the previous night, but in a far, far more chic and vibrant environment. The staff were young, attentive, friendly and decked out in very modern, grungy garb, and the menu was excellent. By the time our food arrived (and it arrived fast) people were queueing up to get into the place, which, incidentally, was very well air-conditioned too, even on the roofless terrace where we sat.

All the people promenading around looked to be chic, relaxed and 'normal', not at all like the kinds you'd walk past in the rabbit warren of streets just metres away. That's not meant to sound snobbish, well, OK, just a bit then.

Here are a couple of shots I took from our table...

And here's our food. That salad was called Salad "Tou Agrou" - which means "Salad of the field", evidently referring to the fact that it's a mix of vegetables all of which grow in a farmer's field - plus a few olives. It was arguable the best salad we've ever had and was certainly the largest. Here's the menu BTW.

We were really excited about the whole place and, as we walked the promenade before going back to the hotel, we decided that we could easily now spend another long weekend in Piraeus, this time just the two of us, by spending the mornings taking coffee and a cake down here, jumping on the electriko into Athens centre during the afternoons, before returning here for the evening meal and digestif.

All in all then, after an initial dismay at how scruffy and dirty urban Piraeus appeared to be, we found a truly bright outlook with that marina promenade. Cities are cities the world over, of course, so one shouldn't be too surprised at the shabbiness; but once you factor in the nearness of that modest hotel both to the quay where one can hop on a boat and sail off to Aegina, Agistri, Methana, Poros, Hydra etc., as well as to the chic marina where we ate on our last night, and also the fact that it's only fifteen minutes walk from the airport express bus and the Electriko station - well, you have the recipe for a flaming good short stay.

Something I can't stress enough too, is the fact that through all of our nighttime walks through the backstreets of this huge urban sprawl, we didn't once sense any threat to our security. We never found ourselves saying "Oh, better avoid those people over there. Let's cross the road." 

Our final judgment of Piraeus? Forget the fact that it's an urban maze. Seek out the good points and you can have a damn good stay there.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Looking on the Bright Side - Part 1.

A typical Piraeus pavement (sidewalk, guys) More about this further down the post.

At this time of the year, if you awake early enough, it’s important to try and get a few things done before the sun gets more than a finger’s width above the horizon. We’re lucky enough to be living in a rural area and, when I first arose this morning and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on for a pot of Earl Grey, I did the usual, which was to close the windows and blinds down tightly on the side of the house that faces east, because once the sun’s rays hit that wall, it will very soon raise the temperature inside way beyond what’s comfortable if you don’t.

As I closed the window above the kitchen sink, I stopped momentarily to marvel at the already busy cicadas. From inside I could only hear the few that were within a couple of meters of the window, and their sound rather resembled that of someone vigorously and rhythmically shaking a pair of maracas for all they were worth, to punk music timing.

Once the kettle was on, I ventured outside. It was around 8.15am. When you open the house door at this time of the year, even as early as just after eight, as you walk outside it’s rather like walking into a bread oven. The cicadas now all merge into one and, if you close your eyes, you could imagine that sound as rather resembling the noise of a giant tyre being deflated at speed, as though someone had plunged a knife into its wall. The tyre in question would be about the size of a London bus.

The cat wasn’t around, so I didn’t have to worry about feeding him today. Sometimes he’ll have left some of his dry food from the previous evening (usually when he’s not so hungry because he’s eaten a lizard the previous day) and he eats that at dawn, thus eliminating the need for a fresh dish-full until later. He was off on ‘patrol’ somewhere and so I did what I needed to do, which was to half-fill a watering can and top up our two plant pot trays that serve as bird baths. 

After not more than ten minutes outside, and already needing my first shower of the day, I was glad to get back inside to pour the tea, fish a couple of digestives out of the biscuit barrel, and take the tea back to bed for a while.

Then it was time to reflect on our whirlwind trip to Athens over the past weekend. I say Athens, but we were actually staying in a modest, yet almost new hotel in downtown Piraeus. I don't know how much you know about Piraeus, but it's held in very high esteem by writers of traditional Greek music, who extol the virtues of its Bouzoukia, its tavernas and coffee bars, its maritime culture, its women. Of course, such songs are highly romanticised, and they don't pay much mind to the downside of the place. Like its neighbour Athens, into which nowadays it seamlessly bleeds from an urban development point of view, it's a vast sprawl of five and six-storey buildings, which looks from the air very much like lichen all over a low stone wall.

Whenever we watch the national TV weather forecast here in Greece, we see the map sweeping all across Greece from satellite height, and eventually swooping into the Athens-Piraeus area, thus displaying the lichen-like effect on the landscape that I mentioned above. There are precious few skyscrapers in Athens, it's simply street after street, mainly in a grid-like pattern, inside of which one can very easily get hopelessly lost. At least, before the days of wi-fi and smartphones one could. These days, of course, most people can whip out their phone and within seconds know exactly where they are. Never has there been a stronger case for modern telecommunications technology than that, I can tell you.

We were in Athens with a bunch of friends and were block-booked into the hotel, which I'd gone searching for in Google-Earth 'Streetview' beforehand, since one of the friends had selected and booked our rooms, and thus I wanted to know what the place looked like, since we weren't all travelling together on the same flight to get there. When I typed the address into Google Earth's 'find' box, it took me to a street just one block away from the quay from which all the boats set sail for the islands. I was quite excited about this, because the last time we'd been there was in 1982, just a few years back then!

When I went into 'Streetview' I was able to stand on the exact corner where the hotel was located, since it lists its address with both street names. The building in question shows itself to be empty, derelict. This was why I concluded, rightly so it seems, that the hotel was a new venture. It was only a modest, two star affair, but despite the rooms being lacking in a few of the things you come to expect from a hotel, they were brand spanking new, had decent air conditioning at no extra cost and the bed was comfy. The only problem was the noise at night. Once we were past midnight, despite double-glazed windows, the music, the motorcycles, the rubbish trucks and the human voices were incessant until dawn.

To get there, we'd opted to take the bus from the airport. Fortunately, a friend here on Rhodes, whose son was doing his military service on the island of Poros, had gone to visit him a couple of years ago, and that trip had involved her flying to Athens, then getting to Piraeus and taking the island boat from the very quay which was just around the block from our hotel. The Piraeus Express bus service is perfect. For a mere €6 a head you get the same bus all the way from the airport (which is a very, very long way out of town these days) and it drops you metres from the quayside in Piraeus. So we followed her example and got off the bus around fifteen minutes walk from the hotel. We were travelling light, with very small hand baggage and only one modest suitcase, which has wheels.

Another advantage of taking the bus is that you don't get pestered continually during the ride by beggars, as happens perpetually on the train. Now, putting all morals about whether or not one gives to these poor unfortunates aside for a moment, the experience is nevertheless quite unpleasant, and some of them exude a truly awful smell from several feet away. Even with the best will in the world, they exist in such numbers that one simply cannot afford to give to all of them. On the bus, you avoid all of the moral hand-wringing anyway.

The photo at the top of this post was taken during the short walk from the bus stop to the hotel, and it's right across the road from where all the island boats tie up.

First impressions of downtown Piraeus? That those who write all the songs extolling its virtues are on drugs.

But our overall impression was to change over the three nights and four days of our stay.

More on that in the next post, along with a clutch of photos, of course.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

It's Called 'Progress'. Or "Viva la Difference!"

I've probably mentioned before that we tend to watch the TV quiz show "Troxos tis tixis" ["Wheel of Fortune"]. Our excuse is that it improves our Greek vocabulary and spelling. What's also interesting about it as well, though, is that the subjects of the word puzzles that the contestants have to solve often reflect the differences in modern culture between Greece and our home country of England, or the UK in general.

The puzzles that need solving are frequently under categories like "Fashion" - in which case the contestants will often have to find perhaps three names of famous models or designers, "Cinema" in which the answers will often be American or British actors [and they'll be spelt using the Geek alphabet and the Greek way of rendering consonants that don't exist in Greek. These can bear little resemblance to their Roman alphabet counterparts. For instance, Brad Pitt is spelt in Greek "Μπραντ Πιτ", Daniel Craig is rendered "Ντανιελ Κρεγκ" (good eh?) and Robert Redford is "Πομπερτ Πεντφορντ"], or perhaps "Song Title." Such categories one may expect to find coming up in the UK version (which I believe is no longer running anyway), but there are others that kind of indicate the differences between life here in Greece and life in the UK.

For example, a category that comes up quite often is "In the Church." I read very recently that Greeks are among, if not are the most religious people in Europe. In a largely secular society, such as it is nowadays in most European countries, something that can he hard to adjust to here is the way that the Church still exerts a huge hold over peoples' daily lives and habits. I can't imagine for a moment a category like "In the Church" (which can refer to various implements and aids used during religious ceremonies inside a church in Greece) coming up on a UK TV quiz show.

Another category that comes up at least once a week is "At the Demonstration." I'm not having you on, seriously. Let's face it, since 'austerity' kicked in here in Greece some 10 years ago now, demonstrations, involving the usual chucking of Molotov coctails, setting fire to wheelie bins (or dumpsters) and the frequent use of tear gas and the like, have become such commonplace occurrences in Syntagma Square that it's now considered a good enough subject matter for a round on a TV quiz show.

Something else that demonstrates how things have moved on in the UK a little further than here (and I'm not so sure I think it's entirely a good thing), is the fact that the show (like a few others too) still features primarily a male host, the genial and cheeky-chappie style Petros Polihronidis (Πέτρος Πολυχρονίδης) and his sidekick, who's quite definitely simply there as eye candy, Josephina. At the beginning of the show she's expected to parade up and down in front of the camera like a model on the catwalk. She does this to the sound of the males in the studio audience whistling and cheering as she does her twirls to show off whatever sartorial outfit she's wearing for that particular show.

Apart from the occasional interjection, perhaps to declare the category for the next round's puzzle, or to reel off the details for viewers to write in if they'd like to be contestants, she's simply there to spice up the view a little. It harps back to the days when women were kind of viewed as pretty dumb things to be seen and not heard from too often. "There there, dear, you just stand there and look pretty, now won't you."

Now, as I alluded to above, I said that I'm not sure that the changes that have taken place in more 'progressive' countries are entirely good. I maybe need to expand on that before I experience a backlash from the bra-burners! See, it occurs to me that the kind of society that's developing in 'the west' is one where women and men will eventually all end up looking like Chinese workers in Chairman Mao era China. The sexes are becoming blurred perhaps too much. Yes, of course, it's entirely right that women should have exactly the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, and they absolutely deserve equal pay for doing the same jobs as men, no contest. But I'm not entirely convinced that a woman doesn't want a man to show some respect for the fact that she's a woman. The differences in the sexes ought not to be trivialised to the extent that we can't celebrate the difference without demeaning the female of the species.

I still have the sneaky suspicion that most women like it when a man holds a door open for her, or compliments her on her appearance. These days one's on thin ice doing such things in the UK and America. The showing of respect has been transformed in many cases to being termed "patronising." Give me a break.

I rather like Formula One. Now I know it's not everyone's cup of tea and it's a total waste of time arguing over who likes what. It wouldn't do for us all to be the same. But I only use that as an example because the era of the 'grid girls' has now gone. "It's making women like sex objects," they cried! I wonder if anyone ever asked the girls who did that job what they thought though? A lot of them are now out of a job.

Ah well, by and large the way women have been emancipated is of course completely right and proper, but I for one still think we ought to remember that the sexes are different, and always will be. Doesn't mean that one is better than the other, but they're certainly not the same and why on earth would we want them to be? Just before I get off that subject, which has become a bit of a tangent I'll admit, I'm truly irritated when female actresses are called 'actors' and a chairman has now to be called a 'chair.' Let's get this straight, the male and female genders are what they are, so what the dickens is that all about then? A chair is something you sit on. A female in that role is surely a Chairwoman, and a man a Chairman. I can't for the life of me see what's wrong with that. And a female actor is an actress, it's purely a matter of correct use of language. The world's gone mad, mad I tell you!

Oh, I'm getting all in a lather now. I need to chill out a little. Let's have a look at the TV schedule. Ooh, look, Wheel of Fortune's on in a minute...

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Care in the Community?

I'm not sure how many people who don't actually live here in Greece are aware of this, but a practice that is quite commonplace here, at least on Rhodes, is for some families with an aged parent/grandparent who needs caring for to employ a live-in woman to do the job. For some reason that I'm not able to explain, it seems that the majority of these paid carers are Bulgarians.

We've had occasion to meet and befriend a few of these 'carers' over the past fourteen years, one of whom was the diminutive 'Dhopi', whom we quite often used to give lifts to, and who never failed to demonstrate her appreciation, even if the very least she did was to leave the equivalent of the bus fare in small change on our rear parcel shelf after she'd got out of the car when we were dropping her off somewhere. We gave up telling her it wasn't necessary. I wrote quite a bit about this plucky little woman and her very hard life in "A Plethora of Posts," in particular chapter 12, "A Little Bulgarian and Her Appreciativeness," and chapter 41, "Get Your Ya Yas Out." Dhopi would have us clutching our sides with laughter quite often, even though she was telling us things that demonstrated just how tough her existence was, while she was looking after an old lady (who was actually younger in years than she was!) who suffered from dementia.

Dhopi came back to mind just recently as we were talking with some Greek friends, from a village near here, about their difficult situation, which revolves around their oldest family member, now a widow in her mid nineties. There are several siblings, all middle aged or older, and a few grandchildren, ranging from their teens to their late thirties, who are tasked with looking after their mother's/grandmother's wellbeing.

The major burden falls to just one of the woman's children (and she has five) who lives right next door to her in the village. This daughter has herself two grown-up sons, and two brothers, both with families, still living in the same village. One or two other siblings have flown the 'nest' quite literally and live in other countries these days.

One of the old lady's sons is himself now in his mid seventies and has pretty major physical problems that make it difficult for him to walk. He and his wife have five children, all of whom, save for the oldest son, now live in other countries. The son, now just entering his forties, is still single and is tasked with helping his dad run their little business of renting sun-beds and a couple of modest little boats during the summer season. 

In the UK there are all kinds of provisions from the state to help people with housebound relatives. My own mother' sister, in fact, back in the West Country of England, lived out her final years in what we in the UK call 'sheltered accommodation,' consisting of a comfy little flat, with a warden living on-site. Each resident has a panic button or specially adapted phone so that they can call for help in event of an emergency. My aunt's daughter would also look in on her mum several times a week, doing the best she could, while also managing her own family of herself, hubby and three children. My aunt even had her meals delivered to the house regularly by the UK "Meals on Wheels" service, manned by volunteers I believe, but I may be wrong.

Here in Greece there are no such provisions. It's expected that each family will care for their own, come what may. Unless the invalid is hospitalised, that is. But even then a member of the family will always be at the bedside, family members often running shifts to ensure that their love one always has someone next to the bed to help them to wash, or shuffle to the WC, for example.

Our local Greek friends, whose parent is in her nineties, well they all have to work. One or two of them are approaching 'pensionable' age, but, as is the case in the UK, the age at which they'd long anticipated retiring has in recent years been pushed back owing to austerity measures placing grave restraints on government spending. So, even though one of the siblings spends her entire life cooking, cleaning and caring for her mother, they've recently decided to take on a live-in paid carer, because the dear daughter who looks after her mother hasn't had a break for decades and the stage has now been reached where her mother needs constant vigilant care, including constant agonisingly slow trips to the bathroom all through the night.

At the time of writing, the family are on their third or fourth carer, all of whom have been Bulgarian. It's not that the carers haven't tried to do a good job, it's rather that the 'patient' simply refuses to have a stranger 'doing' for her, including helping her to the toilet. Thus, each time the sixty-something daughter has decided that she can maybe take a breather while the carer does the basics for her mother, the carer walks out owing to the recalcitrance of the patient making her job an impossibility.

We are aware of so many families, those who either don't want to or can't afford to employ someone, where one sibling is basically 'sacrificed' to the needs of the sole remaining widowed parent. It seems that it's expected that one of the siblings will forego any life of their own, often (though not always) entailing that they reman single too, in order to be sure that the parent is adequately cared for until they finally die.

There are nice aspects of this, in that it demonstrates a closeness in the family unit that's sadly long gone in much of the UK and other 'civilised' countries nowadays. On the other hand, though, it means that someone who may have wanted to marry, settle down, have a few kids, foregoes this life and becomes a full-time carer. Often the other siblings don't do much to help, since it's kind of, well, whoever draws the short straw is charged with all of the responsibility.

It's a cultural thing, harping back to patriarchal days, I suppose. Of course, respect for the elderly is still alive and well in Greek rural communities, which is one reason why this situation prevails, I suppose. Any one of us, considering how we shall possibly spend our dotage, would like to think that we were going to be well cared for, wouldn't we? Hopefully ungrudgingly too.

Just recently we heard news from our friend Dhopi, by the way. Some years ago now, she packed it all in and moved back to her home village in her native Bulgaria, where she was finally due to receive a modest state pension. She's now well into her seventies, but is still very agile and gets around a lot.

Oh, and she's caring for her mother, who's not far short of a hundred years of age.

Monday, 24 June 2019

On the Up and Up

We've lived 4km from the village of Gennadi for 14 years come August, and for much of that time it's remained a sleepy village, with perhaps an appeal to those who'd like things really, really quiet, but not much atmosphere during the long warm summer evenings. The main 'street' which leads several hundred metres along from the square to the part-time police station, (which, incidentally, is where the main character Adrian Dando lives in my novel "Two in the Bush" - the street, not the police station), is quintessentially "Greek village" in appearance. It's barely wide enough for a vehicle to pass along for most of its length, and is closed to traffic anyway for much of the time during the summer season.

Part-way along from the 'square' end of the street is Mama's Kitchen, which has been there a very long time. In past years, when we've had the chance to go out for an evening and have chosen to eat in Gennadi, this would have been the only restaurant along the entire street with a few tables out in the street for diners to sit. They also have a nice courtyard across the way from the restaurant itself. Now, though, things are much different.

Last night we went out for a light meal, looking for our favourite, which is vegetarian pitta, stuffed with salad, fries, tzatziki and a generous chunk of grilled Haloumi. Most souvlaki houses now offer this as an option for those who don't eat meat. We'd seen a photo on a friends' Facebook page very recently, showing the souvlaki joint just adjacent to the nice and trad-looking Antika bar, run by the bloke who also services our car, Stergo (where have you heard that kind of scenario before, eh?). So we made a bee-line for that place first, because the location looked so appealing. Sadly, they didn't do what we wanted, but instead offered us Saganaki. Never mind, we simply trotted off to our favourite souvlaki house in Gennadi anyway, the excellent Lime Grill, but it was a bit of a shame in one respect, because I'd particularly wanted to sit in the main street, where the atmosphere has most definitely taken a turn for the better this season. 

Although the Lime Grill is truly excellent, it's location isn't as nice as some. Not complaining though, since we sat out on their agreeable terrace and devoured two wonderful, well-stuffed Haloumi pittas, a serving of Hummus, which also comes with a pitta to dip into it, two bottles of water and a bottle of retsina and the bill was €17.

But, we've made a mental note to go out again soon and this time try perhaps Zorba's, one of the establishments that are now packing the 'main' street with tables and chairs and thus giving it a truly enjoyable and essentially Greek evening atmosphere. I took these two quick shots before we headed off to the Lime Grill...

Bear in mind that these were taken quite early in the evening. We'd been down to Gennadi beach (where the water was as flat as a mirror) for a swim, because they have good walkways there to stop your feet burning, a couple of changing huts still in serviceable condition, and showers that work well too. Following this we just shot up to the village to eat something before going home to watch the closing stages of the Queens Club doubles tennis final between Andy Murray/Feliciano Lopez and Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury.

I think you can tell from the photos though, that the atmosphere in Gennadi on a summer's evening is well and truly on the up and up. If you click for a larger view on those shots you'll see that there was already a sizeable crowd of diners enjoying the balmy June evening.

I can't remember Gennadi ever looking so attractive and I'd suggest that if you're staying in the south of the island any time soon, it would be well worth checking Gennadi out for an evening meal or a drink.

I'd say that a good and satisfying meal out along that street may go quite a long way towards curing some of any dependency that may have had to book all-inclusive too!

A day or two earlier, we had lunch at the Il Porto, situated on Kiotari Beach right down the lane from where we live, too. Our friends Anastasia and Tassos, the couple who run the place, always extend us a warm welcome, even if we don't patronise the place nearly as often as we'd like. Here are a couple of photos I took before the food arrived...

We were going to sit at one of those tables under the parasols, but TBH it was too flippin' hot.

This year they've commissioned a new logo, making the place feel a little more up-market, although it's still very good value. The menu is excellently laid out and offers all the trad Greek food that you'd expect.

I know, it's only a swallow, but I've such a soft spot for the little perishers.
We ordered a beer, a tonic water, a green salad, some hummus and fries (chips!), which are hand-cut and done in olive oil. Not exactly going to make Anastasia her fortune, are we eh? Nevertheless she brought us a plate of dolmades on the house. Nice touch. The bill? around €14. Cheapskates? We wrote the book.

Frankly, I can't think of a nicer place to enjoy a meal or a drink within shouting distance of our home than the Il Porto.

See, finally the fact that we're not having to rush off to work any more is beginning to make a difference. Apart from having been out several times this week, we've also watched a whole load of excellent tennis from Queens Club in London, something we'd never have had the time to do over the past ten years.

I will be writing about stuff other than food and drink soon, honest!

Friday, 21 June 2019

It's Oh, So Quiet...

Considering we're both not working any more, it's been a bit hectic of late. There we were, back during the winter, planning how we'd be at the beach and having lunch in a beachside taverna at least once a week when the summer was under way and here we are getting to the tail end of June and, apart from a few walks down to the local beach in the early evening for a swim, then the walk back, it's not really gone according to plan.

There have been a few extra-curricular things to do, which have largely fallen into the category of helping out friends and doing a spot of destructive DIY for a neighbour, plus other stuff like having to visit the accountant, having to post a letter to a UK government office, and...

"Wait." I hear you cry, "Having to post a letter to the UK? Is that really something that could be counted as an 'extra-curricular' thing to do?"

Oh yes. See, the nearest post office to us is in Gennadi, but, unless you want to spend a couple of hours waiting your turn and, in the process, lose the will to live, we tend to avoid that one. I've written about the experience of using the Gennadi post office before. If you have long enough (I'm serious) check out these posts:

"It Helps to Pass the Time"
"Up and Down"

So, as and when we have a need to post something, we tend to do it at the post office in Arhangelos. There is a post office in Lindos, of course, but to park the car about a mile outside the village (it's tourist season now, remember) and then walk all the way into the village and then through the warren of tiny streets you need to negotiate in order to get there, well, you may as well be sitting on your rear in the Gennadi office for an hour or two. It's less sweaty and you don't have to continually collide with the barely dressed and tattooed hordes all the way there and back.

Thus we bite the bullet and, once we've written our epistle and inserted it in a neatly-printed envelope, or package-taped up our package, or whatever it is we need to send, we find it less stressful to drive the twenty-five minutes up the road to Arhangelos, where one can almost always pull up in the car right outside the post office, and dash inside, often discovering that the place is empty, save for the decidedly "Grizzly Adams" type bloke who's sitting behind the toughened glass screen waiting to be of service.

Despite his appearance, which gives one the very definite impression that he's liable to be out in the hills howling up at every full moon, he's actually quite erudite and always efficient at processing your request, often sticking the stamps on for you himself. And before you say, "How do you know he actually sticks them on and doesn't simply chuck the letter in the old 'circular file?'" We know because nothing we've ever had occasion to post from there has ever failed to reach its destination.

The plus point about going to Arhangelos too is that we can then do a spot of serious people-watching over a very reasonably priced Freddo espresso and perhaps a slice of bougatsa, plus we can buy some mountain tea and fresh fruit and veg from the very 'ethnic' local fruit and veg shop in the main street. A result, whichever way you choose to look at it.

Anyway, as I type this we are actually planning a stroll down the hill to the Il Porto café-restaurant at lunchtime tomorrow for a drink and a spot of lunch. Maybe then we'll finally reach the realisation that we are now supposed to be people of leisure.

I was talking with Petros the other day, he who's very 'careful' with his money whom I wrote about in chapter 10 of Tzatziki For You to Say. A few years ago he planted up a huge number of aloe vera plants in order to try and start a business selling them for the gel that's found in their 'leaves' that appears to carry so many benefits for one's health. At the time he told me that the plants need three years before they're mature enough to be harvested for the gel. Well, the three years have now passed and not much has happened vis a vis his getting the business off the ground. Plus, the crop looks decidedly under par if I'm going to be honest. I asked him about the whole project and why it appeared to be stalling. 

It all has to do with the water. Now, I've talked on many occasions on this blog about how the last few winters (leading up to, but not including the winter we've just been through)  have been much too devoid of rain. Before last winter began, the water shortages on Rhodes had reached critical levels. Friends of ours in Rhodes town have endured a couple of summers when their mains water was cut off for 20 hours at a time several times a week, owing to the severe shortage of water, due partly to the drought conditions of winters that were much too dry, and partly to the over-development that's going on all over this island.

Now, I have it on good authority that new hotels that are constructed near the beach must also install a desalination plant for the water that's to be used in the hotel, so as not to place further strain on the already-overstretched water supply on Rhodes. But the fact still remains that the natural aquifer beneath the island has been dropping for some years now, and the upshot of this is that the sea makes incursions further and further inland metres beneath the surface of the ground. As the aquifers retreat, the seawater advances. It's happening in places like Majorca in Spain too, I hear. Now, this past winter we finally had something like the amount of rainfall that was once normal for Rhodes, thus filling the reservoirs and likely to some extent helping replenish the aquifer to some degree.

From what I'm told by friends who live in town, the water coming out of their taps is now once again sweet and drinkable. Even we here on a hillside in Kiotari did have a few weeks of 'brackish' water coming out of our taps a couple of years ago, which did kill one or two plants in our garden. Some parts of the island had non-potable water coming through the pipes for months, even years. That problem seems to have been alleviated, though, after this past winter. 

So, back to Petros. He'd told me ages ago that the aloe vera plants had suffered, and some died, owing to his having to water them with this - what amounts to - sea water. It was that or nothing. Now, though, we were discussing the fact that his house in Kalathos once again has sweet, potable water coming out of the taps and, like us, they can simply filter it and use it for drinking. They'd had the problem of brackish water for much longer periods of time that us.

Looking at his 'crop' I asked him if it was taking time to recover, now that the water was sweet again. He said, "it's not sweet, Gianni, it's still virtually sea water." Reading the puzzlement on my face, he went on to explain that the water he uses to water the 'farm' comes from a well on his land. If he'd had to use mains water, it would have greatly increased the cost of the project and severely cut his anticipated profit margins. So, there was the rub: the aquifer, since his house is so close to the sea, is still not recovered sufficiently to displace the invading salt water deep underground with fresh water, and thus he still has the same problem, despite the improvement in the quality of the tapwater.

I have to admit to feeling deeply sorry for him, since it looks like the whole project is dead in the water. And that's not intended to be a pun.

He'd invested in the new plants and irrigation system right at the time when the natural aquifer that feeds his well had begun to lose the fight owing to a) tourist development outstripping the available water supply and b) a succession of winters that didn't bring the needed amount of rainfall.

Seems that everywhere you look, man's idiocy when it comes to managing our planet's resources is becoming more and more evident. Even a beautiful Greek island isn't immune. And I must stress that, despite the problems, despite the apparent lack of careful thought going into infrastructure-planning, Rhodes is still largely a wonderful place to be.

So, apart from the delay in our summer of leisure actually getting going, and apart from the ecological changes going on, it's generally really rather quiet around here at the moment.

Back soon.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

A Little Bit of This, and a Little Bit of That...

If you haven't ever heard of Lee Ritenour, then it's time you did. He's a guitar virtuoso from the West Coast of the States who's been at his craft for many decades now and has produced some of the best music I've ever listened to. My favourite album of his was called Rio, and it was packed with all South American rhythms and percussion and stuff, with Ritenour playing acoustic throughout. Why am I droning on about Lee Ritenour? Only because I nicked the title of this post from a track on that album. Plus it gives me the excuse to plug his music.

All kinds of stuff has been trekking through my brain of late. But first, I thought that just for a change I'd start with some photos and then start rambling on, and on and on...





Someone's got it sussed.


Right, in the first two photos (imaginatively labelled 1 and 2) you see why we were rather delighted to have had the opportunity to take a meal at Tsambikos Restaurant in Kolymbia the other evening. The location is nothing to write home about; situated, as it is, on a fairly unattractive section of road leading from the traffic lights at Kolymbia up towards Epta Piges, or Seven Springs (mentioned with photos in this post, and this one. Oh, silly me, this one as well. Hope you have an hour or two). In fact, as soon as you take that turn, it's only when you're about fifty metres from the junction that you see the taverna on your right hand side, and it's right next door to Anthoulas, which we once had difficulty leaving. Now, go on, admit it, you were thinking, 'He's going to refer to yet another older post,' weren't you? Damn right I was. Check this one out and you'll see my report on our one and only visit to Anthoula's back in February 2012. 

The fact that we haven't been back to Anthoula's since then is no reflection on the quality of the food or service. It's merely that it's a location that we seldom have cause to be near to at a time when we need some sustenance.

Having been up to town a few days ago with a friend who needed some assistance with a medical matter, we were driving home in the early evening and all three of us were in no mood to get all the way home and then have to think about what we were going to eat. Solution? Eat out. I don't need much encouragement in that area anyway.

Our friend suggested Tsambikos, after she'd been there once by accident. She and another friend had intended on patronising Anthoula's, but it was closed for renovation, and so they went next door. There are just the two tavernas there, adjacent to each other, and literally nothing else apart from pine trees and the road. Having eaten an excellent meal at Tsambikos, her loyalties were severely tested and she ended up going back there a few more times. Poor Anthoula's. Still, that's life.

Now I have been known to bemoan the fact that when we're on Patmos, we never eat a meal without receiving some kind of freebie at the end. Whereas on Rhodes, it's become a bit of a rarity in recent times. Tsambikos is the exception. Not only did our friend rave about the freebies she's received at Tsambikos in the past, but she convinced us that they were probably as generous any anywhere else in the country. No contest. You've got to give it a go then, haven't you?

The photo labelled '1.' above shows just how generous the lovely people at Tsambikos are. When I called for the bill after a lovely meal, during which the three of us had ordered a meze and all tucked into the various dishes until we were stuffed, they first brought us that delightful box with the logo of the best Mastiha from Chios you can buy (Skinos) on it. It contained a half-bottle of that fab digestif and three themed glasses for us to imbibe. We didn't even finish it, there was so much there for us. Now I know there are some folk who'll make sure they drain every last drop if it's a freebie, irrespective of how much alcohol they've already drunk, but we weren't those kind of people. It's an unexpected kindness that they bring you this gift, so it's good to show a little respect and appreciation. But then, I'm old fashioned. I like to leave a good impression when we get up to leave. I may well be coming again, after all.

Apart, though, from the Mastiha, they also gave us six (two each) little pots of panna cotta and ice cream (just visible beyond the box in the photo) to eat, which went down very well after a good savoury meal. Oh, and when we finally did receive the bill, it came with this...

Nice touch. Now we have something nice and ethnic-looking to put some savoury nibbles in when enjoying that early-evening aperitif.

All in all, the bill came to €41.20 for three of us, so we theorised that, factoring in the freebies, they didn't make much out of us. Yet the staff were very helpful, friendly and attentive, without being obsequious. I'd say there's a real possibility that we'll go there again. Photo no. 2 above was how the place looked from across the road when we left. Anthoula's is next door to the right.

Photos 3 and 4 you need to look at more closely, perhaps click for the larger view. OK, so the Mediterranean Toad is common in these parts, but when you're walking in the backstreets of a large village, as we were doing last Saturday in Arhangelos, and some movement catches your eye as you admire the plants in the pots placed along the edge of the street (which is barely wide enough for two people to pass, leave alone a motor vehicle), you'd probably be as delighted as we were to discover lots of baby toads lurking behind the pots. The street has no water anywhere, there's no drain or stream for miles around, yet somehow these little cuties seem to survive on the water from someone's watering can (or old olive oil tin more likely) which they regularly dowse their potted plants with. No doubt the toads aid in keeping the general level of biting insects in check as well.

The fifth photo I haven't numbered. The caption says it all really.

The next two, captioned 5 and 6, are of one of the apricot trees in our orchard. Boy is it laden with fruit this year. Must have really appreciated the rains we had last winter. We've already sampled a few, and they're truly delicious. The flavour is something you'll never be able to appreciate if you buy 'fresh' apricots in a supermarket in the UK. Last year our landlords were here in June and every apricot they picked was mushy on the inside and had little worms crawling around in there too. This year we've yet to pick one (even fallers) with anything alien on the inside. Hooray. The muesli's looking good in the mornings right now.

Finally, the other day we dropped in to see our good friend Mihali, he of the smallholding in Kalathos who regularly dispenses horticultural advice when we talk about planting vegetables. He's laid up after surgery right now, poor thing. He's had a new knee. At first the surgeons said they couldn't operate because he was too young. We couldn't get our heads around that one at all. Only when we went and sat by his bed did he explain their reasoning. A new knee of the type that he needed is expected to last maybe 15, or twenty years. Had he been sixty or more, they'd have said OK, it'll see you 'out' so to speak. Since he's only in his mid fifties, their logic was that he'd outlive the implant and hence need more surgery when he's an old codger (I know, I know). He was in a good deal of pain, but found it endlessly amusing to think that he's now a small percentage German, since that's where his current knee-joint originated.

The fact that he couldn't get up didn't stop him enthusing when we put it to him that we needed to know what veg to plant at this time of the year. Seems the best thing to go for in the next few weeks will be the black-eyed 'French' beans we'd planted at his suggestion over a decade ago.

Once again he repeated the planting method in case we'd forgotten. You make a small saucer in the soil. You plant one bean each side of the 'dish' and wait until they germinate. Once they're about six inches high you decide which is the more robust of the two and pluck out the other without mercy. 

"Right," we said in unison. "We'll stop by the garden centre and get some to put in."

"June 20th." he replied.

"What?" we responded? 

"June 20th. That's when you must plant them."

I think I've mentioned before that it never ceases to astound us how precise the locals here are regarding dates for planting their vegetables. You simply must comply if you want the best results. Now since Mihalis, like all the other agrotes around here, was born and raised on this land, who are we to argue? June 20th it is. Assuming we can get ourselves to the nursery and buy the beans in time, of course.

And so I round out this post, which has truly been a little bit of this and a little bit of that. 

The other? I'll leave that to your imagination.