Monday, 11 September 2017

Pick Us Up at the Airport

Anyone who's made the move, taken the plunge, bitten the bullet and moved abroad will identify with this post. We have a couple of new friends who've proven the point (to their annoyance and cost) since moving out here just this year.

I'm talking about how you soon risk the danger of becoming a cheap hotel for all the people you knew from a distance when you lived back in the country of your birth. In our case I can well illustrate the point. Back in the UK we used to attend the occasional convention, party, gathering, whatever - you know the score, where we'd bump into people we really only knew from those occasions. They were the ones you'd stop and say hello to for the briefest of moments, before the both of you ran out of things to say and you'd pretend to spot someone else and move on (Check this out!). They weren't necessarily bores or unpleasant people, they were just folk you only knew from a distance, right?

So, we arrived out here in August of 2005 and not a month had passed before someone we'd only known in this way rang us up from the UK. For the sake of this tale, I'll call him Peter Parker (name changed, to protect the guilty). How he even got hold of our Greek number is a mystery I never got to the bottom of. No doubt he asked someone who knew someone who knew someone close to us or something. Anyway, I answered the phone one day and this voice says:

"Hi John, how you doing? Peter here. Parker, you remember. Just curious to see how it was going. Keeping in touch, that sort of thing."

Oddly, when we'd lived in the UK, we'd bumped into good old Peter once or twice a year at a gathering of friends and acquaintances and never exchanged more than an  "All right? How are you? OK? Good. ...Bye then!"

To the best of my memory we'd never been to his house and he'd never been to ours. From memory he was a pleasant enough bloke, but that's not the argument here. How strange that once we'd moved to a Greek island he felt this need to keep in touch. Why do I have this nagging feeling that, were I to have said, "You must come over and visit some time," He'd have been booking his flights before you can say unwelcome visitors. He called us once a month or so for well over a year, all the time the 'elephant in the room' of our conversation was the invitation to come visit that I never extended to him.

It doesn't always have to be these people who one only knew from a distance. Sometimes it can be family who don't quite know where to draw the line. When this is the case it's much more tricky to deal with the situation without starting family rifts and feuds. Why is it that so many people are insensitive enough not to know the difference between an invitation and inviting themselves? There are so many nuances to this. If your cousin rings you up and says, "We're coming over to see you. We've booked for such-and-such a date. Think you'll be able to pick us up from the airport?" You probably just grin and bear it and hope that it'll go well.

Off you go to the airport at the given date and time, they stay for a fortnight, having come laden wth gifts both of a practical and a luxury nature (I'm rather partial to an old Ely Malt myself, ...only saying), they can't do enough for you when it comes to sharing the kitchen arrangements, like preparing food and washing up, they dig out your vacuum cleaner (and actually use it!) and hang out the washing, demonstrating every moment how much they appreciate your hospitality. Maybe they take you out for a meal once or twice too. When the time comes to run them back to the airport, although you probably heave a big sigh of relief, you decide nevertheless that they were very good guests and you wouldn't mind them coming again some time. That's 'some time', of course, not a few weeks later when they call to say that they enjoyed their stay so much that they've decided to come again this season.

Of course, all too often they turn out to be the ones who most definitely want to stay in a cheap hotel, leaving you and yours to run around waiting on them hand-foot-and-finger. They lounge around under the parasol outside, buried in their latest novel, with a gin and tonic at hand while you wash up the dinner things for the sixth time. They leave various stuff (cameras, phones, snorkels, items of clothing, glasses...) lying around on every horizontal surface and tread sand into your bedroom without noticing. They flop down with sweaty, sun-creamed backs on your nice indoor sofa after a sunbathing session, without a thought for how hard you're going to have to work once they've gone to get the stains out of your cushions. How were these people brought up?

When they're close relatives in gets very tricky indeed. How do you raise the subject of wanting just a little assistance with making a salad, maybe buying a few groceries, washing the dishes, when they don't lift a finger?

Of course, when people come to stay they also often don't get it that you're not on holiday. You have to get your car serviced, maybe you have a job to go to, you have household chores and perhaps gardening to do. You have bills to pay and people to see. In short, wall-to-wall sunshine aside, you have a normal life to live with all that that entails.

Flippin' heck but you need your own privacy now and again too.

Many years ago, my aunt lived in Florida. Having lived in the USA since just after the war, my mum's sister and her husband moved down there from Pennsylvania when they retired. They bought a nice villa with orange trees in the garden and began living (hopefully) the good life in their final years. Within a very short time they were entertaining a succession of relatives from the UK who suddenly wanted to get back in touch. Some of my family began pressuring us to go. We frankly weren't all that keen, but under pressure from one or two who'd been and had a great time (no accusations intended, they meant well, of course), we were persuaded to write a letter to Aunty Nin and uncle Derek with a view to going over there for a visit. I hadn't seen this particular aunt in several decades and didn't know my uncle (by marriage, of course) at all well. I felt uneasy about the whole thing, but off went the letter.

Some weeks later we received a letter with a Tampa, Florida postmark. I opened it gingerly and read what my aunt had written. The letter was two or three pages long, but the only words I still recall vividly were the three words with which she signed it off. After an obvious attempt not to upset us, she wrote:

"Please, don't come."

Thus I learned many years before moving to Greece a vital lesson. If you have friends or relatives living abroad, why not wait until they invite you before thinking about a visit? That way you can be sure you'll be welcome and not merely tolerated. It was nothing personal that led my aunt to write that difficult letter. It was merely the desire to have her own home back. People moving abroad don't erect a sign outside their home saying "Bed, breakfast and evening meal", so why should we imagine that they have done so?

If and when you do go, be sure to show your appreciation for the hospitality in as many ways as you can. Staying with friends or relatives abroad doesn't turn them, for example, into a free taxi service for the duration of your stay. 

When our place was being built, our friends and future landlords asked us if we'd like two bedrooms, or maybe just the one. Within the house's footprint, walls could be placed in any number of configurations. We opted for just one. This was primarily so that if we wanted to entertain friends or family, we'd be happy to move ourselves on to the sofa-bed in the lounge and give up our bedroom. If our guests were important enough to us, that would be no problem, despite minor inconveniences. If folk invited themselves, we could honestly tell them that we didn't have the space. Also, we felt that there was little point in having a room that we'd need to furnish for maybe just a few weeks' use per year.

I'm delighted to report too that, in our case, we've had some very close friends and even relatives come visit over the years that we've lived here who've simply booked a package to stay in our vicinity out of desire not to impose too much. Some of those were people we'd have been very happy to entertain here under our modest roof. They, though, demonstrated their appreciation for our situation by giving us space and both we and them enjoyed their stay, whilst also all enjoying the right measure of privacy.

There you go folks. I'm sure that there will be some who read this who perhaps never saw it from this angle. Glad to be of service.

Finally, on a lighter note, yesterday on my Bay-to-Bay excursion this chap definitely got into the spirit of the day with very little delay...

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

An Illustrious Occasion

The traditional Greek iced coffee, the frappé, is 60 years old. Its anniversary was Thursday August 31st, and last week the Greek Alpha TV evening news made a bit of a splash about it. The first Greek frappé is reputed to have been accidentally invented by Dimitris Vakondio, in the café/bar where he worked as an employee for Nescafé representative Giannis Dritsa in Thessaloniki in August of 1957.

According to the story, he wanted to fix himself a hot coffee during a break, but didn't have any hot water. Thus, he put some coffee (Nescafé of course), milk and a little sugar into a cocktail shaker with the aim of getting the coffee to emulsify, but when he poured it he was surprised to see the frothy head that it had acquired. Deciding to drink it anyway he was blown away by what he had accidentally created. Pretty soon the bar was selling them like hot cakes, well, like cold coffees, and it spread from there. Nowadays, of course it's the staple drink of millions of Greeks who have to have their frappé fix at least once a day.

I wonder how many Greeks would know though that the word 'frappé' is French? The verb to 'frappe' means literally to hit, or beat. Needless to say it's pretty obvious how that applies. Greeks generally believe 'frappé' to refer to the fact that it's chilled, or iced, but that would be 'glacé' in French, or 'pagomenos' in Greek.

Although the Frappé (usually spelt with just the one 'p' in Greek as it happens) is indeed now ubiquitous in Greece and Cyprus, in more recent years many younger folk have been opting for the slightly healthier 'Freddo Espresso' instead. Interestingly the word 'freddo' is Italian for cold!! Also popular these days is the freddoccino, invented by a Greek chap who was born in Italy apparently.

 And, here is a selection of recent piccies folks...

Evening meal in Filippos Taverna, old Rhodes Town.

Courtyard near the Eleftheria gate at 11.00pm

Our fave place for a few hours on the beach these days is the Sposa Beach Bar,  just north of Gennadi. They do a great choice of food that can either be eaten at table in the bar at the back of the beach, or your waiter will serve you at your sun bed if you prefer. This is how they serve up a portion of home-made fries. Delicious!

View of Mandraki Harbour from the steps of the Post Office building.

Back to the Sposa again...

...and again.

On board the Madelena during a recent Bay-to-Bay excursion. Tough work, but someone has to do it.

Anchored at Tzambika Beach for a swim-stop.

Well, bless me if we're not back at the Sposa again.

This beautiful little chap dropped out of one of our garden parasols as we were putting it up the other day. We probably really annoyed the little blighter, or perhaps scared the living daylights out of him. I was able to smooth his cuddly, furry back before he gathered his wits and flew off in search of a more undisturbed resting place.

Last week onboard the Madelena I snapped a photo of my sleeping work colleague Lubos, who is from Slovakia and looks after our guests from both the Czech Republic and Slovakia during our Bay-to-Bay excursions. He returned the favour this past Sunday as I was taking some thinking time after lunch.

Here I am thanking Lubos for taking that lovely photo of me. I'm pleased to say that he and I share the same sense of humour and I find him an absolute joy to work with. I only hope he decides to come back next year.

When you realise that your sun cream's run out and you still have a few hours to go...

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Ouzo Bell

On board The Triton with Captain Makis and wife Nikoleta last week I asked Nikoleta about the above two picture frames, hanging on the wall in the cabin down below. In case you haven't already seen the Triton (Where've you been all my blogging life?), here she is...

Nikoleta's family roots are on the island of Symi, and so we often compare notes about it, because I know the island very well. Before I get around to the story about the Ouzo Bell though, her comments about living on Symi were, I thought, rather interesting and threw up a perspective that kind of illustrates why we live here on Rhodes, albeit quite a long way from 'where the action' is, as it were.

Lots of folk ask me why we moved to Rhodes and many of my regular readers (maybe you need to try therapy) will know that I often surprise them when I say that we never holidayed here before coming to live on the island. When I say "moved to Rhodes" I mean it in the context of location within Greece and not so much with regard to why we moved to Greece herself (There are some who'd say that I need therapy). So many ex-pats who live out here moved here after having had a dozen or so holidays on Rhodes and, having fallen in love with the place, the decision as to where in Greece to put down roots was already a done deal (cue the same explanation regarding ex-pats Greece-and-indeed-planet-wide!).

When me and the better half discussed possible locations, we had on our list a series of islands (curiously, nowhere mainland) that we considered as representing 'the real Greece'. So, on our list were places like Skiathos, Skopelos, Samos, Paxos, maybe a smaller island in the Cyclades and, of course, Symi. Ending up here on Rhodes was an accident that's explained in my books, notably "Feta Compli!" and one or two of the others. But, and this is a big 'but' (as John Cleese once said in a Monty Python sketch), we're so glad we are here now because there are some very practical reasons why living on a smaller island wouldn't have suited us.

Now, of course, at this point (assuming they're still reading this) there will be ex-pats living on Symi and other smaller island that are reaching for their keyboards in defence of their chosen Shangri-La even as I speak (metaphorically). But as I so often find myself saying, "each to his/her own" OK? No need for feelings of insecurity or instant knee-jerk defensive action. It's only my take on things. Well, Nikoleta's too, which is what prompted me to write this stuff up anyway.

So, I asked Nikoleta if she perhaps missed her native island. Would't she, given the choice, prefer to be back there rather than living on the much busier Rhodes?

"WHAT? NO, NO NO!" Was her rather surprisingly emphatic reply. "It's nowhere! I'd go crazy."

You're probably already ahead of me now. Would she care to explain? Care to she would...

"Here I can go to a good-sized supermarket and get my shopping at prices that won't bankrupt me (well, not quite). Here I can go to town and see some life, sit in a café/bar and not have to answer to every neighbour and family member about what I'm doing and why. I even have more than one choice of hairdresser. Island life [small island life I would interject here, because the smarter among my readers will probably have noticed that Rhodes too is an island] in winter is like living in a cemetery, only quieter. There is nothing there! Even if we had a car there it would mean an expensive trip to Rhodes to do the KTEO test every year. If I want to buy clothes or shoes..."

She continued in similar vein for quite some time, leaving me in no doubt as to why she preferred living on Rhodes. Now, not every reason that she cited would be among ours for not living over there, but some would. Having lived here for years I am rather glad, I have to admit, to easily be able to buy some timber for a DIY project, to go to the hospital without incurring ferries and hotel bills, to get my car tested in one morning and be home for lunch. OK, you could argue that living on a smaller island would mean you may not need a car. It's all very subjective as I said earlier. Must admit, both me and the better half like the fact that we can nip up to town in less than an hour during the winter months and get a fix of 'street café culture', maybe go window-shopping and such like.

In times past small island life was very geared around farming and fishing too. Villagers would have year-round jobs to do to put food on their tables. These days so often everything's geared to the tourist industry and thus in wintertime there is precious little to do for months on end. Frankly, from what I've learned about the ex-pat community on some small islands, it's the sad fact too that in more than one case I could refer to, the British (for example) are split into at least two camps and neither talks to the other. I don't want to dwell on that side of things, but it is a sordid fact. Grown-ups? It's debatable.

Anyway, let's get positive (well, almost). To return to the Ouzo Bell. This story is admittedly a bit nostalgic for the golden days of tourism in the Greek islands too I suppose. Nikoleta's dad Sotiris used to run a ship, you know, one of those "Shirley Valentine-esque" ex-fishing vessels that lend themselves perfectly to lazy excursions in and out of deserted coves and the smell of fish barbecuing at the back of the beach in an old oil-drum while the guests take a dip to cool off before eating a delicious lunch to the tinny sound of Bouzouki music under a few tamarisk trees behind the beach. That's got you going already, eh?

Well, twenty or even thirty years ago he would run an excursion on board his boat every day, out of Symi harbour. He'd cruise around the coast, stopping at coves and generally giving his guests a splendid day out in impossibly beautiful and restful surroundings. Sotiris was the type who loved to be with his guests. He'd interact with them, tell them stories, entertain them by being himself. He was old-style Greek and would treat all his guests as if they were long-lost family. He always too had a ready smile and, at around mid-afternoon on every trip, would ring a bell on the vessel as she lazily cut through the turquoise waters to signal that it was time to break out the ouzo, the free ouzo at that.

Well, one summer he had a really good group of guests who seemed to gel perfectly together. They came from several countries. Most of them were British, but among them were a few from Germany and Scandinavia too. This was getting toward the end of Sotiri's working life. These good folk enjoyed their excursion on board with Sotiri so much that they all came back the following day to do it again. The second day proved to be better even than the first and thus they all decided that it would be fun to do it a third consecutive day.

This same group of now fast friends ended up doing the trip ten days on the trot. By the time their holidays were drawing to a close they'd become really fond of their aging Greek host and loved that moment when he'd ring that bell and declare: "Ouzo time!!"

Needless to say they all decided to keep in touch and when, sadly, their host Sotiris died, they all clubbed together to purchase that bell, before his boat had to be disposed of, and they gave it to Nikoleta as a fond memento of their appreciation for her old now-departed dad. Thus it was eventually that it came to be installed on the Triton, where it still hangs today. The guests all got together and sent that message, the one you see in the left hand frame above, listing all of their names and concluding with those words of nostalgia and appreciation:

"Ring the bell for Sotiris and ouzo time forever".

Go on, tell me you don't wish you'd been one of that group.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

As you may know, I run a Facebook group called "A Good Greek Read". It has, I'm amazed and delighted (in equal measure) to say, become quite a success and the members generally report that they enjoy the benefits that being in the group bring. The whole idea came to me a couple of years ago while I was trawling one of the on-line bookstores for something with a Greek theme to read. 

"It would be nice," I thought, "if there were a group on Facebook where members posted links to reading material for Grecophiles." It wouldn't have to be only fiction, or only factual, not even only books. As long as it relates to Greece (or Cyprus) in some way, it would qualify for posting. Thus I started the thing up, rather expecting it to be a bit of a flop in all honesty. 

Now, over two years on, it's got 2300 plus members and people are joining every day. Members can trawl down the page for books, magazine articles, blog posts or news items that simply need to have a connection with Greece to qualify for inclusion. Every post includes a link so that, if you want to investigate the reading material in question, all you need to do is click the link. If it's a book then the link will usually be to its Amazon page, but it doesn't have to be. It can be to any other on-line bookstore, even another article about that work that will interest the reader. A Good Greek Read is a kind of virtual library for all things Greece-related.

I'm rather chuffed to be honest that quite a few pretty well-known writers on a Greek theme are also members of A Good Greek Read. This means that members can interact with the writers of their favourite Greek-themed literature through comments on the posts. Not a few have ended up PM-ing with authors too, these sending them freebies on occasion. All in all, a result. 

There was only one 'incident' that almost made me pack the whole thing in within a few weeks of starting it up. Someone joined who was evidently proud of being an 'intellectual' and a 'Hellenophile'. She was a lecturer at some university or other and very aggressively tried to make me change the name of the group to "A Good Hellenic Read." Her argument was that Greeks don't want to be called Greeks and that they would rather we all called their country "Ellada" or "Hellas". She posited that it was an insult to the Greeks to call Greece Greece and her people Greeks.

She may well have a few letters after her name, but I have had Greek relatives for over forty years, have lived here for 12 years and counting and have a large circle of Greek friends. Oddly, none of my Greek friends or relatives could give a toss about this issue. Seems that not a few non-Greeks who feel they need to champion the cause for the poor unfortunately misnamed Greeks do however, feel the need to take up the figurative cudgel.

I won't go into all the ins and outs of her argument here, but suffice it to say that I had to block her from the group when it was still only weeks old after some pretty aggressive comments that had really upset me, not least because of her annoying condescension. She was the Richard Dawkins of all things Greek. Sorry, Hellenic.

Now. let me get this straight. What do the Germans call their homeland? Deutchland, right? What do the Swiss call their homeland? Helvetia, yes? In fact, the French call Germany l'Allemagne and England they call Angleterre. The Germans call Greece Griechenland ...I could go on. Greece doesn't have the monopoly on being called something different by non-compatriots. This person to whom I refer asserts that to call Greece Greece is to insult her and her people. Odd that, because virtually every Greek I know will say, when the conversation turns to any number of endearing national traits that these folk manifest, "It's becoss I am Greek!", which is often sufficient to explain things. Oh, and they usually say it with a smile or a wide grin.

Frankly, the expression 'to split hairs' comes swiftly to mind here. Why, some years ago there was a big hit song in the Greek charts called "Greek Lover" in which the 'singer' boasts about the fact that he's a Greek lover and the 'best in the world'. Here's the official video. Warning, it's a bit racy in places!! Also it takes a while to get going, but stick with it. It would go down well at your next Greek-themed party by the way. Tell the DJ. After you've listened to that, go tell me that the Greeks are insulted about being called 'Greek'. Plus, what kind of wedding did Nia Vardalos make the subject of her very funny 2002 movie? Oh yes, that's right, it was called "My Big Fat Hellenic Wedding", right?

What did old Will Shakespeare's Juliet once say about whether it mattered what name her lover was called by?

Just time for a couple of photos. Rhodes municipality are once again having a go at encouraging folk to recycle. Just the other evening in town I saw these newly-arrived bins for recyclable materials. Across the top of the sign on the front, in the red band, it reads "Please - Not rubbish!" It remains to be seen whether that will work, but at least they're having a go again.

I wonder whether anyone who thinks they know Rhodes can hazard a guess, even state with certainty, where the street in the photo below can be found. It may just surprise some of you...

The photo below tells a lovely story. If you click on the photo and get the larger view you ought to be able to make out the title of the frame on the left. It reads:

"The Ouzo Bell Comes with Love and Fond Memories"
and at the bottom it says, "Ring the bell for Sotiris and ouzo time forever". In order to see these two frames, the right one of course containing a photo of the Sotiri in question, then you'd have to be aboard the lovely boat "Triton", owned and run by my good friends Makis and Nikoleta. In the next post I'll re-post this photo and tell you that rather touching and heartwarming story behind it. (Tune in next time folks...). Nothing like building a bit of anticipation, now, is there?

Thursday, 3 August 2017

I Could Have Danced All Night

Time was when me and the better half would dabble a little in the local Bouzoukia while in Greece on holiday. In such diverse places as Leros, Kefallonia, Athens, Skiathos, Samos and Poros we've been known to strut our stuff well into the small hours.

Well, all right, coming clean, the beloved has done so, whereas I more often than not have stood like a wallflower and watched her getting on with it. 

See, the thing is, as one gets older the desire to begin one's social evening at some time after midnight in a club packed to the gills and throbbing with music so loud that you feel it in your stomach rather than hear it through your ears does tend to ebb somewhat.

I was prompted to write this post after a couple of recent conversations with guests on my excursions. Someone asked me the other night, as we sat outside the Top Three bar at around 11.30pm and the town was buzzing with life, full of beautiful people all dressed up to the nines (what does that mean by the way?) "Is the town always like this?" The street was full of people all just stepping out for the evening and there we were waiting for the coach to take us back 'home' down to the south of the island after an evening in Rhodes Town. The girl who asked this question was actually well impressed and I could tell that she kind of wished that the town where she lived in the UK could be like this. 

It may not be everyone's glass of ouzo, but I'll admit that it is rather appealing to be out in a bar on the street at such an hour feeling the gentle breeze against your skin with the temperature at around 28ºC. The bars, all outdoors of course, are simply bursting with life. Young folk dressed in impossibly tight clothes and, in the girls' case, not much of those either, are meeting up and talking excitedly about where they'll be going soon, after the initial drink and chat that's just to get the evening off to a flying start. The whole scene is, well, life-affirming if you get what I mean. Yes, this country's in crisis, but that hasn't stopped the culture from carrying on regardless. Greeks know how to let their hair down without resorting to an excess of alcohol or aggressive behaviour. The Bouzoukia culture demonstrates this admirably.

One of the meanings of that word Bouzoukia is to describe a music club where traditional rebehiko and laika music is played, often by a live band, while singers sing songs about hearts being torn asunder by unrequited love, or being jilted or perhaps even being torn away from the motherland owing to economic migration. Once the show gets under way at something like 12.30am, the singers simply parade on and off of the stage or even dance floor and the music never stops. The musicians just progress on from one song to another, occasionally involving a change of tempo and key, while one singer goes backstage to cool down and the next one assumes the position at the microphone.

The assembled throng of people having a good time are dancing all around the singer(s) very often (thank goodness for the invention of mikes without leads) and the dance floor can often be so tightly packed that if you don't know the dance or can't get the rhythm right you're in serious danger of sustaining an injury from going up when the crowd is going down, or left when they go right. 

My guests was enquiring too because I think she was wondering how come the town was so alive at so late an hour. Of course, there are all-night clubs in the UK, but they'll usually be playing disco-beat stuff and there certainly won't be that vibrant buzz outdoors along the streets from the sheer numbers of people in the café-bars or strolling along with arms linked together as they talk excitedly about how their day has been or whatever. 

I found myself explaining that the Greeks split the day up in a rather different fashion from how the northern Europeans do it. The morning lasts from dawn until 12 noon. Mesi meri (literally 'the middle of the day') lasts from around noon until about 5.00pm. Then the afternoon runs from then until around nine. Tell a Greek you'll meet them 'this afternoon' and they interpret that as some time in the early evening. It has to do with the working hours of course. Certainly the retail stores are all open from 5.00pm until 9.00pm and thus the staff don't get home until about 9.30pm or later. Once they've showered, changed, perhaps eaten, they can't be out on the town much before 11.00pm anyway. The fact too that by and large they sleep from around 3.00pm until 5.00-ish (in the 'mesi meri') means that they don't need as much sleep during the night as we northern Europeans.

Thus it was that, a few decades ago when I could live it up with the best of them, we'd be going out a little before midnight so that my better half could tsifteteli her way through the small hours while I stood there and felt my insides vibrate. I didn't mind really, I could, of course, do a bit here and there, I can do a tsifteteli in that way the men do when their female partners need a hand in the small of their back while they contort themselves over backwards. I know how to wave my arms and click my fingers (flaming hurts that too!) like the Greeks do so as not to make too much of a fool of myself. If they play a Kalamatiano (which they only seem to do rarely these days) I know all the steps and even quite enjoy that one. 

If, back in the days when we used to be able to stay up during all those unearthly hours, they'd played either the kalamatiano or perhaps the hasaposerviko for the duration, then indeed I could have danced all night.

These days, though, give me a good book and a comfy bed. I'll leave it to those young whippernsappers to carry on the custom of going home as the sun comes up.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

People People

If all the Dutch are like this, I'm going there!
Sunday 16th July

On the Bay-to-Bay trip I had with me this lovely family [above] from the Netherlands, Eric, Linda and their two extremely likeable sons. Eric's English was amazingly good and the whole family were a joy to have as guests. In fact, they enjoyed the trip so much that they wanted to do it again. so I put them in touch with the other company I work for who run a similar trip on Tuesdays and they did that one too. I've yet to hear how they got on, but I hope they had as good a day out as they had with me. If all my guests were like this family I'd be doing the dream job. It's not far short anyway.

It was while I propped up the bar (with nothing more in my hand than a frappé I hasten to add) at the Konstantinos Hotel during our stopover for lunch at Stegna, that I ran into none other than Nikos Papas, who runs the brilliant Jungle Tour here on Rhodes.

That's Nikos on the right, by the way. Don't I look though like I ought to be on stage with Seasick Steve?

Nikos is one of those guys we need many more of on the Greek islands. He's a true original and he reminds me of wonderful 'round-the-island-BBQ' trips we'd done in decades past while holidaying in Greece long before we moved out here to Rhodes.

I almost didn't recognise him in near-normal clothes. When he hosts his Jungle Tours he usually dresses in distinctive kind-of traditional garb with a bit of a twist... 

I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like Niko. If you've been coming to Greece for years you'll know what I mean by the above comment about boat trips from a bygone era. Those were the days when you'd set sail in the morning on a 'Shirley Valentine' boat and during the afternoon the Captain would pass around the Ouzo or Metaxa, play some scratchy old recording of the Sirtaki and get his guests dancing on the deck of the boat as they became mildly inebriated. He'd always be larger than life and would engage in banter with the guests and make sure that they had an unforgettable day on the flat-calm azure Mediterranean sea aboard a boat that reeked of traditional history from bow to stern.

I don't know quite when all that disappeared, but by and large it has, sadly. I'm not knocking the people I work with here on Rhodes, and almost without exception the guests still tell me at the end of the day that they've had a splendiferous day out, but those quirky Greeks with oodles of character, who'd charm their guests, beguile them, don't seem to be in quite such an abundance any more. Most of the boat crews I've worked with in recent years simply get on with the job of sailing the boat and often seem to have little or no inter-action wth the guests on board. I miss the days when you'd never know quite what to expect, but you were never disappointed.

The bowsprit of the beautiful Triton, one of the Bay to bay vessels we use on Sundays.
Nikos Papas, now there's a man who still retains that old-fashioned eccentricity that simply sets his excursions alight for his guests. The nearest I've had to him here on Rhodes was Mihalis, Captain and owner of the Captain Mihalis that runs trips out of Mandraki harbour in Rhodes Town. When I worked on his boat in 2013 he used to go catching octopus while his guests swam and this was often the result: Watch video. Antonis too, who runs the gorgeous boat Magellanos, from Kolymbia also sometimes has fun with his guests, and always engages with them, all credit to him for that.

When you're on the plane flying home from a Greek holiday though, doesn't it add that something extra if you've come across someone with huge personality, someone who is truly passionate about giving his guests a special experience for that one day while they're in his care? Look no further on Rhodes than Nikos Papas and his Jungle Tour.

While we sat at the Konstantinos, he told be all about how the Jungle Tour developed. Where on earth did he get the idea from? He said that it goes right back to his childhood, when his mother helped him acquire a love of the natural environment. He used to go into the hills with his mum when he was young, while his dad (who was a priest and the first person in Arhangelos to own a car) was going about his church business, and his mum would rustle up a salad from the wild plants she'd find and pick. She imbued him with a love of the outdoors and nature in general.

Then in the 1980's the family owned a modest hotel. It was during this time that he got the idea to take his guests up into the hinterland for daytrips and from that evolved the idea of making an excursion out of it. I was surprised to learn quite how many years he's been doing the Jungle Tour, because I've only heard of it in the past couple of seasons; yet he's been doing it since long before I moved to Rhodes in 2005.

Nikos prides himself on the way he looks after his guests. He truly believes that everyone who comes with him is his relative, irrespective of nationality or language. He takes them to the starting point in a battered old pickup, or perhaps on top of it, and throughout the day surprises them with chilled drinks and food that he's secreted in various hiding places around the route. The amount of preparation he, his wife and small team put into each tour is no doubt very time consuming. When they day is drawing to a close and they arrive at their final location, he shows them the 'Rolls Royce', which is a beaten up old car that he does start up now and then. He usually gets his guests dancing and gets up to all kinds of other antics.

His personality makes the whole trip a very special experience. Long may he continue taking holidaymakers into the 'jungle' here on Rhodes.

The above couple, also on the boat on Sunday July 16th, are Frank and Wendy Pickering from an area close to my heart, Trevone in Cornwall, UK. It's near Padstow (or Padstein as it's so often called by locals these days - you'll only get that if you're reading this in the UK!), not more than a stone's throw from Little Petherick, where two of our closest friends from many years live, George and Allison. They own (G and A that is) one of the loveliest places you could go and stay for a relaxing holiday in Britain, The Quay House. Go check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Anyway, getting into conversation with Frank and Wendy revealed that he too is a budding author and has recently published his first novel, Ice. It's on Amazon, and you've just read past the link! I promised him that I'd flag it up for my readers. It's not to do with Greece, but judging from how articulate they both were I'd expect it to be very well written. Frank was an English teacher and not, as I joked, secretly living a double life as Eddie Jordan, the eccentric Formula One pundit who used to run his own team (the one that morphed eventually into Force India).

I was in danger of hogging their day as we compared notes about getting a book prepared for publication and finding a target audience. Lots of other stuff too. Hope if you're reading this Frank and Wendy that I didn't crowd you too much!! It's only enthusiasm, that's my excuse.

Our other boat is visible here, the Madelena. She's not as pretty as the Triton, but I describe her as a 'valiant little vessel with a big heart' and I thoroughly enjoy spending the day on board her equally as much as I do on the Triton.

Oh, nearly forgot. Also on one of my excursions to Rhodes town last week I had a young couple with whom I got into conversation. Forgot to ask their names, but I know the guy's name now [sort of] because he's the synth and guitar player with The Shimmer Band. Well, best I can do is refer to him as Schmidt, because that's how he's described on the website. I think I surprised him a bit because I don't think he thought I'd be into their kind of music. If you do get to read this Schmidt, I've checked out your web site and the videos therein and I'm well impressed. Seems to me that you guys are the modern equivalent of my kind of music. There's a lot for the old rocker in me to like in what you chaps are doing. So I'm happy to place the link to your site in this post. It was a pleasure meeting you and your lovely lady. Also, the band has a Facebook page: HERE.

And, finally, just one shot I took whilst ambling around Rhodes town just the other day. I don't know why, but I thought the sign was amusing. It reads in English around the perimeter "Access Only for Pedestrians" No chance we'd bring the coach down there then without drawing some flack, eh?

Live long and prosper.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Living up to the Name

Yeah, well, this blog is called "Ramblings" after all, so here a some truly rambling bits and pieces from the past few days.

Then I'll shove some photos on toward the end.

Talking to a couple of guests on one of my excursions recently, Russell and Paula, we got to comparing notes about our experiences with local Greeks and they told me an amusing tale about something that happened to them while on Corfu some time ago. After we'd agreed that the negatives about the Greek people (don't cross them where business and money are concerned etc.) were well outweighed by the positives (they'll always remember you when you re-visit, even after some years have passed, they exhibit a generosity of spirit that's without parallel, that kind of thing) - we swapped stories about what makes Greece unique. I started with my thoughts about a recent promo ad I'd seen on a Greek tourist website. It concerned a tourist walking in the countryside and helping himself to an orange or two from some trees beside the road. Well, maybe you've seen it before, but I love it. Check it out here. It's called Cretan hospitality, but it applies all over the country really.

Russell and Paula told me about a time when they were staying on Corfu some years ago, when they'd decided to take a shortcut across an olive grove on their way back from the beach to their accommodation one day. Normally we don't associate Greeks with rowdiness or of groups of youths mocking tourists by cat-calling and the like. Yet, as they set out through the trees amongst some fairly rough ground underfoot, they'd seen a pickup truck on a nearby track with a few Greek men inside the cab and also on the flatbed behind, who'd shouted at them and generally made gestures with their hand and arms.

"Huh," thought my friends, "Not the kind of behaviour we'd normally associate with Greeks. We're blowed if we're going to react to that." So they simply ignored their apparent mockers and continued on their way.

Later that evening, whilst sitting in a local taverna they'd spotted one of the young men they'd seen in the pickup. What surprised them still more was the fact that he approached their table to talk to them. Not sure if I have all the details correct, but maybe he was even waiting at tables in the taverna in question. I rather think that he was. Anyway, he came over, patted Russell and Paula on their backs and said, "Well, I'm glad to see that you're both OK. Didn't you hear us this afternoon? We were trying to warn you that the route you were taking is renowned for its high snake population! People have been bitten while going that way in the past. We did try to warn you!"

I've made an unlikely new friend of late. During my "Rhodes by Day" and "Rhodes by Night" excursions, I frequently carry a large plastic bag full of empty plastic water bottles with me, which I have to deposit in the coach's luggage bay before we set out from Kiotari to pick up the guests along the way. It's a constant source of annoyance to us how difficult it is here on Rhodes to recycle plastic. There are now, thank goodness, plenty of sky-blue coloured, bell-shaped bins at the road-side all over the island for people to deposit glass. There are even a few rather impractical metal cages about the place for cardboard too, but not nearly as many as there ought to be. I also get frustrated when I come across the occasional wheelie bin that's clearly marked as having been provided for the recycling of say for example, metal cans, yet the Greeks locals have usually stuffed these full of regular household rubbish, but plastic recycling is virtually non-existent outside of Rhodes town.

Even within the town there are only two places to recycle plastic bottles that I know of as of now. Each of these is a machine which requires members of the public to deposit plastic bottles one at a time, and still uncrushed too. Neither of these machine is very well positioned and if you go there with a vehicle it's a near impossibility to park anywhere near them. That doesn't encourage folk to have a go, now does it?

So, if you have a couple of dozen 1.5 litre table water bottles, you have to leave them uncrushed, which means carrying a huge plastic bag full of mainly fresh air and then stand at the machine for a quarter of an hour while you feed in one bottle at a time, waiting for the automatic mechanism inside the machine to crush each bottle individually before it deposits it into its inboard receptacle. I have spent many a quarter-hour at this machine and, even worse turned up there with several large plastic bags full of bottles, only to see that it's broken down again and leaning against it when I arrive are already innumerable plastic bags which others have brought along and simply left there out of frustration rather than take them home again or deposit them in a regular bin, most of which are to small for that anyway.

So, almost once a week of late I've arrived in town with my guests, extracted my plastic bag full of bottles from the luggage bay of the coach and carted it with me to the Top Three bar before giving my guests all the useful info that they need before they go off exploring. Once they've all gone off happily and I've finished my frappé I lug my huge-but-very-lightweight bag a few hundred metres to the machine that's situated beside the Old Town wall facing the fishing harbour, where I expect to pass about ten minutes or so stuffing bottles in one at a time. I know how to live.

A few visits ago I arrived to find a man who quite resembles Grizzly Adams (only older!) already busily feeding the machine from one of four or five huge plastic bags that he'd brought along - on his moped! Instantly he greeted me and we began talking. He apologised for the fact that he had lots of bottles still to feed into the machine and explained that he'd pushed the button for a ticket. The machine has two buttons at eye level, beside the feeding aperture on each section (sections of the machine are demarcated for plastic bottles, cans and glass). You push one button to waive the right to any reward for recycling your stuff, the other counts the number of items you insert and then issues a ticket that you can use in several supermarkets and stores to get a discount on your shopping bill for that visit. To be honest, you'd have to feed in probably a thousand plastic bottles to get as much as a couple of Euros back, but this man was going to get what he could anyway. From the look of him his clothes had no idea what a washing machine looked like, yet he was friendly, talkative and well mannered.

I offered to let him add my bottles to his ticket, an idea with which he seemed delighted and so, with a couple of his huge plastic bags still to go, he stepped back and allowed me to get mine done while he waited. It was while we talked that he said that he spends most of his time scouring the town for plastic bottles, stuffs them into his well-used and quite holey plastic sacks and then ties them to his tiny moped and trundles to the recycling machine. Pure diligence and tenacity leads to his being able to do a bit of shopping for bread and milk, basic staples.

In fact, since our first encounter I've spotted him several times going about the town on his moped, often almost completely concealed amongst a cushion of huge plastic sacks, full of bottles that he's going to take to the machine. He looks like he's about to take off.

Since our first meeting we've met at the machine quite a few times. Seems he goes there at the same times each day and thus when I get there our paths are fairly sure to cross. He says how it drives him barmy to see so many plastic bottle discarded on the streets anyway, but that in all sincerity he also needs any help he can get with his shopping bill, which is an added incentive to do what he does. He is a pensioner and has seen his income diminish by 50% in the past few years, yet the electricity bills, the property tax and the water bills (for water that many don't even have coming out of their taps this current summer) increase relentlessly. I find him to be gentle, friendly and deferential. Old style Greek in other words.

I'm glad now to have made his acquaintance and sorry that I'm not really in a position to do much else for him. Each time I arrive at the machine to find him already there he breaks into a huge smile and greets me with "Αχ, καλός το! Τι κάνεις φίλε μου; Ολα καλά;"

In fact, the last time I went I'd chosen a different time of day and this time encountered a woman. She was what I'd describe as scrawny of figure, ageing hippy in style, and ever so slightly shabby to the point where it was evident that she had fallen upon hard times. As I approached I'd seen her pressing the ticket buttons on each section of the machine, evidently in the hope that someone had deposited their recycling and gone off without bothering to retrieve their ticket. From this I deduced right away that she was looking for any way she could to augment whatever meagre income she has.

Once I'd begun feeding my bottles into the machine she stood to one side, just a couple of metres away and displayed an air of "will you look my way?" about her. When I did she asked me, in an entreating manner: 

"Do you want the ticket for your bottles?" 

Of course, I told her that I'd push the button but that she could have the ticket. Her gratitude was way out of proportion to the meagre financial gain I was offering her and, as I walked away with the job done, having handed her the ticket that the machine had spewed out, folding up my plastic sack for the next time, she could still be heard saying "Σας ευχαριστώ πάρα πολύ, σας ευχαριστώ, σας ευχαριστώ".

And so to some lighter stuff. A bunch of recent photos...

This is the Triton, one of the two boats we use on my Bay-to-Bay excursions on Sundays. She's a beaut, eh?

The Triton at anchor, while the guests work hard at enjoying their dip.

You'd probably never guess, but this balcony overlooks the Top Three Pub, where I usually sit with my first frappé of the day when I arrive in town on my Rhodes excursions. A little piece of tranquility amongst the hubbub of the town.

An almost hidden windmill at the junction just up above the old hospital

House in Eleftheriou Venizelou street.

The brand new and much improved menu at the wonderful Odyssey Taverna in the old Town.

I just liked it...

Peer through a wrought iron gate half-way up the Street of the Knights after dark and you'll see this fountain.

This is the Nimmos taverna, situated right near the Akandia Gate entering the Old Town from the South East corner. I've seen it many times but never eaten there. I recently discovered my old friend Antonis (2nd photo down from this one) working there and he told me about their very good value set meals for 2 (see sign in 3rd photo down from this one). I'll definitely give it a try some time soon. 

Another view of the Nimmos. That's the Old Town wall to the left.

Antonis is a really nice chap. Don't buy him a comb as a present though.

I'd say that those are pretty good prices for two people together.

I bumped into Nikos who runs the Jungle Tour while sipping a lunchtime frappé at the Konstantinos in Stegna yesterday. We had a chat during which he revealed much about his background, which I found fascinating. Next post folks!