Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Beehives & Baby Toads

Snapped the pic above just the other day on a walk up the lane behind the house. It's a common sight at this time of year and I'm sure you've discerned that the "boxes" are beehives. The owners move them regularly, depending on the density of the wild flowers as the seasons bring about the dying off of one type and the blossoming of another. 

We love to see them as it means that our garden will be (and in fact is) full of honey bees, which don't bother us humans at all but make a soothing bumbly sound as they tirelessly go from flower to flower in the garden. We even wonder if the keepers deliberately site them within a couple of hundred yards of our place (and our neighbours up the hill, whose garden has arguably more blossoms per square metre than has ours!), since the garden provides a rich source of pollen for the little occupants. The only drawback to their presence is the little yellow pollen bombs that they leave everywhere, including all over your car, your washing and your patio furniture cushions. If you try and wipe these off while they're still moist you get a yellow stain that will never come out. Best left until they dry, when they can be removed with a fingernail.

There are, however, some other insects that drive us up the wall at this time of the year. There's a certain kind of beetle for example, which, when at rest, is hardly as long a a finger nail, very narrow and reddish rust in colour, but when flying sort of hovers in a manner that suggests that they haven't quite got the hang of this flying malarkey and so they tend to bump into everything, including your head. They'll drop unsuspectingly into your muesli while you're spooning it into your mouth if you're not vigilant. They're pretty dopey and, when flying, assume a slightly "bendy" shape, looking more like a kind of flying "bendy" insect than a beetle really, but, since their navigational skills are virtually non-existent, they can drive you bonkers while you're sitting outside for a while at the start of the day. They are perpetually drifting into your "space" and require that your plastic swatter be permanently at the ready. I don't think they bite, but they will alight on your flesh and quite gormlessly sit there while you swat them, unlike mosquitoes, which have lightning-fast reaction times and are maddeningly difficult to get the better of.

Another more welcome visitor, of which we have many at this time of year, is the Mediterranean Toad (for another post referring to these, click HERE). These can be quite large, some of them filling the palm of your hand, whilst others, like the one I snapped out on the tiles (aah, the recklessness of youth, eh?) at 6.00am this morning, are quite a bit smaller. Get ready for the "aaaaah" factor as I present to you the tiniest Mediterranean Toad I've ever seen...

As usual, clicking on any of the pics will open them in a larger view.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Why Not Take a Drive - 2

I was originally going to update the previous post (Why Not Take a Drive) after having done the drive today (Sunday May 15th), but decided that it was easier to just do another post. So some of the stuff in the previous post is updated in this one (best read the two, but read the other one first perhaps).

I've now taken a picture showing the sign on the main Lardos-Kattavia Road in Kiotari, just before the crossroads where you need to turn right toward Asklipio. Here it is…

The next pic shows the far end of Asklipio square, with the Nikolas Taverna to the right and Sylvia's Taverna is just a little further along that street right ahead, where you'll need to drive. I know, it looks a bit like it surely can't be the right road doesn't it, but rest assured it is. As you proceed along this "lane" you're pretty soon driving alongside a chain-link fence to your left, where I mentioned in the other post that there was an old hand-painted sign pointing toward Laerma, but today this sign was missing, so perhaps don't bother looking for it!
Once you've exited Asklipio down the short hill, you'll come across the "Scenic Route" sign that's in the first photo below. This will reassure you that you are indeed going the right way. It's the kind of reassurance you'll need after driving through Asklipio, I'd say. Carry on along this road, which takes you all the way to Laerma. Along the way you'll see such sights the like of which the next four photos give you just a flavour. Today there was still quite a flow of water at the largest of the fords, as you'll see below. Depending on what time of year you may do this drive, you may not see it at all. If you can discern the yellow hue to the countryside in these pics too, that's the wild flowers, which are in great abundance at present, whilst they still have the precious moisture from the spring rains in the soil, which will soon be drying up completely, thus withering the flowers until next year. Remember, clicking on any of the pics ought to open it in a larger window for a better view...

The next pic shows the small cafe/bar which I recommended that you stop at. But I must also recommend the first one which you'll pass as you descend into the village proper. First though, I ought to remind you that when you reach the Thari Monastery, you'll find that the main entrance and car park are right in front of you and you'll need to take the left hairpin as you climb the hill in order to continue on to Laerma.

Returning to the village, the first taverna/cafeneion/bar on the right is called the Igkos [ΙΓΚΟΣ] and is run by Panayiotis and his wife. Panayiotis spent many years in Germany, but returned to Rhodes some years ago to run the family's business. He's in his sixties, strongly built and is ready to pass the time of day with all his clientele, which is what he's doing in the next photo, that's him standing talking to some German-speaking guests who arrived just after us. The last pic shows my good lady along with Andrea and Heinz, our friends who live in Stegna and hail from Austria, although Heinz is fluent in Greek as he was brought up here and did all his schooling in Arhangelos.
Why do I now recommend Taverna ΙΓΚΟΣ? Well, we 'd originally planned to just have frappes, but as it was about lunchtime and I was peckish I asked Panayioti for a plate of chips.

"You don't want fried potatoes," he told me. "I do you our sliced oven potatoes and arrow peppers, with skordalia, much better."

"Sounds OK to me," I replied. "Bring it on."

Well, bring it on he did. He placed before both Yvonne-Maria and I a plate each of sliced oven-cooked potato, along with sliced green peppers (the one shaped like arrows) and every slice was smeared with a liberal helping of skordalia (garlic sauce, made with olive oil and mashed potato). He also brought us Horiatiki bread, that heavy, brown traditional village bread that we love so much and we had ourselves a lunch on our hands.

Panayiotis later came to ask how we were liking it and thus began an interesting conversation about why we spoke Greek, which elicited compliments from him regarding the effort we'd made in this regard. He explained to us how the taverna got its name, which I'll leave you to ask him about, should you get there one day soon. After a few more minutes during which the four of us ate and talked, Panayiotis exited the front of the building carrying a tortoise, which was easily large enough to cover a dinner plate then then some.

"Is he a pet?" We asked. To which he replied, "No, he was just passing through.I found him in the middle of the road so I picked him up and gave him some slices of tomato to eat."

"Right," I replied, and too quickly for my own good got a laugh when I suggested: "Probably in a hurry to get somewhere I suppose!" Since he'd been found ambling, in the way that tortoises do, down the middle of the road. While the entire taverna's clientele joined in appreciating what a fine specimen it was, a cat sauntered past with a huge lizard protruding from his mouth, back end first. I don't think the lizard stood a chance of survival, the way that cat was carrying him, as his front legs and head were evidently half-way down that cat's throat already I shouldn't wonder.

Good job we'd almost finished eating.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Why Not Take a Drive?

If you're coming to Rhodes any time soon I'd like to suggest an excursion to embark on should you hire a car or motorbike. For some simply beautiful scenery, albeit exhibiting the scars of the fires of 2008, then you really ought to drive from Kiotari up to the village of Asklipio and take the road through the hills to Laerma. This road has only been surfaced with tarmac in the last couple of years (though to witness the damage to the surface from the winter weather - and shoddy workmanship - you'd think it was longer!) and is very (that is, very with a capital "V") "curly". I know, "curly" isn't the most commonly used adjective to describe a country road, but it's the only one that really gives the right impression of the road in question.

Travelling south from Lardos on the main road through Kiotari you'll come to a crossroads, where to the left is a road leading the few hundred yards down to the nicest part of Kiotari beach (where you'll find a smattering of traditional beach front tavernas and a bar, see pic below) and to the right is the Asklipio road. Just prior to the crossroads on the right is a huge new sign advertising a taverna in Asklipio called "Nikolas". You can't miss it - it's that big. There's another sign right on the crossroads itself too, just in case you needed another reminder of the taverna's existence and location. Take the right at the crossroads and climb the 4 kilometers to Asklipio village.

When you enter the village you'll see the square below to your left and the road continues along the upper right hand side of the square, where to the right and a few feet higher is the Agapitos Taverna, where my wife and I collect our mail, run by Kyrios Agapitos and his wife Athanasia. They serve as a sub-post office too and you'll note the small ELTA (Greek post office) sign on the wall above the geranium-filled garden terraces beside the steps leading up to the taverna's main terrace.

If you thought Lindos was the be-all and end-all of quaint Greek sugar-cube villages, then Asklipio will delight and surprise you. If you take the time to stop the vehicle in the square by the recently restored Byzantine Church and village museum to the Church's left, then wander the streets on foot, you won't be disappointed. The village is full of photogenic streets and lanes (not to mention occasionally breathtaking views), many sporting outdoor bread ovens (for some photos, see links at the bottom of this post), most of which are still in regular use. Choose the right hour to make the walk and you'll be rewarded by the irresistible smell of baking bread. In fact, my wife and I were walking through the village on a bright, sunny day back in March and struck up a conversation with an old "ya ya" who insisted on giving us a chunk of sweet bread that she'd baked in the very oven beside which we were talking. The village or "horiatiko" loaf is round, dense, brown and keeps for ages. Ingredients vary, but this particular loaf had cinnamon in it and we chewed it gratefully in the car later as we drove back down toward home.

The best thing and the greatest difference between Asklipio's streets and those of Lindos is the fact that in Asklipio there are no tourist shops, with all their wares hanging in such density and profusion that you can no longer appreciate the simplicity of the whitewashed village houses and "avlis". For some more photos of Asklipio and the Kastro's view, click HERE.

At the far end of the square is the right turn that takes you up the steep and occasionally poorly surfaced road to the kastro, which is well worth exploring for the stunning 360º view once you're up on the wall inside the kastro itself. But continue on for the Laerma road, passing the aforementioned Nikolas Taverna on your right and, a few metres further along the street (which narrows alarmingly, so please don't be alarmed), Sylvia's Taverna too. At this point you'll probably doubt yourself as, despite the fact that as you entered the village you'll have seen the sign indicating the one may indeed travel on to Laerma by passing through Asklipio, this "street" is getting not only narrower, but decidedly badly surfaced to boot.

Never fear, because, just when you've decided that you're going to end up in a field or down a dead-end alley, you'll spot the hand-painted sign saying "Laerma" with a small arrow on it too, fetchingly daubed on a piece of wood and hanging jauntily from a bit of chain-link fence on your left, thus confirming that the stout-hearted travellers will indeed find the way.

(pic below shows scene as you enter Asklipio, you'll need to keep right here)

(the pic below is just north of Asklipio. This one was taken, though, with the car pointing back toward the village)

Once you've driven past this sign and begun a short descent you'll notice that you are indeed exiting the village and as you drive down a short hill you must ignore the urge to take the first left by going straight on, past a steep, rough track which joins the road from the right and also passing a small citrus grove, above a bank which is also to your right. Now you're actually on the road to Laerma. It's very twisty turny (yup, "curly" in fact!) and rises and falls over small hillocks which eventually make way to larger hills and more beautiful views of the ever changing valley which you're skirting. Not too far north of Asklipio you'll know you're going in the correct direction if you note the small solar energy installation between the olive groves a few metres from the road on your right. It's a field not much different in size to a tennis court, but contains a grid of solar panels, none more than a few feet high, which rotate with the sun. They may not look all that conducive to the rustic Greek scenery, but give me these things any day over a power station!! They make no noise and require very little maintenance.

You're now in deer country. This area, which soon begins to sport hundreds of burnt tree trunks from the 2008 fires, is a favorite spot during the winter time for locals (us included) to come with their chainsaws to gather logs for their wood-burners and fireplaces. In wintertime we saw deer here on several occasions. One time a family of seven or eight strolled across the road right in front of the car. The best chance of seeing them during summer is to drive along this road at dawn or during early evening. But you can be lucky any time as the deer seem to be quite comfortable and not often phased in this untouched mini-wilderness. The times when we've seen them have often been during late morning.

The scenery on this road is ever changing and puts me in mind of several different parts of the UK, especially during the winter months. Every undulation or turn in the road offers another beautiful vista to gaze upon. One part is hugely reminiscent of the New Forest in Hampshire, which is not in fact, as anyone who's been there will testify, all forest. Large parts of this stunningly lovely National Park are heathland and in such areas one can often spot wild New Forest Ponies. Other views along this road are much like some areas of South Wales, one part particularly reminds me of the hills above Treorchy in the Rhondda. The [mining] pits having long gone, so anyone who thought that this area of Wales would be full of slag heaps and drab terraced streets would do well to go there now and take the road up to the Bwlch. Be prepared to amaze yourself at the scenery, it's - as the Americans would say - awesome. Then again, there are areas of Scotland too that you'll probably also be reminded of as you cruise this road.

At a couple of places the road fords a stream, which may be dry during the summer months, but it's evident that it is a ford during the wet season since there is a concrete base in the stream bed enabling ordinary cars to cross without too much difficulty. We've driven through quite a fast-moving current there several times during the winter, since they don't normally get particularly deep. If you visit this area during the early part of the season the fords may just bear evidence of the current that flowed just a few weeks back.

This road constantly throws views at you that scream "Stop here and take photos or have a picnic!!" The sad sight, though, of thousands of now scorched fir trees helps one to imagine just how wonderful this drive would have been before the fires, but it still is a superbly enjoyable experience to drive this road nonetheless. Eventually, you'll round a bend and make the ascent to the Thari Monastery, set in a superbly tranquil "nook" in the hills. It can be seen just how close the fires came to this place when you witness how near to the buildings burnt tree trunks can be seen. The fires of 2008 covered thousands of "stremmata" (one stremma is 1,000 square metres) and making this drive will show the individual just how much of an area was devastated. Thankfully the ground level vegetation is now recovering well, but of course trees take an awful lot longer to do likewise.

Just a few km further and the road enters the village of Laerma from the West. As you get into the village proper you'll descend gently and see a traditional taverna/bar on your right, then just a few metres further down and just before the church, a lovely cafeneion with a terrace under a huge tree which sits a little higher than the road to the left. I'd recommend you continue down to the T-junction, which is the heart of the village, and turn right. This road will eventually lead you back down into Lardos, some 15 km away, but as you drive around the bend from the T-junction you'll see a few tables and chairs on the right beside the road, shaded by a tree and sandwiched between the road you're on and a small turning which drops away down the steep hill to the right. The views from these tables are fab and the small taverna/bar which serves them is across the road on the left. It's the ideal place to relax with a drink while you absorb the atmosphere and the view, or even better, to take a light lunch of Greek salad, tzatziki and maybe a cool beer or two, while chatting with the locals.

Following this road back down to Lardos also affords some spectacular views, making this whole excursion something that I don't think you'd forget for a while. You'll also come away with the abiding impression that Rhodes is anything but spoilt by mass tourism. The old Greece is still alive and well here, I promise!

Maybe it would be good to read the follow-up post to this one, HERE.

Asklipio video Youtube:
Good site with photos: