Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Tourist Trail

It's a funny old world really. I mean, here we are living in Rhodes and, following a fairly breathless season in which we've been busier than ever and having made the decision to work a little less next year as a consequence, we decided to look for a little hotel break in Rhodes town. Many of the hotels in town do very good deals at this time of the year and so we trawled the net for something a couple of weeks ago. Of course, I came up with nothing. Having specified on several "booking" web sites that we wanted Rhodes town, I was less than delighted to be offered a few nights in a hotel not beyond five minutes from home!

There was nothing for it but to call in Brenda, our good friend from Pilona, who had found us a short break deal this time last year and always seems to be able to come up with something. It must be me I suppose. I like to think I know my way around the internet, but every time I look for something like this I draw a blank. Well, not a blank exactly, but something that's not quite what we're looking for. Either the package isn't right (we try and find half-board for a break like this and I'll end up with B&B for example) or the price isn't very good. Then we go and ask Brenda and she e-mails back within a few hours with a fab deal at a hotel (run by Mitsis, a pretty well established Hotel company in this part of the world). This one was a corker and we had to go for it. What's weird is that here we are living in Kiotari, in the South of Rhodes Island, and we book a short hotel break in Rhodes Town through a web-site in the UK in £ Sterling.

What we're paying for three nights half-board is less than one would expect to pay for a meal in the restaurant in the hotel where we're now domiciled as I'm writing this post (though I'll probably be back at home before I finish it). So today we ambled all over the town and ended up having a frappe at Mandraki at the "Court House" Cafe. I dunno if that's actually what it's called, but you'll know the one I mean if you're a Rhodo-file. Sitting there under that huge and stately tree this morning, on October 22nd in something like 25ºC was perfect, just perfect. The boats, their sterns all lined up along the harbour, bobbed in the manner in which we'd expect and the world went about its business around us. because there's a charity walk in town tomorrow to raise money for some hi-tech equipment for the hospital, there was a band set up just to our right, at the bottom of the pedestrian street which runs down from Cyprus Square and right on the corner of the National Bank building, playing primarily Greek tunes which my wife could sing along to. She almost got up, but thought better of it. But it wouldn't have surprised me if she had.

I was put in mind of a particularly annoying comment I'd read just the other day on a forum on the BBC's Travel (Lonely Planet) web site. It was in response to someone's question as to where in Greece to go for a first visit as a "Greco-novice." Advice was being sought regarding what islands would be good to visit. There were, of course, many suggestions, a lot of which I agreed with, but one comment irritated me immensely. It said something to the effect of: "Don't go to Rhodes, avoid it like the plague. It's totally spoilt by tourism and quite hideous." ...or words to that effect. I'm not exaggerating, it was in that kind of language, those terms. Needless to say I posted a reply!

Yes, Rhodes has its tourist traps, its manic and less than scenic bits where it's "built up" as it were. But this can be said of Crete, Corfu and several other islands. But does that put it in the "Spoilt" bracket? I beg to differ and for several reasons. Firstly, because a place is busy doesn't necessarily mean that it's "spoilt by tourism," as our wonderful half an hour in Mandraki this morning more than adequately showed. Yes there were tourists around, but there's nothing wrong with that. Every single one of us who gets on a plane and goes somewhere could be classed as a "tourist," even if we're among a select few on a remote island without an airport. But there are quiet places which are "essentially Greece", and busy places which are just as "essentially Greece". All around us in the cafe there were locals, their conversations wafting over us with a mixture of subject matter, but primarily the words we heard most were "strike," "money," "Papandreou," "pensions," "prices" and the like. Well, what else would you expect, given the current dominant subject in the news?

Anyone who says that Rhodes is spoilt has no idea what they're talking about. This is a large island with a lot of places to explore. There are so many wonderfully "essentially Greek" villages, like Lahania, Mesanagros, Istrios, Laerma, Vati, Asklipio, Arhipoli, (I could go on for a very long time) all with their outdoor stone bread ovens still in the street and still in regular use, all with their old men sittting outside their favourite cafeneion playing dominoes, or setting the world to rights over their "Elleniko". Little ya yas all in black can be seen all over this island as they trudge carefully on their bird-thin legs along their village's main street to or from the olive grove, the vegetable patch or the village's single store - assuming the village even has one that is. Or maybe they've just been out gathering "horta". Donkeys can still be seen in many places, apart from the Acropolis in Lindos, doing what donkeys have done in this part of the world for centuries. 

In fact, even the village of Lindos itself - where, granted, it's fairly frenetic during the high season as coachloads of under-dressed grockles file through the narrow streets absorbing the character of the place (they wish) while hunting for that little set of coasters or a wall plate to take home for some lucky member of the family or other - reverts during winter time to what it really still is, a small Greek village. It's in the winter when you really see the character of Lindos, but, well, with tourism nowadays being one of the few growth industries, who can blame the villagers for jumping on the bandwagon and making their living this way for six months of the year. To be truthful, it's rather good having the bustle during the season when you know you can have the place all to yourself from November through March. More people should come in winter if you ask me, the weather's like a British summer and the island is green and pleasant. The people reward you with broad smiles and when the sun's out you can still find an open taverna or cafe. The difference is that the proprietors have time to sit and talk to you, instead of being run off their feet.

Take another scenic drive
In fact, here's another suggestion for a scenic drive which ably demonstrates that 90% of this island is unspoilt. Get yourself to Kolymbia and take the road towards Epta Piges (Seven Springs). By all means stop at Seven Springs if you want to. Like the Butterfly Valley, it puts me in mind of the UK with its broadleaved trees and cool atmosphere beneath them when the sun's out, which it usually is. On my excursions this past summer I've regularly taken my guests along this road [in the other direction] on the way back from Kamiros Skala where we'd disembarked from the Halki boat. My way of describing this route, which takes you through the delightful villages of Arhipoli, Eleousa and Dimylia, is to explain that it shows the traveller every kind of landscape in Europe in miniature. During the high summer there are rolls of hay in meadows that put me in mind of the sweeping hills beside the A38 between Exeter and Plymouth, there are breathtakingly steep pine-clad mountainsides that have me singing like Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" they are that reminiscent of the alps. The only thing you won't see is the snow-capped peaks above them. Every type of scenery between the two can be glimpsed along this road, which eventually brings you out at Fanes on the west coast.

From there take the left and follow the road down the coast. As you travel this route be sure to take the right turn as you enter Kalavarda, signposted Kameiros (among other places) and soon you'll be put in mind of some of the route down California's West Coast in Hemingway country, south of San Francisco. To your left steep hills leading up to craggy mountains, in which perch tiny white villages, while to the right you have the wild shore of the west coast, with its slightly rougher seas and occasional sighting of  a dolphin if you're really lucky. Even in the high season, traffic here is sparse...

Pretty soon you arrive at Ancient Kameiros, where the road leading up to this fascinating ancient village is almost opposite the site of a small bay, which is served by two or three tavernas, our favourite of which is the Porto Antico, where we took lunch yesterday, as it happens, on our fairly meandering route home from the short break we'd taken in town. Needless to say, I'd broke off writing this post at the hotel and started again when we got home. In fact, I wrote a little whilst sitting at Taverna Porto Antico (see below photo), because I showed the blog to Mihalis, the very nice man who showed us to our table and took our order for what turned out to be a delicious lunch of fried sliced aubergines, skordalia, lettuce salad, chips (yea, well, alright - but they were home-made) and Haloumi (I know, it's from Cyprus, but it's fast becoming adopted by the Greeks, great eh!). We helped it on its way with some chilled Retsina and fresh plain yellow bread - none of that commercial garlic-bread rubbish!! 

When we'd finished they brought us a plate with a slice of chocolate pudding and two slices of moist walnut cake and a dollop of vanilla ice cream - on the house. So I ordered an Elleniko to accompany it. "Teleio! [perfect!]" 

To imagine a better location for a taverna would be difficult and we resolved to make the effort next year to come here for the sunset, since it's on the right side of the island and they make a thing about their wonderful sunsets. They'll be closing next week, but will re-open in March. Considering it's the last week of the season we couldn't believe how busy it was on a Monday afternoon.

Just before I close what's turned into a bit of a rambling epic (sorry 'bout that folks), which all started because I'd seen red at that irresponsible comment on the Lonely Planet Forum;  I want to return to the Old Town, since we'd set about wandering through it over the weekend in search of a picturesque little square where we'd once driven our car on a dark winter's night not long after we'd first moved here. We'd gone out for a drink with our friends and they'd told us to follow them. We hadn't realized when they'd said that, that it would involve driving into the old town and getting the car round some seriously tight and narrow corners, but we were rewarded when we arrived here...

It could even be France, couldn't it? We walked back here during the evening too, to be rewarded with the sight of these tables being dressed with tea lights in lanterns and looking impossibly inviting.

Just around the corner are the tavernas Odyssey and Romeo, both of which are set in a superb little corner of the town away from the main thoroughfares. See the next two photos.

If Rhodes is to be avoided because it's ruined by mass tourism, then perhaps we don't want the kind of person who thinks that here anyway. The kind who make judgements based on insufficient research and experience will always draw the wrong conclusions, won't they.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

You're Having a Laugh...

On the Greek TV news the other night, they were interviewing people in the street and asking them if they knew any jokes about the current financial crisis and the austerity measures, trying to find out if people are able to see the funny side. Here are a couple of jokes from Joe (or should that be Spiro?) Public...

A Man wakes up in the middle of the night to see a shadowy figure in his room, going through the cupboards and drawers. The man is shocked, turns on the bedside lamp and asks the burglar:

"What are you looking for?"
The intruder replies, "Money!"
To which the householder replies, "Hold on, I'll join you!"

What's the difference between a Pizza and a Greek worker? The pizza can feed a family of four.

Just had an enjoyable evening at the poolside bar at the Summer Memories Apartments in Pefkos with our good friend Bob Potts. Bob lives in Cumbria and was telling us what a wet summer it has been. Now 82 and still most certainly vital, Bob has been visiting Pefkos since 1993 and is well know to a lot of the locals. Whilst here, he usually takes a trip on Gianni's Glass Bottom Boat.  Quite often while aboard he sits right behind Gianni as he drives and carries on a conversation with him. This past week, during one such conversation, Giannis asked Bob why he keeps coming back, to which Bob replied, quick as a flash...

"I like to support the Greek economy!"

Straight away Giannis whipped out a cold beer, handed it to Bob and announced to the other passengers, "That's for his support of the Greek economy!"