Friday, 30 March 2012

Proof of Purchase

We've been to see an accountant. Seems that if you've purchased a car out here you have to complete a tax return every year, regardless of whether you're actually earning any money or not. It's the law. We only found this out by accident in conversation with another couple quite recently. They told us that every year their accountant prepares their largely empty Tax Return, calls them into the office to sign it, relieves them of about €40 for the privilege and submits the entirely unnecessary document to the government. Seems that we ought to have been enjoying the same thrilling experience for the past 6.5 years. Oops is the word that springs to mind. It doesn't bear thinking about how much paperwork the Greek civil service processes annually, at the end of which there is precisely nil income. All that expense for no return. Why is this country in a pickle, any ideas?

So we marched into the office of a bloke who a friend had recommended and put the situation to him. His response wasn't encouraging.

"You'll probably have to pay a fine for each year that you haven't submitted a return," he told us. "Ignorance is no excuse I'm afraid. It's usually around €60 for each return which you've missed." We're talking about six, going on seven years here folks. Maybe the word "oops" was understating things, eh?

The accountant listed for us all the various bits of paper which we'd need to pass to him in order for him to complete six identical returns, including the receipt for the purchase of the car, or a "certified" copy of it. We'd bought the car in November of 2005. You can't forget buying your first used car in Greece, always assuming you buy it legally that is, which we did, of course!

We'd bought it from a nice bloke who runs a small car hire business and - let's get one thing straight here - he sold us a very good car. At the time it was five years old and the price of €3000 was very fair. It was a five-door (well, funnily enough, still is) Suzuki Swift with a one litre engine. The vendor told us (we already knew him through John and Wendy before having made the move out here) that he wouldn't sell us a pig in a poke, or a lemon, a shed, or whatever is the Greek equivalent of all those things. He knew better than to do that because not only did he stand to lose all our referred business, but that of John and Wendy too, which was a lot of business for any single season. After all, they're here four or five times during a summer and usually bring along with them a son or two and assorted other relatives, all of whom also need a car for the duration. In fact, such a good customer is John that our vendor actually fitted a tow-bar at his own expense to one of his smaller 4x4's so that John could tow the jet-RIB whilst he's over here.

Time has born out the wisdom of our purchase. Our three cylinder, one litre Swift still doesn't burn a single drop of oil and it's now in its twelfth year. But I'm getting a bit tangent-like here, sorry. 

To return to the story. Buying a car in the UK, what do you do? You sign the bit at the bottom of the Registration Document and your vendor sends it off to DVLC Swansea. days later you receive the new document in your name through the post, right? It's not quite like that here.

If you're going to do it right, you and the vendor must present yourselves at the KTEO office, which is also a testing station for the roadworthiness test which we Brits euphemistically still call the MOT don't we? Once there, the pair of you go on a journey from desk to desk on two different floors of the building. At each desk different bits of paper are filled in, signed, rubber stamped (oh yes, a Greek civil servant would feel that they weren't doing the job if they couldn't bring one of those down with a thump every time they're face to face with a member of the public) and handed back so that you can carry it to the next desk.

Of course, at each desk there's probably already a couple of pairs of vendors/purchasers queuing up in front of you. Patience is a virtue. Aaaaaaaaaargh!! Now I feel better.

When you and your partner for the morning reach the front of the queue, the phone will doubtless ring and the person sitting before you will thrust the palm of his or her hand at you in a gesture which says, "I'm on the phone here. Wait until I've told my wife/girlfriend/best mate what time I'll be home/at the bar/the latest goss* before I deal with you." (*delete as appropriate)

Once you've successfully negotiated all the required stages and visited all the necessary desks, you can finally walk away with your registration document. In my case, It was at this juncture that I counted out the readies and handed them to my vendor, Makis, whilst we stood in a corridor before departing the building and going our separate ways. To be fair to Makis (Name changed!), he'd done it all correctly and I was now the totally legal owner of the car. But it doesn't end there, oh no. There's also a Government tax to be paid which requires that you take one of the bits of paper which you've been handed into a branch of the National Bank of Greece, where you'll tear off a ticket and wait in line for a "teller" to relieve you of the said tax, which is a three figure sum, by the way. Makis, bless him, had already paid over half of the sum I was due to hand over, so he'd given me a receipt to show that this portion of the tax was paid and I was only to pay the balance. To get one thing totally clear, he didn't diddle me in anyway and was totally transparent about the whole process. In fact, he'd even promised me that, were I have any kind of problem with the car during the first year of ownership, I only had to call him and he'd sort it at his own expense. He was true to his word here too, but that's another tale.

So anyway, the accountant had told me that I'd need to provide him with proof of the purchase of the car. He asked, "Do you have the receipt?" Now, to be honest, I couldn't ever remember Makis giving me one, but I promised the accountant that I'd search through my "car" file at home, because if I ever did have a receipt, then that's where it would be. There's no way I'd have thrown it away if I actually had received one, but, as I mentioned, I couldn't remember having done so.

Once back at home I searched the file as I'd promised to do and found no receipt. The better half was convince that I must have lost it, but I was quite sure that it would have been in the file if I'd ever had it, which I was now certain I hadn't. What to do now was the problem, since it could cause quite some difficulty with the tax return for the first year we'd resided on Rhodes.

"I know!" I shouted, in my best "Eureka" voice, "I'll call Makis and ask him if he's got an original from which he can supply me a copy. He's bound to have one as it was a business transaction, as he was selling me one of his old hire cars."

So I called Makis and explained the situation. Did he have a copy still on file and could he send me one? …which the accountant had also explained would need to bear his signature and a brief statement to the effect that it was genuine. Good old Greek bureaucracy. Anyway, Makis assured me that, yes, he did have an original in his file and he'd be happy to send me a certified copy in the mail, since it would be quicker than us going up to town to meet him. A couple of days later I called Athanasia at the Agapitos Taverna and she assured me that a letter had indeed arrived. Great, I told her I'd be up directly, which I was.

How much did I mention I'd paid for the car? That's right, €3000. Once home, I tore open the envelope and pulled out what was evidently a photocopy of the original receipt for the purchase, duly "rubber-stamped" with Makis's business details and signed and dated by the man himself. Always comes through, does Makis. Reading from the top down I found that indeed all the details were there, the description of the car, my address details and AFM (Greek Tax Number), and, in the right hand column, the price received for the sale. €1500. Ahem.

Now I was sure I'd been right about never having received a copy of the bill of sale at the time, in October 2005. I know I'd have remembered the slight discrepancy over the amount paid! Fortunately it wasn't going to make any difference to our tax returns, as long as there was evidence of the legal purchase of the vehicle.

Aaah, the quaint old ways of the Greeks.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

March Moods of Gennadi

The car went in for a service on Wednesday March 21st. Stergo at South Rhodes Auto Services at Gennadi was doing the job. Rather than accept his offer to drive me home, I opted to let him get on with the job, because a 15 minute walk up through the village would take me to the home of a couple of friends, Ray and Viv, where I was sure to receive a warm welcome and - if my luck was in - a beer. After a frappe and a read of the local Rodiaki newspaper in the square to ensure that my arrival at their house wouldn't be too early, I wended my way along a circuitous route through the village and, as always, the camera was attached to my belt in its fab new case, so I whipped it out at random as I walked. The results are below...

I love this doorway below. Makes me smile as I did at one time for a brief spell work as a postman many years ago in the UK (well, at least there is a 9 in both numbers!!)...

The one below, taken well above the village proper, looks northward along the coast to Kiotari and Pefkos in the distance across the bay...

Here's another wild flower that's in bloom at this time of the year. Didn't pass any of these whilst taking pics for the post about "Botany". They grow to about waist height...

Below is a view of the village of Asklipio, with its castle visible on the skyline above the village. (clicking on it as usual will show a larger view) Contrary to some opinions, there's no evidence that it was built by the Knights. It was rather a defense for several local villages against pirate raids several centuries ago...

The weather was gorgeous, with very light winds, as it has been now for a week or more. In fact it's set fair for the foreseeable future at the moment. Maybe it'll settle early this year, since last year we had some quite late rains, well into May in fact.

The temperature was around 24ºC at 10.00am and rose to 26ºC by about mid-afternoon. If only we could keep these temperatures throughout the summer!

Reaching the home of my friends, I was indeed rewarded with a cool beer and a chat on their very private terrace, which looks out over their substantial garden, across the rooftops of the village and out to sea. When I finally got back to the garage, the car was ready and Stergo told me that there were no major problems, just a perished short length of fuel pipe, which, had it ruptured and begun jetting neat fuel on to the exhaust, would have soon seen our trusty Suzuki barbecued in short order. Just as well we opted to do the service a month earlier this year!!!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Drama at the Doctor's

Our friend Brenda went to the doctor's the other day. Much as in the UK, you have to sit in the waiting area, wondering what you're going to catch while you're there. Unlike in the UK though, there appears to be an unwritten rule here that you use your manners to keep your place in the queue and, when you judge that it's your turn, based upon how many days, sorry, hours, sorry…minutes you've been in the queue, you get up and go in through the Doctor's door when it's your turn. Hopefully, everyone will observe this unwritten rule of etiquette. The receptionist sits in the corner of the Doctor's consulting room and simply announces over a rudimentary sound system linked to a loudspeaker in the waiting room that the next person in the queue may now go in when the doctor is ready.

Brenda couldn't help noticing that there was an elderly gentleman sitting to her right who had two walking sticks propped up either side of his chair. Since he'd already been there when she'd come in, she knew that he would be due to go in to see the doctor before her. Sadly, she noticed that, each time the receptionist's voice crackled over the speaker for the next patient to go in, by the time the old chap had struggled rather shakily to his feet, someone much more spritely than he would have high-tailed it into the doc's room before him, leading him to adopt a rather resolute air, while he slowly lowered himself back into his seat for the umpteenth time.

The more of this she witnessed, the more annoyed she began to get. Whilst she was telling us this story over a coffee in her lounge the other day, I agreed that if there's one thing the Greeks really don't like to do, it's queue. Of course, we Brits do it for a living don't we. We queue for Britain. We wrote the book on "how to queue with stoicism". We told Brenda about the many times we'd waited on a quayside to catch a ferry, all the while wondering why we appeared to be the only ones waiting on that particular day, only to find that the instant the ferry approached the quayside, hundreds of people of all shapes and sizes, some carrying cages containing live chickens and others carrying laptops, would appear as if by magic, seemingly out of nowhere, and jostle us to the rear of the crowd while they prepared to surge aboard once the crew signalled the OK.

Brenda's ire at how the other patients were evidently showing a complete lack of human compassion for this elderly man who quite obviously wasn't able to move quickly enough was piqued to a crescendo when a quite fit-looking man, with the bearing of someone who thinks that he's rather more important than anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in his near vicinity, swept into the waiting room. Talking almost incessantly into his mobile phone he sat forward on his seat, as if poised for a coup de queue, as it were.

Sure enough, no sooner had the receptionist's voice begun to announce that the next patient was welcome to approach the door to the Doctor's consulting room, when this most recent arrival arose and made as if he was going to get in next and woe betide anyone who stared him out or attempted to beat him to it. Brenda, usually not the type to make a scene in a public place, snapped. She piped up in English and what little Greek she could muster that she was thoroughly disgusted at the man's behaviour and that this poor elderly man, who'd been struggling to his feet and sitting down again for probably a couple of hours by now, was going in next and if anyone had a problem with that they'd have her to reckon with. She didn't even touch on the fact that she too had been there for quite some time by now.

Shamed, but evidently most put out by her boldness, the blustery "Mr. Important" backed down as the receptionist emerged to find out why there was a delay and saw Brenda now assisting at his elbows the man with the two sticks while he shuffled towards the Doctor's door. Once the old gent was safely inside and doubtless pouring out his woes to the Doctor, Brenda exchanged a couple of icy glances with the offender, before ruminating on what she'd done and finally deciding that perhaps she's been a little hasty. After all, perhaps this man really was pushed for time and had experienced a delay beyond his control during his journey to the Doctor's surgery this morning. Perhaps there were other extenuating circumstances about which she was quite ignorant.

She made a decision. She'd attempt to pour oil on trouble waters and give up her own place to the man with whom she'd had the "incident". "After all," she concluded, "I wasn't in any particular hurry. I had time; whereas just maybe this man did have some pressing matters bearing down on him on this particular day." She told us that she was preparing to bid him go in ahead of her and hopefully restore peaceful relations when the old guy with the sticks emerged from the door of the Doctor's room, Doctor at his side, and - exhibiting a huge grin - pointed one of his sticks at Brenda and said to the Doctor, "She's next!! She's the one who stood up for me!!"

"What could I do?" continued Brenda, "I surrendered to my fate and the burning hatred of my adversary and accepted the fruits of my earlier kindness with a degree of resolution!"

Sunday, 18 March 2012

A Bit of Botany For the Buffs Out There

Many years ago, when we used to come to Greece during May-June or September for the usual infusion of sunshine and long taverna evenings, my ex-brother-in-law's dad Don, who was a keen naturalist and used to produce his own honey at his home in the Quantocks, used to come to Greece (usually Samos) during the month of April for a walking holiday. On his return he would always enthuse about the wild flowers on a Greek island's hillsides during springtime, at a time when I'd never seen for myself what he meant.

Well, having now lived here for well over six years; yesterday morning, which was a truly wonderful bright blue vividly sunlit warm March morning, I had occasion to stroll up the hillside to our neighbours' house to check on their plants while they're away and - as I climbed the hill - I thought of Don. This year the gorse is spectacular, better and brighter than I can ever remember, and its wonderfully delicious scent creeps into your nostrils as you pass and makes you feel euphoric with the sense of being alive on such a day when the senses are heightened by the natural world all around you. Purely as a layman, I wonder whether this part of Europe is perhaps the limit of the gorse's preferred territory. As the first swallows swooped above me I thought that the much colder winter than normal which we've experienced this past few months may be the reason for the gorse's ebullience this year. Perhaps it prefers the colder climes and has responded by putting on its best show for years. As I say, I'm only a layman in botanical terms, but it seems that way to me.

But the gorse, then the abundance of tiny and not-so-tiny blooms all around, nudged me to go get my camera and go out on a snapping expedition. The results are below. I've numbered the photos and named the species in some cases. The others I confess to ignorance about and would invite the reader to perhaps put me out of my misery by telling me the names of the main species in their respective photos.

I hope you like them...

(To get a really good look, click on any image. Then, when the image has opened, right click on in and select "View Image". The next version can be enlarged further, as your mouse should change into a tiny magnifying glass with a + sign in it)

1. The Gorse, of course!

2. ?

 3. Viper's Bugloss maybe?
4. Notice the little blue flower too. What else is there?
5. The first Margaritas which, by the end of April, will create the cheesecake effect across the hillsides in their sheer abundance
6. Daisy, Stitchwort? something else perhaps...

7. Common Vetch. Not very common though this far south. Up North on the island of Thassos it grows in abundance, due to the shorter Summer, more plentiful rainfall and cooler Spring. 

8. Wild Lavatera, or Mallow. Lots along the roadsides here. It flowers well into the summer too if you watch out for it.

9. Piece of cake this one...

10. Oxalis pes-caprae, the one the children pick to suck the stems, which taste of lemon.

11. Another type of Poppy, dunno the exact name though...

12. Rock Roses

13. Another type of Rock Rose

14. Nice colour, but what's its name?

15. A shrub this one, the flowers of which are very small and I don't think they're out completely yet...

16. French Lavender. The bumble bees just love it and their buzz here was almost deafening. You can pick one out toward the right of the picture, though there are loads more in there somewhere...

18. No idea what this is called, it grows very low across the ground...

19. Very pretty tiny blue flowers on this. Any ideas?
20. The Wild Anemones come out first during December, but only the white, purple and blue ones. We have to wait until February for these darlings to burst into flower, but when they do...

And finally, not a flower at all, but the silk nests which the caterpillars weave in the fir trees at this time of year. The caterpillars eat their way along the branches, then go off in search of a wall to stick to whilst they turn into a chrysalis, from which they'll emerge as Gypsy Moths. It was from these babies that I got my very painful rash a few years ago, when they were so abundant it was scary. The hairs of the caterpillars can cause an allergic reaction on the skin. Something to do with histamines or whatever. Just hope you don't ever suffer from it. It's not fun!!!
Well, there you go. As hopefully illustrated above, the colour on a Southern Aegean hillside during spring is a wonder to behold and it's a shame more visitors don't come on bespoke holidays to stroll the hillsides and enjoy these things really.

Please do comment if you have any names for me!!!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Creative Marketing

Aha!! Now I think I know where the expression "getting a bit fruity" comes from...

Mind you, maybe I misjudge the man. Perhaps he really thinks that's how you spell "sacks" and he's telling punters that they can't just whip a few plastic bags without buying any of his merchandise. After all, the Greeks do use the word "sakoula" to describe a plastic shopping bag.

After all, I always used to think that "sex" was what posh people had their coal delivered in: "You may empty the sex into that receptacle over there my man, thenkeeouu!" 
(Lady Penelope voice required for that to work!)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

The Pelican's Nest

This is George. He's looking quite laid back isn't he. And why shouldn't he? After all, as he'd just remarked when this photo was taken, around 3.00pm on Sunday 4th March, "Onassis himself couldn't have done this could he? He'd have had 15 aides all around him and all sorts of security and stuff. But look..." he gestured to the view, newly clarified after he'd rolled up one of the polythene screens which protects his taverna from the worst of the winter's weather, "what more could I need? I look at this view almost every day of my life. I like to cook and I can do it in my own taverna."

George's taverna is The Pelican's Nest on the front at Kiotari. Here you'll find just a small clutch of tavernas, each with a distinctive character, plus one very pleasant bar which also serves snacks and basic meals. The tavernas are the Paralia, The La Strada, Stefano's and the Pelican's Nest. 

It's odd really, but it's taken us six and a half years to finally visit George's establishment. No scientific reason, just, well, that's how it is. What finally swung it for us was walking past on Friday January 27th, in bright sunshine but braving a chilly wind. Outside was an "A" board announcing to nobody, since the area was quite devoid of humans, that the Pelican's Nest was now open every day for coffees and snacks during wintertime. Since it was around 11.30am, coffee time, we ascended the steps, entered the temporary glass-panelled wooden door (which disappears during the summer season, as do the polythene screens) and mooched around looking for signs of life. Inside it was sweltering, since the bright sunshine which was pouring through the screens had created the usual greenhouse effect. Whilst we unwrapped scarves and unbuttoned coats, I called out "Kaneis etho [anybody about]"? 

No answer, came the stern reply. Just as we were beginning to think that this was going to be a coffee-deprivation moment, George entered the door, flicking a cigarette end from his fingers and called a "kali mera sas!" Aha! Now we were in business. Had we been sitting outside in the rather cooler than normal temperatures which we've been experiencing this winter, it would have been hot coffee or even hot chocolate, but here in the artificial warmth of the Pelican's Nest's terrace, gazing out across the beach below to the deep blue sea and cloudless sky, it had to be a couple of frappes, which we ordered. George nipped behind the bar to oblige and was soon sitting with us and having a chat.

Since we didn't really know him, apart from having talked over our garden gate some time back when he was touring the lanes in his car looking for an errant dog which had run off, we apologised that we'd lived here all this time and so far not been in to try his fare. He wasn't bothered at all. "You're here now," he said, "and I'm sure you'll drop in one day and try my cooking, eh?" Of course, we assured him, we certainly would, especially as he told us that every Sunday afternoon the place was usually packed to capacity for Sunday lunch, whilst he also hired two musicians to provide some ethnic accompaniment to their meals.

"You mean I might be able to dance?" asked my now eager wife.

"If it takes your fancy, sure!" replied our host. The conversation continued and we covered a lot of topics. Turns out that George is an Asklipiot and so we talked about the history of the village where we collect our mail. There are many villages all throughout the country with this name, apparently. It comes from the god Asclepius who, as the Greek legends would have it, was the son of the Olympian god Apollo and the beautiful mortal Coronis and one of the youngest gods in Greek Mythology. According to the ancient Greek belief, Asclepius was the personification of the ideal physician, alleviating mortals from their pains. Interestingly, I remarked that I'd read somewhere that the villagers there were noted for their longevity when compared to the rest of the island. 

"There's a good reason for that," replied George, "Due to it's position on the high hillside it gets the sun all day long, which is better for recuperating invalids, plus plant growth. I'm a firm believer in the use of plants to help heal maladies." Now he really had Yvonne-Maria's attention, since she also is a devoted fan of herbalism as, I ought to add, am I. He continued: "In fact, many years ago there was a woman herbalist in Asklipio who was the village doctor. She used to treat all the villagers and people from miles around, using her knowledge of plants and their healing properties.
God didn't waste his efforts making the plants, every one has its purpose; that's what I believe,"
he said. We nodded our agreement.
We went on to the related subject of the prevailing wind direction, which also creates ideal air conditions up at the village, due to its aspect. George continued with his lesson, "You know," he said, "The wind here is always in west or north-west. Only about fifteen days a year does it blow from the south, which is usually when it brings the rains. The village is famous for the quality of its fruit and vegetables as the conditions up there are ideal." 

Something else which we talked about was the Greek "diaspora", or dispersion of Greeks away from their homeland. Having covered the topic of every major city worldwide having its Greek contingent, he told us that Asklipio has a population of around 700, but that 700 people from Asklipio also live in Brisbane, Australia, the same number as in the village itself! There are TWO Asklipios! We commented on the fact there are probably also more Greeks worldwide than actually live in Greece too, which he agreed was probably quite true.

So, how did George come to have his taverna-ouzerie here in Kiotari. It's a long story, but 38 year-old George told us that he'd been born in Montreal of Asklipian parents, who'd moved back here when he was 5 years old.  He now said he wouldn't want to be anywhere else. "You can keep your cities and fast lifestyles and all the gadgets," he remarked, before making the reference to Aristotle Onassis which I opened with above. Time had moved on and so we arose and began wrapping ourselves up for the 20 minute walk home. Promising that we'd return one Sunday soon to sample the food and atmosphere, we offered to pay for our coffees.

"They're on me." He replied, and wouldn't be persuaded otherwise.

And so, eventually, on Sunday March 4th, we found the time in our busy schedule to walk down to the Pelican's Nest for a spot of lunch. This was more like it. The sky was once again cloudless and the thermometer was showing 18ºC when we left the house at around 12.30pm. Arriving at the taverna, we were somewhat disconcerted to find it as empty as it had been on that Friday morning some weeks before. Appearing once again as he had the last time, but this time accompanied by a couple of mates, he apologised and told us that now and again they go camping in a group up in the hills near Laerma and that we'd chosen the wrong weekend to come. They'd just that minute arrived back from such a two-night sojourn under canvas. "Never mind," we said, "can you do us some lunch anyway? A vegetarian Meze would suit us fine." Once he'd taken our order for aubergines, chick pea fritters (revitho'keftethes) and a lettuce salad, maybe some baked cheese and some patates tiganites, an Amstel for me and a tonic for the better half (she's sooo virtuous sometimes, that girl) he retreated to the nearby kitchen to conjure up the meal. Returning shortly with the drinks he apologised again. This time for the fact that he'd had a spot of freezer trouble and that some of the vegetables weren't going to be "serviceable." Would it be all right, he asked, if he just knocked up whatever he could and we go with that? Knowing from the tripadvisor website that his cuisine ought to be good, we were happy to agree.

Sitting there taking in the view, albeit still through the polythene screens, we soon lapsed into "where else would we want to be? mode...

Once various plates started arriving he asked us how we'd like the bread prepared. It was delicious village bread, which comes in those fairly flat, round loaves. He suggested he lightly toast it on one side, which he did using the log fire, which was burning somewhat unnecessarily, since it was a warm day. All the same, it lent a very cozy feel to the place. It's quite ingenious too, since the flue is removable for the summer and the log basket is on wheels. So he just rolls it out of the way when it's not needed. Here's our bread being prepared below...

Since lettuce was off, we ended up with a fairly traditional Horiatiki (Greek salad), which was a hit anyway because it also contained sliced fresh carrots and spring onions. Note the fried potatoes (below) too. These were simply sliced, fried in olive oil and then herbs and grated Parmesan sprinkled liberally on top. It would have been criminal to call them chips!! George asked if there was anything else we wanted, so I asked if he had any Kalamari, which he replied that he did. Did I want it fried or barbecued? I plumped for the barbecue option, and so the fresh pieces of squid were soon cooking in the same location where the toasted bread had been moments earlier.

By the time we were wiping our plates clean and loosening our belts, he asked us if we were warm, to which we replied that we were. So he rolled up the central polythene screen to let some air through the place. That was when he chose to sit down beside us and have another chat. He's still single at 38; a not unusual situation for a Greek bloke, least not in the more rural areas. The tendency still is for the guys to do everything that they want to do, play the field, see the world, perform their National Service (which may be either military or civil nowadays) before reaching their mid thirties, then finding a cute young twenty-something girl, marrying her and starting a family. We know many couples where the husband is fifteen years older than his wife, it's common. In some ways it makes a bit of sense, since by that time of life he stands a better chance of having established his way of earning a crust and therefore is better able to support his wife and the kids which will certainly come along in short order.

Feeling well sated and slightly soporific, we gazed out at the beautiful vista which the terrace affords its occupants and agreed that he had a persuasive point about not wanting anything else in life. Of all the places we've visited in this country, and it's many, we can think of nowhere else which has a better stretch of coastline near which one could wish to settle and live. We remarked on the fact that this is our favourite time of year. The temperatures resemble those of a high summer day in the UK and the light is wonderfully clear. "These are like the Halcyon days," he replied; which denoted a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful. It was hard to disagree.

As a fisherman sorted his nets (he's in the picture below), before setting out to a point a few hundred metres from the shore, where he began playing them out from the stern of his little launch, in expectancy of a later catch, we reluctantly asked George for his bill.

"What did you have?" He asked. It was quite like the old days, when the taverna owner would always do it this way, before scribbling a few notes on the paper table cloth and rounding it down. We listed from memory all the dishes and drinks which we'd enjoyed and he furrowed his brow as he totted up the damage.

"Oh, I don't know. How does €29 sound?" He asked. No problems, we threw a few notes his way and rose to begin our short walk home, where a cup of Earl Grey and a nap was not in any serious doubt.
Just before we finally said our goodbyes, he promised that the next time we came we'd surely find the musicians in full swing and a few more clients in attendance. Next time, he promised, he'd have the usual range of fare on offer. 

I for one hadn't really noticed anything lacking anyway.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

On Old Italian Buildings and Stuff

This is not so much a regular post as - in response to a few requests - an attempt to provide some info about a few places which the visitor to Rhodes may like to go and see...

I've made reference a number of times to the beautiful drive from Kolymbia on the East coast, up past Epta Piges and over to Fanes on the West, following the road up through the forests, mountains and plains which winds through such villages as Arhipoli, Eleoussa and Dimylia, before hitting the East coast road just South East of Soroni. Taking a left here brings you immediately to Fanes and then heads down towards Ancient Kamiros and Kamiros Skala, from where the smaller ferries go regularly to Halki.

Both Arhipoli and Eleoussa have their own peculiar charms. Arhipoli has a tiny but very appealing centre, where a bar and a taverna sit beside each-other just as the road turns ever so slightly and heads downhill, out of the village and on towards Eleoussa.

At Eleoussa there's actually a one-way system through the village, owing to the narrowness of the road in places, plus the tightness of some of the corners, which makes it difficult for some vehicles to get around them. Much of the village is actually in a pine wood and at certain times of the year the local authority sends men to gather up the pine needles that all but bury the road which passes between the trees. It's due to the huge trees that this village can still be a pleasant place to stroll around during the oppressive heat of the high season in July and August.

What's really interesting here is the old Italian buildings, still at present largely derelict, but boasting some superb architectural features. Built between the two world wars originally as a sanatorium, they now stand eerily vacant, except for one which, oddly enough for such a small village up in the mountains, contains a modest gymnasium, the running machines of which can be seen through the windows as one passes. I should say that opinions do vary as to the purpose of these buildings. One authority gives evidence that they were in fact intended as an agricultural colony. Either way, they're worth inspecting.

Some good web pages which give a modest amount of information, but some excellent photos of Eleoussa are:

Italian aqueduct photo:

The Aqueduct referred to above is a very interesting and cooling place to be, as it's connected to a circular pool, with a modest fountain in the middle, which offers a little respite on a hot day. There are fish in the water, called Gizani, a freshwater species endemic to Rhodes and nowadays endangered. This web site is quite interesting if you want to know more:

A not particularly professional-looking web site, which nevertheless offers some useful info and photos of Eleoussa is:
The old (14th century) Agios Nikolaos Foundouki church is name after hazel nuts (foundouki) since the hillside was once said to have been covered in hazelnut trees.

Of course, the most famous old Italian building isn't one of the imposing civic edifices which grace Mandraki in Rhodes Town, but rather the so-called "Mussolini's House" at Profitis Ilias. A really good video of a look round this most fascinating place, plus some info about it, is here:

A view across to Turkey from the upstairs inside the house It's hard, though, to make out the Turkish coast in this one, as it was a heat-hazy day. There are also some fascinating hidden stairways easily explored here, which were built to enable servants to get from the kitchen downstairs (which is huge) up to the stately lounge where this picture was taken, plus to the bedrooms so that residents could be served in luxury. The balustrade is rotting and very unsafe. Don't let your kids run around this place without supervision.

It's found by walking steeply up through the pines from the amazing Elafos (Deer, well stag to be precise, as the other building right next to it is the Elafina - doe) Hotel, which looks like it's been airlifted from Bavaria and dropped on to a Rhodean mountainside among the trees. Not only has it a wonderfully quirky Alpine feel to the architecture, but the views across the sea from the hotel's bar and restaurant towards Symi and Turkey are spectacular. Check it out here:

Here's me and the beloved at the Elafos Hotel a couple of Octobers ago

Hope you find some of that lot of interest and perhaps useful for your next visit.

Some more info and photos at Eloussa can be found in this post too.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

A Barbecue to Make Blue Peter Proud

The season was over, the last of the tourists had been coached back to the airport and flown off to Northern climes many and varied. The sun beds were being collected and stacked on the beaches and the roads were instantly more enjoyable to drive along, with all the brightly-coloured hire cars being parked up for another winter. It was the first week of November 2011, a week when the 5th of the month fell on a Saturday.

My wife had spent the summer season working part-time for a nice couple who live in Psaltos Bay; the hubby Alex is Greek and his wife "Boo" is English. Yvonne-Maria had cleaned some villas for them and now the season was over they'd decided to hold a Barbecue and invite the workers (which number precisely two, my wife and her friend Jess), plus a few assorted neighbours to an al fresco soiree in their ample sized garden, just a few hundred yards up the hill from the beach. It was a "thank-you for your hard work" to the girls and a chance to get to know a few more people.

Not wishing to turn up empty-handed, my wife knocked up a dish to take with us and we grabbed a couple of bottles of wine en route, before turning up as the sun was disappearing behind the mountain, lengthening the shadows and bringing to a close a warm day on which we'd been for a swim on the beach at Kiotari to which we can walk from home and often do.

Entering our friends' garden to be greeted by their scrubbing brush of a dog, all wagging tail and welcoming yap, we glanced along the garden toward the pile of logs which would be burning brightly and cooking the fare on offer for the guests in just a while. We entered the house and so began the introductions. There was a very nice couple, owners of one of the houses which the girls cleaned, who were spending some warm late summer days at their villa, with a view to shortening the British winter just a tad, before jetting back to the UK for the last time in the year. Also, there were the new nextdoor neighbours of our hosts, together with their grown-up daughter, still feeling their Rhodean feet having only moved in a few days before. There was Jess and her man Adonis with their nine-year-old daughter Livvy, plus a few others who we talked to on and off as the evening progressed, but couldn't hope to remember much about  - introduction overkill having kicked in!

After a pleasant half-hour or so chatting in the kitchen, we gradually moved out into the garden, where Alex was busy lighting the fire, which consisted of several huge logs which bore the promise of burning for hours, along with some smaller brush which was serving as kindling material. before long a bright blaze was turning all our faces orange as we sat, wine or beer in hand in bonhomie all around the pyre, glad of its warmth, even though the evening wasn't particularly cold. But with the night time sky ever deepening in hue overhead and the stars pinpricking the canopy like diamonds on a bolt of black silk, it was one of those times when you just need some flames as a focal point around which the company can nestle in complete comfort to induce that wonderful torpor that indicates that you're truly relaxed.

Sitting with Adonis and musing over the latest events in the unfolding saga of Greece's economic woes, as well as covering our ruminations on how the season had gone, I found myself wondering how Alex was going to do the barbecuing for those who were going to be eating the meat. A table had been set on the uneven ground and loaded with all kinds of appealing stuff. There were bowls of olives, huge bowls of different kinds of salad, ranging from the traditional Greek salad, topped with crumbled Feta cheese to pasta salads with tuna and mayo. There was a plentiful supply of still warm bread and pans of home-made patates tiganites (chips, folks! [fries if you're in America]). There were the required stacks of plates, mugs holding cutlery, plus serviettes in ample supply. The beer and wine was in no danger of running out when Alex disappeared around the other side of the house and reappeared within seconds wheeling a cement-encrusted wheelbarrow, within which was a wooden-handled spade and a metal barbecue grill.

I watched, fascinated, as he set the wheelbarrow a few feet from both the table and the bonfire, fished the metal grill out of the wheelbarrow, set it to one side and took hold of the garden spade. Approaching the now well-established fire, he shoved the spade deep into its heart and withdrew it in a shower of sparks, laden with hot glowing embers, which he then shot into the wheelbarrow. After having done this a couple of times, he set the spade down, picked up the grill and dropped it across the top of the wheelbarrow. Hey presto! A barbecue! Blue Peter couldn't have done better. Sweeping the cooking foil from the top of a couple of dishes laden with chops, steaks and all sorts of other stuff to keep the carnivores among us happy, he began laying the offerings all across the top of the grill and soon the smoke and odour of roasting meat was floating across the garden. Someone then told us that they had a few fish set aside especially to whack on there too for Yvonne-Maria and I. How thoughtful.

Just a little later and all could be seen perched with plates on laps, busily setting to work removing their contents and shoving it down eager and hungry throats. For a few minutes the conversation lagged as the serious business of sating hungry stomachs took precedence, but, gradually, as we reached that stage where we might wander over to the table to pick at a few more olives, or a couple of rapidly cooling chips, perhaps to glean the last of one's favourite salad from its decimated bowl, the chat regained momentum and yarns were weaved, experiences shared and friendships formed or deepened.

At some point Boo produced an ancient radio/CD player with the intention of getting a few of us up on our feet to dance. As is par for the course in Greece, we fiddled with the blessed thing for ages before deciding that the CD player wasn't working any more and so I was delegated to fish through the FM airwaves in search of some "Laika" music to which we might be able to dance. Once or twice I succeeded and few got up and formed a line and embarrassing attempts at a few Greek dances were made. They didn't come to much, but it didn't really matter.

All together it was a magical soiree. By about eleven thirty some had drifted away, having done the rounds of "goodnights, nice to have seen/met yous" and a few of us remained, mesmerised by the still glowing logs which were the focal point in the ring of chums. The conversation reached the confidential stage, where knots of just two or three talked in suppressed whispers, but all felt sublimely content.

I remember glancing around, my face now warmed to a pink glow by several hours exposure to a log fire in close proximity, then upward at the awesome Greek night sky and thinking - is there really anything else one could ask for of an evening? Reluctantly we finished our last drinks and arose to bid goodnight to our hosts, to Jess and Adonis, their daughter Livvy now draped across her mother's lap in an attempt to get comfy enough to drop off, and one or two others who'd stayed the course.

Promises were made to get together over the winter months, and we were soon in our little car, cruising gently home under a sky in which the Milky Way was so clear you could see it as a bright dusty trail running from horizon to horizon. Orion was up there poised as ever and the Great Bear showed us how to locate the North star.

Such nights bless our lives now and again. It's good to savour them. Wonder if Alex has a Blue Peter badge.