Tuesday, 31 July 2012

That Comfy Old Pair of Slippers

Stavros Bar - Hidden away at the top of the old town
A lot of people tell me, when I ask them if they'd come back to Rhodes, that there are just too many places to see in the world. In fact, if you just visited a different Greek island each year, only counting the inhabited ones that is, you'd be arriving on your last one, iSuitcase in hand in the year 2239!

So I can see where they're coming from, yes. But, how often have you gone somewhere and found that it took you most of the first week to get your bearings, find your way around, discover the best bakery, your favourite watering hole, quiet uncrowded beach etc.? Then, just when you're getting nicely chilled out, it's time to return to the airport for the flight home. You with me here?  In fact, if you only had a week, you'd have been definitely going home without having de-stressed sufficiently enough to face another few months at the daily grind, wouldn't you.

Leading the kind of life which I used to lead before moving out here, a single holiday of just a week would have left me feeling deprived and probably even more like a bear with a sore head than had I not gone anywhere at all. So, this is the conundrum isn't it? If you go somewhere new and you don't like it, you go home dissatisfied, yeh? But, if you go somewhere where you've been before and you know you liked the place, with that bar where you became fast friends with the owner, the taverna with the matchless view, the beach where you could stretch out without some other bright spark playing a ghetto blaster or talking into his or her mobile phone so close to you that you could happily take the thing and stick it...

Well, anyway, you know what I'm saying. Now, the ideal situation would be to be able to take more than one break per year. That way you get the best of both worlds and can try somewhere new, whilst also returning to a favourite spot, so that the moment you arrive at the airport it feels like you're pulling on that comfy old pair of slippers. As soon as you get to your room you know exactly where that local store is where you can get fresh melon, peaches, a drop of something interesting to keep in your bedside cabinet for the duration etc. In short, it feels like you've already been there a couple of weeks and so you enter into "wind-down" mode that much quicker. It's almost like coming home.

Having been fortunate enough to have visited a lot of Greek islands, not to mention having whizzed all over the mainland quite extensively too, I know too well that every Greek location has its regulars; those who come back time and time again because they like it so much. But I have to say that Rhodes, and in particular Pefkos and Lindos, seems to have a higher than average returnee rate than most. If you're a regular Grecophile you'll know very well that the people here in this unique country will gladly give you their all. The cynic who thinks that the Greeks are just after your cash really doesn't understand the culture here at all. The only place where I experienced that attitude was Corfu, and only then in parts. This is due to the fact that Corfu has had mass tourism for longer than just about anywhere else in Greece. Thus, some (and only some) of its businessmen are a bit like many you come across in Spain. They see a tourist and what registers in their brain is a walking ATM. But that's very rare still in Greece.

So here I was just a week or so ago, strolling along the moat around the Old Town, something which I'd neglected to do in the seven years we've lived here until now! It really is a pleasant walk, if somewhat sweaty at this time of year. But the irrigation which they carry on makes it green in places when most everywhere else is a dusty yellow... 

If that's the size of their balls, how big must a cue be?
I was on my way to meet Dave Harris, his wife Jo and their son Josh, plus a couple of their friends, for a drink at Stavros' Bar (see top photo), which was also going to be a first visit for me. I'd mentioned Stavros recently in the post "Books and Covers" and promised that I'd say more in due course. Also in that post is a link to their own rather nice little blog. They also have rooms above, which Dave tells me are very competitively priced and extremely well kept. 

Entering the bar I was immediately struck by the similar atmosphere to the Top 3, in the Mandraki area, just up from the Bus Station behind the New Market. There was the predominantly wooden panelling, bar and walls, plastered with all kinds of football memorabilia. Dave tells me that he used to visit the bar way back before any of this "decoration" went up. He's known Stavros and Soula (his wife) for more than two decades. Owing to the fact that the bar is accessed by a conventional door, it doesn't have an open front, which adds to the sense of coolness that you feel when walking in out of the merciless sun. Stavros pretty quickly placed a chilled glass of Mythos before me and I was compelled to imbibe a little, just to show manners of course.

 I was soon immersed in conversation with Dave and co and, among other things, they told me something which bears out the comment I made above regarding the tendency which the Greeks have to give you their all. I heard that, no sooner had Dave and co. entered the bar to greet Stavros for the first time since they were here last year, than he'd insisted that they were all going with him in a couple of car-loads down to his relative's place, the Haraki Bay Hotel, that coming Saturday for a meal. The meal turned out to be a feast, as so often Greek family dining events do. With ever more dishes of barbecued fish and other mouthwatering traditional foods landing in front of these British guests until they were wondering where they were going to put it all.

Now tell me why Stavros and family invited Dave and his little clan along with them. What was there to gain for the Greeks from this? There would have been many and much cheaper ways to "butter the tourists up" in order to retain their loyalty wouldn't there? Sure there would. No, but this is the experience which so many of us have when befriending Greeks whilst here on holiday. I used to think that I experienced such kindnesses because of my wife's Greek connections. I was quite wrong. Once when we stayed in Crete at a small apartment complex (Helios Studios) in the village of Makrigialos, the proprietor, Kyria Despina, used to appear every evening at around 5.30pm and anyone who was still lolling around the pool area would be treated to some homemade treat or other. If not that then some fresh fruit, whatever was in season, produced by her husband's own horticultural toil. We'd made the acquaintance of a couple from the home counties who'd already begun to repeat visit the Helios, largely - they told us - because Despina would say: "I don't view my visitors as guests, rather you are family."

I get the feeling that, wherever else Dave and Jo may go, they'll always be back here on Rhodes to slip into their comfy old pair of slippers. I didn't get the opportunity to meet Stavros' wife Soula, but I reckon that I know exactly what she'd have been like. The number of British tourists who come back to their modest establishment proves it to me.

Incidentally, since I owe Dave a debt of gratitude for propelling me into the world of Kindle publishing, I didn't get the chance to pay it on this occasion. He insisted that my Mythos was on him!


  1. That was a good read John, again! Everyone asks us why we return to Rhodes repeatedly. I generally respond with two answers. The first is the familiar 'because it feels like home' and the second is that every time we go, it's a different island we are seeing.So, in effect, we are going somewhere new each time. We have been visiting for 12 years, twice a year and we still have places to explore and new venues in which to eat and drink. Thanks, in part, to your blog. I have started responding to the question'why don't you try somewhere else?' with 'have you ever thought of flying from a Edinburgh instead of Gatwick? After all, it would make a change to see a different route to the airport'. As for the friendliness and hospitality of the Greek people, I can only assume it is due to the fact that they are still in touch with a basic instinctive need to nurture others, which has gone from our society.
    On another cold,soggy day in Norfolk I am envious of your stroll round the sweltering moat.

  2. Kat Andrews aka ouzopower31 July 2012 at 15:03

    unfortunately doesn't look like we will be putting our feet into our lovely comfy Rhodian slippers, but hopefully next year and thankfully I got your wonderful blogs to keep me in touch, and keep me going :)

  3. John,

    It was great to catch up again last week. Sadly the "Comfy Old Pair of Slippers" are now off with our return home this afternoon. Keep enjoying it all for us until we return!!

    Dave, Jo and Josh

    1. Dave, I'll try and keep the island as you'd expect to find it!!

  4. I am another repeat visitor to Rhodes since first visiting in 1985 and have been returning back to Rhodes almost annually every year since my first visit.

    I can relate to many of the points you have raised, especially the empty feeling of only visiting for one week which foolishly I experienced on one occasion, but I learnt from my mistake and now consider a two week visit an absolute minimum.

    Rhodes is like a second home which I and my family adore.


  5. So you have finally visited Stavros Bar! As you know I have been to a few islands (Crete,Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos,Patmos, Santorini and Corfu) I like Rhodes and Crete the most.

    As ever you have nailed it about Greece being like a pair of comfy slippers. I love the photos