Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Some Things Never Change

Strolling up through a side-road in the village of Pilona at about 10.30 on a Sunday morning, I'm struck by the fact that all I can hear are the cicadas rasping away like a thousand moustachioed barbers sharpening their cut-throat razors on their straps. Arriving at the village's "main street" from a small side road, I turn at a spot almost exactly opposite the local cafeneion, the terrace of which is packed to capacity with men, to walk down the gently sloping street. Some things change, some things seldom do. Some change extremely slowly and, in my opinion, although perhaps these are customs which are not considered "PC" these day, I rather like them nonetheless.

The custom of the Greek village men, whereby they spend the mornings drinking Ellenikos and chewing the fat in a bar devoid of women's company hasn't changed appreciably for centuries in this neck of the woods, despite many women having adopted a more modern view of late. A few play dominoes, some backgammon (which the Greeks call "tavli") and even a few others cards, but many simply sit, sipping at the rich brown froth, hands on walking sticks, the handles of which twitch violently as the owner makes a point with emphasis about what the politicians ought to be doing.

The hubbub of their voices follows me as I walk the few metres or so down to the village "supermarket", which is more of a lock-up beneath a couple of apartments really. It's situated on a corner, the road to its side climbing steeply up towards the village church beside the main road between Lardos and Kalathos. Yes, Pilona [different link this time] even has a "by-pass" of sorts, which means that many outsiders never get to see the centre of this nondescript village.

I call it nondescript, but it's a kind of compliment really. It's why I like Pilona, because it has no pretenses and precious few tourists. Only locals ever venture through the centre of this village. Outsiders whizz by along the road atop the hill, quite ignorant of this little oasis of typically Greek sleepiness just metres below them as they glare ahead through dusty windscreens from beneath their baseball caps whilst their women try to make sense of the map which they're turning this way and that as they seek out more places to visit, or yet more beaches from which to swim.

Yes, the occupants of those little brightly-coloured steel boxes on wheels would like to think that it's a little archaic for the cafeneions to be an all-male domain during the pre-lunchtime hours in a Greek village, and yet I can't help thinking that these would-be judges are falling foul of a similar kind of sexism. After all, how often do I see the woman at the wheel whilst her fella consults the map, eh? Not often and that's a fact.

Reaching the supermarket I snap out of my reverie and recall the reason for my excursion on foot from our friend's Brenda's garden a few hundred metres away. My wife and I have been hacking back at the undergrowth since 8.30am and we need some heavy duty plastic bags/sacks in which to stuff all the green waste which we've now amassed into piles on her patio. 

In the cool dimness of the store I see a man seated on a stool a couple of metres away from the modest little L-shaped counter on which rests the tired cash register. No security here. None required. You could pick up a few provisions and drop some coins on the counter for the proprietor to find later if you wished. The man is evidently, as is often the case in small Greek villages, a result of a bit of interbreeding as I can tell by his facial features and strange way of talking when he responds to my request if I can pay for the roll of plastic garden sacks which I've retrieved from a shelf. He's dressed in fraying faded navy blue trousers (no shorts, you seldom see shorts on a Greek villager, even when the temperature is hovering around 100ºF) and braces over an equally aged blue and red check flannelette shirt.

"I'll take these," I tell him. Whereupon he gets up from his stool and hobbles past me into the sun-blazing street outside and calls a woman's name as he crosses the side street to the modest little bar next door. I follow him out and am momentarily blinded by the intense sunlight, before focusing on a middle-aged woman who's emerging from the arched gateway across the street. She's dressed in black with a lighter-coloured apron gracing the front of her stocky form as she gives me a smile and walks wordlessly into the store. Going behind the counter she pings the till open and I hand her a five Euro note. It's evident that she doesn't realise that I can speak her language when she goes to tear a plastic carrier bag from a roll hidden beneath the counter, still remaining mute.

"There's no need," I tell her in Greek, which elicits a warm smile and an "efharisto! Na'ste kala!" from her as I turn to go.

Walking back the way I came I resist the extremely strong urge to go and plonk myself at a table among the village men and order an Elleniko. I have a thousand branches and twigs to chop up and stuff into these plastic bags. After all, two women await my return.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Odds 'n' Shots

A few images snapped recently, for your delectation and delight (well, hopefully!!)...

(some of these are taken with my steam-driven mobile phone. So apologies for the substandard resolution on those)

A remarkable woman and her daughters. Ilsa McKee, left, is 90 years old. She was a SCUBA diver until very recently. She and her late husband discovered the remains of Henry VIII's flagship the "Mary Rose" and are much celebrated for having done so. She even played Badminton until her knee started giving her problems quite recently. On one of my "Lazy Day" Cruises aboard the Magellanos she showed us a thing or two by jumping in at every swim-stop. When I expressed my concerns on seeing her about to take the plunge, one of her daughters told me: "Oh she'll be all right. She's more comfortable in the water than on dry land". She still goes swimming off the shore at Hayling Island (UK) where she lives.

Yours truly hard at work

This is where I sat whilst writing the post about the wind. The "Bottoms UP" Bar at Haraki, where else?

Chef Tommy's Taverna at Haraki. Not eaten there yet, but it's on the "to do" list

Top end of Kalathos Bay, just south of Haraki

A Halki mood from last Friday, August 17th


These studios are at the back of Halki Harbour. Just the kind of place I'd be looking for if I were island-hopping. I took this in case any reader may like to take a note of the phone number.

And this is the entrance to the "Traditional House of Halki" (Note the use of the "C" on the signs, just to confuse the hapless British tourist into saying "chalki", like the stuff you use to write on blackboards!!). Remember, it's Hal'key!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Where's That Wind When You Want It?

Gilmas was in ruminative mood. We hadn't seen him in a while and so the other day we decided to drive down to his smallholding near Plimiri. Among other instances, he cropped up in chapter 20 of book 4, "A Plethora of Posts" in the story called "Gilma's Tears". This gentle old man in his mid-seventies is always pleased to welcome visitors to his small cottage a few metres along a concrete-surfaced lane from the main road between Plimiri and Katavia.

We are always welcomed here with a huge smile and the offer of some form of refreshment. This morning, Sunday August 19th, we pulled up beside the cottage and were delighted to see his old, but immaculately maintained Toyota pickup parked under the shade of the huge tree in his αυλή [yard]. He's quite unusual in the vehicle-maintenance area. Many old Greek farmers trudge around in beaten up old vehicles which haven't seen the inside of a vehicle testing station since wheels were a new invention. Gilma, on the other hand, lovingly cleans and maintains his 2000-registered Toyota as if it were a baby. His tractor is similarly pampered. The first time I clapped eyes on it I thought it was a recent acquisition, until - that is - I saw the number plate, which gave it away as being older than the pickup. "You only get back what you put in" is one of his life-mottos. Never has that been applied in his case more fully than in relation to his vehicles.

We climbed out of the air-conditioned comfort of our car to the outdoor fan-oven furnace of about 40ºC at 10.30am or thereabouts. I called out "Καλιμέρα!" but elicited no reply. Stepping into the shade of the canopy which protects the old brown-painted wooden front door of his cottage from the elements, I saw that the door was ajar. 

A good sign; he must be in. 

Once again I called out "Good morning, anyone home?!" and this time the door swung wide open to reveal our host standing in his faded blue shorts and nothing else.  A huge grin spreading across his face, he exclaimed "Περάστε!!" [Lit: Pass, but used as an expression to invite visitors to enter] as he stepped aside and swept his arm wide in a gesture of welcome. His TV was burning beside the wall on his old sideboard, atop the ubiquitous white lacy doily which you see in every Greek home where there is a resident of at least 50 years old, and this (the TV, not the doily!), he told us, was why he hadn't heard our first hail. 

We asked him how he was coping with the heat. Did he agree that this summer seemed hotter than many in recent years, to which he replied, as always in his case, with a conspiratorial air, "Oh yes. Oh yes. There is no air this year. Normally I sleep with the window open over there (he pointed toward the small window in the wall beside his bed, which was reached by three wooden steps, since it is of the traditional Greek cottage type, which always has a storage area beneath it) and the door ajar [my wife visibly quivered at the thought of the creepy-crawly potential of this statement] and I get a nice breeze. But this year, the leaves on the trees are still, with no movement whatsoever. It's χάλια [awful. Americans might translate this as 'it sucks!']. I'm not sleeping so good, I can tell you. I go outside to work at 6.00am and come back in at ten, after that I do nothing until the evening." This explained why we found him watching his TV at 10.30am.

"There's doesn't seem to be any Meltemi this year," I ventured. The Meltemi is the strong North wind which blows down through the Aegean Sea - usually between mid-May and Mid-September - reaching its most strong and regular occurrences between mid-June and the end of August (many Greeks say that it stops, at least from blowing regularly in the middle of August). This wind can be very strong and can cause disruption to the ferry schedules at times. Yachts have been known to be swamped on occasion. The up-side is that it cools down the otherwise almost unbearable high summer days when you just don't know what to do with yourself, it's that hot. This year it has been conspicuous by it's absence most of the time. Usually it blows up during the afternoon and abates during the evening. Occasionally it will blow all night and parasols need to be collapsed and tied to prevent them sustaining damage during the hours of darkness. Lighter plastic chairs have to be stacked, or risk being found the next morning several metres away from where they belong. In a garden this can result in precious plants sustaining damage too.

So far this summer, though, it's blown only rarely here on Rhodes and the result has been that the merciless Greek sun has ratcheted the temperatures up to several degrees higher than the average and this has gone on since the beginning of June. 

In answer to my comment, Gilma replied: "You're right, Gianni, you're right. I have lost many plants this summer. Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines, many have simply shrivelled in the heat, no matter how much I water them. I can't remember another summer like this. I never usually need a fan, but this year, look." He pointed to a huge electric fan, perched atop his old wardrobe at the foot of the bed, which was whizzing around and sending a very welcome waft of air across our faces whilst we talked. "Anyway, what can I get you?" he asked. "Juice, yes? It's a bit hot for an Elleniko don't you think?"

We readily agreed, although chilled water would have done just fine. We needn't have worried, as he brought us both a delicious glass of cool, mixed fruit juice and placed a tumbler before each of us into which he poured cold water from a plastic bottle which was covered in condensation, a sure indication of the fact that this precious dose of "Adam's Ale" would be chilled.

After we'd put the world to rights, which is what we all do in such circumstances, he got around to the economic woes. He's not a man to complain and certainly can't be accused of being materialistic. This, among other reasons, is why he lives way down here in a remote agricultural area, rather than near the town with his wife and son, who live there because of their son's work (he does something quite important in connection with the island's bus company). But he couldn't help remarking on how hard the common man has been hit by the austerity measures. "Gianni and Maria," he continued, "the small man is reduced to nothing. His pension has been halved, he has to find hundreds of Euro to pay the "haratsi" [the slang-name for the newly-imposed property tax, Lit: "Hike"!], his electricity bills are rising and he has to find twice as much cash to fill his petrol tank. He can't take any more. It's very hard. People simply don't have the money. And when you think about car insurance, road tax, food and clothes shopping, where do you stop?"

We could only sympathize. What else was there to do? Whilst the holidaymaker will find their holiday here just as wonderful as ever, the locals are struggling to understand what's happened. It seems that suddenly they've gone from the 1st to the 3rd world, virtually overnight.

When we arose to take our leave he did what he always does. He had to find something with which to fill our hands. Frankly, our vegetable patch has been a major disaster this year too. Virtually everything which we put in for the summer has dried to a crisp. We'd thought that perhaps it was just us, but his story had confirmed that it really has to do with just how hot it's been. Nevertheless, he still grabbed a kitchen knife and a plastic bag and bade us hold on a few minutes longer. He donned a shirt and his moth-eaten old baseball cap and went out into the furnace outside. Returning a few minutes later he handed Maria the plastic carrier bag, which was now fair bursting with the weight of its contents. When we remonstrated he acted hurt and insisted that we take it and go. "See you soon I hope!" He called as I put the car in reverse, turned and drove off with a toot of the horn.

As we drove North my wife peeked into the bag. It was full of beautiful and huge, fresh dark-purple aubergines and green peppers. A welcome supplement to the bottom of our fridge. Plus there was a tasty honey-dew melon (the yellow ones with the green flesh) to top it all off.

If this was what he came up with when he'd had a bad year, we could only imagine how much his farm produces when the weather's normal. At least Gilma will never starve.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Tale of Two Tavernas, or "In the Interests of Research" part 3 (Photo added Aug 24th)

We'd begun our little mini-break on the Saturday evening, August 4th, by taking the two or three kilometre walk to Angelaki's Taverna (pic above), on the main road between Kiotari and Gennadi. It's not perhaps the ideal location for a taverna, but they do make the best of their position. Situated as it is on a rural section of the main road through Kiotari, on the right hand side as you head South towards Gennadi, another two or three km down the coast, it's not difficult to find. The traffic noise, not that it's like a motorway or anything anyway, is alleviated deftly by a low double-wall in front of the taverna's terrace in which there's a thick planting of green shrubs and climbers, which have the effect of taking your attention from the road and keeping it focused on the modest terrace and the recently constructed sturdy wooden canopy, over which are laid interwoven dried rushes to keep your head from the Greek sun during daylight hours, above your head.

Angelaki's has no pretensions. It's very basic and the better for it. It's terrace is rough concrete screed and the building itself is an old flat-roofed cottage with those 1960's metal framed windows and doors still in place. To the right, though, is a recently renovated and enlarged BBQ area with a healthy fire crackling away in a white-painted traditional stone open-fronted oven, plus charcoal glowing under the grill all ready for meats and fish to be gently softened and infused with that beautiful aroma that only the real old wood/charcoal embers can give it.

The tables are of that very basic, square plywood variety that some Greek chippie's been turning out for decades to grace the front of a trad taverna and they're just fine for that fact. Plus, always pleasing to my eye - the table cloths are blue and white check, perfect. The chairs, too, are the traditional raffia type taverna chair that numbs your bum or legs after a while, but are a must-have if a taverna's to live up to its "traditional" epithet.

There is actually a rather sad story behind this taverna, one which has had us wanting to make this visit for some considerable time. We were glad that we'd finally made the effort. Angelaki herself is not very old, probably in her late forties I'd guess. I can't say that we know her all that well, but we have passed by and chatted with her and her hubby whilst they tended their vegetable patch and orchard, which is right beside the taverna along the roadside, during wintertime and they'd always made sure that we carried some produce away as we'd bade them goodbye. Her late husband was a dab hand with fridges and freezers, probably washing machines too I shouldn't wonder. Sadly, he died a couple of years back without prior warning. It was all very sudden and left Angelaki devastated. They'd not long closed the establishment as a taverna, probably because it had involved a lot of toil and long hours by comparison with what hubby could earn fixing white goods for local people. I distinctly remember one winter once having a chat with them inside the building and noticing an electrical point in the wall which sported that many adapters that I couldn't count how many wires eventually led from it to the various appliances which were drawing their power there. I reckon the island's power station must have registered a dip in current if all that lot had been switched on at the same time. How it hadn't caught fire was a mystery to me and I well expected to drive or walk by some time soon and see the charred remains of the building smouldering beside the road.

After her husband died it wasn't many months before the place once again opened as a taverna, as it appeared that she was out of options as to how else to make a living, now that she was a widow. The locals from Kiotari, Gennadi and Asklipio all supported her and now it's not unusual to pass by the place on a Saturday evening and see it packed with them, their cars all parked higgledy-piggledy fashion on the dirt and gravel parking area beside the barbecue.

Does her cuisine merit such support? That was the question which your intrepid reporter and his beautiful wife (she might read this folks!) wanted to find out. So we arrived at around 9.00pm on the Saturday evening in question and sat down among the tables, about half of which were occupied. Out came a shortish bloke with a willing expression but not much personality to stretch the expected paper table cloth across the top of the blue check, at an angle so that the check still showed in triangles at each corner. He secured the paper cloth with four wooden clothes pegs in the corners and asked what we'd like to drink.

Drinks ordered, we perused the menu as well as our fellow diners. To my left were two teenage Greek girls, probably related to the family we guessed. To my right, behind Y-Maria sat a family of Greeks. Good sign. Further away to my left at a perimeter table sat a young Greek family, the husband of which we recognised but I couldn't for the life of me tell you from where. As we sat ruminating over what to order, two middle aged couples entered from the parking area to my right (I was sitting with my back to the road, facing the building) and sat down at a central table not a few feet in front of us. They sounded like Italians and they seemed to know what they wanted.

Once the diminutive waiter (friends later told us he's probably one of Angelaki's brothers or her brother-in-law) had returned we started to list what we'd like to eat. We asked if the revithokeftedes (chick pea fritters/rissoles) were on and received the reply that no, they were off. Hmm, shame. What about kolikithokeftedes (courgette fritters/rissoles) then?  Yup, they were OK. So he scribbled that down as we proceeded with our next request, oven-baked mushrooms with cheese and garlic sauce. Nope, off too.

At this point I'll tell you two things. One: Some years ago I distinctly remember a taverna somewhere on Samos where so much was "off" that I was tempted to ask, "Shall I go get a postage stamp and you can write a list of what's actually 'on'?!" and two: If a taverna claims to be indeed of the "traditional" variety, to discover that quite a few things are "off" is actually a good sign. "Why's that?" you cried (you did, didn't you?). The answer is simple, if they've got an extensive menu and everything's "on" then you know it's a pretty safe bet that it's all frozen and about to be popped into a microwave before being presented at your table as freshly-prepared traditional cuisine. When various items are "off" it means that the food is indeed cooked fresh and that the cook or chef hasn't prepared such dishes on that particular day. What is on though, is much more likely to indeed be freshly prepared by hand and thus much better tasting. Not to mention much better for you.

So, the short guy who almost smiled once or twice, eventually brought us patates fournou, some delicious fava, those courgette fritters (or rissoles, whatever), some lightly toasted and herb-sprinkled village bread and a dish of spinach and cheese balls.

Our verdict? Well, obviously we didn't touch the meat, but the four Italians did. They were served up with a bunch of bottled beers, huge plates of grilled chops or something similar and patates tiganites (chips!) - not exactly the most nutritious meal we'd ever seem anyone devour. But it all disappeared, so perhaps it was an indication of how well Angelaki prepares her char-grilled meats, who knows? Well, those four Italians do obviously. We always shudder when we don't see anything green or red on a plate full of food. Still, it was their choice, perhaps they're ambitious and aspire to colon cancer or heart disease some day. Looked from their physical appearance (both blokes and ladies) like they were half-way there to be honest.

We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and the fava especially was superb. A perfect complement of the delicious toasted village bread.

So, to taverna number two. On Monday evening after those few hours on Kolumbia beach we drove up to Psinthos. To reach this village you have a choice of approaches, depending entirely of course on where you're coming from. But it is a village up in the hills and so every approach road is "curly" or "twisty-turny" (I prefer "curly"), just be ready for that. The shortest of these curly roads is the one from Afandou, which is the way we chose to go when driving home. But we approached it from the Epta Piges (Seven Springs) road between Kolumbia and Arhipoli, since we were wending our weary way up there from Kolumbia Beach.

Although the 15km or so drive from the junction just outside Arhipoli is very, very (and a few more "verys") twisty, it is newly surfaced and the countryside very beautiful. Doing the trip as we were, just an hour before sundown, was the perfect time light-wise, the hillsides taking on a vibrant ochre glow as the last fiery rays of the sun struck them at a shallow angle. You eventually enter the village (seemingly miles after first seeing the sign) from the South in the bottom left-hand corner of its very pretty central square. I'd go as far as to say it's arguably the prettiest inland village on the island. The square is on a gentle slope, has several rather attractive trees in its central area and is surrounded by a small perimeter road which is lined with a choice of tavernas and bars. There stacked near a low wall around the square were a few piles of plastic chairs, bearing promise of some village function or other just past or still anticipated, at which, of course, there would be dancing. If this link works you'll find a selection of photos from Google of the village square. Just zoom right in then drag the little man to one of the blue spots on the aerial photo.

We parked up and walked into the centre of the square. At this point you could do an eenie meenie miney mo, but, after sitting and gazing around us for a few minutes, we decided to walk around the plateia and take a peek at the menus on offer. It ended up being a choice between the Stolidi tis Psinthou [lit: "the decoration of Psinthos", but would most probably translate into English as "The pride of Psinthos"] and the Plateia, which eventually won out because of the conversation which ensued as we examined their respective menus.Talking to the woman who runs the establishment, along with her husband Dimitris (we didn't catch her name, sorry), who's only in her thirties, we told her, after she'd run through a list of the meat dishes which were "on" that we were vegetarians.

"No problem," She replied, "My mother will do you a vegetarian moussaka if you like. Made freshly for you, if you want to order it." We'd been looking at the moussaka option and really fancied it for a change. So, with such an offer "on the table" as it were, we sat down. My wife then began suggesting that we not look across the way to the staff at the "Stolidi", since they were still without clientele and could see us plain as day now we'd made our choice. I tried to assure her that they surely lived in the real word and knew that "you win some, you lose some" but had to admit to hoping that they'd soon attract some custom and thus have their attention drawn from us, since we'd almost succumbed to their charms but told them that we still wanted to look around a little more before making a decision.

So, what did we order? We started with a lettuce salad, since we almost live on "Greek" salad every day at home. "Just a lettuce salad please," we said. She brought us a huge stainless steel platter laden with shredded lettuce and sliced red onions, enough for a meal for two in itself. We also plumped for the homemade ("My mother's own recipe, again, made freshly to order" said our host) revithokeftedes, of which she brought us six, all of them huge. They were so huge that we asked for a doggy bag for the ones which we couldn't eat, which she was glad to supply. In fact she wrapped them in aluminium foil for us and we enjoyed them the following day at home. To go with the above, we ordered a plate of patates tiganites and the homemade veggie moussaka.

As you'd expect, the moussaka and revithokeftedes took a while to come, which was further evidence of their being prepared freshly to order. In the meantime we were content with my beer, Y-Maria's G&T and the lettuce salad, chips (freshly hand-cut and evidently fried in olive oil) and the lightly-toasted village bread which the owner had brought us, much like the bread we'd eaten at Angelaki's a couple of nights before. Also, quite like the bread which George had done for us at the Pelican's Nest back in the March.

The revithokeftedes, some of which came home with us. You can see that huge lettuce salad to the right.

Those chips (Yup, American friends, those are chips!!) were simply TDF

The delicious home-made freshly prepared moussaka, every last vestige of which we got outside of, all in your interests of course!! (sorry about ending that phrase above with a conjunction)
While we were quietly devouring this sensational food, a little old ya ya, who'd been sitting on the wall outside the church nextdoor, came shuffling past and we bade her good evening. This was all she needed to stop and begin a conversation with us.

"Where are you from?" She asked with a smile. We told her the usual: living in Kiotari, been here seven years, mother-in-law from Athens and so on. Our host spotted this chat in its early stages and made as if to shoo the old lady on, but we assured her that it was fine. We were happy to talk with this lady from the village. She told us with very little prompting all about her life. How long she'd now been a widow, what it had been like during the war years. How she remembered when electricity first came to the village, running water too. Of course, as with all of her generation, my mother-in-law included, she spoke Italian. When the Italians had ruled these islands between the wars all the children had to be schooled in the Italian language, not Greek. Many of the girls weren't even allowed to go to school. But her abiding memory of the Italians is of a nice, cultured people. Most of the imposing buildings along Mandraki harbour were built by the Italians, many roads and bridges too. "They did many good things for us." she said. This brought to mind the story of Captain Corelli's Mandolin [don't see the movie, read the book], in which the impression one was given was that the Italian soldiers were rather reluctant conquerors who much preferred to eat pasta and sing opera than make war. They used to try and get the Greeks to join them in the village squares for cultural evenings and evidently, with the passing of time, they enjoyed a measure of success too.

After she'd described some of the hardships which she'd endured through her eighty-something years, she filled up a little and reminisced about the fact that, for all of its simplicity, life was better decades ago. Eventually, we bade her good evening and she moved along. Once she'd gone our host turned up to ask if she'd been a nuisance. "No," we assured her, "we'd enjoyed meeting the lady. She was no trouble at all."

"It's just that, well, she's a bit forgetful these days and you may find yourselves having to answer the same questions every few minutes. Didn't you find that?"

"Not at all." We replied. "In fact she was very interesting to talk to."

When we'd almost finished eating and the square had come to life, the sky had darkened to an inky black, punctuated as ever by gem-like stars, an illuminated cross had appeared atop the hill to the North of the village and children were playing in the plateia, safe in their home environment, we called for our bill and thought about making the journey back to Kiotari. Who should come along from the other direction this time but the old lady we'd conversed with. After we'd once again greeted her, she stopped, approached our table and asked with a smile, "Where are you from?"

Sunday, 12 August 2012

In the Interests of Research-2

Monday August 6th dawned bright and blue, predictably of course. The temperature was around 30ºC when we first took a couple of cautious steps out on to the terrace, a fact which prompted me to take my first outdoor shower of the day without delay.

This particular day we had a kind of plan, sketchy though it was, which involved visiting another place which we had been promising ourselves to go ever since arriving here in 2005 and staring up at it as we'd drive along what's usually called the "airport road", which is the road which connects the main Rodo-Lindos highway on the east of the island, just north of Faliraki, with the village of Kremasti, the Airport (rather predictably) and Paradeisi on the West. Paradeisi literally means "Paradise" and so I was always intrigued as to why it was given this name, since today it's a fairly non-descript village which is renowned mainly for the fact that the Rhodes Diagoras Airport is located here and the runway virtually shadows the length of the village.

It appears that, following the ousting of the Knights of St. John from the island in 1522 (which is nearly half-past three. Have I done that joke already?) by Soulemon the "Magnificent", the Ottoman (later Turkish) emperor, Arabs who settled here brought with them exotic flowers, which they subsequently planted, eventually giving the area the name which has stuck, Paradeisi. You'd be hard put to find evidence of this today though. Mind you, if you're a plane-spotter, perhaps "paradise" would still be an appropriate name during the summer season.

Anyway, the place to which I refer above, the one which we gaze up at from the airport road, is called Filerimos and is chiefly known for its huge cross, which stands above a high escarpment and affords anyone who makes the climb some breathtaking views, including, if you look North, a vista which shows you the entire Northern tip of the island, covered as it is today with the modern part of Rhodes Town. What is it with superstitious or religious people of bygone eras and mountaintops? I mean, every high place in Greece (and probably a good few other countries too) sports a religious site of some kind or other. Kind of spoils it for those of us who don't like that kind of thing. Then you get the rituals where people have to literally damage themselves physically to go up these places at certain times every year in their attempts to appease their god. Funny kind of god they worship I reckon. Still, there we are, no sense getting all controversial I suppose. At least with Tzambika and Filerimos they make for good photo-composition.

Depending on which website you consult, you get differing stories about the buildings which you find up there at Filerimos. A lot of info on offer is pretty religiously-subjective, which doesn't interest me apart from its historical perspective.  

Filerimos (different link this time) is worth a visit for the view alone. The passionate archeologist will be well satisfied with the fact that the ruins up there of ancient Ialyssos go back to around the fifth century before Christ, but, as you'd expect, there are more recent constructions which are only as young as the 6th century C.E. (A.D.) or even the 16th century, which of course still have wet cement by comparison. From the Monastery, which was built firstly by the Knights, then destroyed and subsequently re-constructed by the Italians as late as the 20th century, there is a straight tree-lined path leading a few hundred metres or so to the terrace on which stands the cross which can be seen from so far below. So, without further ado or waffle, here are a few shots which we took up there:

That's the base of the cross which my better half is holding up

Yes, that's Turkey and, probably, to the left a bit, Symi

Well, if I jumped, at least I'd land on something soft

The building in the trees is the Monastery, from which the cross is reached by a pleasant walk along a tree-lined path. This is taken from one of the arms of the cross.

This is also taken inside an arm of the cross. The arms are actually "troughs" from which you can take in the view

That's the Northern tip of the island in the background

What a good boy I am, leaving off the beer this time
Having had our fill of the superb views, we retreated to the shade of the very pleasant cafe under a huge plane tree for some liquid refreshment and were mildly amused for a while by the coach drivers drooling comments about a female Russian guide's "assets" and the customary few minutes people-watching. There were a few coaches up there and all seemed to be filled with Russians at the time. By the way, usually there is an entry fee for the Monastery, but here were were in peak season and the ticket booth was closed so, if you're going up there any time soon, you may be lucky!

After an exhausting half-hour or so of sightseeing and playing the tourist, we decided that a few hours on a beach were in order before making the trip up to Psinthos village for our evening repas. Since she'd never been there, I offered to take Y-Maria to Kolumbia beach, the one which you reach by taking the right-hand fork at the bottom end of Eucalyptus Avenue. It's from the tiny harbour beside this beach that we set sail each week on my "Lazy Day Cruise" excursion aboard the Magellanos and I admit to having been quite impressed by the small sandy bay at what I would in the past have called a "resort without a heart".

We arrived at around 4.00pm, the kind of time when many sunbed owners reduce their prices a little, but the bloke who approached us, despite being very smiley and chatty, refused to take less than the daily rate of €8 for two beds and an umbrella, despite our telling him that we were residents and that we knew that many reduced their prices after 4.00pm. We could have told him where to put his sunbeds, but ended up forking out purely because it is a rather lovely beach, with very calm waters, plus we needed a sleep and a swim really badly! My wife then declared that, come what may, we weren't going to budge from those beds until we'd got our money's worth. I had visions of standing by the water's edge just after midnight shouting "Are you out there sweety? Will you come in now,pleeeease!!"

What do you think of the place?...

Whilst we were doing a bit of 'Chilling" the Magellanos came in...

..did a bit of manouevering and reversed into her berth at the quayside. Soon thereafter Adonis was passing the beach in his car and spotted the missus and I. Shouting out that he'd be back in a mo, he insisted that we stroll round and go aboard for a drink with him and the crew, who were just securing the vessel for the night. Giannis was hosing down the soft couches on the foredeck as we arrived and we were greeted by Dino, Adonis' father-in-law and a really nice elderly guy. Savvas was in the cabin and so we were welcomed aboard by the full complement and I was told to take Y-Maria on a quick inspection tour, so I obediently complied. 

Once back in the cabin, Adonis, who'd since returned, made my my wife a G&T and I had a frappe. A fair bit of joshing ensued (as you do) with Adonis telling Maria that she ought to watch her hubby, spending the day as he does every week with a bunch of bikini-clad women. I added that most of them were bigger than me, both physically and age-wise and explained that I had to keep waving a towel in front of Adoni to keep his temperature down!! The fact is, he's an excellent host to his guests on board and his facebook page is fast filling up with photos of this year's excursions, usually taken by Savvas, who's getting more and more wily and candid with his photography. If you trawl through the albums you'll find yours truly popping up far too often for my liking!

After having made our excuses and returning to the beach, since we knew that the crew had things to be getting on with, we carried on getting our money's worth from the sunbeds for a while. 

Soon, though, it was time to head up into the hills for our evening meal. More about that in part 3. Bet you can't wait, eh? Oh, alright then, be like that!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

All in the Interests of Research-1

Of course, I consider it my duty to continually seek out that new place to visit, cozy bar or traditional taverna in order to help regular visitors to Rhodes to garner new ideas for ways to enhance their visit, or indeed to tempt Rhodo-virgins to book their tickets for that first ever visit to this wonderfully diverse and beguiling island. It's all a self-sacrificing mission to benefit my trusty readers you understand, Yeh? Right.

With the above in mind this past weekend we decided that it was time that we took a mini-sabbatical, so that we could make a "volta" (outing) or three - in your interests - of course! So, we've been out for a few meals, a few drinks, a few visits to places of interest and now I feel that I need to share some info and, of course, photographs, from these "research" expeditions with my friends out there in blog-land.

It's rather a lot for one post, so I'll be writing a few on the subject of this past few days, of which this is - of course - the first. (...my mind's instantly cast back to Monty Python's "Scott of the Sahara" sketch, in which the "reporter" asks the Director which scene they're shooting first, whereupon the Director shouts to someone off-camera: "Which scene are we shooting first, Jock?" After a brief delay during which Jock apparently has shouted his reply, the Director turns to the reporter and replies, "Scene one.")

I should say at the outset that any bar or taverna which is reported on in any of my posts is not and never has been part of a "contra deal" as it were. You know, "Tell you what Yianni, you tell your readers about us and we'll see you alright for drinks, food, and whatever for some considerable while yet." No folks, I often don't even tell the proprietors about the blog and, if I do, I often wait until we've paid the bill and are ready to leave. That way I'm not in danger of being "nobbled" and can provide you with my exact impressions of both the establishment and its owner, manager and staff. If I speak positively of any establishment it's definitely because I feel that the reader would enjoy their visit as much as I did. 

So, to the first place which I really want to tell you about. The Tramonto Bar. I'd seen this cafe bar a couple of times and on each occasion "wowed" at the location as I'd passed by, usually in a coach as we were on our way to collect some guests from way down in Stegna Bay on some excursion or other. I knew that it hadn't been open for long and so, after a trek up to Tzambika Monastery (First few photos below) I decided to take my lovely wife to this bar for a toasted sandwich and a drink at midday on Sunday. But first...

The reason you ought to go up here is quite simple, it's extremely high and affords breathtaking views along the East coast of the island. We've been living here for seven years and up until this past few days had still not made the climb. You drive up a lane which begins when you turn on to it from the main road between Arhangelos and Kolymbia, where you see the sign advertising the taverna with the panoramic view. The road looks pretty civilised for the first couple of hundred yards, as it was recently widened and re-surfaced. Pretty soon, though, it becomes a bumpy concrete affair, but it's nevertheless not too difficult to negotiate. Eventually it empties out into a sloping car park, where the taverna is to your left and the stone path and steps up to the top are a little further above you, at the extreme end of the tree-sprinkled parking area. The steps are not small, like a stairway, often they are several meters apart. Follow them onward and upward, as they twist and turn and occasionally hairpin up through the pines, which afford you helpful shade as it can be blisteringly hot on an August day. Every ten steps they are rather helpfully marked with the number you've covered, so you don't need to count them to be sure that, by the time you reach the tiny monastery at the top, you've climbed the grand total of 300 of 'em.

Occasionally during the climb you're afforded a glimpse of the view as it unfolds and becomes more expansive with every meter you ascend. Is it worth the effort? You decide...

Not a bad view of Tzambika Beach from up here, eh?

...or Kolymbia for that matter!

That next bay along is Stegna

This new wall which has been constructed will look nice once they've painted it white

After we'd gasped and gaped for a while, we repaired to the car and began the descent down to the main road. I hadn't told Yvonne-Maria that I'd seen the new Tramonto Bar, so I was rather hoping that she'd approve and be as gobsmacked as I was at its location, which, although it isn't as high as Tzambika Monastery, is nevertheless impressive enough as it affords a view over the entire bay of Stegna. To reach the bar by the easiest route, take the Stegna lane from the main Rodo-Lindos Road on the hill just above the Arhangelos Health Centre. Follow that lane as it winds left and right a little through olive groves and, once it begins to descend in earnest you'll come across the bar on your left hand side...

We parked on the other side of the road and walked in. I watched carefully for my wife's reaction, in the hope that it would be one of approval and I was rewarded by a "Wow!! How did you know that this was here?" I told her I'd passed it once or twice on my excursions and we soon chose a table and sat down to take in the superb vista below, which includes the entire Bay of Stegna. The proprietor approached and we instantly took a liking to him. He's a smiley man who is ready to befriend his clientele [believe me, incredible as it may sound, some aren't!] and, since the place was fairly quiet, we decided to engage him in conversation to find out a little more about how he came to open the Tramonto. His name's Stefanos and here he is with his wife Anthoula...

It seems that they've sunk their entire destiny into the place and, apart from the stone perimeter wall, have done most of the construction work themselves, a fact which impressed us hugely. Stefanos rather proudly invited us to inspect the toilets, so we did and were further impressed by their style and fittings. They still have some finishing touches to do, but frankly, a nicer bar in a more spectacular location would be hard to imagine.

We talked for a while and he told us that he'd only opened it in 2010 and prior to that it had been a barren patch of hillside with just a couple of trees on it, one of which we were sat under and he told us that he'd planted this one with his father when he was a lad. He's a native of Arhangelos and both parents are now in poor health. His dad's had a by-pass operation (as had mine so I could well ID with his experience) and his mum is poorly too. Their pensions had of course been recently reduced as part of the nation's austerity measures and so they now depend largely on their son, his wife and their business for survival.

There wasn't, though, a hint of self-pity in his manner as he talked with us and we ordered a "portokalatha [orange-ade]" for me and a frappé for my better half. To go with those we asked for toasted cheese, tomato and onion sandwiches, which arrived (accompanied by some oregano-flavoured crisps) soon after the drinks and were devoured summarily. We were, after all, famished after the trek up to Tzambika! I like the Tramonto so much that I decided to take a short video of the place, the filming of which was only truncated by the arrival of our toasties...

We were intrigued by the name - "Tramonto" and so asked Stefano how he'd made the decision to name the bar so. He replied that he and Anthoula had discussed all the usual names for a bar in this kind of location, but kept coming back to something like "Panorama" or "Panoramic" and felt that this would have been too obvious and unimaginative. So they eventually plunked for the Italian for "sunset". We expressed our approval at their choice. There could hardly be a better place from which to enjoy a sunset, something which we fully intend to do from here before long. 

By the time we'd become ready to leave we'd decided (as inferred above) that it would be the perfect place to come back to for an evening drink with friends, so that we could sip, talk and admire the fabulous view of Stegna's twinkling lights far below as the day slipped into darkness. The bill for our snack and drinks was surprisingly low, a fact which further strengthened our resolve to make a return visit in the near future!!

More discoveries made during our fact-finding sabbatical to follow imminently!