Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Kalymnos Trip 1

Wednesday October 17th dawned bright and clear. In fact the same could be said of the next four mornings. It was the last string of really settled weather of the 2012 summer for the Dodecanese islands. It has been a much longer and a much hotter summer than for many, many years. Usually, by this time, we'll have experienced the first couple of storms of the winter but, apart from a few isolated episodes in parts of the island of Rhodes, there'd been nothing to write home about. Nothing to write a post about either!

Still, one thing about the good weather was that we could plan a short break on another island, safe in the knowledge that we'd be able to get out and about and wouldn't find ourselves taking shelter from the rain in inadequate clothing, something that we've done all too often during late holidays to Greece in times past. How often during the seven years that we've now lived out here have we promised ourselves a bit of island-hopping. Well this time we decided to stop promising ourselves and actually do it. Come the beginning of the month of October we were busily Googling away to find an appropriate and modest little room somewhere near or on the harbour at Kalymnos, our chosen destination for this little expedition.

The main village, or town, where the harbour is located and all the main action goes on, is called Pothia and it's a delight. Having boarded the bustling Dodekanisos Express, specifically the vessel called Dodekanisos Pride, just seconds before her departure time of 8.30am on Wednesday morning, October 17th, we stepped off right on time at Pothia harbour at a minute or two before 12 noon in sweltering sunshine. We'd found a small hotel right on the seafront, called the Hotel Therme, and it was visible as we disembarked. Just a few minutes walk took us to the hotel's entrance, which turned out to be a glass door between a small souvenir store and a café. The reception area was on the first floor. As we approached the door from the seafront, a stocky man of average height and probably in his sixties, who was sitting in the café at the table right beside the hotel's entrance, rose to his feet and followed us up the stairs to the reception area. Once we'd arrived at the modest little reception desk, the man, who turned out to be the hotel's proprietor, Kyr. Mihael Kariotis, warmly shook our hands and declared with some pride, "You are Mr. John Manuel!" A fact which he'd remembered from our telephone conversation a couple of days previously.

Having replied in the affirmative, along with a return of his smile, I reminded him that we'd asked for one of the only six rooms which had a harbour view.  

"Of course!" Mr. Kariotis replied, handing me the key to room 17, which was up a further two flights of winding stairs. Staying here, it soon became evident that we'd not go short of some good, healthy exercise. I have to say at this point, that the room was very compact. The photographs on the hotel's website don't show the room in which we stayed. But, once we'd become used to the modest proportions of our home for the next four nights, we soon came to appreciate the fact that he'd given us probably the best view from the most private balcony that the establishment possessed. Small it may have been, but clean and tidy it was too. Plenty of soft white towels were placed across the bed and - what a bonus!!! - I didn't have to find a pin to unblock all the limescale from the showerhead, which never failed to stream with piping hot water.

Out on the balcony I couldn't wait to snap my first couple of shots to show our magnificent view. before we both crashed out and slept for a couple of hours.

Later that evening, my wife got to do something that she hadn't had the opportunity to do for quite a few years. More about that in Kalymnos Trip 2, the next episode!! Incidentally, in the picture at the very top of this post, if you click on it for a larger view, you'll spot almost exactly in the centre of the photo a terracotta-coloured awning. That's the balcony of our room.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Stopgap Measure

In no particular order, here are a few recent shots for your delectation and delight. What with having been away and stuff, I haven't had time to sit and write much of late. So, as a stopgap measure...

A doorway in Pothia, Kalymnos that took my fancy • Oct 18th, 10.00am

Two friendly local guys, playing "Tavli" [backgammon] in a traditional cafenion at Panormos, Kalymnos, same day, but 11.20am

Sunrise over Pothia Harbour, Kalymnos • Oct 19th at 7.30am

View up into the mountains from Masouri, Kalymnos • Oct 19th, 12.20pm. Looks almost Canarian doesn't it?

Now this was really amazing!! That's Adonis, Captain of the Magellanos, the boat I worked on all summer. Here we were having a coffee and cake in Pothia Harbour, in preparation for our journey back to Rhodes, when who should arrive but my old mate Adonis!! He's such a nice bloke that he even secretly paid our bill so we couldn't protest • Oct 21st, 11.50am

Locals playing dominoes at Gennadi, Rhodes • October 14th, 2.20pm

I mentioned in a previous post, "Whacky Snaps", about where we see tree frogs, like under the canopy on the terrace at our friends' house near Gennadi. Well, here's the proof! These were above head height up the wall. See the pic below too. What's neat is that each frog is a different colour • Oct 14th 2.15pm

See caption above
A new post will hopefully appear before long!!
(Apologies about why pic no. 1 won't open in a larger window. Beats me!!)

Friday, 12 October 2012

Something Fishy

The full moon rose like a pink balloon, sending rippling, shimmering pink flashes across the surface of the waters of Haraki Bay. As it rose further into the sky from behind the imposing presence of Feraklos castle, as yet still in silhouette as the sodium lights which illuminate it at night were yet to come on, the moon faded from a rich pink to a creamy yellow, then finally to its more familiar cool white. It was another one of those tingle-factor evenings, which Haraki has a habit of regularly serving up.

All that's required on such occasions is the right company, some excellent food and something wicked to drink. On this particular evening we were fortunate enough to have all three. Our good friends Freda and Jilly, two sisters from Leicestershire who we first encountered on my Symi excursion back in 2007, were here for their annual stay at the Atrium Palace Hotel in Kalathos and we'd decided to eat out on Haraki seafront. It was Sunday September 30th and it was still very hot.

After taking an aperitif and a few nibbles on the balcony at the hotel, the four of us piled into our car and we drove the short distance to Haraki. We'd been debating where to eat and it was Yvonne-Maria who'd reminded us that one of our favourite tavernas, the Paradosi on Haraki front, which had closed down the year before last and sadly was closed for all of last year's season, was open again under a different name. Right next to the Style Bar, the Paradosi used to be excellent and was one of the few tavernas where we knew we'd be able to order revitho-keftedes, or chick-pea rissoles/fritters. Walking along Haraki promenade we were happy to see a healthy clutch of diners seated on the waterfront and the new sign naming the recently re-opened taverna read "To Spitaki" which means, "The Little House." Not to be confused with the taverna in Pefkos of the same name.

We instantly took a liking to the place as the waiter who attended to us was very friendly, not "in your face" but always there if we needed him. Freda and Jilly both opted for the Tsipoura (Sea Bream) done over charcoal, whilst my wife and I selected an array of different starters and one swordfish steak between us. By the time the table was laden with all the stuff which we'd all ordered we realised that we'd probably overdone it, but, what the heck, there was no hurry! The fish dishes were absolutely beautiful, a fact which we all remarked on and also communicated to the waiter. How daft of us not to have asked his name. Still, next time.

When you have a view like the one afforded you on Haraki front, on a night which is illuminated by a full moon, there's little else anyone could wish for. The night sky reached a stage of complete blackness and the lights of Feraklos castle came on, to add the perfect backdrop to the scene. A lot of Greeks came to eat in the taverna too, a fact which also boosted our opinion that we'd made a good choice. 

By the time we'd all stuffed ourselves rather too much, we called for the bill, which arrived only after we'd first been presented with a dish of fresh fruit - on the house. When we finally did get up, with difficulty, to stroll back along the front and through the lane to the car park, the man who'd waited on us came to bid us goodnight, so we introduced ourselves properly this time, along with our two lady friends, and thus began a banter which ended up in the four of us falling about. He asked us to hold on while he fetched the chef, who was also the new owner, and a rotund, jolly man with a huge grin approached, shook our hands and insisted that we sit down again for a glass of Skinos Mastiko, a digestif, made from the tree that only grows on the island of Chios and nowhere else in the world. If you haven't tried this, you must, you simply must.

All in all a perfect evening, made all the more enjoyable by the way we always seem to click with Freda and Jilly. There's never a lull in the conversation when the four of us get together. It was rather special too that we could also have a farewell drink with them before they went back to the UK up at the Atmosphere Bar in Lindos, along with our mutual friend Linda, also lives on the island, before bidding the ladies bye bye until next year.

Haraki is still in safe hands folks. The Spitaki proves it.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Counting Down

Well, here we are in October already. It's Saturday the 6th to be precise and it's 26ºC (80ºF) outside. Yesterday afternoon we had some convectional cloud and a little thunder, along with a very brief shower, but so far here in Kiotari we've yet to have a good downpour. There's been nothing since May in fact. It makes it a nightmare to keep the car clean, since we drive up and down a kilometre of dusty lane every time we go out or come in. And since we've just changed the car (finally said goodbye to the trusty old Suzuki Swift. Quite sad about that, but an almost new Skoda Fabia with a wicked hi fi alleviates the pain to some degree!), I feel duty-bound to hose off the dust every time we get the car under the carport when we get home. It won't last, but you blokes out there will understand where I'm coming from here, eh?

Changing the car here in Greece, as you'll already guess, is just a tad more complicated than in the UK. Both purchaser and seller have to go together to the local K.E.P. office, which is a government-run organisation and the initials stand for Citizens' Service Centre. It's a bit like the Citizens' Advice Bureau in the UK but with more practical hands-on ways to assist the citizen. For example, you can renew your driving licence there. 

When buying or selling a car, though, although the staff are very helpful, there's the usual bureaucracy to wade through. Plus, as is so often the case in numerous Government offices here, if the person who does what you require isn't "in" when you call, you don't get anything done and have to come back another time. Once you finally get seated across the desk from him or her, along with (in my case, since I was the buyer) your seller, you then have to present your residency permit, your Passport, your Tax number and your green receipt from the Ethniki Bank to show that you've been and paid the tax required of all car purchasers. So I'd had to go previously to Arhangelos to pay €135 (commensurate with the car's engine capacity) in order to be ready with my green receipt before we could do the transfer of ownership.

Then the fun begins. The girl across the desk has to fill in an A4 form upon which she has to record your full name and your father's name, if I remember correctly your mother's too!! The same for the seller. Then all the relevant numbers [tax/passport/residency permit] for both you and the seller. Then she'll write your details on the existing Registration Document for the car and rubber stamp that. She'll then photocopy that and give you a copy because you can't get the vehicle insured without proof of ownership, since it'll be a week or two if you're lucky!) before the new Registration Document comes through.

Then, whilst the two of us on our side of the desk sign in the appropriate places and date the Transfer Document, the clerk will fill out a couple more A4 sheets, which we don't even get to look at. By the time we were done I was looking at a healthy pile of A4 sheets and photocopies under the clerk's right hand and asked her, "How do you cope with all this stuff?" To which she replied, "We don't really!"

Of course, I had to look forward to doing the whole thing again once I'd found a buyer for the Swift. Happy days. In the UK you just fill out the lower portion of the Registration Document with the new owner's details, you both sign it and send it off in the mail. Some days later the new owner receives the updated Document. Job done. I asked the girl if my new Registration Document would be arriving by mail, and she told me that, no, she'd ring me when it arrived so I could collect it. That made me nervous right away. I mean, how often does a Greek tell you that they'll be ringing you and then they never do. I live in hope that she'll prove my fears ungrounded.

I began this post with the intention of musing over the fact that the season is soon to draw to a close. Got a bit side-tracked as usual. 

The last few weeks have seemed to slip by as quickly as the the last grains of sand in an hourglass. Coach drivers and waiters, boat-owners and souvenir-shop owners are all now sighing and saying tiredly, "just a couple more weeks, then we can rest". The bee eaters have almost all flown South and there are baby turtles in the small lake behind the beach down near the new Hotel here, the Princess Adriana. Thankfully, as I've mentioned before, the Hotel's builders made sure to leave this body of water intact. It's a very useful little haven for these delightful little creatures to breed in. In fact, on Monday evening my wife and I stood on the tiny bridge above it and were happily turtle-spotting when a Kingfisher flew out from beneath us and along the lake toward the beach before darting to the right into the rushes which line the banks. It was a brilliant flash of turquoise-blue which certainly brightened our afternoon.

As usual the goats are getting desperate again. Every summer they seem to spend more and more time in our valley as the end of the season draws near, ever searching for something more interesting than a dried up tough stalk on which to chomp. They'll wander listlessly along the lane beside our fence, eyeing the lush vegetation just metres away. The compound down the valley, which some local Greeks cleared and fenced off a couple of years ago, and in which they've planted a clutch of fruit trees, has already been invaded twice in recent weeks and the goats have stripped the trees down to stalks just a couple of feet high. The owners turn up on Sunday morning to water and instead they have to resort to finding out where the goats got in and making good the defenses. The trees are resilient though and soon begin to sprout green leaves again. In the long run it's probably quite a beneficial prune that the goats have given them.

We really need the rain now so that the countryside vegetation can sprout and the goats then no longer need to study people's gardens in the hope of a decent meal.

My wife and I rejoice too that the temperatures are now dropping to the level at which we feel like attacking the garden with gusto once again as the sky begins to sport fluffy clouds now and then, rather like one sees on a typical British summer's day. We live in hope that before long some of these will turn darker and really drop some decent rainfall.

The prospect of long walks and quieter roads appeals, as does the chance to catch up with friends whom we've not seen too often during the summer season. November through December and into January will bring the olive harvest, long mornings spent putting the world to rights over a coffee outside a local bar and the planting of vegetables which we hope to be eating come the spring.

Yes the rhythm of the seasons plays loudly in our symbolic ears and it is good. It is comfortable. It reminds one of all that is good about life on a Greek island, despite all the woes that beset this noble and brave little country.

By the way. I've just finished Victoria Hislop's latest book, "The Thread" and can agree with my wife that it's a very good read. She even said that it was one of the best books she'd ever read. I wouldn't go that far, having found the writing style a little banal in places, but the story is nevertheless well told and it's an education for anyone wanting to learn the modern history of the city of Thessalonika, told through the lives of some fictional characters who lived through some of the most turbulent times ever in man's history. It covers a period from just after the First World War down to the present day.

Well, time to go gardening. Or shall I have a beer instead?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Very Good Lunch (Photos now added)

Odyssey Taverna, Old Town

Left to right: Nikos, Christos, Nora & Babis

For several weeks now I've been eating in the Odyssey Taverna in Old Rhodes Town on Tuesday lunchtimes, whilst leaving my excursion guests to explore the town. You know how sometimes you can eat somewhere, have a really wonderful meal and then go back there another time and be very disappointed? It's for this reason that I've given it a few weeks to see if the standard would be maintained. You know what? I still absolutely love the place.

The Odyssey is in Menekleous Street, which is easy to find, even in a place as confusing as the Old Town in Rhodes. You just walk up the main shopping street (Socratous) from the Square with the stone fountain and, when you arrive at the bar on the right with the huge tree above it, you take a left, walk around a "dog-leg" bend and the Odyssey appears on your right hand side, opposite Romeo's.

It's run by a very nice bloke called Babis, along with Nikos, Christos and Nora (there was also Deanna, but she's now finished for the winter), all of whom I've found to be very helpful and - what's more important - happy and friendly. I first went there on the recommendation of someone else and was given a warm welcome. I ordered courgette rissoles (kolokythokeftedes, OK, maybe better to stick with "courgette rissoles!") and Babis asked me if I'd like to try his tomatokeftedes, made with his own recipe. He said that he'd bring me one to try and see if I didn't agree that it was extremely tasty. It was. Plus I thought I'd see how good the fourno patates were, and they were simply delicious. The presentation was really impressive and the helpings huge. 

I've since sampled a pretty good variety of their menu and last week ate two extremely delicious fish, done over the charcoal and with a squeeze of lemon, with some very tasty savoury rice alongside. One of my favourite dishes is the baked aubergine. It's actually an aubergine skin, with all of its contents scooped out, pulverised and mixed with herbs, onion and a little vinegar and lemon, then all stuffed back in and the entire kaboodle baked in the oven. A nicer aubergine dish would be hard to either find or imagine.

The restaurant opposite is called Romeo's. I've never eaten there and would have no problem expecting it to be equally as good. But I was drawn to the Odyssey by the fact that Romeo's enjoys the patronage of a few walking tour guides, each of which marches their group into the taverna, either during or at the end of their tour. This has the effect of making the casual passer-by see it stuffed full of clients and perhaps drawing the conclusion that this is due to their food being of superior quality to the Odyssey across the way. Babis, on the other hand, tells me that the Odyssey relies entirely on those who pass by taking the plunge and coming in to try his fare. He has no regular arrangement with the guides.

When my wife and I used to take holidays in Greece I'd lose count of the number of times that we'd peruse a menu whilst eyeing the clientele of the establishment in question plus the close neighbours. How often my wife would say, "Let's go into this one, they have more people so it must be good". I would always counter with, "Yea, but if we go into the empty one, they're bound to look after us and treat us well, since they need the business more." I usually lost.

So it was with great pleasure that I was able to take my wife to the Odyssey today. Guess what. She loved it. They brought us a huge helping of both types of veggie keftedes, plus a green salad of lettuce and chopped spring onions and a plate of fourno patates. My wife suggested that we ask for a doggy-bag to take some of the rissoles home, but we eventually ate the lot and then complained that we'd overdone it.

Hopefully the excursion will run again next week. If it does, I know where I'll be taking lunch!!!

PS: On Tuesday October 9th I ate there again. I had the gigantes (big beans), some Haloumi, a delicious green salad of lettuce and baby spring onions and some (just for a change) patates tiganites (chips). Simple, yet superb. And they brought me such large helpings that I was stuffed.