Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A Good Meal, Then Walk it Off!!

My friends James and Neil on Symi have just posted this photo on their blog "Symi Dream"...

The post with this photo in it is here:

If you're visiting Symi this year, I'd highly recommend you visit Taverna "O Meraklis", which is run by a very nice guy called Sotiri. When, a few years back, I used to do Symi as an excursion every week, I always took lunch here and, prior to that, when my wife and I had a number of vacations on Symi we'd keep gravitating back to this taverna, which, as you can gather, has been there many years.

It's the real deal and is easily found by strolling about fifty meters or so up a back street from the corner of Symi waterfront. The corner in question is the one right at the bottom in this picture below (the left corner of the harbour front when viewed from the sea)...

Photo courtesy of
Taverna O Meraklis is not far from the little © on the photo above.

While you're on Symi, it would be a good idea too to walk up the Kali Strata, where you'll (if you're fit enough!!) eventually reach the shop called "Symi Dream". Well worth a visit if you want a really tasteful and different souvenir of this wonderful island.

Details on how to get to Symi from Rhodes "under you own steam" as it were, are to be found on my "Nearby Islands" page.

So, there you are. You can sample some excellent traditional Greek cuisine at Taverna O Meraklis, then walk it off as you climb the 350 steps of the Kali Strata, ...enjoy!

Oh, and I'd be very remiss not to give you the link to the taverna's Facebook page, where there's a great photo of Sotiri himself, behind a table laden with some pretty "νόστιμο" food!!

*addendum summer 2015: It is my understanding that James and Neil have now closed the shop "Symi Dream", but Neil continues with his excellent and creative photography and James with his writing projects. Both may be contacted through these links, James, Neil. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Fuel Stop Afandou

Now and again, when we've been up in town well into the evening before leaving for home, the problem of how to sate our hunger needs addressing. To get home to Kiotari from Rhodes town can take as little as 45 minutes during the winter months, but that journey time is increased to an hour and sometimes more once the hire cars, quad-bikes and coaches hit the roads in great numbers when the tourist season gets under way.

OK, admittedly the journey's better than it used to be before they improved the road from Kolumbia to Faliraki. They've been at it for almost five years now and seem determined not to finish the job any time soon. Granted there is now dual carriageway (divided highway, dudes) running from the newly installed traffic lights at the Kolumbia cross-roads all the way to the very edge of town (except the bit where the road passes the village of Afandou), but I reckon the planners had a back-hander worked out with some rep from a traffic-light manufacturing company, because there are now no less than 15 sets of lights between Kolumbia and the outskirts of Rhodes Town, which, if you're unlucky enough to hit when they're all against you (which they're programmed to do, I swear!!) can add a good (wrong adjective there) 15 to 20 minutes to the trip. If they're mainly green it's OK, but that doesn't happen anything like often enough for my liking.

Here in Greece they have this marvellous system of overhead amber flashers about 500 meters before you reach the lights. If they're not flashing then you'll hit the lights when they're green (oh, bliss!). If you're passing under them when they start to flash then you'll make it through just as the lights are changing from green through amber to red. If they're flashing before you pass under them, you've had it I'm afraid. Either the lights are already red or it will be tantalisingly close, but they'll be red slightly before you reach them. 

Something I really don't like about the traffic lights here, and it has to be said that this doesn't only apply to Greece, I know, but if you're stationary at a red light waiting for it to change, you don't get the amber before the green. The lights go straight from red to green and it never fails to spook me. No matter how quickly you engage first and start to move you can bet your bottom Euro that the bloke behind is already leaning on his horn with that "What's the matter, IDIOT!! Why aren't you MOVING?!" attitude clearly visible in your rear view mirror. Some things are better in the UK and the way the traffic lights work is one of them. When it's time for you to prepare to move, the lights obligingly give you an amber after the red, which says "OK, so get ready to release your handbrake and get into gear because little old green is coming up in a jiff!" Thus you're able to pull away in a dignified manner and without a hint of the blind panic that gets me every time the Greek red light flips off and the green flips on, as if to deliberately catch you napping, or perhaps checking out the finer examples of God's creation trotting along the pavement (sidewalk, guys? Is this confusing or what?) instead of studying that red light without blinking.

Before we move on, I'd appreciate it if here in Greece they operated the "right on red" system that they use in most parts of the USA. Seems eminently sensible to me. Of course you couldn't do it in the UK because they drive on the left. Somehow "left on red" doesn't sound as cool.

Anyway, I digress hugely ("so what's new?" you're mouthing, eh? Don't think I can't see you) as usual. What I started out on was the need for food which makes itself evident when we're driving south from Rhodes town at - say - 9.30pm or later. When we're at home we usually eat at around 8.00pm. Not being filthy rich we don't always have the dosh to drop into a taverna as often as we'd like, so the problem arises, when we're on the road, as to what to eat, since we'll be arriving home at much too late an hour to start preparing a meal. To be honest, it's not completely about whether we have the cash, it's more the fact the the boot (ahem, "trunk", OK?) is usually full of shopping and the plastic ice containers in the cool bag are working overtime so we need to get home a little faster than we'd otherwise do if we went into a taverna to eat.

So, enter the absolutely wonderfully situated giros place at the top of Afandou Plateia. We've been dropping in here on and off for almost eight years now and the couple who run it always look the same. He's a big bear of a man with a permanent 5 o'clock shadow and she's much shorter than him with lank greying hair. They could easily be sitting on a sofa sipping lager and eating pizza with Wayne and Waynetta Slob. They'd look right at home. You don't know who Wayne and Waynetta were? Google it folks.

I imagine that when they go home, if in fact they ever do, they must still stink of frying oil even after a hot bath or long shower. It must be ingrained in their pores. But, and this is what counts, they rustle up arguable the best pittas on the island. We used to just order a couple of plain pittas and some chips (fries, fellas. Check this out, it'll educate you if you live west of the pond) to eat in the car as we drove ever onward towards home, but these days we tend to order vegetarian pittas, which they stuff with chips, lettuce, onion, cucumber, tomato and tzatziki, plus a couple of drinks and sit down in the salubrious surroundings of the takeaway (carry-out, [phew]) to drink in the ambience and stuff ourselves silly for about 9 Euros (two stuffed pittas, a portion of chips, a Coke Zero and a Fix).

Afandou plateia [square] is actually really nice. It's probably the only place on the island where there's a row of cafes which all sport those comfy cane chairs with the thick cushions. It's what I always envisage when I imagine sitting down in a typical Greek square to sip a frappe (OK, or a beer). Locals sit and play tavli or cards and there's a constant stream of activity to satisfy even the most demanding people watcher.

So, of you're passing Afandou any time, take the right at the traffic lights opposite the golf course if you're heading away from town. drive all the way into the village until you see a couple of taxis parked up on the left. The square will be right before you and the Giros place takes pride of place at the top next to the taxi rank.

There  you can order a giros and find someone with whom to have a good moan as you express your frustration at just how many traffic lights the main Rhodes-Lindos highway now hosts.

Yes, I did say "highway". Do you know we English used to use that word in times of old? Nowadays we think it's American don't we? But what was Dick Turpin described as then? New can of worms undergoing opening procedure...

Saturday, 18 May 2013

We're Off...

Halki yesterday was a very laid back affair. Only half a coach-full of very well-behaved guests (!) and as the day progressed the sky became gloomier. It's the old Αφρικανική σκόνη you know. "African dust" blankets us now and again during the spring and it's something the tourists don't always know about. To the visitor it just looks like a muggy, dull day, when it's actually half the Sahara desert visiting itself upon us from on high. A couple more days yet before it's gone this time around, but it won't be as dull today and tomorrow as it was yesterday.

The cafe right on the quay at Halki has had a very tasteful facelift and Kyria Levkosia is back in her kitchen, so Grace tells me, which means I'll be going there next visit. This time around I went to Maria's and received a very warm welcome, as always of course.

Babis has been vending his fresh fruit and small packs of honey and sesame seed covered nuts for 27 years at Butterfly Valley. A nicer chap you couldn't hope to meet.

"Big" Manolis, one of my favourite drivers, and I, in the "Saloni"

Panos, Grace's driver, plays Tavli in the Cafe on Halki harbour-front

Maria's, with freshly painted chairs and tables

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

What Goes Around...

We have a tree near our washing line (rotary, brought all the way from the UK. But then, you didn't really want to know that, did you?). We only put it in a couple of years ago (the tree, not the washing line, that's been there since 2005), when it was given to us in a pot and stood no more than eight inches tall. Now it's fifteen feet and rising and, at this time of the year laden with greenish-yellow pom-poms that the bees go mad for. Stand anywhere near it now and you can well imagine what it sounds like to be beside a road on the Isle on Man during the TT races. The drone is seriously loud and constant.

Of course, the garden in May is chock-full of blooms anyway, many of which the bees also make a bee-line for (yeah I know, bad pun), so, by and large, it's understandable that the local beekeepers, who move a clutch of perhaps 40 hives to a new location from time to time, tend often to install them on a patch of land not more than a stone's throw from our fence. We're fine with that. In fact, in high summer the plant pot tray out near the car-port, which we keep permanently full of water, primarily for the birds, is often the target of a constant parade of bees all after getting themselves re-hydrated before returning to their hives. They never cause us any bother and their sound is rather torpor-inducing whenever we get the chance to sit outside with a book during the early evening. Oh, add to the book a gin and tonic maybe, just to be on the safe side.

Whenever we're out walking the lanes among the olive groves we'll catch sight of a line of blue-coloured boxes, beehives, and it's cool with us. After all, the honey they make eventually ends up in the local shops and thus in a glass jar in our kitchen cupboard; so you might say that the pollen and nectar or whatever which is lifted by the little busy buzzers from our garden in one form eventually comes back, only this time in the form a lovely golden-coloured liquid which goes perfectly with a dollop of Greek yogurt for starters, or maybe dessert - whatever.

Just this morning, though, some of the magic sticky stuff came back in a totally unexpected and very welcome manner. The better half and I were out weeding industriously, there's no other way to weed, after all. Vehicles pass our place exceedingly rarely and most often we know who's coming well before they pass the garden wall and gate. Quite a few locals, even the ones we don't know to talk to, will wave at us if they see us setting about a bush with a pair of secateurs, or traipsing along with a wheelbarrow. The beekeepers have a couple of flatbed fixed chassis trucks which they use to move the hives around from place to place and they probably come by about twice a week. This very morning we arose from our low position down there with the weeds because the sound of a diesel truck signified that it was more than likely the bee-men coming up the valley on their way to check on their hives. Sometimes we see them sat in the cab with their signature bee-keeper's hat already in place, others not. Anyway, as they came up around the bend there indeed were the two trucks which we know and so we responded to their toot-toots with a vigorous wave and a smile.

That wasn't, however, the last we saw of them today. An hour or so later the sound of their engines could again be heard approaching from the lane behind the house. Pretty soon, as expected, they came into view at the far end of the orchard, both this time with a stack of hives on the flatbeds behind their cabs. One of them even told me once that they sometimes place empty hives around the countryside because some thieving lowlifes ("malakas" was the word they used if I remember correctly. There's a story attached to that word. remind me to tell you some time), anyway, because some thieving low-lifes have been known to risk life and limb to steal not only honey, but the bees as well!!

As the trucks passed the gates and drew level with us from the other side of the wall, they tooted once again and we waved as before, only this time the tone of the engines indicated that they were coming to a halt. The lane outside this part of the garden is quite a few feet lower than the level of the garden, so all I could see was the fact that the cab door was open. I thought that perhaps the bloke driving the front truck wanted to walk back and talk to the driver behind, so I returned to the business of some industrious weeding. It hadn't occurred to me that if he'd wanted to talk to the bloke behind he'd have used his mobile phone. Doh!

A moment passed and I heard a voice calling from below the wall. In a heavy Greek accent a man was calling out, "My Friend! My Friend!" By the tone it was evident that he was trying to attract the attention of either my wife or me and, since I was the nearer of the two of us, I walked to the edge of the garden above the wall whilst calling out, "I'm here!" On seeing me he immediately shot his hand through the open door into the truck's cab and brought it out holding this…

Extremely surprised, yet also immensely touched (a lot of people say that about me), I approached to within hand-shaking distance, whereupon he handed me the jar and said, "For you! Enjoy!"  whilst gesturing with his other hand that of course this included Y-Maria too. Before I'd even finished thanking him, he was back in the cab and both trucks were engaging gear before trundling off down the lane, eventually their sound receding into nothing, leaving us with a wonderful jar of locally produced Thyme honey. Well, it says "Thyme" on the label, but I prefer to believe that the bees that made it had also made good use of the blooms in our garden during the process.

After all, what goes around comes around.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Pink Skin on Parade, a Mystery "Maison" and a Plate of Macaronia

Well we sat in the Yachting Club Café at Mandraki on Friday morning for our first real "people-watching" session of 2013 and it was a very pleasant 23ºC or thereabouts. Just about warm enough for the Greeks to think about shedding their leather jackets, but not a local was to be seen without full-length trousers (usually denim jeans) of course. You can't be too careful, we're only just emerging from winter, after all.

From the above you'll have deduced that it wasn't too difficult spotting the tourists then. Not only were they all to be seen sporting shorts of varying lengths, but the amount of pink skin on display was bounteous, to say the least. Much to the bemusement of the "barely-out-of-shivering-mode" locals, there were even several highly cultured blokes wandering around without tops on at all. Now, call me old fashioned, even a curmudgeon, but I'd never dream of walking around in a public place that wasn't a beach even in high summer, when the temperature really is a respectable 35 to 40º, without some form of torso-wear. It's just basic decency after all, together with respect for the locals who live and work around one too. I know, I know, you're probably thinking that I'm hopelessly out of touch these days.

Lots of females were waltzing around with spaghetti straps hanging off of already reddening shoulders too. Ah well, can't blame them I suppose, I too have emerged from the aeroplane door in May in Greece to be greeted by temperatures some 15-20ºC higher than those I'd left a few hours earlier as I'd boarded the plane at some UK airport.

Anyway, it was a real treat to sit there at the corner table and drink in the buzz of Rhodes town in the early season. 

Changing the subject. if you do happen to be a regular Rhodean visitor, especially one who frequents the southern part of the island, do you recognise this house?

I dunno why you ought to really, unless you happen to have ferretted around the backwaters of one particular resort in the south of the island, it's just that I rather like the place and have been quite sad to see that it's remained unoccupied for a few years of late, seemingly anyway.

There you go, just a little teaser, if you've got your thinking cap on. Go on Vicky, I bet you'll know it.

Finally, if you've read the first of my "Ramblings From Rhodes" tomes, "Feta Compli!" (* see below), you'll have come across the chapter entitled "Auntie Effie's Cuisine", where I describe my wife's aunt Effie and her penchant for cooking "macaronia", the Greek term for spaghetti, virtually every day of her life for several decades. I was led to believe that this was because her hubby, whom we called "Uncle Stamati" was meant to be rather partial to it. On one occasion when we'd arrived in Athens we'd been treated to a portion of the stuff and had resorted to surreptitious methods in order to get it off of our plates and out of the building without Aunt Effie knowing that we'd been unable to eat it. For a full description of the horrors of her take on Spag-Bol, you'll have to read the book. (Can I drop in a plug, or can I drop in a plug. eh?)

Why do I refer back to this now? Well, we know a woman who lives in a shoe. No, sorry, in Lardos. She lives in Lardos - and we'll call her Fotini. She's actually only three years or so older than my wife, but is very overweight, waddles when she walks and has a lot of back trouble. My wife, even though she loves Fotini, was well pleased when some time ago another friend met Fotini for the first time and thought that she was my wife's mother!! I could never have done anything more to feed the better half's sense of well-being that day than did our friend from Rhodes Town!

Anyway, our friend Fotini is not very well off and so, when we're up near town and shopping in the Lidl store, Fotini will often ask us to buy her about a dozen packs of Μακαρόνια, since she's rather partial to it. She serves it up with a thin smearing of mincemeat and tomato sauce on top for her grown up sons and sundry other male relatives too. Virtually every time we talk to her about food, we hear "I cooked up some macaronia for the boys, they do so love it."

Hmm, yes, Fotini, are you sure that they do indeed love it, or is there perchance some ancient preoccupation with the stuff that spans the country like an invisible web and permeates the culture right down to every older woman's kitchen?

What about a little Linguini for a change? Fettuccine perhaps? Variety is the spice of life after all. 

That's a fact which is very evident when you're people-watching in Mandraki.

(*If you're wondering whether to shell out for the book(s), I'd only ask that you take the time to read all of the reviews, perhaps including the one on the USA Amazon site. "You can't please all of the people..." and all that stuff. But the reaction of a minority of hard-to-please readers who, in my view don't actually "get it" about my ramblings, is just that, a minority. Honest. Pleadings over!)

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Cheap and Cheerful

It came as quite a shock really. Last night (Saturday) at around 10.00pm - as I was standing inside Savvas Grill in Lardos, waiting as one of the young Albanian girls who have worked in the kitchen there for many years prepared our evening takeway of two vegetarian pittas and a portion of oven-potatoes, which we'd be taking home to devour in front of the TV as we watched the last semi final of the World Snooker played to a finish - I found myself wondering whether I'd ever written anything about this place on the blog, or even in the books.To my own astonishment, I realised that I hadn't.


Pictures of Savva's - Restaurant Photos
This photo of Savvas is courtesy of TripAdvisor

How very remiss of me. Savvas Grill & Restaurant was one of the first tavernas we ever ate at after arriving here to start a new life in August 2005. It's situated on one of the roads leading away from the main square in Lardos Village and is squeezed between that and a tiny backstreet, making the main dining area a kind of roughly triangular shape. Savvas Grill is open 364 days a year, the only exception being Christmas Day. It's well patronised by loads of locals and for good reason.

It kind of embarrasses me to admit that, for all the fact that we know the owners quite well and, as I've already indicated above, we've been going there for many years, I still don't know their actual names. It's got to the point where I'd be to embarrassed to ask them at this stage anyway, so we content ourselves with exchanging polite conversation each time we're in there and try and pretend that names aren't necessary.

Savvas is family-run in the true sense of the word. The owner/manager, who I'll call Savvas anyway, although that may not be his actual name, is probably in his late fifties or early sixties and always has a ready smile. He's a gently kind of guy with a kind face and helpful manner. He's quietly spoken and the perfect host for a traditional Greek taverna/psistaria. Incidentally, if you've ever been confused by the different terms used to describe a restaurant here in Greece (for example, estiatorio, psistaria, taverna...), here's a good site which will reveal all, Matt Barrett's Travel Guides.

Right, so having cleared that up, what ought I to tell you about Savvas Grill? Basically, it's brill. Savvas' hardworking wife too is often to be seen in the kitchen, and their son, who's a qualified doctor, frequently moonlights serving at table during the evenings. The son's children too (he has a couple of toddlers) are often to be seen trotting about the place while their dad gets on with helping out.

The menu is basic Greek traditional fare, but it's all delicious and extremely good value. There are several glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. Savvas is great because it makes no pretenses. In wintertime there's a roaring log fire and in summer all the glass panels around the dining area are removed to make it truly outdoor dining experience. My wife and I have often dined there and been amazed at how much we've eaten for such a modest price. We can eat extremely well, plus drink a little too, for not much over twenty Euros. That's eating the Greek way, of course, by selecting a variety of dishes and both tucking into them. We've never been dissappointed, either with the food or the service.

More frequently these days, we drop by on a Saturday evening, when my wife would like a night off from the cooking, and avail ourselves of a delicious takeaway (OK, carry-out if you're the other side of the pond!). They do fab vegetarian pittas, stuffed as they are with tzatziki, lettuce, cucumber, onion, tomato and a few chips (fried potatoes, guys). We usually supplement those with some oven potatoes (also described in that last link above) and for less than five Euros we have a meal that makes us fit to bust.

Right there in the village of Lardos there's the real deal when it comes to traditional Greek hospitality, cuisine and value. If you stay out here any time and you're self-catering, it's worth remembering the fact that at Savvas you can get a meal to-go. Years ago they had a small serve-over which made that more evident. A couple of years back they re-modelled the place, and it has to be said that this did improve it, but it lost the serve-over and so made it a little less obvious that they are very happy to do a takeaway pitta, stuffed with souvlaki for the carnivores out there too, plus they'll pack up virtually any of the tasty dishes they've concocted, all of which may be inspected through the glass of the hot cabinet, in those little aluminium trays with cardboard tops like you get in any Chinese takeaway in the UK.

If you're staying anywhere in the South of Rhodes, you could do a lot worse that pay a visit to Savvas Grill. Might see you in there some time.