Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Road Goes Ever On...

As I do tend to make the claim to be an aging hippy, I of course have read The Lord of The Rings several times, not to mention The Hobbit. Thus, friends, any time I find myself in a bucolic beauty spot (No, bucolic doesn't mean you need to reach for the Gaviscon. Look it up. See, you become more araldite by reading my blog [and yes I was joking when I typed "araldite" before you start correcting me. Honestly, some people are sooo slow, and not too erudite either!!]) ...anyway, where was I? Oh yes, any time I find myself in a distinctly rural setting (see, now you don't have to look "bucolic" up) I tend to imagine scenes from the aforementioned books.

So, the reason why I brought Tolkein up in the first place? Doing a new excursion every week to Seven Springs (Epta Piges, επτά πιγές) every Tuesday, I'm kind of given the feeling that I'm one of the "Fellowship of the Ring" each time I lead my trusty band of guests up the winding path from the road to the grove in the forest that is Seven Springs. 

At the risk of boring anyone out there who's done it and got the t-shirt, or perhaps even stroked the python, there may be some reading this who'd quite like to see what the place is like. Firstly, it is beautiful. Secondly, if anyone can pinpoint where the actual seven springs are they'd definitely score a few brownie points with me.

Not that it really matters. There is at least one spring, a fact made evident by the beautifully clear, refreshing water that flows through the valley immediately below the "Restaurant in the Forest Grove". Take a look at their own web site, which is a bit basic, but quite informative, with quite a few pages bearing explanations and photos. Then, friends, cop a load of these (some of the photos below already appeared in the previous post too)...

Plenty of paddlers here. Understandably, given the temperatures in August, even in the shade of the trees.

Not a bad place to eat a meal.

The tunnel's 183 metres long. This is the way in.

So's this.

And this is the exit at the other end.

So's this!

Across the lake from the tunnel's exit. the lake is fuller during winter time.

If you're thinking of going, this is probably the best shot of the map at the restaurant that you'll find. The only other two I found on line were illegible. Click on it then "save image" (right click) and you can print it out.

Leaving the Shire...

To reach the grove from the road, all this series of photos shows you the path one has to follow. If you arrive in a car, you can, however, drive up a concrete lane to a parking area.

This is part of the ruin of an old mill. Just discernible on the map above, right down at the bottom left.

Just a few more metres to the road. These shots were taken during the walk back down.

The 2-D photo is deceptive. It's quite a drop.

The entire walk, whilst looking formidable in the photos, is only about 5 to 10 minutes and is easily manageable for anyone with two legs. In fact, one of my guests had a prosthetic one yesterday and he made it!!

Finally, as we passed Lindos on our way to Butterfly Valley and Seven Springs, I shot this through the front window of the coach. 

Honestly, the traffic, even at this time of the morning!!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Any Bream Will Do

OK, so it's high season, too damn hot for gardening and we decided it was time we had another outing. So last Sunday, August 18th, we set out early, ooh, I'd say about 11.30am (!!) to go and see a couple of nice places and take lunch out somewhere. As it happens (plug, plug...) I was due to start another new excursion on Tuesday (which we in fact did) which consists simply of Butterfly Valley followed by Seven Springs, following a circuitous (oooh, big words eh?) and picturesque route from and back to Kiotari, picking up guests through Pefkos & Lindos along the way. We arrive back where we started early in the afternoon, a veritable delight and a doddle.

Yes, well, I've been going to Butterfly Valley every Friday during the season since summer 2011 (prior to proceeding over to Halki), so there wasn't much need to check that out particularly, but I have to admit to not been overly familiar with Epta Piges, or Seven Springs, so - in the interests of research and a selfless desire to help my future excursion guests - we decided to include the popular beauty spot in our route for the day. Well, we've only lived on the island for eight years this very week, so give us a break. Lots to see, lots to do, you know the drill. 

Another place I felt the need to see for myself was the Italian Aqueduct and man-made circular pool at the top of the village of Eleoussa (check out this post). I'd read before about the species of fish called the Gizani, which is extremely rare, yet lives in this very pool up in the hinterland of the island. Take a look at this page for more information. This fish is one of the most endangered species in Europe and yet, here we are with a thriving colony right under our noses and nothing is said about it. Maybe that's the way the conservationists want it, I don't know. But I wanted to see a Gizani or two for myself before it was no longer possible.

Slap bang in the middle of the village of Eleoussa, these fascinating Italian buildings, which had been intended as a sanatorium, now stand crumbling in the hot sunshine.

Rather sadly, this pool and aqueduct, again built by the Italians, was deserted when we got there. We were both quite sad to think that so many people pass very nearby in their hired vehicles and don't even know that this is here.

The fish [Gizani] are clearly visible when you stare into the inviting water. Not supposed to take a dip though. The cafe (below) was all closed up and looking forlorn here too.

The pool is a mere 100 metres walk up the road from the square with all the old Italian Buildings

Arriving later at Epta Piges we decided to take the car up the winding crumbling concrete lane which leads several hundred metres up into the pine forest to the parking area. Once you get into the pine grove where the restaurant and souvenir shop are located it really is an impressive place, especially if you walk down through the terraces of tables and chairs, cross the wooden bridge over the vigorously-flowing stream (yes, even in August) and head up the valley to the left toward the springs themselves. I was quite mesmerised by the trees along the dusty path...

I was expecting a couple of Hobbits to pop out from behind a tree here at any time.

The entrance to the 186m long tunnel leading to the lake on the other side of the hill. You walk it in almost total darkness and up to your ankles in water.

Not a bad place to take a light lunch, eh?

So, after I'd done a pretty thorough reccy, while the beloved sipped at her frappé at a table on the restaurant's terrace, we were ready to press on and find somewhere to eat lunch. 

It had been quite some time since we'd gone down to Stegna too, the cozy little seaside resort over the mountain and down a couple of miles of James Bond-ish road from Arhangelos. We'd gone down there back last winter, when the regular road had been closed and the detour route had tended to put one in mind of the London-Sydney Marathon Rally. Do they still run that event? There you are, you see. the wonders of good old "Daily Mail hated" Google. Next year, 2014, I just found out they're going to run it the other way round. When we'd driven down to Stegna last November, I remember thinking there should have been a couple of extra jerry cans of fuel on the back and a roo-bar on the front of the car to make it feel at home. At least now the regular road is back in commission, affording spectacular views as your ears pop on the way down to the seafront itself.

When the road empties out on the seafront at Stegna, it immediately turns 90º to the right and you see right above the beach and merely feet from the turquoise ocean, Taverna Kozas. I'd always thought that it would be a good place to eat lunch and, her beside me having agreed, we found a spot in full sun, just past the tiny harbour, to park the car and strolled a few minutes back to the taverna itself. Yup, when we returned to the car a couple of hours later it was going to be a bit hot. No, a lot hot. Thank heavens for air-con. There are a lot of nice photos on their website, some showing the winter seas, since the taverna is open in wintertime too.

My wife decided to order a Haloumi and Parmesaon salad, plus we ordered some houmus too. They brought us some delicious village bread, sprinkled with olive oil and herbs, which we soon set about reducing in size while waiting for the rest of the food to arrive. I wanted some fish and, ever aware that to order fresh fish means looking at that part of the menu where it says €55(!!!) and haggling while they weighed whichever fish you selected from the cold cabinet, decided to ask if they had Tsipoura, which (of course you knew) is Sea Bream. If you see this fish on a menu it's usually priced realistically at somewhere between €10 and €13. So I asked the rather burly-looking bloke who'd come to take our order if Sea Bream was on.

You know that scene in Fawlty Towers, when Basil reveals just how ignorant he was of wines whilst serving a guest who evidently knew his stuff? It's the one where Basil says, "Most people wouldn't know the difference between a Bordeaux and a Claret," only to be corrected by his guest, who tells him that a Bordeaux is a Claret. Plus he doesn't understand what it means for a wine to be "corked", replying to the man at the table, "What do you mean "corked'? I just uncorked it didn't I?!" Basically you're given that really cringeworthy feeling of someone out of his depth. Of course in Basil Fawlty's case, it's the proprietor not the customer, in mine it was the other way around.  

No sooner had I asked if they had Tsipoura, than my host stared at me like I was in dire need of a towel for the region just aft of my audio organs and replied:

"Tsipoura is not a local fish. That's why it's usually cheap. It's out of the freezer. Here we only serve freshly caught fish in season." Whereupon he gestured theatrically with his left arm back into the bowels of the establishment, where I could see the dreaded cold cabinet awaiting my pleasure. He continued, rather patronisingly I thought, "if you'd like to follow me..." and off he went, safe in the knowledge that he had me hooked and that I would be close behind. Arriving at the glass-fronted cabinet, he proffered a few different fish of varying sizes and we eventually agreed on one which would suit me, since my wife wasn't going for the fish. He of course assured me that this one was freshly caught in local waters and slapped it on to the stainless steel dish of his scales to see what the damage to my wallet would be. After a bit of haggling we arrived at €12, which I have to say I was pretty pleased with. 

"Fried of done over the charcoal, sir?" he asked. At least here he seemed to approve of my choice to have it char-grilled. It's the only way in my book.

Having returned to the table and put my wife's mind at rest with the fact that we wouldn't be selling the car to pay for my extravagance, I poured us both some chilled Retsina and we took to admiring the location, which is truly gorgeous. it's the archetypal taverna location for me. Just feet from the crystal clear waters and affording splendid views of the Aegean Sea...

The fresh basil's a nice touch, but I wish I'd removed that plastic cup for extinguishing cigarettes before I snapped this one!

What's the fish then? See below (a nice touch of suspense there, eh?)
 After a respectable period of time, while my fish was gently cooking and absorbing that exquisite aroma you only get from charcoal, it arrived. Now, I have to say that all the food was very tasty. No complaints there. The salad was huge and consisted of some very fresh lettuce leaves, fried Haloumi and sliced Parmesan, plus a few other veggie ingredients which on the whole pleased my better half greatly. Poured over that; sorry, let me re-phrase, drizzled over that (hey guys, do I know my culinary expressions or what? I don't watch Master Chef and learn nothing you know) was some very flavourful Balsamic glaze. The houmus was TDF and so was the bread. I didn't know what would come with the fish, but decided that I'd act like I knew what was going on when it arrived, whatever!

When our burly host brought it to the table it sat alone on an oval dish. Very a la carte I suppose. No chips, no rice, no sliced tomato or cucumber. But then, I suppose in some of these slightly more select fish restaurants that's how they do things. I didn't really mind, since the salad, houmus and bread had already put my stomach well on the way to capacity anyway. Our host proceeded to de-head the fish and gut it of its main skeleton for me, before placing the dish between my hands and declaring that "You eat this fish with your fingers, sir. You don't use cutlery." before once again walking off. Now I don't know about you, but at this juncture I had no idea whether he was just having a laugh to see if I'd fall for it. So, deftly re-positioning my body so that the staff wouldn't see very well, I set about my grilled fish with my fork. It was delicious and completely lived up to my expectations. As usual my beloved wanted to sample some of it and happily she agreed that the flesh was very succulent and cooked to perfection. As you'll have noted from the photo above, I did actually have a go with the fingers just a little.

When a little later the burly one returned to ask if I'd enjoyed it, I took the opportunity to ask him what it was called. He replied that it was called "Sargos". I was to consider myself enlightened. Mind you, I'm still quite sure that Sea Bream [Tsipoura] is a locally caught fish, but maybe just not in season. I wasn't about to argue the toss with this guy though, having already lost quite a few points.

Having asked for the bill we were rather thrilled to receive one of the biggest freebies we'd had in a long while...

That's a melon sorbet on the left, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream over a hot chocolate mousse on the right. yea, that's what I thought. I cleaned both bowls.

So, there you have my report on the taverna called Kozas. As I sat down to write this post I decided to do a little Googling about the fish called Sargos. Guess what, it's common name is Sheepshead...

...but it's a member of the Bream family.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Crocodile Dun-Dimitri

In the original Crocodile Dundee movie, there was a scene I particularly liked where Croc Dundee himself was walking in the New York streets after dark with his soon-to-be lover and a couple of young street kids appear in front of them and demand Dundee's wallet. "Give it to him" says the Linda Koslowski character. "Why?" says Dundee. "He's got a knife," she replies. After the very briefest of pauses, Hogan (Dundee) replies, "That's not a knife...[pulls a dirty great big thing with a blade about a foot long from somewhere in the back of his trousers, makes ribbons of the leading boy's jacket, then continues...] that's a knife!" Whereupon the street kids beat it. Then he turns to the girl and says, "just kids having fun."

Well, earlier today, ..well, I ought to say yesterday as it's now well past midnight, I was at the Butterfly Valley, having just safely seen my guests off to go and explore, when I was intending to put my clipboard back in the coach before going for a frappé. Suddenly I felt a sensation like a miniature red hot poker in the side of my right forearm and, lifting my clipboard I found a wasp there (the nasty British black and yellow type) which I'd evidently trapped between the clipboard and the flesh of my forearm and so he'd resorted to his only line of defense - his sting.

I suppose I ought to understand the little mite really. I mean, we none of us like these guys and yet they sting in self defense really don't they? Anyway, having swotted it away, too late since it had done the deed, I howled and then began studying the area of my arm for evidence of the sting. There were in the near vicinity my two fellow escorts, Karla and Heidi, plus a couple of our coach drivers, all of whom immediately adopted expressions of concern and began enquiring as to what had happened. All I could do was say, "He stung me. The little devil got me, look!"

Within seconds those around me were expressing their concern and someone, can't rightly remember who it was now, told me: "You know the best thing for a sting?" I apparently replied with a puzzled expression, so they continued, "metal" in the kind of voice that indicated that this was their final word on the matter.

"Metal." I replied, "what kind of metal? What do you do with it?" Before they could suggest anything that may shed light on my enquiry, one of the drivers who I don't know all that well said, "Gianni, come with me." Since I had nothing to lose by complying, I complied. He led me to the door of his coach, told me to wait there and climbed inside. Within seconds he was back at the door with a knife the like of which I'd never actually seen in the flesh (or in the steel, eh?) as it were, and in fact had only really seen before in the above-mentioned scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee. It could well have been the actual knife, I wouldn't have known either way.

So, at this juncture there I was with a burly Greek coach driver, who'd taken fast hold of my right forearm and with his other hand was fast bringing this humungous blade across to meet it, saying to myself "Goodbye forearm, you've served me well", fully expecting him to plunge the blade into my flesh at any moment. I admit to actually having mental pictures of all kinds of ways in which he could soon be causing large quantities of my blood to part company with the rest of me. Yet what he did was to lay the blade across the area where the insect had struck and, looking at me, said, "Yes Gianni, the best thing for a sting is cold metal." After he'd lain both sides of the blade across my forearm for a minute or so, he then angled it in such a way as to convince me yet again that the next move would be to cut deep into my flesh, but what he actually did was to run the blade across my skin much after the manner in which a barber would use a cut-throat razor to shave his customer.

"You feel any relief, Gianni? Does it hurt now?" What could I say? Was there a hint of the panacea about this? Nah, not really. But, since he still held my arm and I was still staring nervously at this huge weapon, glinting in the morning sunlight, I decided to reply with something like, "I do believe it's better. It's not hurting now."

"There, told you," he replied, "the best thing [at this point I joined him in a two-part harmony] for a sting - is metal." After which I continued solo, saying "even though we haven't the faintest idea as to how it's meant to work."

A little later, whilst I was applying a soothing rub of Lane's Tea Tree and Witch Hazel cream to the affected area, which had begun its day-long process of swelling up and reddening to the size of an egg, I reflected on what would have happened to that driver had he been working in the UK and someone had spotted a knife like that on board. Talk about lethal weapon, he'd probably go down for it. I never thought to ask him why he was carrying it, but he certainly was. 

Maybe he had plans for later in the evening to go for an urban walk with his girlfriend.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

On a Lighter Note

Went back to work yesterday, doing the Butterfly Valley/Halki excursion. So I took a few shots, which I'll share with you here...

The Butterfly Train arrives at the top of the valley, near the tiny monastery...

The view as one approaches the entrance to the monastery at the top of the valley. Yesterday there was a lot of haze, making Turkey & Symi quite unclear, although still visible are the mountains over there. There is a link, by the way, to the website of the Butterfly Train in the post "In Training".

View from the courtyard of the monastery, where you can avail yourself of some light refreshment from the friendly woman who tends the small room which serves as a café.

Same spot as the above, only a different angle. The cafe is to the right, where you see those patio chairs, that's the wall.

After a frappé at the top, Heidi, my fellow rep, and I walked back down through the valley itself. At this time of the year the butterflies are everywhere, making the whole place seem magical, were it not for the succession of tourists parading up and down. You never know in what language to say "please, come through", or "thanks" when someone lets you pass, because there are just too many languages assaulting your eardrums!

Having finished work at the Lindos Princess, near Lardos, at around 7.00pm, I walked a while whilst waiting for my beloved to come and fetch me in the car. This is a study of an early evening olive grove in August, as the shadow of the hill opposite slowly chases the sunlight away.

The next two photos should interest anyone who likes Greek culture and history. There's a man from Lardos, Panayiotis by name, who has embarked, rather commendably, on a one-man crusade to preserve the history and culture of his village. His own rather modest little village house has long been home to all kinds of artefacts and objects from Lardos' past, but during the past couple of years he's been labouring on his project, his dream, of opening a museum about the folklore of the area. He's been drumming up funds from wherever he can and this has included a few self-published books he's written about the history of his beloved home village. 

Panayiotis can often be seem hawking his books around in the area, anywhere where he can find tourists who may want to shell out a few Euros to learn a little more about the place they're visiting. Having read one of the books, I can't vouch for the quality of the English in them, but that seems only to add to their charm. They are full of old photos which Panayiotis has either always had, or has acquired, and it must be said that if to purchase one helps him finalise the museum so that he can open it to the public sooner rather than later, that's a good thing.

The photos below show the place as it looks now, after a couple of years of Panayiotis' blood, sweat and tears have already gone into it. He hopes to open by next season and we hope he does too. I must say he's done an excellent job of the exterior and even the signs are well designed and easy to read. 

If you'd like to know where it is, it's on the left hand side of the Lothiarika Road from Lardos to Pefkos, almost directly opposite the Mini-Golf on the junction with the Kiotari/Gennadi/Katavia Road.

I shall certainly keep a watchful eye on the place and as soon as it's open will do a report on it here on the blog.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Crow That Knows

Well, we're back home and sweating. Leaving the UK, where it felt like the air-conditioning was on outdoors all the time, with the temperature around 18ºC when we boarded the plane, then exiting the plane at Rhodes to a smidgin under 30ºC at 9.00pm, it was a case of, well ...get re-acclimatised!

There was nothing for it but to take a brief detour to Haraki waterfront on the way home (our good neighbours Mac and Jane, see chapt. 12 of Moussaka to My Ears, collected us from the airport) for a well needed drink. A cool Fix poured into a frosted glass slid down rather well, while Mac had a draught Mythos and the women ...whatever, I didn't notice theirs!! Sitting above the horseshoe-shaped small strand of beach, surrounded by a hubbub of chatter from the people sat around us in their droves on this balmy, inky-black Greek evening was like balsam to the soul.

You'll forgive me if I just reflect a while on the three weeks we spent in the UK dealing with the aftermath of my mother's death, but I haven't had a great deal of Rhodean life to talk about recently. It was just last Tuesday morning, as we sat in my mother's conservatory gazing out at her pretty little secluded garden whilst eating breakfast, that we saw her friend the crow. And it was then that I finally had time to reflect and become a little watery-eyed. Prior to that, I'd been so engulfed in paperwork and house-clearing; in handshaking, hugging and e-mailing; in telephoning and visiting office after office (the local Council, the Bank, the funeral director, the estate agent, solicitor...) that I'd not allowed myself time to think.

Last April, as we'd witnessed my mum's routine, we saw that every morning she'd rise at something like 6.30am and make her first cup of tea. Then she'd settle down in her favourite armchair to watch the re-runs of Heartbeat before starting to prepare her breakfast. Every morning it would be the same, a bacon and tomato sandwich. Of course, she'd always microwave the bacon, after first having cut off the rind and some of the fat. This was her concession to healthy eating! The beneficiary of this habit though, was a huge crow, who'd arrive every morning on the wall beside the garden, owing to the fact that mum would place the chopped bacon rind in the same location every day. On the top of the brick-built barbecue, that my dad had built many years earlier, there would be the fatty feast awaiting the crow. Mum would make a clicking sound with her mouth, convinced that she was talking to her jet-black shiny-feathered visitor. Nothing you could say would convince her that he didn't answer her as well. Ah, well, no harm done.

The thing is, this crow did arrive every day, having become quite bold, and would swoop into the garden from atop the wall and snatch a few pieces of dead pig in his beak, before swishing up to the garage roof to pick away at it. He may not have talked to mum, but he certainly knew the sound she made and it registered with him as "time for breakfast".

Now, when you lose your mother, who in our case in fact was the last of our four parents to leave us, you know that it's going to be a difficult time emotionally. To be honest, we were so busy whilst staying at her house this past few weeks that we didn't have much time to grieve, as mentioned above. But finally, two mornings before we were due to depart for our flight home to Rhodes, we found ourselves eating our muesli, covered as usual with yogurt and chopped fresh fruit, staring out at mum's garden, where, right on time, appeared the crow. I know, we often use expression "bird-brain" don't we, to describe someone who's not the brightest sparkler in the box. But birds aren't so stupid really. As we studied the crow, he very definitely hopped or strutted along the wall, then across the shed roof, all the time cocking his head to stare at the spots where my mum used to leave his bacon rind. This was now well over two weeks after she'd died, yet here was the crow, the crow that knows where his breakfast was to be found, apparently expressing his dismay that his benefactor was no more. Having found nothing he'd flit up to the roof of the garage and sit there a while, before once again repeating his little dance along the wall and on to the shed, evidently hoping that he'd not seen right the last time and that somehow his nice little morsel would have by this time appeared.

This was all it needed to set me off. Then began my thoughts of how my parents had moved into this home almost exactly thirty years before and both my sister and I had visited innumerable times, seeing this modest little bungalow as our focal point, the place where we'd come for that feeling of security that only your parents can give you. Then came my reflections of having watched my mum just months before, as she stood at the conservatory door and made that "click-click" sound with her lips, calling her crow to come and dine, which he always would. 

We both sat and became watery-eyed, not needing to talk, since we both knew what the other was thinking about. In just 48 hours we'd be locking up and leaving this place for the last time. Every plant in that garden had been put there by my father's hand, each brick in that barbecue cemented in place by him. How many times had my mum carried a tray of drinks out to the patio near the pond, the pond that Dad had set in place years before in order to realise the dream he'd had for a long time of keeping a few koi carp. That pond, which was now choked with water lily foliage and thousands of baby frogs. Not that the water lilies, which were just coming into flower, weren't delightful, but the way they'd taken over bore silent witness to the fact that my father had long ceased to be around to keep the pond looking just right.

Then it was that we began to talk about what we'd been reading in the papers and watching on the TV news during our stay this past few weeks. Did we still recognise the world outside the little Rhodean cocoon that we call home? It seems to us that the world is full of "fracking" and "trolling", of enough health and safety regulations to tie one up in knots, of all kinds of other stuff that seemed entirely new to us. Yes, you're going to tell me that "fracking" isn't something confined to UK shores, as is also the case I don't doubt with "trolling". It's just that such things don't seem to touch us out here up our dusty track in Rhodes and perhaps that's why we love it so much. We can almost put the world's changes on hold, or into slow-mo, while we nip down to the beach, as we did this very evening, for a swim in the luxuriously warm August waters of the Med. 

Driving up our track just metres from the main road last night, after we'd taken our interlude at Haraki, all four of us were surprised and delighted to catch in the headlights of Mac's car a pair of mature deer, just feet from the front bumper. As we'd come up around the bend from the road, they'd been grazing by the lane's border, been spooked by the lights and stared at us for a few precious milliseconds, before bounding away into the dark unlit surrounds of a Rhodean rural night. He was a handsome antlered stag and she was probably his mate, a mature doe.

Yes, losing loved ones is hard. But I know that millions have been there before me. None of us is special, none of us is immune. But the world, despite all the fracking and trolling going on somewhere or other, is still a place full of wonders. 

And back there in Midsomer Norton, there's probably a crow that knows.