Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Lahania, a Study in Doorways...

 I seem to have a thing about doorways. I have a bit of a thing about the village of Lahania too. Quite a few of these shots you could be forgiven for thinking were taken at Lindos, but I'm sure there are many visitors to this part of Rhodes who've never sampled some of the other, less frenetic, villages, where you can stroll the tiny streets even in high season and not be jostling sunburnt shoulders in the process.

So, the other day we were once again drinking in the sleepy environs of Lahania and I whipped out the mobile phone ('cos I'm ever so modern now since I got a new one that takes half-decent photos) and took the ones you see in this post.

Hope you like 'em.

That black line's not a fault in the photo. It's one of those ubiquitous "re-bars".

She appears to be in the habit of getting under an almond blossom tree and saying "snap me, snap me!"

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere...

It's fifteen years since we had a three-week holiday in June of 1999. Back then we lived in South Wales and spent the three weeks staying with some very kind people who we'd met through mutual friends in South Wales. Our hosts Rudi and Diana, though, hailed from Snowmass, just a few miles down the road from Aspen in Colorado. It hardly seems possible that it was that long ago.

While there we did a number of "hikes" as our transatlantic friends like to call country walks. On one occasion we were taken in their MPV by Don and Marsha Glen and their family up to Crystal Mill, way up in the rockies a few miles away from Aspen and Snowmass. In June up there it's usually bright and sunny in the daytime, with temperatures in the low seventies F, just over 20ºC, perfect for walking. We walked for five hours and it was probably one of the best experiences of my whole life so far. 

Why am I going on about Colorado? Quite simply because, if you take the Laerma road out of the village of Lardos, about two thirds of the way to Laerma, you'll see this sign for a right hand turn (photo, right):

If you're holidaying on Rhodes this summer and you decide to get out and about with a vehicle, I can't recommend this enough. Following the lane right from the Lardos-Laerma road for a couple of miles, you arrive at this barrier (2nd photo, right)...

Now, yesterday, when we got to this point, we left the car on the road, asked the man in the hut if we were OK to do so and walk down to the dam and the lake and, following his OK, we carried on.

When you've walked the best part of a mile from the barrier, you arrive lakeside and then you'll perhaps see why I thought of Colorado in summer. The temperature yesterday was in the lower twenties C and there was hardly a cloud. It felt exactly like the day we hiked up to Crystal Mill and the scenery, apart from perhaps a few snowcapped peaks here and there, was equally as impressive. 

Be warned, if you want to do this walk in the summer, you'll need a zillion factor sun protection (there's virtually no shade anywhere) and a few gallons of water and perhaps some food, but it's worth the effort, believe me. The lake formed by the new Gadoura Dam is truly beautiful and the wild fowl are already colonizing it in substantial numbers. I think that dams are probably among the few things we as mankind add to our environment that can have a really positive effect on it, if it's done right. So, preamble out of the way. I hope you like the photos. 

They're not exactly in chronological order, owing to a technical problem while uploading them, but it doesn't matter much...

Took lunch here, My wife's delicious hard-boiled egg, mayo and onion baguettes, Yum!

Actually on the dam itself

This is also on the dam

The lake side of the dam

There may be plans to develop water sport on the lake some day. A waterside café would perhaps be nice too, but at present it's a truly natural paradise.

On the way home we came back down the beautiful lane from Laerma to Asklipio (see the posts "Why Not Take a Drive" and "Why Not Take a Drive II") and stopped by at Taverna Agapitos, where I knew they were holding a letter for us. As I bounded up the steps at around 2.15pm, I could hear the sound of a considerable quantity of water flowing, all those tell-tale splashy sounds and stuff. On arriving at the taverna door I couldn't believe my eyes. There was Athanasia, standing atop one of the taverna tables, washing the windows - with a hosepipe!! No nozzle, of course, as per the culture out here. But what was really flabberghasting was the fact that she was not only not using a bucket and cloth, chamois, blade or whatever would have made it easier, but she was cleaning the windows on the INSIDE!!! Gallons of water were covering the floor inside and seeping our from under the still closed doors.

Aaaah, yes. Nice to see the old traditions still going strong, eh? Hence the totally appropriate title for this post.

Twist and Shoot

I know, it doesn't look much does it. But you're looking at five new vines and a new fig tree in that bucket.

If there's one thing one has to do while living here it's listen when the locals offer advice; well, at least in matters horticultural.

We visited our old friend down south this morning, Kyrios Gilmas rustled us up an Elleniko each and the conversation came around eventually to what one does at this time of year. That's after, of course, he'd filled us in on how his family are doing. His wife has all sorts of health issues, primarily with her legs. Basically they don't want to carry around so much weight any more and the Doc says that they can't operate on her knees, which are giving out under the strain, unless she loses some weight. She needs, apparently, to get down to around 90kg!! That's still more than I weigh. he told us with a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle that, "when I go to bed with her, if I turn my head toward her it's like looking at a 'vouna'ki!' [little mountain!], I can't see over it!"

"If she turns over," he continued, "I don't have any bedclothes left at all." We found ourselves thinking how glad he was that he spends the majority of his time down south on his little homestead all on his lonesome. 

Anyway, as stated above, we got around to what we should be getting on with at this time of the year in the garden. "Yes," he told me when I asked him, "it's time to be pruning your vines back quite hard." Plus, "now's the time to plant the cuttings you've taken." Of course, I'm a bit unsure about how exactly to go about taking the best cuttings, but I needn't have worried, "You want some to put in?" he asked. Before we could both nod in ascent, he was showing us a bucket full of cuttings, all sitting in water and awaiting their new homes. He explained just how succulent and large the grapes would be from this particular variety, thus assuring that we'd be wanting to acquire a few were he to be offering, which, of course, he was.

Gently lifting a dripping example from his bucket, he showed me how far into the soil to push the stem and then explained, once again in that conspiratorial way of his that I love, "you have to do this Yianni, before you push it in." Whilst he was saying this he was grabbing the lower end of the stem of the cutting, down at the part that would end up under the soil, and giving it a vigorous twist, much in the way in which you'd wring out a dishcloth. I heard an audible crack as the bark ruptured. "You do this, Yianni, then push it into the soil. This enables the shoots that will become roots to grow out from the stem all the more quickly."

A few years back, when Mihalis from Kalathos had given us the vines that now grow in the garden, he hadn't told us about this. So I was enthralled. "Now," he said, as he carefully selected a few examples for us to take home, along with one cutting of a variety of fig that he said produces figs for a longer season that the normal ones, "You MUSTN"T forget to twist before planting. You won't will you Yianni?"

"I won't," I replied and I didn't. The photo above shows the shoots as they rested in the bucket on our terrace after we'd arrived home. They stayed there while we had lunch, then I was out there this afternoon constructing a climbing frame of rigid wire and re-bars for them to grow up, before I twisted away as instructed to enable the new shoots to get started. 

Here's hoping that a little "twist and shoot" produces the desired results.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

No Queues is Good News

This country is full of surprises. For instance, whenever you need to do anything that requires a visit to a government department you usually consider taking a tent, food and drink provisions, camping stove and good book since you're liable to be in a queue for several days. OK, so I exaggerate, but that's how it feels, trust me.

At some point during the winter break those who are employed legally and whose employers actually bother to pay the National Insurance contributions for their workers need to visit the IKA office (stands for Ίδρυμα Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, or, in English, Institution of Social Insurance) to get their booklet "stamped" to keep it up to date. This enables those who are entitled to draw their winter payments and everyone with a booklet to obtain drugs or medical treatment either free or at a substantial discount.

My wife works for a scrupulous employer (well, two actually, since it's a couple, the husband's a Greek and the wife is British) who diligently pays the IKA contributions during the summer season and thus my wife needed to pay the IKA office a visit some time during the current winter. You know how it is, you tend to keep saying "Yea, I'll go soon. next week maybe," and you never quite get around to it. Well things were precipitated somewhat a week or so ago when the girl she works with told her that she'd better get up there to the Arhangelos IKA office pronto since on February 17th it's closing and all IKA affairs will necessitate a trip to Rhodes town after that. Oh joy.

With only a week or so to go we realised that we'd better plan a visit quickly. So on Friday last we tootled the half an hour or so up to Arhangelos, fully expecting a scrum at the IKA office, as everyone and his ya ya tries to get his IKA affairs in order before the local office ceases to be. Of course, I didn't tell the beloved this, but I was rather hoping that as she waited the week or so that I expected her to in the queue, I could repair to the Greco Café and enjoy a quiet coffee with wi-fi for an undisturbed hour or three. As we drove along the street where the IKA office is (well, was as from tomorrow!) situated I was distraught to see that there were plenty of spaces to park the car. Not what I'd expected, so, ever the hypocrite I exclaimed what joy it was that things looked quiet and pulled into a space right across the road from the office.

Climbing out of the car (with me checking that I'd not forgotten to bring the trusty iPad along) we were greeted with a "kali sas mera" by a couple who were just crossing the road and we followed them across, only to see that they too were going into IKA before us. I rather sportingly suggested to the better half that I just pop my head in to get a gander at the queue and see how long she may have to wait, before making my excuses and speeding at a canter toward the distant café, which pleased her immensely. There she was thinking that her hubby was soooo thoughtful. Fellas, any tips you need on scoring points, you know where to come.

Well, blow me down with a feather if there weren't a mere three people in front of us. There was a lady at the desk, who was just winding up her visit by exchanging a few words with the female clerk behind the glass about who's just had a baby and who's just died, before she strode out the door, then there was just the couple we'd followed inside. I could feel my wi-fi moment, not to mention that coffee, slowly, nay, rapidly receding into the irretrievable distance by the second. My wife beamed a huge smile of happy surprise and I did likewise, though mine was rather more forced (hope she didn't notice) and we ended up waiting a good two or three minutes whilst the clerk checked the man's number on her computer screen before stamping his book and greeting my wife.

I mean, what are the chances of that happening, eh? As I said at the outset, this country's full of surprises.

We were drinking coffee up at the Agapitos taverna while Mr. Kyriakos held court with his mobile post-office act the other day and our friend
Tom from down near the beach walked in. Was he expecting anything? We enquired, "No," he replied, "but it gives me something to do for an hour or two." So, of course we ended up chatting over a couple or three Ellenikos and he told us about an English girl he knew who'd struck up a relationship with a Greek bloke. The subject came around to driving and how the Greeks, for all their recklessness on the road, will always try and drive on the hard shoulder to enable someone behind to overtake if they see in their rear-view mirror that the vehicle behind wants to go faster. Of course, the actual number of Greeks this applies to is not very substantial, usually heavy goods or agricultural vehicles, that's about it. But they do nevertheless follow this simple, helpful principle on the road.

Tom's friend was driving up to town once, with her Greek partner as passenger, when she began, after being behind a car evidently driven by tourists (who don't know this piece of etiquette and thus resolutely refuse in general to ever consult their mirrors, maps being far more interesting) for rather too long. They had a schedule to keep to, an appointment of some kind, I can't remember now, but suffice it to say that the female in question was getting a bit flustered and frustrated after staring at the same rear number plate for too many miles.

"Don't they know that some of us have lives to lead?" She ranted, "We're not ALL on holiday!! Why can't they just let us through for ......sake!!"

After a while her Greek male partner, with Greeks not being usually known for their composure in such circumstances, turned to his loved one and said, calmly, "I think it's time to make the beep!"

His English wasn't of the kind you'd have described as fluent, you see.

And, finally, more piccies in no particular order...

If you've read "The View From Kleoboulos" you'll remember a scene where Dean sits on his suitcase on a step, wondering if he'll find Alyson's place. It's when someone bounds down the steps and brushes past him just before Alyson comes looking for him. Well, talk about coincidences, but some new friends of ours asked us to drop by for a coffee in Lindos. When we found their place it was the very courtyard, surrounded by modest dwellings, that I'd placed Alyson in!! These are the steps that she came down searching for Dean.

Kiotari beach, Sunday Feb. 16th 2014.

The steps just below my beloved are the very steps where Dean sat on his case.

It's not a pose, OK? She just managed to catch me like that after we'd found a particularly suitable log for the stove. Again Sunday 16th February 2014, around 1.30pm.

Just up the lane from the Ziakis Hotel, Pefkos, a week or so earlier.

Not really easy to make out, but there's a heron sitting on the flat rock in the distance.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Just Wanna Dance the Night Away

When I first started coming to Greece in the late seventies and even on into the eighties, it wasn't hard to find a taverna of an evening with a little live music. Often there'd be a Bouzouki player accompanied by perhaps a keyboard, or a guitarist, even occasionally a little band in a corner somewhere. If there was music, then there was always an area set aside as a kind of dance floor and you could be pretty sure that, as the evening wore on, someone would begin to dance. It wasn't unusual for a regular-sized taverna to even have a few dancers in costume come out and do a bit of a show before tugging the diners out of their chairs and on to the floor. I suppose that I sort of took all this for granted.

I remember countless tavernas in places like Poros Island, Poros village and Argostoli on Kefallonia, Samos, Paxos, Corfu and a few more besides, where my better half got up and strutted her stuff, occasionally with me in tow. In fact, way back before our friends John and Wendy decided to build the house we now call home, they came to Greece with us and we started their Greek experience in Skiathos, where John proved, much to my surprise at the time, that he was a party animal. He may not have known the steps, but he'd be up there bopping around, arms stretched out at shoulder height, to raucous cheers and claps from the Greeks at the tables around the floor. He'd often earn us all a free drink for his trouble. Happy days.

But as the years wore on it became more and more the exception rather than the rule to find this kind of place as it seemed that, even though the staff were still friendly and attentive, often taking time to sit and talk with us toward the end of an evening, the makeshift dance floor gave way to a few more tables and a lot more dedication to getting the tourists to part with their money rather than learn a few steps to the Hasapiko.

Anyone who's read my ramblings for any length of time knows that my wife has dancing in her blood, since she was brought up by a Greek mother who always danced, even when in her kitchen whilst cooking Sunday lunch with one of her old Greek long-playing records playing at full tilt on the stereogram. So, for the first ten years or so of our visits to Greece I always knew that quite a few of our evenings would involve a bit of a knees-up and it was good. 

By the time we got into the mid-nineties, though, things had really moved on. We'd come to Greece and search in vain for that little taverna with a Bouzouki player, that tell-tale sign of a modest clearing among the dining tables that betrayed the fact that, if you were lucky to come on the right night, you'd be treated to a bit of an impromptu show, possibly from my wife! In order to find some real Greek dancing, you'd have no choice but to go to a Bouzoukia, which is a night club where Greek music throbs along from around midnight to dawn and is usually packed to the gills with young Greeks tsifteteli-ing for hours. To get in you'd have to part with serious cash and, once inside you could forget any conversation as the volume of the music would be felt more by your stomach than by your ears. On the plus side, I never felt any fear for my safety in such places, merely for my hearing and my loss of a good night's sleep.

As we grew older it became more and more irritating having to sacrifice a night's sleep just so my wife could get her fix of dancing for that year. So we gradually left off bothering to seek out the clubs while in Greece and became content (which probably isn't really the right word) with the fact that in Cardiff there was a very good taverna called the Hasapiko as it happens, where on Friday and Saturday nights they'd have live music and dancing. As far as I know (and that link you've just passed bears this out) they're still going strong. So, if you live within striking distance of Cardiff in South Wales, I'd recommend you give it a try.

Weird as it may seem, once when we did a city-break from the UK to Brussels in Belgium, we spent one of the nights in a Greek restaurant in the lower corner of the beautiful "Grande Place" in a Greek restaurant where my wife even ended up on the table for a while. How's that for irony? To get a little Greek culture while eating out in a taverna, we had to go to Brussels!

So, anyway, we moved out here to Rhodes in 2005 and have now been living here for eight and a half years. Each time we've gone out for a meal we've again looked for somewhere where they may just have the right idea. Sometimes it only needs a Bouzouki player, or a guitarist on his own to create an atmosphere, but, frankly, not much luck. Perhaps there are establishments in Rhodes Town, but that would entail a very long drive home afterwards for a simple evening out.

Imagine our delight, then, when we were told about Taverna Chrissa in the village of Pilona, not ten minutes drive from home. Every night they do an incredibly good value €10 a head food and drink deal for diners, but on Saturday nights every week they have live music and for €12 a head you can eat as much and drink as much as you want. They've been doing this now for a couple of months and last Saturday we finally made it there to find out if it was up to scratch. Well, folks, it was!

We found the music to be excellent, with two musicians, one playing Bouzouki of course, harmonizing their vocals really nicely and playing non-stop from around 9.00pm until we left at around half past midnight, when it was still in full swing. We'd have stayed longer but rarely, as it happens, we had to get up the next morning. It was just like the days of old when the place was packed to the gills with locals and the dancing was virtually non-stop once it got started. Needless to say, the better half was up there for most of the evening and even I joined in with the Kalamatiano and a few others now and then.

I asked the young man who served us if they intended this Saturday night live thing to continue on during the tourist season and he told me that yes it would. So, folks, if you fancy an authentic night out with some real Greek music and local people dancing, then you'll do a lot worse than check it out if you're staying toward the south of the island.

We shall definitely be going again soon!! Meanwhile, here's the evidence (these were all taken with my phone. I've got a new one folks!!)...

Food decimated, it was time to get up...

You'll probably recognize my significant other on the right here

Probably getting the picture now, eh? You know, about how much she loves dancing!! I got up too, but she couldn't hold the phone steady for all the laughing while I was on the floor.

Since Taverna Chrissa's initiative has evidently proven to be a success, we're hoping that others in the surrounding area will sit up and take notice. For years we've been saying to each other that if any enterprising local taverna owner were to remember the old days when a little live music would pack 'em in, they may perhaps realize that there's an opportunity going begging here. 

We do like to think that there are still a lot of visitors who'd delight to pay a visit to a place where there's a bit of action. There surely are those Grecophiles out there who, at least once or twice during their holiday, just wanna dance the night away!