Monday, 27 April 2015

The First Frappé

Well we got home safely on Saturday after what was probably the easiest journey from the UK to Rhodes we'd ever undertaken. Good old National Express coach from Swindon to Heathrow Central Bus Station, then from there on to Gatwick Airport North Terminal. There was only one heart-in-the-mouth moment, so all in all a pretty good voyage. We were only one junction away from the Heathrow turn-off on the M4 motorway when the traffic came to a grinding standstill. When I say standstill, I mean people getting out of their cars to have a fag in the centre lane with their door open standstill. It was that kind of standstill. All the traffic was standing, kind of, still.

We knew that we had about 25 minutes turnaround at Heathrow Central Bus Station and we were soon watching the digital clock at the front of the coach and seeing it creeping inexorably toward, then past the time at which we ought to have been arriving at Heathrow. Just when it looked as if our goose was cooked and we were wondering if we'd make it to Gatwick in time at all, the logjam was broken and we began to creep forward. The coach driver was very reassuring and was in contact with his office throughout the time during which we were at a standstill. We eventually passed a four or five vehicle pile-up at the side of the road, toward which we'd seen emergency vehicles hurrying (thus causing all sorts of interesting manouvres as other vehicles tried to move aside for them to pass) while we'd been stationary. It was a bright, clear, sunny day and so it was hard to imagine how such a pile-up could have occurred. The driver speculated (probably rightly so) about people using their phones and stuff. In fact he said that he witnessed more accidents in calm, bright weather than in the rain and fog. 

"See, the thing is" he told us (we were sitting at the front, right by the front passenger door), "When it's raining and foggy, drivers pay more attention, generally. But when it's good conditions for driving you see them glancing first right, then left, from their dashboard-mounted mobile phone (even when it's handsfree) to their sat-nav screen, so often that they bounce off the vehicle in front before they know it. I tell you, sat-nav screens cause more accidents..." and so on. You get the idea. 

He assured us that we'd make our connecting coach and we did. As we pulled into the coach's bay at Heathrow, the one we needed for Gatwick was already ticking over and waiting for us. I tell you, National Express do a grand job. We made it to Gatwick in time for an Americano each in the departure lounge and a visit to the loo before making our way to the gate. We took off over half an hour late and landed in Rhodes bang on time. This was due to a 60mph tailwind assisting us all the way. Good eh?

You know what really made the journey special? The beer. Regular readers will know that I'm partial to a good pint of good old British real ale. This year I am pleased to recall that I managed more of them than I have been able to achieve on quite a few UK visits in recent years.

One beer I was well taken with was the one I'd sampled at the Green Rocket Vegetarian Café/Restaurant on the corner of Pierrepont Street and North Parade in Bath on Monday April 20th. Here you go...

...and dashed good it was too. was the food. Yea, that is Haloumi cheese on my spicey veggieburger!
But you'll never guess what. Good old EasyJet do a three for £6 offer in their Bistro menu, a drink (cold or hot), a bite to eat (choice from some really nice sandwiches, paninis and baguettes) and a dessert, which may be a choccy bar or some crisps (here we go again,  read this post folks, ...then weep if you're American). I reckon that's not a bad deal considering you're a captive audience at 34,000 feet aren't you.

Anyway, now I come to think of it, I had a bottle of water as part of that deal. It was later, as they were offering us one last chance to nab a drink before we began our descent that I decided to ask (vainly I'd expected) if they had a can of beer on board, but not lager. The steward only told me that they stocked this little baby didn't he!...

The Old Speckled Hen at 34,000 feet. That's what I call a RESULT!

So, all in all, a rather pleasing journey home to unseasonably cold Rhodes. There we were having barbies in my sister's back garden in sunny Wiltshire, taking coffees in street Cafés in Devizes...

...when by all accounts the weather in Rhodes has been temperature-wise rather more like one would expect in January-February than in April. The first tourists are here folks. We saw them with our own eyes yesterday. There they were making the best of it, strolling along the roadside in their cut-offs and sleeveless tops while the waiter at the Café where we took our first frappé after coming home grumbled on about how wintery the weather is. 

"Never mind," my dearly beloved assured him, "usually it shoots up a few degrees almost overnight come the start of May. It'll soon warm up now."

"I don't know," replied our cheery waiter, "I reckon we're in for a cold summer."

Now, listen up here. No need to panic or to change your travel plans. If you're planning a holiday on Rhodes this summer, just remember that what he probably meant was that the temperature may be a mere 35 instead of 40 come the high summer months.

You'll hardly notice it. But pack a vest just in case.

Friday, 17 April 2015

It's a Matter of Degrees

Something which always amuses me is the fact that every spring and every autumn there are folk both on Rhodes and in the UK who excitedly compare the weather and the temperature between the two locations. Throwing my hands up here, I'm usually one of them. Don't ask me why, but it's just something people feel compelled to do for some reason. I know, it's probably in the genes of every British person. After all, have you ever known two Brits to converse without either using the weather as an opener, or referring to it at some point during the conversation? Thought so.

It happens though. Every spring there will be a few days when the weather's maybe a degree or two warmer in the UK than it is on Rhodes. Guess what, it's soon all over the social media sites and emails like a rash. It's a pride thing I suppose. "Hah!" Someone will write or say. "WE'VE got it warmer here than in Greece," as if to say "take THAT you smug .....s!" Why is a degree or so of that much importance? Odd isn't it.

What's of far greater importance to me is the little spiders. What little spiders? I'll tell you. About a week before we left for the UK, we got up one morning to find the ceiling in the lounge liberally sprinkled with the little blighters. These were not much larger than what we'd have called when I was a child "money spiders", but in actuality, money spiders they most certainly were not.

I've gone on in the past about the nasty arachnids we sometimes get in the house on Rhodes. I know, they're probably not "nasty" really, but I have to admit to being one of those people who do experience a shiver when spotting one on the wall that would almost fill the palm of my hand. It's about conditioning I suppose. If you've read Tzatziki For You to Say then you'll remember one nighttime encounter I had with one of these fake tarantulas (it's described in chapter 2, "Livestock"). The fact is, even though these days I usually try and re-locate a spider found inside to the great outdoors, if it comes to a question of him or me, then he has to die. I take no delight in it, but that's the way it is.

Standing on a stool to take a closer look (I know, I do live dangerously eh? Fearless, that's me - except in the case of large spiders), I could see that these, of which there must have been at least a couple of dozen, were baby versions of the huge monster that I'd had a brush with in that aforementioned chapter. We were only a few days away from departing for the UK and the thought of leaving all these invaders to grow up in our absence did kind of freak us out a little. When we arrive home to Rhodes it'll be after dark and so the spook factor alone meant that we had to deal with the situation with great despatch.

Elsewhere too I believe I've described in the past having come across a mummy spider (yes, I did mean to type "mummy") with a rather large, probably distended, abdomen, which if I'm not mistaken is that hazel-nut sized bit at the back, from which she appears to dispense silk while making a web, only to poke her and see thousands of her little progeny pouring out from the rear tip of said abdomen and running amok. This memory is what prompted alarm bells ringing when we awoke to find all these little potential freak-out causers sitting on our ceiling in the lounge. They weren't that far from our air-con unit and I have to admit to always wondering what goes on behind it. After all, there are wires and tubes and stuff passing through the wall from the great outdoors behind those things. One is helpless to check what's going on in there. I had visions of one or two of these big mammas trotting up the pipe and releasing all her little dears up there on our lounge wall in a place where I would be helpless to do anything about it. Apart from freak out that is.

Anyway, fifteen minutes and a lot of swipes with a damp cloth later the ceiling was clear of eight-legged imps and we were carefully examining every corner of every room for peace of mind purposes of course. Frankly, over the next few days we found more, but never in the quantity that we'd seen that first time. By the time the day of our departure for the UK had arrived we hadn't seen any for a couple of days and so left the house in hope. 

We're still nervous about arriving home though (shakes shoulders one at a time).

I know it's not Rhodes, but I just thought you might like to see a few shots taken during our stay here in the UK... 

A magnolia tree, the glory of an English garden in spring

Taken during the walk from my brother-in-law's house in Upper Weston, Bath up to the Race Course and (more importantly) the Blathwayt Arms, where I enjoyed my first British pint from the pump. Nectar.

Barry Island, South Wales. Don't believe everything you hear. It's a gorgeous place.

Barry again. Must admit, on that day it was a bit bracing! OK, so the sea's not quite the same colour as it is in Rhodes.

Barry Island again.

Cardiff city centre. The Welsh can be justly proud of their capital, where pavement café culture is thriving.

Lunch (smoked Salmon fishcake) in "Truffles", along a Cardiff walkway. The Tetley's was for medicinal purposes of course.

One of Cardiff's many arcades.

During our stay the weather has been positively wonderful by the way. Shouldn't wonder if we hadn't had it warmer than Rhodes (places thumb on end of nose and twirls fingers vigorously)...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Ramblings From, ...Bath?

Yea, you guessed it, we're back in the UK. First time since summer 2013 when my dear mum left us. Whenever we do return to these shores it always affords us occasion to reflect a little, which is what I'm gonna do now.

Firstly, the flight. We came on the always-one-third-full first direct EasyJet flight of the summer season from Rhodes to London Gatwick. As I've probably said before, we lurve EasyJet. The plane was an Airbus A320 and it was only three weeks old!! I could tell, because there was an owners' handbook and a spare set of keys in the luggage compartment. No, only joking (like you didn't KNOW that). The crew told us. 

After what had happened to the Germanwings flight there were more than a few nervous passengers on board, all hoping that both pilots were well-adjusted mentally. Frankly, following that awful and has-to-be-said selfish deed, one can quickly lose one's perspective if one allows one's mind to run riot, but it's daft to do so. 

For starters, whenever one of the flight crew left the cockpit one of the cabin crew went straight in, thus displaying the proof that EasyJet have adopted new protocols already, ie: to never allow a single person to remain alone on the flight deck. We'd pre-booked front row seats owing to my rather longer than normal legs, so we were sitting knee to knee with the Cabin Manager and one of the Flight attendants during take-off and landing. 

Frankly, having heard the statistic not long before flying that every 2.5 seconds an Airbus either takes off or lands somewhere on the planet, plus another that you've something like a 2 million-to-one chance of suffering injury or death while flying and only a couple of thousand-to-one chance of the same thing happening when you cross the road, I wasn't overly concerned.

What did concern me, however, was the procedure that I have to adopt every time I go for a jimmy riddle in the aircraft's toilet; the front one that is, since we were sitting no more than a few feet from its door. How many times I've been thru this I couldn't remember, but if you're anything over five-five you'll know what I'm on about. I'm sure that the guys who designed the front loo on short-haul aircraft are hobbit fans. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that the front end of the plane is sharpened a bit like a pencil isn't it? So the wall in front of you when you atempt to stand and do the business in there is angled not only at you at something like 30º, but also from left to right as the aircraft tapers toward the sharp end. 

I get in there, lift up the seat and attempt to re-arrange my trousers in the regular manner (trying to keep the specifics to the necessary minimum here, OK?). At this point I am faced with the realisation that to get my tackle sufficiently near to the bowl to prevent the offending fluid from hitting the floor rather than going into the bowl, I need to become banana-man. If you didn't know it you'd suspect that I was a Michael Jackson fan, only instead of grabbing my privates in that rather unpleasant way that he used to, I'm trying to effect a directional flow so as to keep the place clean and splash-free.

I have to place my head against the wall in front of me and then peer sideways into the mercifully large mirror to keep control of the situation and accomplish my goal. For the briefest of moments I fleetingly begin to understand how obese people feel when they can't ever get a glimpse of their own privates without the aid of mirrors, something that I work very hard at avoiding fitness and diet-wise!

Of course, once I've adopted the correct bodily pose, I can usually get the job done, but don't even ask me what happens if the aircraft hits a spot of turbulence right at the time when I'm in the process...

Anyway, as usual it was an excellent flight and we (despite having faced a 100 mph headwind all the way) landed only ten minutes late at the huge sprawling monstrosity that is London Gatwick airport. The cabin crew were courtesy itself (as they always seem to be on EasyJet) and we made our way to the passport control area. Some friends from Rhodes who were on the flight briefed us about how to use our recently renewed passports. As it was our first time with these "chipped" ones we were a little nervous about how to do it right. You place your passport face down, opened to the ID page, on a glass panel, then a couple of moments later the two metal barriers in front of you open and you grab the passport step forward and then you're standing in a booth. I thought about reaching for the scrunchy and shower gel when I was invited by an illuminated sign to stare at the screen in front of me. Resisting the urge to also say "beam me up Scotty" I was well impressed when the final barrier slid back and I was through. Piece of cake. Isn't technology wonderful - when it works that is.

So here I am now, on Saturday morning, well, lunchtime, sitting in my brother-in-law's rather comfy conservatory in Upper Weston, Bath, reflecting on the fact that we haven't seen hide nor hair of the sun since landing. And that was Wednesday afternoon. Hey ho, eh?

It's rather wierd being in this part of Bath, though, because I spent many years of my childhood not a stone's throw from this very conservatory, which, of course, wasn't here then. Not much was because I'm talking more decades ago than I'm comfortable with these days. Here I am banging away on the keyboard with Chico keeping me company...

 ...and I find myself mulling over the differences between living on Rhodes and life here in Bath in 2015. Before I go any further, I do hope that some readers won't come down on me like a ton of bricks because last time I wrote about comparing Rhodes to Britain as a place to live, some accused me (only the tiniest minority I have to say) of "dissing" my motherland. Anyway, ever prepared to live dangerously, here goes:

1. Wi Fi: Rhodes 1, UK 0. 
Look, folks, it's 2015, right? You can't go anywhere on Rhodes - and I'd venture to say in most of Greece - without enjoying free wi-fi in every food or drink establishment you care to enter. This morning I was walking along Weston High Street, where there are at least three coffee shop/tea rooms, all of which I have to say are charming and inviting, dead keen to get settled, order a mocha and whip out the iPad and not one of them had Wi Fi. What's going on folks? I know and I heartily agree that seeing folk sitting in such places and virtually all of 'em peering at their devices is probably not good, but misuse of something doesn't justify it not being provided at all. If I'm in company I either don't use the Wi Fi or, if I do, I use it for the briefest time and then put the device away. I'm one of those old fashioned types who hates to see people not conversing because they're all tapping away with their thumbs. But as it happens my dearly beloved is still in bed with the flu and I was walking alone and thus could have done with a coffee and a surf. No chance. It's something that I expect to find rectified each time we come back to the UK and usually find to our dismay is just the same. What gets me even more is that where Wi Fi IS advertised it's not simply a case of asking for the code and getting connected, oh no. You get to a page in your browser that expects you to sign up for something first. You have to register and become a member so as to receive even more junk messages than you're getting already. No way José! 

I was on a bus last night (UK scores heavily here, buses are brill) and the window boasted "FREE WI FI" on board. Wow, methinks (or rather methought) that's really forward thinking, so I whipped out the iPad, found that it would log on without a code and - you've guessed it - the browser window said "Welcome to .......FREE WI FI, Log in or sign up to enjoy..." So I folded the iPad away.

2. Food shopping: UK 10 Greece 2
I don't care what anybody says, food shopping in Rhodes makes your eyes water. The kinds of thngs that we would buy in the supermarket in the UK are all available in Greece, sure, but at ridiculously high prices. Tesco Everyday Value Peanut Butter - 62p. The equivalent on Rhodes? 3 or 4 Euro!! Even our trusty Lidl, where everyone on Rhodes goes regularly (even if they don't admit to it!) where one can make a direct comparison because the UK Lidl stores stock a huge number of identical products, charges a lot more for stuff. OK, locally grown fruit and veg on Rhodes is very cheap, but supermarket shopping is much more expensice than the UK. We used to say "ah yes, but at least we don't pay council tax" but there is now a property tax in Greec of course, albeit less than in the UK.

3. People: Rhodes 2 UK 0.
Y'know, we're so used to greeting people that we pass while walking at home on Rhodes that it comes as a bit of a shock to be walking the pavement (sidewalk, guys) here in the UK and to see people quickly cast their eyes to the ground as they walk past so as to avoid eye contact and a simple "Hi" "good morning" or "lovely day". OK, so the last one's a bit hopeful at the moment. I passed so many people while out doing a spot of shopping this morning and only managed to elicit one "Morning" from a woman about to get into her car. The rest, well, I find myself thinking how sad it is. It's rude to walk past someone out in Rhodes without at the very least a smile and more usual anyway a "Kalimera!". 

Anyway, I could ramble on for hours about comparisons and it's not really the way to go, I know. Fact is, things I love about coming back here...
• British beer
• The countryside
• The dawn chorus
• Snooker on the telly
...and some other stuff.

Living in Rhodes? You get sunshine. Even during a wetter and more changeable winter than is the norm, as we've just experienced, there wasn't a week that passed when we couldn't enjoy a coffee out of doors at least once. 

Since arriving here in the UK I've already had two conversations with people asking me "How are you coping? You know, with all that's going on?"

Here's my answer folks!! If you're thinking of coming to Greece for a holiday, the sun is still the same, the food is still the same, cafés and bars are still filled with Greeks sipping frappés and Fredducinos and flicking their worry beads. The beaches are exactly as they've always been as are the rich archeological sites for those interested in such things. The people still smile and (by and large) make you feel very welcome. In short, normal life goes on. Where we live people still go about their work, they go shopping, they cook their meals and check their blood pressure.

That last comment? Well, it is Greece after all!!

You know what? the sun's just coming out...