Thursday, 1 October 2015

All That Glitters

When we went to Naxos in the spring of 2014, we enjoyed a particularly wonderful day out taking the bus up to Apollonas, way up on the northern-most tip of the island. Something that happened just a couple of weeks ago got us to reminiscing about that trip.

Apollonas - oh, my poor heartstrings.

My wife's niece Chloe came out to Rhodes with her boyfriend Elliot, who's a thoroughly nice chap, which is just as well because he's 6 foot 7. I'm over 6 foot tall and he makes me look like one of Snow White's 7 pals. Not the grumpy one though, all right?

Anyway, we took a day to give them a tour of the "scenic South" of the island and we began with a drive down to Prassonissi, where the two seas meet. Having satisfied their curiosity there and taken a walk up on to the "green island" and, of course snapped the obligatory holiday photos, we decided to return to the tiny village of Kattavia for a drink before continuing up the west side of the island towards Apolakkia. Kattavia is very sleepy, as in almost comatose, and thus you would expect the two hostelries there to be far from commercial and to offer good value for drinks and food, right?

Hmm, well. I like to be positive most of the time as regular "Ramblings" readers will know, of course. But I've decided that I'm going to name and shame this place for a reason that I'll explain further down. My wife and I speak pretty fluent Greek these days and thus pride ourselves on not often becoming victims of rip-off merchants. Well, this time we failed abysmally. As you enter the "square" from the south there are two restaurant/bars facing eachother, one to your left and one to your right. They're staring across at eachother in a permanent face-off and we really ought to have known which one to go into. Having our two young charges with us I suppose we allowed ourselves to be influenced by charm over practicality as the one on the left exuded visual allure, whereas the one on the right looked decidedly basic. Here's a tip from me (which you probably don't really need) alway go "basic". We usually do, but in this case, well. I'll continue...

Thinking about how the photos would look of the four of us enjoying a drink in a quaint little Greek village, we soon found ourselves seated around a table in the one on the left. 

Yea, see? Looks nice doesn't it. The hostess is visible in the background.

Note the name, Restaurant Penelope. There she is again, sitting by the wall. Not surprized she has a smart grin on her face.
We asked if we could just have a drink and they said fine, no problem. Let me say at the outset that there was an old bloke there who was OK. Probably in his sixties, stocky, wearing a straw stetson and exuding geniality. He doesn't, though, wear the trousers. We put two and two together and surmised that he, though obviously Greek and doubtless descended from a family that originates in the village, had married Madame Penelope, who we're pretty sure wasn't Greek, but Russian. The fact that a lot of the signs hanging off of hooks around the place were in Greek and Russian was a pretty big clue. Now, I don't want you to read anything into this about Russians. I have played host to lots of Russians on my excursions this past summer and by far the majority of them have been very nice people. OK, so they can be a little stern, but by and large they're humans like the rest of us and I've had many a nice conversation with them.

This woman, however, was born in "Rip 'em offs-ville" and no mistake. We hadn't been sitting there more than ten minutes when she arrived at the table with a tray of bougatsa, about a dozen of them, all baked in the same shape as your average spring roll in a Chinese restaurant. Bougatsa, as you'll probably know though, are sweet custard-filled pastries and - since we were rather peckish - they looked extremely interesting to us.

Now, before I go on, I'll refer back to our trip up to Apollonas on Naxos. We repaired to one of the two or three water-front tavernas once we'd got off the bus and asked if we could just have a drink. So I had a Fix beer and the better half a Diet Coke. Just the two drinks which would afford the establishment a very small profit indeed. This, however, didn't stop the lady who'd served us bringing us this plate of nibbles to go with our drinks:

Ok, so she had no idea we were veggies, but - impressive or what?
When we came to settle up, the nibbles were not on the bill. They were a "freebie" in expression of one woman's welcome to their modest little village/harbour. We were well impressed, although not altogether surprised, of course.

Something similar happened at Haraki just the Saturday before last. We usually go to Bottoms Up, but decided just for a change to re-visit Maria's taverna, which is, as it happens, right next door and it's the first taverna you encounter on your right as you arrive at the very pretty waterfront promenade.

This photo of TAVERNA MARIA'S is courtesy of TripAdvisor

We'd eaten here a long time ago and so couldn't really remember what we'd had or how much we'd enjoyed it, but the abiding memory was a positive one and we do remember having had quite a nice conversation with the woman who'd served us and we recalled that it is a family-run establishment, which is often a good sign. Anyway, in we went and had a superb meal, including a half litre carafe of the house white and the bill came to less than €21. A result. Plus, in keeping with this post's theme, they brought us this when we asked for the bill...

Don't judge by appearances, all right?
Yea, I know, doesn't look all that appetising in this photo, but that's because I took it with my phone, which is one of those you wind up and emits a cloud of steam when it's working. Yes, they may look like little chunks of pork sausage in this photo, but the true colour was decidedly more cream-yellow than pink on the night and they are in fact Loukoumades, which are a kind of fried dough soaked in sugar or honey and cinnamon. OK, all right, you wouldn't want too much of that, but in this quantity after a healthy vegetarian meal of traditonal Greek fayre, served still hot they slid down very acceptably. 

Oh, and as you've already concluded - they were a freebie. 

So then, to return to Restaurant Penelope in Kattavia. Since we hadn't ordered the bougatsa, we gratefully accepted and three of us, apart from Chloe who's a vegan, tucked in. Imagine our surprise when, on asking for the bill, the rather-too-friendly Penelope approached and placed it before us with a flourish. Reading it we discovered that we'd been charged (with slightly higher prices than we'd expected in such a location for the drinks) for the bougatsa as well. 

I know what you're thinking. We should have kicked up a fuss. OK, there would have been occasions when I'd have wasted no time in doing just that. The thing is though, we were giving our niece and her fella a tour of the island on their very first visit. What kind of memories, not only of this day out, but of their all-too-brief week here on Rhodes did we want them to go home with? So a couple of words exchanged in Greek with the better half and we decided not to make a scene. As I whipped out my purse, as did Chloe, to see what change we had, the rather too helpful and better described as interfering Penelope hovered over me and with her finger began separating Euro coins in my purse among my own fingers whilst saying "That's a Euro, and that's a..." whereupon, at this juncture I most certainly did say something.

"I KNOW what a Euro is!" I said, "We TOLD you, we've lived here 10 years." 

I don't think I ever recall going somewhere where they didn't retreat to a respectable distance after presenting the bill. Plus we'd been speaking to her and her hubby, who by now was hiding behind a potted plant, in Greek for the whole duration of our visit. The total came to something like €18 and we had already decided that our way of expressing our deep dissatisfaction would be to never return to this place in the future, which invariable means that they lose out in the long run. Plus I have a blog don't I?!

Before we got up to leave, the hubby, no doubt quietly ashamed of his wife's less than subtle methods with customers, did bring us a plate of water melon chunks for free, plus he handed my wife a peponi (honeydew melon) from his garden to take with her. But both he and we knew that the damage was already done.

Thankfully, our experiences in Naxos, plus in Maria's taverna, Haraki, plus indeed what happened when we took lunch later on in the busy tourist village of Siana (Panorama taverna, very good), plus myriad other places where we've eaten or taken a drink in Greece all reflect much more the usual treatment one can expect from a traditional taverna in this country. 

To cap off this tale, just a couple of days ago we called in on some friends in Pilona and so began the usual chat over a coffee, catching up with what we'd all been up to since the last time we spoke. We hadn't even got past the point of telling them that we'd gone into Kattavia when the wife (that wife, not this one, got it? Think so...) interrupted and said, "I think I know what you're going to tell us."

Yup, they'd had precisely the same experience at the pretty little taverna called Penelope as we had. They'd never been back.

"Shame we didn't have a chance to talk before you went," she continued, "I could have warned you not to go in there."

Seems that taverna Penelope hasn't changed its customer charm-offensive [offensive being the operative word] in quite a few years. Our friends had been there about four years ago.

All that glitters, eh? If you ever visit Kattavia, sit in the plain-looking one. In fact we hope to return there some time soon and we'll make a point of sitting opposite. Hopefully it will be a very different experience and, either way, you'll hear it here no doubt.

Plus, if you ever visit Naxos, I can't recommend a visit to Apollonas enough, it's one of our favourite places in the whole world.

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