Friday, 25 March 2016

Hop On

This tale ought to involve a wheelchair or a gurney. I know, if you're not American you may not quite get what a "gurney" is. In case that's you, here...

Now, I don't think we even have a single word to describe a wheeled stretcher in the UK, so that's why I'll stick with "gurney". I rather like the word anyway. It's not sack trucks, that's for sure. Sack trucks? You're kidding me right? Oh all right, just for purposes of clarity...

Image courtesy of

Right, having got that out of the way...

A local friend of ours here in Kiotari recently broke his foot. He dropped a tree on it whilst heavily pruning some large ones with his chainsaw. Yea, that ought to do it, you're thinking, right?

Well, to be accurate, it wasn't a whole tree, it was a thirty foot length of trunk, probably about 8 or 9 inches in diameter - and he dropped it on his foot endwise-on, not lengthwise across, if you get the idea. Ouch anyway.

Now, to get this straight, our friend is well skilled and experienced in such activities, rest assured. I'd trust him with a chainsaw to the ends of the earth, even further. But he has often told us that when you're sawing an almost vertical trunk, there are ways you have to cut in order for the whole thing to plunge earthwards out of harm's way. He did have an accomplice too, of course. It's never a good idea to be perched several feet up in a eucalyptus tree, wielding a chainsaw, lopping near-vertical boughs, without someone on hand in case anything goes wrong.

Trouble was, his mate Stavros had just nipped off to run a quick errand and our friend, ever the confident one, having done this zillions of times before, decided he may as well carry on regardless. Time was, after all, slipping away. He has often regaled us with tales of his escapades in his past life in the UK working in forestry, when things didn't go entirely according to plan. He not only knows how to cut a trunk to make it fall where it ought to, but he's also made it clear that occasionally things don't go right, even when you've done the right cuts.

On this occasion, things didn't go right. Having almost completed the final cut (apologies to all Pink Floyd fans), the whole trunk began, not to fall in the direction our friend had intended, but to twist on the last few strands of wood left uncut, swing clear of the remaining stump, then plummet a foot or two (good that, eh? "foot", you know...) straight on to his right ...foot. 

There's no need to expand too much on what happened next. I'll cut to the quick. When he eventually arrived at the hospital (we drove him there as it happens), his faithful mate Stavros was there to greet us at A&E. Stavros had said, "You let me know when you're getting near and I'll be there to meet you. I know people. I'll make sure he sees someone pronto." Which indeed he did.

In fact, they decided to keep him in because he had quite a few broken bones and shouldn't have been walking on it at all. Well, he wasn't to be honest. More like limping, but that also counts apparently.

So, a day or two later we contacted a mutual friend who was more in the know and had been to the hospital since our visit, and he told us what happened as they were checking him in (Stavros had told us we could clear off, as he'd handle it from there on in). Now, there are elements to this that I don't rightly remember, but the essence is this:

Well, actually, first I need to make a few observations about the Municipal Hospital here on Rhodes. You'll know that I myself had surgery there a couple of years ago and was entirely satisfied with the whole experience. That is, of course, if that's the right way to describe going in for a hernia op [see this post]. There are, though, some who decry the local hospital, having barely a good word to say for it. I can only speak as I find and I believe that the staff there are doing a grand job in the severely straightened circumstances in which they find themselves. Some UK ex-pats complain that they're not treated very well, but I suspect that may have something to do with their own failure to speak Greek or to demonstrate patience when inter-acting with the staff. Only saying, like.

Anyway, our friend was admitted and told to report to a particular ward on a particular floor, but not the ground floor, where he'd been seen by A&E. Now, this would entail a trek to the lift, then, on exiting the lift a further trek of some distance to the desk on the ward where he needed to check in. After looking around for a wheelchair or a gurney and finding none, the two chaps in question, our friend with the broken foot and his trusty Greek friend Stavros, began an arms-over-the-shoulder type struggle to reach the lift lobby. They made it to the lift, but exiting just as they arrived to enter, was a doughty porter wheeling some boxes from the stores to a ward, using his sack trucks.

You know where this is going now don't you? Yea, right, exactly. The porter commented that our friend the patient with a well-bandaged foot and a crutch ought not to be walking. 

"Hold on," he said to our two heroes, "Hang about and I'll find you a wheelchair" ...or a gurney. He left his laden sack trucks near the lift with our two friends and legged it off down several corridors before returning breathless and saying, "Let me just get these off and I'll take you."

On saying that, he unloaded his stack of boxes, bade our friend step on to the sack trucks, wheeled him into the lift, up to the appropriate floor and along the corridor to the ward desk for him to be checked in.

Let no one say that the staff at Rhodes Hospital lack dedication to patient care.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Sorting the Fact from the Fiction

Sadly, it seems that a lot of the time nowadays those of us who actually live here are having to try and counter the steady stream of misinformation that goes out through the media in other countries about the situation here in Greece regarding refugees from Syria and other countries. Not too long ago it was "You don't want to go to Greece for a holiday because there's no cash in the ATMs, no food in the hotels and people are starving. Oh, and the crime! You'd be robbed no sooner had you got through passport control." Everyone who was sensible enough to ignore all that rubbish and actually come here for their summer holiday found all of that to be utter tripe. It didn't stop their friends asking them when they returned home though, "What did you want to go there for? How did you survive?"

I'd never want to patronise or chide the budding reader, but sometimes a few tactful words in the right place can help immensely. I'll tell you what I mean by hopefully exploding a myth or two about what's going on over here:

1. A Geography Lesson
You really don't have to be a qualified rocket scientist to check out a map. I was recently in communication with an ex-pat living on the island of Poros, which, in case you weren't aware, is an island in the Saronic Gulf...

The Saronic Gulf, see it? It's actually just above the caption on the map.

My correspondent on Poros told me that they'd already been told of the fears someone had of taking a holiday there this year owing to the refugee crisis. Ahem, take a look at the map folks - Poros is about as far from the Turkish coast as you can get without nipping through the Corinth Canal and out into the Ionian Sea, west of the Greek mainland. You'd be more likely to see a refugee on Wimbledon Common than you would on Poros.

I know, I'm going to sound sooo smug here, but it does disturb me sometimes how little research people do when thinking about going somewhere, by checking exactly where that somewhere is on the map. 

Let's get a few basics agreed here. The islands that have born the brunt of the refugee "invasion" have primarily been those tucked up close to the Turkish coast yet as close to Pireaus as someone fleeing a war could hope to be, owing to the fact that they really don't want to stay on a Greek island, but rather move on to Athens and then to Northern Europe. The islands in question are Lesbos, Chios, Kos and a few others.

If you believe the hype on the UK media you'd be forgiven for thinking that to go to Lesbos (for example) you'd be looking forward to spending a week or two among a throng of tent-dwelling ne-er do wells and wading into the sea for your swim through a mountain of discarded life jackets. the willingness that some people display to accept this picture is truly dumbfounding.

Lesbos has probably born the brunt of the "invasion", true, but that hasn't changed the island anything like as much as the media would have you believe. For starters, there are resorts in parts of Lesbos where you can go for a holiday and not see a single refugee. 

Lesbos is the beautiful island it always was and, owing to the media tripe, this year it faces an economic meltdown as tourists stay away in such numbers as to threaten the livelyhood of thousands of islanders whose only "sin" is that they've tried to render  humanitarian aid to thousands of frightened and bedraggled people fleeing a vicious war that's destroyed the infrastructure in their home country. For this reason alone, were I still living in the UK I'm dead certain that I'd probably be booking for Lesbos in 2016. 

I hope you'll check this Facebook page out. Maybe take a look at these too..

Photo courtesy

If you are sensible enough to be considering a holiday on a Greek Island this year, then I strongly suggest you take a good look at a map, then you'll see that not only are the vast majority of islands still offering the same experience that you'd always have had, but even those in the news have plenty of "resorts" which are not overrun by the homeless itinerants in the manner that the media would have you believe.

2. The Situation on the Ground
Of course, it would be daft to suggest that anyone visiting the islands in question would not expect to see some evidence of what's been going on this past 18 months or so. That, however, is a far cry from having one's holiday ruined. Right now though, following the sluggish politicians of wealthier countries elsewhere in Europe finally having made some kind of agreement with Turkey, there are navy vessels patrolling the waters between the Greek islands and the Turkish coast, intercepting boats carrying migrants and either taking them on board if their vessel is in a dangerous condition, or turning them back to Turkey.

Here on Rhodes anyone arriving for a holiday is very unlikely to see anything that would indicate that the largest mass movement of refugees on the planet since World War 2 is going on. Right now, you can stroll Mandraki Harbour and may even walk past one or two of the relatively few refugees that have come ashore here and you wouldn't even know who or what they were. 

3. Where do They Get Off?
I'm not alone in wondering if there is some kind of agenda to smear Greece as a holiday destination being adopted by the media in north and west Europe. The picture painted, when the news was all about Greece's economic problems and her potential "Grexit" from the European Union, was woefully distorted and had many tourists who believed it staying away for the reasons I mentioned in paragraph 1 above. All through the six or seven years of the media hype ripping into Greece there were folk taking their holidays here as per usual and going home having had a wonderful time.

If you'll take it from someone who lives here, you'll not let all the overblown hype that's gone out on the TV and in the newspapers put you off from coming to the land that still offers you a most unique holiday experience.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Coming 'Round the Mountain

The sun was being negligent. The forecast on ERT1 the previous evening had suggested that it would be a day to get sunburnt if you weren't careful. Unfortunately, the old "Afrikaniki skoni" was about again. Thus the sun did not have his hat on as the weather forecast had led me to believe he would.

Afrikaniki skoni - African dust - is a phenomenon that we get quite regularly here in Greece. It has been known to reach as far as northern Europe and the UK, but we get it here several times every year. Basically it's dust from the Sahara, blown across the Mediterranean from south to north and sometimes it causes nothing more than a slight haziness in the atmosphere as it passes over us at jetstream altitude. Other times it can be quite bothersome. if it accompanies a rain system you can be pretty sure that everything that's outdoors, your tiled courtyards, your paths, your car, your washing, will end up coated in a red dust that's a real bother to remove. Often you end up having to wash down your walls, your courtyard, including for example the aircon units, the windows and sills, plants that have large leaves, with a brush or mop and copious quantities of water to get rid of it. You might have just washed the car, but it'll end up looking like it's just completed the Paris-Dakar Rally if it rains afrikaniki skoni.

Occasionally, and this was the case on the day in question, it accompanies a period of quite high humidity and then it produces a heavy, overcast sky, even when the forecast was for clear skies and sunshine. It's the kind of sky that I tend to describe as a British one and it can be very localised. I'm talking about Thursday February 25th and we'd planned a walk that would take us something over two hours. At the last minute my wife was called to do something else of some importance and thus I decided to continue with the walk anyway on my lonesome.

I mentioned the book "Walk and Eat Rhodes" in the post "A Spring (or Seven) in One's Step" and it was another walk in this book that I wanted to try out. A bit foolhardy maybe, since the walk we did on the previous occasion almost saw us stranded up a mountain overnight on Boxing Day last year. This time though, it ought to be more straightforward. The walk was a little shorter and, from the description in the book, ought to prove much easier to follow, even if the terrain were to prove different from that which is described in the book. The walk begins near a bus stop on the road leading up to Lindos from the "Flevaris" supermarket junction just above Kalathos village. It soon follows a narrow pathway into a steep valley leading around the back of a mountain and brings you out way up on the cliff above Psaltos Bay, from where you turn to the left and follow the cliff-edge around to the back of the valley leading down to Krana square, where all the coaches stop and disgorge their occupants as they spill down the steep hill into the village of Lindos itself. 

The weather, overcast as it was, reminded me very much of Lake District [Cumbria, UK] walks I'd done many years ago. Conditions like these make the landscape, especially at this time of the year when it's quite green, put one in mind of the British countryside and I like that. It's kind of nostalgic. According to the book it's a distance of 7.5 Kilometers and ought to take the average walker around 2 hours and 20 minutes. Of course, the book suggests that the walker carry on from Krana down into Lindos village and perhaps take a meal at Maria's Taverna, but I intended to take a refreshment break at the Lindos Ice Bar at Krana (which serves as a quite regular coffee bar all year around, the "Ice" section being basically a glorified Butcher's shop walk-in fridge that you pay €10 to enter during the summer season), before walking back down the road past the Amphitheatre open-air club to the starting point behind Vlicha Bay. 

So then, off we go (incidentally, the photo at the top [above that is] is a view taken just minutes after striking off up the lane from the road, The hill in the centre is the military camp at Kalathos with Kalathos Bay beyond), turning around and heading uphill...

Dunno what this was, the guide doesn't mention it. I suspect an old animal feed store?

Up until now, the guide's instructions still make sense

This is a Valonian Oak and it does indeed appear where you expect it to according to the guide. A result!

Look left - a fascinating cave, with stones at the entrance to make it into an enclosed shelter.

The weather conditions are very evident in this one. How much nicer the photos would have looked if it hadn't been for the Afrikaniki skoni.

At this point the guide refers to the cairns, like this one, which mark the way. Without them you could very easily get lost. There are supposed to be red paint spots on the stones along the way, but I found few left and those that remained were well faded.

Once or twice the sky spat at me and I started to worry about getting seriously wet. Fortunately though, it never came to anything. There are a few areas where you have to really search to see the next cairn. At this point you're quite a long way from anywhere.

At this time of year these poppies are a delight.

Here I walked through a waist-high "forest" of asphodel. I love that name. I reckon it belongs in a book like The Lord of the Rings. "The lady Asphodel wafted thru the forest of Lothlorien..."

By the time I got to here I was thinking how daft it was to attempt this walk alone. The ground is frequently very stony and a twisted ankle would be a disaster. Mobile phones are a help, but imagine anyone trying to come and find you.

Came across this orchid along the way, lovely eh?

The first view you get of Psaltos Bay far below. Pefkos, of course, is behind that distant headland. You can't make out the next cairn in this one. Sometimes they are so far ahead that you can doubt yourself until you finally catch sight of it.

This pic doesn't really do the height justice. Over these rocks is a drop of a couple of hundred feet. The entire Psaltos Bay is now visible.

At this point you're skirting the top of the cliff and approaching the top end of Krana, although it's still quite some distance away.

Yes, that slightly orange bit [bottom centre] is the path.

Krana now well visible below, although as yet you still have a few hundred feet of rough terrain to cover as you descend the slope. The white buildings immediately below are the Caesar's Gardens apartments.

Orange trees in the grounds of Caesar's Gardens. Tourists rarely see them like this. I quite fancied half-inching a couple, but there was a bloke hammering away at something in the grounds not far below me so I thought better of it!!

Yes, that stony area to the right is where you finally make it to the road. The "path" isn't that evident is it.

You pass the Rafael as you descend gradually toward Krana Square and the Flora Supermarket.

Entrance to Caesar's Gardens.

Yea, this area is normally where tourists park their hire vehicles during the season. Hotels and apartment blocks often look like this in the run-up to the start of the new season.

Peering over my filter coffee in the Lindos Ice Bar, just before I was joined by Dimitri, a Greek friend from Kalathos.  We had a natter for an hour or two before I set off once more to walk along the road back to the starting point.

Moody looking Lindos Bay in the murk...

As above, only zoomed a little.

I was a little peeved that these shots would have looked so much better with a clear sky.
Y'know what? I really enjoyed the walk, even though there were places where the path was pretty doubtful. But at least I found it again and made the circuit without incident. 

The next day it dawned bright and clear, not a cloud in sight to interrupt a cobalt sky. I wasn't about to do the walk again right then and there though!

Friday, 4 March 2016

More Besmirching

Y'know, many of us who live out here, plus many who resolutely (to their credit) continue to visit this country, are getting heartily furious and fed up with the way the UK (and no doubt other countries') media seem to be continuing with their campaign to make it seem as though a holidaymaker would be quite deranged to want to come here.

I, along with all sane and decent people, am distressed beyond words by the plight of so many of those refugees fleeing the war in Syria. Whether all of the refugees are genuine or whether some are following some secret agenda to convert the west to Islam is neither here nor there really. The fact is that one can see young children and babies living in makeshift shelters at international borders because of a distinct dragging of the feet by rich politicians when it comes to sorting our how to help such poor unfortunates.

But, here in Greece, where there has of course been a huge problem with the sheer numbers of people washing up on the shore of the islands, there remains a rich wonderland, a paradise for holidaymakers to enjoy, notwithstanding all of the foregoing.

What prompted me to write this post is the fact that already I'm hearing the same old unreasoning fears from folk who are sensible enough to ignore the hype and book their visit to Greece for this coming summer season. They're telling me (and we've heard all of this for six or seven years now, even before the refugee crisis began and it was owing to the financial crisis) that their friends and family are saying when they tell them that they're coming to Greece, "What are you going there for?" Shock horror!

The reason, of course for such comments is that they are willing to swallow the distorted picture being presented once again by the media: that if you come to a Greek island you won't be able to move for people sleeping rough, causing problems in the streets, begging, doing their 'business' by the side of the road, perhaps you'll be swamped under the weight of discarded life jackets along the coastline. Whatever, most of it is grossly overstated and far from accurate.

There are even people who were holidaying on Lesbos (for example) last year who lent a hand in helping the local Greeks to care for the bedraggled folk being washed up on the shoreline and even went home feeling fulfilled that they'd done something for their fellow suffering humans. OK, one could argue that when you're on holiday you don't want to be confronted with the suffering of others, at least not while you recharge your batteries before getting back to reality. Yet that hasn't stopped millions from taking their holidays in countries in Africa or Asia where such things have always been a feature and yet the tourists still go there.

I was moved almost to tears by this letter from a very erudite Greek from Lesbos. Those words eloquently demonstrate why it's even more important for tourists to support the Greek islanders this season. For the fickle tourist to abandon Greece in its hour of need is adding insult to injury and will cause yet more suffering and hardship, this time not only to the refugees, but to those who so valiantly helped them (and continue to do so) during all of last season and into the new year.

Anyone who knows Greece well is of course aware of the irritating and frustrating bureaucracy one has to deal with here. Lots of British who live here have paid out untold extra cash for unexpected paperwork in order to legalise their properties for example. The goalposts seem to be always moving this way and that. All of this aside, the day-to-day experience of meeting and interacting with local, humble residents is always an enriching experience in Greece. Τhe culture of giving your last morsel of food, of opening your home to complete strangers, runs very deep in this society. It's what brings true Grecophiles back here again and again.

This year, more than ever, Greece needs tourists to come, especially to the eastern Aegean islands. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that those who do come, in the face of their friends and family raising their eyebrows in amazement at their apparent recklessness, will be the ones who come off the winners.

Come here, have a good holiday, then go home and tell your friends how they've missed out. Hopefully, you're one of those who doesn't let propaganda make you swallow half-truths and distorted pictures.

Kalo Taxidi, kai kales diakopes.