Tuesday, 26 April 2016

A Little Pizza Heaven

By and large, you'd be correct in assuming that me and the better half don't generally eat non-Greek when eating out. The growing number of Indian, Chinese and a few other international cuisine-catering restaurants on the Greek islands is a constant puzzlement to me. I mean, why come to Greece to eat Indian, nice though Indian cuisine is of course?

In recent decades the choice of home cooking available in Greek tavernas has become huge and to eat out "Greek" nowadays is a complete delight. I'm old enough to remember the seventies when eating out on a Greek island would all too often have been a matter of souvlaki and chips, grilled fish and chips, pork chop and chips - in fact anything you like as long as it was grilled and came with chips (yet another opportunity here to refer back to this old post!). You seldom saw anything green on your plate in those days. Now, though, Greek restaurants everywhere have embraced the need to offer their clientele the opportunity to sample and thus fall in love with the gamut of delicious Greek home cuisine and thus many gourmand tourists now come here for the food as much as for anything else.

Here on Naxos, where we're passing our second Naxian holiday in two years, there is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to eating out. Generally the food quality is excellent to superb and it's a culture here too to present diners with a freebee or three at the end of their meal. Living as we do on Rhodes I have to fess up to the fact that it's not something that happens often enough there for my liking. When we eat out at home the food is usually good, yes, but to receive a free dessert or drink at the end seems to me to be the exception rather than the rule. For what it costs the establishment I really do feel that it's a bit shortsighted, as it so often makes a big difference as to whether diners will repeat visit or not.

Here on Naxos, as we complete our first week back here since April 2014, we've already had a free half-litre of wine placed before us at least three times, along with beers, ouzo, orange pie with ice-cream, halva and a few other bits and pieces besides. Plus we have the distinct impression that eating out here is marginally cheaper than Rhodes too. This is a puzzle because Naxos is a more "select" island, TBH. It's not on the major tourist trail owing to the difficulty of getting here and the visitors tend to be slightly more independent and upmarket (not wishing to offend our fellow ex-pat Rhodeans, just generalising you understand!!) than on Rhodes.

So, since he expounds on his love of Greek cuisine, why does he head this post with a photo of a Pizza joint and indeed call it "A Little Pizza Heaven"?

Why indeed. I'll get to that in a mo. 

First though, basically we've kind of whittled it down to four favourite eating houses here, which is not to say that there aren't a zillion others. It's purely a matter of expediency. You can't go everywhere, you wouldn't have time, and when you've had such a good eating experience, you do want to go back right? So, our faves are:

Frankly, we couldn't place an order of priority between the three tavernas mentioned there. They're all superb for different reasons. The Metaxi Mas is impossibly beautiful. Check out these photos below:

That's the view from the main entrance of the taverna. Be honest, it would be hard to think of a more picturesque location for a traditional taverna, eh?

The photo above this one was taken while standing in that doorway. 

A Greek couple were having a meal at the table just outside the front door when I took this  - with an audience.

The Scirocco has a really friendly and warm team of staff that always make you feel like long, lost friends. When we showed up there the other night they made as though they'd put aside a table just for us (after I'd posted on their Facebook page that we were coming back after 2 years). 

Swordfish at the Scirocco - yumm-mmy! My beloved ordered the grilled vegetables and I chose the baked potato, packed with Tzatziki (which is easy for me to say [warning: plug there!!])
Maro's is legendary for its huge portions. I haven't taken any photos there this year yet. But there are quite a few on their Facebook page. We've eaten at Maro's several times and very often gone home with a "doggy-bag" which has given us lunch for the following day. They're always happy to provide a tin-foil tray with a cardboard top to take home what you can't eat on the night. Take my word seriously - you'll be needing it.

So, to return to Pizzadelia. If we were pushed to admit what is our absolute fave eating place here on Naxos, we'd both say without a moment's hesitation, Pizzadelia. Why, you cry (again!)?

First, let me explain something about Italian cuisine and the Greeks. Now, I know that lots of you (see the inherent optimism in that remark? "Lots" indicating that more than one person will end up reading this stuff) will already know this, but there will always be some who don't know and so this brief explanation is for these.

The Italians occupied Greece before the Nazis came. Of course, any Brits who love David Suchet in the long-running UK TV series Poirot will know this because in the episode that was filmed on Rhodes, which was set between the wars of course, there were Italian officials everywhere. Whilst the Greeks would rather not have lived under the Italians, they did rather benefit from their presence in several ways. Firstly, when the Nazis came it led to a lot of Greeks longing for the days of the Italian occupation merely from making the comparison between the methods of the occupiers, but also the buildings that the Italians constructed and left behind as a long-term legacy are so pleasing that the Greeks are today quite proud of them.

All the major buildings along the harbour-front at Mandraki in Rhodes were built by the Italians, including the National Bank of Greece, the Courthouse, the Port Authority office, the Post Office, the Theatre, the Town Hall and so on. The wonderful and recently restored pavilions at Kallithea Springs were designed and constructed by the Italians.

But probably the most interesting legacy from the Italian occupation is the Greek penchant for Italian food, especially Pizza. There are several "Greek" dishes which are really leftovers from the Italians, notably a few that contain pasta. Much Greek cuisine is of course exceedingly similar to Turkish too, for obvious reasons, but when it comes to Italian, they're a lot less reluctant to admit to the connection.

So, finally, here it is, the stuff about Pizzadelia. We first visited Pizzadelia two years ago because the place was always well patronised by the local Greeks, as is often the case all over Greece with Italian restaurants. Back then it was situated in a tiny premise just across the square from the Scirocco, which meant that when we were eating in one we could wave at the staff in the other. This proved most fortuitous because, on our last night of almost a month spent here that time around, we ate at the Scirocco. Owing to the relationship that we'd built up with both establishments, that didn't put anyone's nose out of joint. In fact, we were brought a free carafe of wine part-way through the meal and told by Nikos the waiter that it was a parting gift from Manoli, who runs Pizzadelia. He'd only gone and seen us, given us a wave and then phoned them and asked them to do it, and pass on his compliments. Not only is that a fine reflection of the man but also of this island in general.

Pizzadelia has now moved to a spot just a few metres down the beach road from the square and it's a much nicer place (see photo at the top). It's bigger for starters. When we went looking for the place after arriving this year we were mortified to find it no longer where we'd expected it to be. Fortunately we were able to ask in the old place, which is now a smart bakery, and they were pleased to tell us how to find it. Plus I still had Manoli's e-mail address and he replied promptly to my plea confirming that he'd moved.

It's always a bit daft to say stuff like "it's the best I've ever tasted" or the "best Italian I've ever eaten at" but I'm sorely tempted to use those expressions regarding the Pizzadelia. See, what makes it so special are several things. One, the owner/manager/chef is Manolis who's a Canadian Greek (he lived for many years in Montreal) with a great ethic about life. He prides himself on the fact that the food is organic [you can also have gluten-free if you like] and wherever possible locally grown. His is one of a very few establishments that promotes Cycladian beers. There are several beers on the drinks list that are produced in local breweries on Greek islands and the house wine is Naxian too, not simply from a carton bought from the local supermarket and poured into jugs for the punters. Go on, tell me you didn't think that happens widely.

Something that also scores him points heavily is the fact that he has impeccable taste in music. Two years ago I thought he'd nicked my entire music collection since most of what he was playing was in it. I did also learn a few new artistes to watch out for though, but inevitably when he had time to converse we found there was a meeting of minds on the subject, which was why I was pleased to be able to proffer him a "stick" this time around wth some stuff on it for him to upload and give a listen to when he has time. Usually we're a bit old fashioned and we like to hear some scratchy old "laika" or "rembetiko" playing as we eat, but since Pizzadelia is a contemporary place (impeccably decorated with lots of up-cycling by the way. Kirstie Allsop would give him an award, I mean - he even has bicycle wheels for lampshades - it does work, trust me!) the choice of music is spot on. It's usually AOR rock, nothing too frantic, plus a bit of blues, jazz and so on.

Of course, all the foregoing would be pretty pointless if the food didn't taste so good. But - and here I go, using superlatives again - it's the best Italian food (with a slightly Greek twist anyway) we've ever tasted. In fact, while we were in there the other night a very personable Aussie fella named Joe came in and ordered a takeaway. We happened to bump into him and his wife Leanne on the harbour a day or two later and they both agreed that the pizza was simply amazing. Leanne hadn't even seen the place when her hubby brought the pizza home, but she couldn't help but rave (as we do of course) about how good it was. Incidentally, as is often the case with folk from down under, they're spending the entire summer "doing" Europe and Leanne plans to document their trip on her Facebook page. I would be remiss not to refer to the avocado salad here too. You must order it if you go, I insist!

Something else that recommends Manoli to us too is the fact that two years on he still has the same small, but dedicated crew around him. He has Violetta in the kitchen and Stelios waiting at tables and zipping off into the night regularly on his moped doing deliveries. This fact alone suggests that he's a damn good bloke to work for, since these guys aren't family. They seem pretty contented working at Pizzadelia to us.

Frankly, it would be very tempting to eat at Pizzadelia every single night. The reason we don't is that it's such a shame not to enjoy some different environments. Variety is the spice and all that. It's still difficult though, walking past the place! Plus when all is said and done the other establishments I've referred to are very good too.

Bottom line? If you're ever on Naxos you'd be crazy not to go eat at Pizzadelia. If you ever do, tell Manoli that John and Maria sent you.

The view out from inside

That's the man himself on the left. My better half is talking to Violetta. Note the bicycle-wheel lampshades!

A freebie dessert (of course). Something chocolatty, must ask him for it next time we go. It's delish (as expected).

Stelios did the honours.

Oh, and nearly forgot. The cuckoo clock in Metaxi Mas. Vasili the owner/waiter brought it back from Germany himself. I asked him! See previous post.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

A Cuckoo, Just Between Ourselves

The sound of a cuckoo clock isn't something you expect to hear while dining in a traditional Greek taverna, is it. Two years ago, when we were last here on Naxos we settled on four regular places to eat and did them all in rotation, slotting in an occasional wild card along the way. We'd spent three and a half weeks here and so had become quite familiar with a lot of local folk.

There was one fellow who always greeted us as we passed his taverna when promenading along the water front, which here in Naxos town is a real treat, as it's a succession of bars and tavernas affording one a very extensive choice of where to sit and indulge. This guy was always courtesy itself and, OK, we know he's trying to get bums on seats, but in his case, owing to the sheer wealth of choice set before us, he never did get ours to sit on any of his. Yet almost daily he'd wish us a good day with a smile and never did try and exert any pressure on us. You know what many of these chaps do, they'll extend a hand behind your back, steer you toward their menu board and regale you with a list of their tasty treats, including the specials for the day. Before you know it they're thrusting a menu in your hand as they skilfully steer you to one of their tables and you're caught, hook, line and sinker. 

The man in question didn't ever do this, but always smiled and greeted us as we passed him by for yet another time. 

We landed on Naxos at shortly before 2.00pm on Monday April 18th and were soon being driven to our accommodation by Petros, one half of the husband and wife team that owns and run the Oniro Studios, where were we'd booked into the same room that we'd occupied two years ago. After having admired the wonderful view over the rooftops and out across the shimmering bay from the building's very tasteful rooftop terrace, then downed the complimentary beer that Petros had shoved into our hands in frosted glasses as soon as we'd arrived, we set about sorting out all the stuff in the cases, took a nap and then got up, went shopping and set out at somewhere around 8.00pm to go and eat for our first night.

We 'd decided well before we'd even landed that we'd take our first evening meal at the exquisite little backstreet taverna called "Metaxi Mas", situated in the Old Market area of the town. The name means basically "between ourselves". To reach it though, would entail our first promenade along the front in two years almost to the day and, sure enough, there was that fella outside his taverna and he recognised us, that snooty couple that never ever did take a meal at his establishment. I probably underestimate his intelligence. Surely he, like so many of his counterparts, knows full well that it's an impossibility for visitors to try every eatery in one stay here, there are simply too many. Whatever the case, we've decided that he's earned our patronage at least once this time around.

For our first night, though, it had to be the "Metaxi Mas." It's been two years and who knows how many tourists since we last ate there, but the moment we walked in the door the owner (well, TBH, there are several, all the same family, but the one I'm referring to waits at the tables) knew us instantly and welcomed us back to Naxos with a couple of cheek kisses and hugs. He was never Mr. Personality, but we remembered that he was always affable, smiley and attentive. We were well impressed that he knew and remembered us so well, but then, if you're a Grecophile, you won't be that surprised.

How often people who've not yet been to this country ask what it is about Greece that calls so many people back again and again. Of course there are so many things, but one of them has to be this knack that the Greeks have for making you feel like one of the family. The cynic would say, "Ah well, they just want to secure your loyalty so that they can expand that wad of cash in their back pocket." Sorry Mr. Cynical, but you'd be wrong. TBH, I'm a pretty regular cynic about a lot of things, especially most religions and definitely politicians, but having been fortunate enough to have had Greek relatives for over four decades now, and having been to this country countless times before moving out here well over ten years ago, I feel I have the qualifications to remark on their culture of hospitality. It is legendary - end of story.

In fact, what happened at the Metaxi Mas last night supports my argument. I didn't have the miscreant iPad with me, so some photos will appear in a later post [the one further down below is from 2014], but I'll tell you the story anyway for now. 

Why the "miscreant" iPad? I'll tell you - and it's driving me bonkers. I've always been a Mac man and still am. Apple products are generally extremely reliable, as you'd expect from the price you pay for them, but my iPad Mini is barely 3 years old and has taken to shutting itself down and sometimes re-starting (sometimes several times!!) without warning whenever it flippin' well likes. I spent an entire afternoon on the phone (free call, thank goodness) with an Apple engineer last week and we re-installed the software, restored the settings and did a few other things besides before she finally suggested that it may be a hardware problem and I'd have to have it sent back to Athens for diagnostics and repair. If I send it I'll be without it for weeks, a prospect that fills me with dread because my whole flamin' life revolves around that thing nowadays. Thirty years ago it would have been a Filofax, now, it's a tablet. At least a Filofax didn't misbehave like this. Aaargh!!

Anyway, I digress, but sometimes you feel better for talking about it, right? We ordered a green seasonal salad, some courgette rissoles, big beans and chips. We decided to wash it down with half a litre of the house rosé and our usual large bottle of water to keep us hydrated. We always ask for plain bread, not the dreaded garlic bread that so many tourists think is fab these days. The salad was delicious and perfectly dressed, plus the onions were fresh local spring onions, both in slices and strips, dead yummy. The kollokitho'keftedes (courgette rissoles) were every bit as tasty as we remembered from 2014 and the chips were hand-cut and done in local olive oil. As for the gigantes (the big beans), the ones you get at the Metaxi Mas are as good as you'll eat anywhere. Plus we really liked the slices of carrot (almost as big as the beans themselves) in the sauce too. You can see from the foregoing though that, as non-meat eaters, we're never going to be the best customers for any taverna when it comes to big money dining. This made no difference whatsoever to the genuine warmth from our host, who stopped by the table to catch up with our news on several occasions while passing.

Part way through the meal I was slightly non-plussed to hear a cuckoo sounding the hour at 9.00pm [plus, as it transpired, a few more times as well]. Now, before I explain further, I ought to describe the Metaxi Mas if you've never been. It's up a tiny backstreet in the Old Market area of the town and the street outside is so narrow in places that you can stretch your arms out and lay your hands flat on both opposite walls. This photo is one I took back in April 2014...

The taverna is about as traditional-looking as anyone could wish for, with old stone walls, lovely shuttered windows with lace hanging in them, suspended from brass rods, positioned half-way up the glass. There are old pictures and brass lamps on the walls and inside a very old wooden-lath and beam ceiling, stained and polished to look clean and tidy. The street outside is the most essentially Greek whitewashed street you could ever wish to walk along and all in all the atmosphere is precisely what people come to Greece to experience. Even the taverna sign hanging outside is designed to look old and is full of character, giving the right impression as to what kind of dining experience you'll have if you eat there.

So - not, then, the kind of place where you'd expect to find a cuckoo clock. Only after hearing the little bird's call did I glance up at the wall opposite our table to see a traditional a cuckoo clock as you could hope to find in a little Swiss chalet, mounted there in all its glory. The clientele was peppered with Greeks, always a good sign, but also there were a couple of middle-aged women speaking what we thought to be ether German or Dutch sat below the clock. Perhaps an indication of how it may have got there. I must ask him next time we visit. I'll report back in a while.

As we ate and began seeing more space emerging on all the plates before us, our host turned up, having seen that we'd finished our wine, with a second half litre of the rosé. On the house. Now, we'd actually made a decision this time around because in the past we've been in the habit of having a little drinkie-poo out on the balcony before setting out for the evening, to not have a real drink until we're at the table. We're trying to be good and exercise a modicum of moderation of course. Oh, and before I forget, how delighted we were to have the wine turn up in one of those little pink aluminium jugs. I don't like the increasing trend these days of tavernas switching to glass carafes, it's so, well ...French. We're in Greece and we want our draught wine in a little pink aluminium jug. It's how things are meant to be in the natural order of things. Of course, when you get another 500ml for free, your resolve re moderation does tend to weaken just a tad.

So, freebie number one, a free half-litre of the house rosé. Now, I'll not say that it's the most wonderful rosé you'll ever taste. But it is locally produced and rather resembles on the palate a mixture of Retsina and rosé, which it may quite possibly actually be. No matter because it's well chilled and tastes better with every top-up of your glass. This though again is the problem with eating out here when someone's being nice to you. Try as you may to not drink too much alcohol, the odd are stacked against you. In the end you think "can't look a gift horse" etc. and pour yourselves more water in the hope that it'll dilute the wine a bit.

OK, so we seemed to be coping, the dishes were finally cleared away and we asked for the bill. After a further five or ten minutes our host passed with arms loaded with plates for some other table and we reminded him about our bill, to which he replied with a smile, "Siga siga!" and carried on with his work.

We weren't all that bothered, we were, after all, on our first night out of a total of 16 and so wanted to get into "well-chilled out" mode. Our host seemed to sense this and so was determined not to have us waltz off into the night too early. Before long we were helping the four Malaysian girls seated behind me as the patron was trying to explain to them what was in the free plate of chocolate halva he'd placed on their table along with their bill. His English didn't extend to "sesame seeds" and their Greek was non-existent. After a delightful conversation with these girls, who told us that this was their first visit to Greece after always having wanted to come here and that they'd be off to Santorini next, after another day or so, we said goodbye to them as they upped and left and our host placed freebie number two on our table. Our very own helping of chocolate-flavoured halva. Ah, well, we didn't have a plane or boat to catch after all.

As we popped the final crumbs of halva into our mouths we again signalled to the man that we'd perhaps like to pay now and he walked by with another "siga siga" and no bill was forthcoming. So we settled into eavesdropping the conversation on a nearby table where a group of local Greeks were setting the world to rights. After one more reminder that we'd really like to pay now because we were tired and needed our beds (yet a fifteen minute walk away) he relented and brought us the bill along with freebie number 3, a shot of ouzo for each of us. Placing these on the table, he again said, "Welcome back to Naxo and have a really good time. So nice to see you both again. How is life on Rhodes?" There ensured another brief conversation during which we discovered that here on Naxos just like on Rhodes the residents are worried because of the lack of winter rainfall. The water situation may indeed become critical as the summer wears on, so we mutually expressed concern and agreed that we'd all manage somehow.

The bill? We'd eaten so much that it was going to prove difficult to rise from the table, consumed a litre of the house rosé, plus a couple of shots of ouzo and the bill was €23.10. I dropped him a fifty note and he brought us 27 in change. Needless to say we left a healthy tip and promised that we'd see him again in a few days.

We're rather ecstatic about our first day back here on Naxos. Not at all in cloud cuckoo land either.

Friday, 15 April 2016

A Meander Around Malona

Malona village has, of course always been there. We're now half-way through our 11th year here and have always been aware of it. When you're travelling south from Arhangelos toward Lindos, you climb a very long hill, the road levels out near the Arhangelos football pitch (on your RHS), then begins a couple of difficult bends as its descent toward Haraki begins. There, though, to your right is a breathtaking view of the Rhodes hinterland, before you also take in your first tantalising glimpse of Lindos and its acropolis across the bay of Kalathos. Way down below you to your right as the vista expands with your descent is the village of Malona. You can see the entire village, straddling as it does a wide shallow river bed, which is usually completely dry during the tourist season. About 20% of the village is on the south side of the river, hugging the road that leads to the further village of Massari, which you can also see in the panorama below you. Both sides of the village are connected by a long, low bridge over the river.

I don't really know why, but we've never had cause to go there. Once or twice a year we maybe pass through, taking the scenic route through the orange groves around the back of the mountain from the Arhangelos cross-roads (now a roundabout) to Malona and then Massari on our way home to Kiotari. In winter the orange groves are spectacular, with thousands of orange bauble bedecked trees lining the road on both sides for several kilometers. Plus, of course, if you can reach the fruit without trespassing or damaging someone's fence, you are quite welcome to supplement the fruit bowl on your coffee table at home as you pass.

A couple of days ago, though, we had to go to Malona as a destination. Apart from visiting a workshop on the periphery of the village (where they'll give your chainsaw an annual service for pennies) we've never done that. My wife has her hair trimmed by an Englishwoman who lives in the heart of the village, but normally she'll come to us. For reasons that there's no need to expand on here though, she's been stranded without a car for several weeks and since Mohammed... no, wait, the mountain won't come, ..oh, whatever. You know what I mean.

So, our coiffeur told us to enter the village, stop at Stefano's Taverna, then call her and she'd come out to greet us. No sooner had we drawn up outside the said taverna, which instantly drew my attention since it was well patronised with quite a lot of clientele all sitting at blue-and-white check table-clothed tables (always scores points with me, that), but she emerged from her gate a few metres along a very narrow street and came to greet us. The taverna owner was graciousness itself and came out to help us shoehorn the car into a space where we could leave it for an hour or two, which we greatly appreciated because trying to park a car in such villages is often a major logistic challenge.

We were soon drinking tea and admiring the traditional features of our friend's well-maintained but very old dwelling, when the time came for my wife and her friend to go out into the avli and begin the task at hand, ie: a hair-trim.

Now, I don't know about you fellas, but sitting to one side while two women natter on over the sound of scissors snipping for half an hour or so isn't top of my list of great ways to pass a Thursday afternoon. So I left them to it and decided to go out through the gate and wander the backstreets for a while. After all, this was my first ever opportunity to really see whether I'd find the village attractive or not. Thus it was that I went off along lanes in an attempt to get immersed, to soak up the villages ambience, as it were.

I didn't have either my iPad or my camera with me, but I did have my phone, so whipping it out I snapped the following piccies. Now, before you go thinking that Malona is all ruins and abandonment, it is nothing of the sort. I sought out buildings with a bit of character, including some empty ones, since I love the traditional features you see on them. Hope you like the gallery:

I only took this one to illustrate a point I often go on about. This flow of water went on for about fifty meters. Finding its source, I discovered, much as I'd expected, an old woman washing down her yard (not much larger that a postage stamp) not with a mop and bucket, but with a hose pipe, a brush and of course, no nozzle on that pipe. What could have been accomplished with half a gallon of water probably wasted ten or more. With the current situation regarding water, it's time these old biddies were educated!

Some folk make the best of a bad job when they need to sit outside for a little air.

I liked this house, but how incongruous that tubular rail and steps, which were obviously added much later.

You wouldn't want to sleep up there if you were a habitual sleepwalker who opened doors and wandered at will while comatose, would you.

Two ubiquitous features of an old Greek village, the restored old cottage and the pickup truck!

Nice traditional oven with nice traditional air-con unit!

No idea why the camera on my phone distorted this shot. Maybe I touched something I shouldn't have. Didn't have my glasses on after all.

Yet another offender washing her yard down I shouldn't wonder.

Ideal location for local shops, needs some modernisation...

What is it about these flakey walls? I just love them.

My verdict on the village? I really like it and was surprised at the fact that it boasts several bars and kafeneions, all of which I could happily have spent an hour or two patronising. I think we'll make a point of eating or at least taking a frappé there some time soon.

That'll be after we return from our second visit to Naxos of course, where we're off to next Monday. A return visit after almost exactly two years.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Making a Bee Line

The weather of late has been warmer than the average for the time of year, and as the summer approaches it looks like there isn't now going to be any substantial rainfall before the dry months are upon us.

Up in the pine and olive-clad hills behind the house there are no babbling frogspawn-inhabited brooks, the like of which we usually have to ford during our walks at this time of the year and most of the sprawling, pebble-bottomed seasonal river beds have barely a trickle running along them. In fact many that would be difficult to cross on foot after a normal winter are completely dry.

Against such a backdrop they're currently installing a massive water pipe, almost big enough for a child to crawl through, under the road in Kiotari, apparently owing to the fact that the Miraluna Hotel is reputed (allegedly!) to be complaining about lack of water pressure and it looks like they're going to supply it from the modest little concrete and steel reservoir that's just over the hill from us. It's a last-minute affair, causing a fair degree of dust and disruption as they create a huge ditch running right past the main entrance of the Rodos Maris hotel in the process of laying this new pipeline.

Frequently at this time of year our water supply is liable to dry up, sometimes for a day or two, owing to the fact that demand on the modest little reservoir that serves the area tends to outstrip the supply in the ever increasing quest to fill hotel and apartment swimming pools, some of which are now massive in size. Hey ho, as they say. Etsi paei h zoi!

A few days ago we were doing some gardening and both of us had occasion to go around the back of the house to the shed simultaneously. I emerged from the shed door to see my better half wildly flicking at her own hair, owing to the fact that a rogue worker bee had become tangled up in it and she feared getting stung on the scalp. I joined in the fray trying to flick the offending mite away, with some degree of success at first, only to become the crazed insect's next target. The little swine was a true kamikazi and each time we swotted it away it would skid to a halt mid-air, like in those old Hanna-Barbera or Looney Tunes cartoons we used to so love as kids, then start another suicide dive right at us, well, by this time - right at me.

I'm no expert on bee behaviour. Most of the time, though, the worker bees that come to the garden are quite ambivalent about us, to the extent that when quite a busy swarm of them are using our water-filled plant-pot tray [set there primarily for the birds to drink from and take a bath in] to collect water, each one sucking it up from the very water's edge before taking off and making a bee-line [I amaze myself sometimes] back to the hive, one of us can use the hosepipe to top it up without the bees bothering us at all. They may take off and circle a bit whilst we squirt the water into the tray, but they soon settle back to the task in hand once we've put the hose away.

When they're making honey in earnest, they'll often create a very audible humming backdrop to our gardening experience and I find it quite soothing. Sometimes, in fact, it sounds like there's a Formula 1 circuit in the garden. In general, bees go about their business and leave us to go about ours. Don't get me started on wasps mind you, which fortunately we get a lot less of here than we used to in the UK. But bees, well we're generally really pleased that on our country walks we often pass a colony of hives situated among the olive groves and, as you'll know if you've read this stuff for any length of time, the "bee men" when passing frequently make us a gift of a jar of their very own honey as they pass our garden wall in their truck.

What makes a bee decide to turn aggressive? I found this piece helped me get the picture. On reflection it seems we were lucky that no other bees joined in the fray.

Anyway, this critter that was having a go at us kept coming at our heads and there we were swotting this way and that when it came at my face and landed ever so momentarily on the jawline of my right cheek. I swiped it off pronto with my right hand and suddenly it was gone. We looked and looked but couldn't find it anywhere. Beneath our feet was a gravel area and so we decided that it must have dropped on to that and become invisible.

Within seconds my jawline began to hurt, so I made a bee-line [see, there I go again] for the front of the house to go inside and check in the mirror. I was pretty sure that it hadn't managed to sting me, but it sure felt like it had anyway. Followed by my chuckling, "sympathetic" other half, who was by now so relieved that I'd become the decoy and she'd got away with it that she was finding it highly amusing, I went straight inside and into the bathroom to take a look in the mirror. By the time I got there my jawline was on fire, ouch. And I mean ...OUCH! My beloved, in between chuckles, tried to sound sympathetic, with not a great deal of success.

Examining the skin along my jawline I could see why it was hurting so much. The bee hadn't quite managed to plant its sting in my skin, but it had left it sitting on the surface. I'd evidently swatted it away with milliseconds to spare. Have you ever had the opportunity to examine a bee sting? 

This image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/29245046@N03/5944129769/

Not only has it a vicious-looking barb, but it also carries a sackful of venom, which in my case was being discharged on to the surface of my skin. When I was at junior school I was stung on the collarbone once, so I know what it feels like. Believe me, this was just as painful, even though I was able to dab the sting off of my face and wash it down the plughole in the bathroom sink.

For the remainder of the day I was vigorously applying the cream that I always swear by, Lanes Tea Tree and Witch Hazel cream, which really does dull the pain, but that didn't stop my jowl swelling up like an angry red itchy golfball. I was still slightly flummoxed as to what had happened to that bee once I'd swiped it off my cheek. I know that a bee dies once it's discharged its sting, but where had the flippin' thing gone? It was a mystery. Quite why this one and only solitary member of the swarm had gone loony on us was also a mystery. I at first thought that it may have reacted to the smell of the shampoo, or hairspray in my wife's hair, but that piece I placed the link to above suggests a number of other reasons. I suppose we ought to be thankful that it was some distance away from the plant tray where its fellow workers were supping water, because it sure as hell must have been emitting "alarm pheromones" by the time I gave it one last swat.

Later that evening I was preparing to take a shower, all the time exuding self-pity and self righteousness in equal measure (after all, hadn't I spared my good lady's suffering by taking it upon myself in true self-sacrificing fashion?) when I began to unfasten my watch-strap.

Now, I have a new watch. I bought it when we were on Crete last November, in a shop in Agios Nikolaos to be precise. It's one of those modern funky watches with a hefty black rubber-like strap with a buckle that's so large that it would be quite at home on my trouser belt as well. There I was unbuckling this gargantuan fastener when something dropped out from between the two layers of watch strap. There on the bedroom floor lay our persecutor. It had spent the remainder of the day trapped in my watch strap.

Flaming lucky for me that bees can't sting more than once I'd say.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Not Exactly Sammy Davis Jnr.

The other day we were just over at our friend's house in a nearby village, doing a regular spot of gardening and DIY for her, when it struck me that Spring really is in the air. There I was staining some wooden trellis, listening to all the birdsong, the sun starting to hint at just how strong it's going to become in the next few weeks (prompting me to don the most ridiculous hat you've ever seen, but better that than a sunburnt crown of the head!), when a newborn donkey and its mother began braying in the olive grove just across the road.

There was nothing for it but to trot the thirty or so metres over there and take a peek, but sadly they were at just about the furthest point from where I stood on the lane, the other side of a chainlink fence, so I could only snap these using the digital zoom on the iPad, which tends to lose a lot of definition...

This chap, or perhaps chappesse, tried to get in on the act.

The house where our friend lives also has an olive grove bordering her garden at the rear, thus affording the birds a safe place to sit in an olive tree, the branches of which span to within inches of the climbing roses and jasmine that she has growing on her fence. So we sit and sip coffee in her kitchen and listen to chaffinches, greenfinches, Sardinian Warblers, Jays and a few others besides. It's magical.

Up at our place, where we're fortunate enough to have a valley full of pine trees stretching for almost a kilometre below the garden, we finally heard the call of the hoopoe for the first time just this week. The first time we ever saw a hoopoe in the flesh (or ought that to be "in the feather"? Open to debate...) was many years ago when we took a winter break to Gran Canaria. When you see a hoopoe you cannot mistake it for anything else. It's probably about blackbird sized, but there the similarity ends. We were thrilled some years back when we saw them here, right outside our front door, and have seen them now and again every summer since. This very week, though, was the first time we'd actually heard the hoopoe's call, while working in our own garden. It sounds like this. And in case you'd like a closer look, they look like this.

Anyway, as I slapped the old wood-stain on to the trellis with my brush I got to thinking, you know, like we do in such situations when there's no conversation to be had and the job's taking longer than you'd expected. I got to counting my blessings. Whilst glancing occasionally at the new baby donkey and thinking "the environment here is not half bad when you think about it" the chicken salesman's Dalek-like voice also floated over to me from a couple of streets away. I talked about this particular custom, of someone selling live chickens from the back of a pick-up, in chapter 26 of "A Plethora of Posts"

Wafting through the olive trees came the words (in Greek) "Chickens, ducks, come and take a look. All good egg-layers. Come and see!" the voice was obviously that of a man who'd seen a fair few packs of cigarettes in his life so far and, as it was being transmitted from an old megaphone mounted in a skew-wiff manner on the top of his pick-up's cab, it made me half expect to hear him add, "and if you don't come you will be ex-ter-min-ated!"

When the sun's reminding you that you ought to have slapped on a bit of the old factor 15 before coming out this morning and it's only the end of March, you know you're in Greece. Everywhere you go now too, the place is a hive of intense activity. I've spoken many times about the rhythm of the seasons, something which, apart from darker evenings in winter time, one seldom really noticed in the UK. The expression "rhythm of life" began drifting across my contemplative mind and I found myself making a mental note to look it up on Youtube when I got home. I did too. I've just watched it and y'know, old Sammy Davis Junior could perform all right, couldn't he. Take a look if you like.

Granted, it's a very different life from that which we live here, but it just shows how an overactive mind can take you places you haven't been in a very long time doesn't it.

Drive or walk past a hotel here this month and you'll find yourself wondering how on earth they're ever going to have it all ready for the first coach-load of package holiday people to arrive in a few short weeks from now. Some of the hotel gardens look more like yer proverbial bomb-site (not so funny that expression these days) than a pretty, well-manicured hotel garden, at the moment. There are blokes hacking away at the shrubs and bushes, blokes driving forklifts laden with plasterboard (sheetrock, you guys across the pond) and the sound of power tools emanating from hotel wings where they've been renovating rooms during the winter break. So often we've seen this now that we no longer wonder. We just know that the last sackload of rubble, the last truck laden with green waste, the final licks of paint will all be sorted and heaved away, brushed on or whatever, a mere hour or two before the first coach pulls up outside reception. They always manage it. Pretty impressive really. 

We can only hope that the people will come. Our neighbours up the hill from us have just returned from 3 weeks in the UK and they reported with some degree of anger that the UK press still seems to be perpetually thrusting at the public the idea that Greece is completely buried in refugees, that it's not safe to come here, that the streets and quaysides are all shanty-towns full of potential terrorists. It's all so much distortion, yet looks like threatening the livelyhoods of so many businesses out here this summer. It's sad, but once again it seems that the public love to be duped. Don't listen folks. 

You know something? Greece remains one of the most stable and safe places to spend a vacation - fact. The islands are exquisitely beautiful and a warm welcome awaits you. Do yourself a favour, check this out.

Living here as we have for over a decade, we've seen the trauma that many have had to endure owing to shifty builders and even shiftier bureaucracy. But the fact is that thousands of ex-pats still choose to remain here because the positives outweigh the negatives.

As I climbed the stepladder and offered up a length of newly painted trellis to the house wall for the bougainvillea in the huge pot to call home, I found myself being thankful for the simple things. It's the rhythm of life here that counts, not the fact that the umpteenth civil servant has told you that you need this piece of paper (which last year you didn't need) and it's going to cost you 400 Euros, not the fact that the UK is soon to vote about staying in the Euro-club or asking for their ball back and some ex-pats are panicking needlessly about the possible outcome. No, what counts is the life you can live here on a daily basis, the environment where you can be gardening and glance at a donkey that only came into this world a few hours before, where you can marvel at hoopoes scuttling along dirt lanes and the prospect of a glass of ouzo before your meal, where you can laze away an hour or two people-watching over a coffee any time of the year.

I'm rambling now I know. But, well, isn't that what this blog's all about, eh?  Just doing what it says on the tin.

Just one final thought about the UK vote thing. I've heard so much scaremongering from ex-pats about whether they'd still be able to have residency or work permits if the UK votes out, whether we'd still enjoy the reciprocal healthcare arrangements that are now in place, whether we'd be able to get our pensions (if we're old enough of course) and so on and so forth. I watched an interview the other day on the good old BBC with a Euro-financial expert and he confirmed what I already thought (sorry to boast, but I did, honest!), and he said this:  

If the UK votes to leave, the next day it'll still be a member. The next year it'll still be a member. The process of withdrawal is something that will take many years, maybe even up to a decade, during which time there will need to be lengthy and detailed negotiations, something which all members signed up to when they agreed to join in the first place. There would need to be agreements reached that must be ratified by all of the other 27 member states. Only one of these needs to veto a proposal to stall the whole process and send the lawyers back to the drawing board. "It's like a divorce" he said, "and they are usually messy and take time".

The fact is that many of the ex-pats who worry unduly will probably pop their clogs before any real changes come into force.

That's all to do with the rhythm of life I suppose, eh Sammy?