Friday, 30 June 2017

Eat Your Heart Out David Attenborough

It's a bit hot to be honest. OK, so from here on in until probably mid-September we expect it to be uncomfortably warm, but even Sakis the TV weather man (may his name be blessed) has given a heatwave for Greece this weekend, especially the Dodecanese Islands, with temperatures expected to be around 44ºC on Saturday. Phew. We had 41 under our car port yesterday already.

In fact, I had occasion to be driving home from Kalathos a few hours ago, at just after 11.00pm in fact, and the outside temperature was reading 35ºC on the car's instrument panel. 35ºC at 11.00pm, now that is unusual - and very uncomfortable too. 

Mind you, since I have the 'Bay to Bay' excursion to do on Sunday, apart from the two hours we'll spend in Stegna, where it's always sweltering in July and August, it'll be a relief to be at sea all day. I took this shot below BTW just last Sunday after we'd returned to St. Paul's Bay at 4.00pm. The boat toward the left is our valiant little vessel for the day, the Madelena. She's not quite your Tom Conti boat from Shirley Valentine perhaps, but she isn't one of those modern steel super-structured things either. In fact she endears herself to every guests who comes on the trip by the time we get back at the end of the voyage. She does have a charm that grabs you as the day progresses.

The launch just approaching the stone quay is Vaggelis and Kosmas bringing my weary guests back from the Madelena.
What I'm really chuffed about tonight though, is the fact that as I was driving up the lane to the house I had the best view of a badger one could ever wish for. From the 'kentriko dromo' [main road] up to the front gate along our dirt lane is exactly one kilometer. It's slightly less as the crow flies, but when you drive it you go through quite a few twists and turns, thus making it add up to the 1k. The wildlife we've seen along this lane over the years is truly amazing.

In winter time we constantly encounter deer, in summer I've lost count of the number of hares that seem intent on bounding along the lane in front of the headlights for quite a while before realising that they only have to swerve to the left or right and they'll be safely out of harm's way in the undergrowth. Someone told me that they're dazzled by the lights, since they see much better in semi-darkness. That might make a bit of sense.

At certain times of the year we've seen nightjars 'crouched' down in the dust, looking just like a piece of wood until they decide that we've come just close enough and then they take to the air. Of course those long black snakes will sunbathe on the lane in daylight and the chukars will often run comically in front of us until they take to the air, almost reluctantly, before skimming low over the shrubs and bushes as they make their getaway. Just the other night, as I walked the drive at 3.00am, I saw a polecat or something like it trotting along the lane nonchalantly right past our garden gates.

But that badger tonight, well, that's left me feeling chuffed to bits. We've seen them rarely over the years, but never as well as the one I saw tonight. He (or she) was walking along the lane toward the car as I drove toward it, when it casually turned to one side and walked on to the area of dried grass beside the lane, where, once it had put about six feet between itself and the edge of the lane, it stopped, turned sideways and watched me drive past. Call me a simple chap, but that gave me a tremendous thrill.

What was also rather appropriate though, in view of the fact that we have a large rubber tree in the garden not a stone's throw from the jacaranda in the orchard, and my latest non-fiction book is called "A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree", was the fact that there was a Jay sitting in it a few days ago. In fact he sat there long enough for me to snap this...

Now it may not be the best quality zoomed photo you've ever seen, but if you're a twitcher then you'll definitely ID that as a Jay, right?

I wonder if he knows that he's about to become famous for being part of a book title.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Walls and Bridges

Of course, you'll know if you read my ramblings regularly that I'm a bit of a music buff, so I couldn't resist calling this post after an old John Lennon album. Anyway, it's a completely appropriate title considering what it's about.

Last Tuesday I decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the Old Town, something I hadn't done in many years. It seems to me that the majority of tourists head straight for one of the gates into the interior and often fail to take in the grandeur, the immensity, the impressiveness of what the "Knights Hospitaller of Saint John" accomplished here.

In order to get a good look at the exterior of the walls, you need to walk up Papagou from the bus station (Passing the legendary Top Three Pub!) and then go left at the traffic lights, going uphill still on Ethnarchou Machariou. Actually though, before you even reach the traffic lights, you can ascend some steps (not far up the hill from the public toilets) through some fairly poorly tended undergrowth in a neglected park area, and pretty soon you get a first glimpse of the moat beneath you and the walls on the opposite side, quite near the Grand Master's Palace, which peeps menacingly at you from above the walls, demonstrating the scale of the construction work that would have been involved in the whole thing.

It's in this small park area that I came across this curious grotto, which looked like it ought to be graced by a small pond, maybe some trickling water, but was bone dry and smelling of pee and excrement. Shame, as it would otherwise be quite cooling, even photogenic...

If you want to know where this is, it's roughly within the red circle shown below:

From here you can begin to follow the moat from above until you get to the entrance to the Old Town known as the Gate D'Amboise, which is where it says Platanakia in the map section above. At this point you have to trace your steps back down to the road, pass the entrance to the gate and re-enter the park at the place which can be clearly seen at the bottom of the screen shot above too (in green). Once in the narrow park, just take the path that keeps you closest to the wall above the moat. That's when it gets really impressive.

I don't think I've ever really taken a close look at just how amazing the Old Town wall really is. I've even run around the moat during the annual Rhodes For Life charity event, but when you're jogging and trying to swig from a plastic water bottle and not bump into other runners, as well as simply trying not to die from a heart attack, you don't tend to admire the scenery all that much. Like I said above, I believe that the majority of tourists possibly don't do this walk and don't thus get to really appreciate what a huge achievement in medieval construction it really is. 

The walls around the Old Town were completed around 1465. When you look at the photos below, you can't fail to wonder, as I did while meditating on the hugeness of it all, how they managed to build the whole thing in anything less than a millennium, it's that massive. The walls were built to have as smooth an outer surface as possible, to make climbing them impossible, for a start. The designers even built 'dummy' walls here and there, to confuse potential invaders trying to find a gate to batter down in order to gain access. The fact that the Knights eventually left Rhodes (in August 1522) under a mutual agreement with Suleiman the Ottoman ruler, after he'd tried on two previous occasions to take the city by force and failed, speak volumes about just how impregnable the place was. From here they went to Malta, some say under an agreement with Suleiman in which the island was granted to them as compensation. I haven't checked that out though.

Here are some more of the photos I took on Tuesday. I've included a video or two as well...

This shot shows how relatively few people walk the moat, sadly.

Here it's easy to see one of those 'dummy' walls I referred to.

This is the Ag. Athanasios Gate

This one's taken from the bridge shown in the one above.

The knights were on Rhodes from 1309 until 1522 and, as I said above when you wander the park across the moat from the walls and stand and admire the whole edifice, you have to wonder at this huge accomplishment. The whole Old City has been a World heritage site since I think 1988 and is arguably the best preserved medieval town in Europe. There are others, Carcassonne in Southern France springing to mind, which although beautiful and impressive, are largely re-constructed. Apart from the odd stone here and there, this is all original and all the more amazing for it.

If you have never wandered the outer perimeter of the Old Town of Rhodes, I heartily suggest you give it a go. From the inside, where one's eye is continually distracted by so many things worth seeing, it has to be admitted, you don't get anything like the appreciation that you ought to for the phenomenal accomplishment that is the wall around the Old Town of Rhodes.

(If the videos don't work on your device, there's a link under each one to their YouTube version, which hopefully will play for you)

Sunday, 11 June 2017

There and Back Again

On my excursion to town yesterday I decided to make the walk from the Top Three up to the Rhodes Acropolis, formerly known as 'Monte Smith', just to see how long it would take. Occasionally I get guests who want to walk it themselves and they always ask me how long it would take them to get up there and, formerly, I'd hazard a guess. It was about time I could tell them from personal experience.

Since we usually arrive in Rhodes Town at around 10.00am and we don't leave until 3.30pm, I knew that I had plenty of time, since I don't usually go into the Old Town for a spot of lunch until somewhere approaching 1.00pm. After a second one of Maria's delicious frappés [OK, if you're Greek, I know it's really 'φραπέδες' !!], I up and set out to walk it at a measured pace.

It wouldn't do much good describing the route I took from the heart of town, right next to the bus station, up to the 2,300 year-old Temple of Apollo, but I will say that it's easy to navigate. If you're not too familiar with the layout of Rhodes Town, a map in your hand will soon have you stepping it out with confidence. I actually made it in 20 minutes, so it's really not that far then is it?

Annoyingly though, I forgot the iPad (left it charging [not for drinks] at the bar) and didn't have my digital camera either, so these rather substandard photos were taken with my ageing phone!! But hopefully they'll still demonstrate why it's worth seeing the Rhodes Acropolis:

Takes a bit of squinting, but the tiers of the athletic stadium can be seen through the trees. It will help to click on the photo to get the larger view.

Just a tad closer, making the tiers more visible.

The stadium was partly rebuilt by the Italians between the wars, but the amphitheatre is an almost complete reconstruction. Events are held here during the summer months though. Not a bad environment to witness a concert, eh?

Just a slight adjustment on the view above.

Sadly the remaining columns of the Temple of Apollo are currently shrouded in scaffolding. Let's face it, there's never a good time to do a spot of shoring up when it takes a year or two, is there.

Regarding the work being done on preserving the temple's remaining four and a half columns before even they too crumble and tumble to the ground, I was interested in the rather large sign that greeted me as I entered the park. It was one of those European Union signs that details the archaeological work being carried out and stating the amount of EU cash that's being pumped into the project. It was €1.6 million. Couldn't help thinking about all those road, social and cultural projects in the UK that will in all possibility soon not be able to benefit from such financial aid. Maybe I'm over-simplifying things. I dunno.

I really do love this view down across the town from the terrace just below the temple, with the mountains of Southern Turkey (Asia Minor) on the horizon.

The view you get of the stadium from the road that cuts down through the park.

Walking back down to town I came across this café/bar. I had to do a double-take because at first I thought it was a local government office. Whoever thought up that name was a genius and they deserve it to be a success. I've no idea why my phone chose to distort the picture though. It has a mind of its own.

I caught a glimpse of this while passing. Is that a magnificent bougainvillea or what?

Just changing the subject a little. On our way home I ended up talking with Nikos, who drives the coach, about the snakes on the island, since he'd seen a large black one basking on the road earlier in the day. Now, in chapter 11 of 'A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree' I talk a bit about the snakes and how the deer were originally introduced to the island to keep the snake population down. There are many theories about how the deer are supposed to do this and, if I'm honest, I find all of them a little hard to make any sense out of. Nikos, however, came out with the answer that does tick all the boxes and makes ultimate sense.

Rather than hopefully trampling snakes under foot (I mean, why would a snake hang about to be trampled on anyway?), or their dung being a snake deterrent, Nikos' explanation was that the deer trample on the snakes' nests and thus destroy their eggs. It could be that the deer even forage and eat the eggs as a delicacy. Either way, that explanation seems much more feasible to me and would indeed result in a lowering of the snake-breeding success rate, thus controlling their numbers effectively. Snakes nest in shallow depressions in the ground, thus leaving the unhatched eggs at the mercy of deer hooves or gnashers.

Seems to me that's another problem solved! Right, now I'm off to tackle third world debt...

Monday, 5 June 2017

Highway Maintenance

Resurfacing - Greek style

The distance up the lane from the road to our front gate is exactly one kilometre. Usually, once a year or so the local council will send a 'grader' [see photo] along to 'scrape' the surface and fill in the 'ravines' that develop during the winter rains. These ruts can be so deep that, if you're inattentive enough while driving up or down the lane to get a wheel into one, there's no doubt that you'd be stuck because the vehicle would 'bottom', possibly damaging the wheel assembly in the process, not to mention some of your bodywork.

When we get storms, the lane can be transformed within minutes into a raging torrent in places and, when you consider that it's composed mainly of dirt and gravel, that means rivers of mud too. You have to time the grading machine's arrival just right, because if it does the job before we've seen the last of the heavy rainfall before the start of summer, then all the good it has done in levelling the surface is instantly washed away, creating large masses of mud on certain low corners and re-opening the ruts that had only just been filled in.

Oh, the perils of living up a dirt track.

If you get the timing right, then as long as you vary your position on the lane's surface when driving up and down, your tyres can help in compacting the newly rearranged dust and gravel into the ruts and the result is a fairly respectable surface for many months to come. The grader (or as we call it the 'scraper' - I know all the technical terms) has the effect of widening the lane considerably and, as long as we residents don't get too lazy and simply drive up and down the middle, we can use our vehicles keep it to the new, broader width and thus make it easier to pass if one happens to meet another vehicle somewhere along the length of the lane.

As time passes the vegetation beside the lane can also begin to encroach again and we eventually end up with long stretches where it's impossible to pass if you meet someone coming the other way, which we occasionally do. Quite a number of locals in pickups (usually including a few old geezers who don't see too well) use our lane to get up to the village of Asklipio. 

The thing is, the grader has only come in recent years if I've telephoned the local dimos and requested it. In the old days it would come automatically, sometimes even twice a year, but what with all the budget cuts and stuff, well, now you have to call them. I'll give the local dimos its due though, every time I phone them up (I use a dedicated number which gets directly to the right office) the lady on the other end is friendliness itself and she'll have that machine up our lane within 48 hours or so.

But this was not so when I called her probably approaching a year ago.

"Kalimera," I began, "Could you send the large tractor with the blade [I don't know the exact term the Greeks use to describe the grader] up our lane please? It's getting difficult to drive it without damaging the car." 

Normally she'd just ask me to describe where exactly our lane is, assure me that she'd schedule it in and we'd hang up. This time, however, she replied:

"I am so sorry, but it's broken down and we haven't been able to repair it yet.

She promised that it would be along just as soon as it was repaired and so I accepted her assurance, along with the resignation that we'd have to drive the lane carefully for a while yet.

After a couple of months I called her again. This time she remembered me immediately and apologised again that the machine was still not fixed. This didn't bode well. Down the road from us toward the village of Gennadi there's a modest yard belonging to the local authority and in it there's an old grader, parked up and fetchingly rusting itself away, that's clearly visible from the road as you pass. I have been of the impression for a few years now that they raid this old one for parts when they're needed for the machine that's currently in use. It was apparent this time though that the problem, whatever it was, was going to incur the kind of repair costs that the local dimos just couldn't afford at the moment.

Thus it was that we and one set of our close neighbours went halves on a ton of haliki (inch gravel) from the local builders' merchant. They sent their truck up the lane (We know the drivers really well after all these years of living here. After all our garden is full of gravel walkways, all of which were created with their help), tipped it out and we worked up a sweat raking it into the worst of the ruts about half way down the lane from the house. We'd accomplished a temporary fix.

About two months ago I was driving along the road near home and passed a low-loader with a grader mounted on the trailer. It was heading toward town and thus, putting two and two together and hopefully making the regular four, I concluded that they'd finally sent it away for repair, possibly even shipping it to Athens.

The thing is, they need the machine not only for lanes such as ours, but to clear the hard shoulder of quite a few stretches of road in this part of the island. The road passes through what in railway terms we'd call in the UK 'cuttings', where frequently during the winter rains erosion causes some quite hefty boulders and even mud slides to come down and 'roll 'into the road. The grader clears the roadsides and keeps the road passable for vehicles in two directions.

Just two weeks ago I was encouraged to see evidence that the grader had once more been at work after many months' absence. I grabbed the phone, called the dimos and asked if they'd got the thing fixed. Yippee, the lady answered in the affirmative and so I put in a request for our lane to be scraped.

Nothing happened. Well, let me qualify that, we had a further ten days of occasionally very heavy rain. That happened. The lane got even worse. We got even more depressed. 

Then the weather forecast from Sakis Arnaoutoglou on the national TV suggested that from last Wednesday the summer would finally have arrived here on Rhodes. Rather late, but better late than never and we had been in desperate need of the rains anyway.

Two days after the summer turned up, so did the grading machine. Bless that lady in the office if she didn't realise that to have sent it any earlier would have meant that the work it may have done would have all been to no avail if it had rained heavily right afterwards. Thus, just when I was considering calling the office again to see where it was, we were both thrilled as we ate breakfast a few days ago to hear the grinding noises of the huge blade being heaved along the lane, coupled with the sound of a labouring diesel engine of the tractor unit.

Doesn't take much to get me excited and thus I rushed out with my trusty iPod to snap the photo at the top of this post, along with these two as well as it trundled past our gate...

Happiness is a machine called a 'grader'!

I tell you. After a couple of years without it, that's a beautiful sight!

Some 'highway maintenance' of a different kind took place while I was sipping my exquisite frappé in the Top Three in Rhodes town during one of my excursions last week. A decidedly ripe 'whiff' began to assail my nostrils and, before I knew what was happening, Maria, a woman fast approaching the wrong end of her 6th decade of life, was out on the kerbside lifting a cast iron drain cover with her bare hands. I could scarcely believe my eyes, because have you ever tried lifting one of these (see example in photo, right)?

As a man who's had both sides 'done' when it comes to abdominal hernias, I don't relish the idea. Yet here was Maria, wife of Spiro, who between them run the Top Three Pub, lifting this solid iron chunk out of its hole in order to place a sheet of metal which was evidently made to measure down under the drain cover to block off the air rising from the drains beneath. In fact, she did two of them and, by the time I'd reached her side to try and offer assistance (reluctantly), she'd got the job done and replaced the covers, both of which are right beside the bar. 

I looked around for Spiro, expecting that he was perhaps serving some customers, but no, there he was observing the proceedings. He'd made no attempt to help, I'm judging because perhaps he has a back problem or something, because I was slightly taken aback at the view before me. It seems that they're quite used to the drains starting to whiff after heavy rainfall and so have fashioned these two rectangular sheets of metal to be dropped into place in order to protect their clientele from the pong.

Once Maria had replaced the second of the two covers, after shooing me away when I'd tried to help with the second of them, she went back behind the bar to wash her hands and I said to Spiro, 

"Strong woman your wife! I never knew she had it in her!"

To which he replied, 

"Now you know why I don't cross her!"

Here's Spiro in the kind of pose that I'd assume he would have adopted had he come to his wife's assistance. It's a shot of a framed photo that's hanging in the bar, maybe taken after he'd done what she just did on a previous occasion?

I'm still amazed that Maria didn't do something similar after what she'd just accomplished. 

And finally, some more shots taken around Mandraki and the Old Town last week for you...

These remnants of the days of Turkish rule are fascinating and surprisingly common around Rhodes Town.

Amazingly, this is just around the corner from the Casino. Gaze through the railings at the old Jewish cemetery and you'll spot it.

Maybe the odd hobbit lives in the Old Town too, eh?
Just one more from down our way...

Lunch anyone?