Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Three Days in Finland?

We found it back in July, after I'd met someone there who wanted a signed copy of 'Jacaranda Tree' and, as we were sitting on the pool terrace chatting I thought to myself, "I could do with some of this." So, when I got home I went on line and checked out the web site for the Cactus Hotel and noticed that they had an offer on for October. Since it was nearing the end of the season one could book a room with a sea view for 30% discount, so I up and booked us three nights. Thanks Ann Marie!

We usually take a short break before the season ends if we can, fitting it around our various work obligations, and in the past have gone to Halki, Crete, Kalymnos and a couple of other hotels in Rhodes town. It's great going to a hotel in town because whatever we pack isn't going to get thrown into an aircraft's hold, so we can just chuck all kinds of stuff into the car and off we go. It wasn't until we went down for breakfast on our first full day at the hotel that we noticed that we'd effectively moved to Scandinavia, Finland to be precise. All the guests were tall and blond and they all sounded to us a bit like the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. Now I've met lots of people from Finland and they're not all like Kimi Raikkonen. Most are, in fact very personable, but we did find their choice of breakfast a little strange for our tastes. I mean, sliced cheese, lots of sliced processed meats and white wine...for breakfast? And what's with fried eggs and sliced oranges - on the same plate? Hmm. 

Now I wouldn't want to stereotype, but I found it heard spotting anyone among those other guests who wasn't overweight. Small wonder quite a few of the fairly good quality sun beds around the pool were broken. No offence intended, merely observing.

Anyway, we parked up the car, traipsed into the hotel lobby with that much 'stuff' I was surprised that the staff didn't take us for squatters and kick us out as soon as we arrived. Luckily they didn't and we made it up to our sixth floor room and took in the stupendous view.

It's odd and admittedly somewhat contradictory I suppose, but we were 'up' for a spot of pampering and luxury and this fitted the bill. I'm the first to champion what I often go on about, you know the 'real Greece' of check-tableclothed tavernas, donkeys with old women riding side-saddle, little village kafeneions with old men playing dominoes or backgammon over their Ellinikos. I'm the first to champion Retsina and kalamari, a spot of impromptu Sirtaki between the tables if the right kind of music comes on. I love those rickety old chairs perched oh-so-close to the water's edge where you can sip your ouzo and stare out across the Greek Aegean and experience that clarity of light that's so peculiar to the Greek islands. All that stuff is, of course, what people coming here ought to experience.

Yet I have to say that there is another 'real Greece' that's just as valid as the one I've just described. During our evenings at the hotel we strolled down to the Old Town to eat and afterwards found ourselves enjoying an end-of-the-evening nightcap in one of the buzzing pedestrian streets of the new town that's crammed full of modern café-bars, all full of the young and beautiful people. There's one street in particular (Theodoraki) where we really love to sit. You can feed off the sheer energy in that street, lined as it it is with modern inviting-looking tables and chairs whilst thumping music oozes out from the open-fronted premised into and out of which the waiting staff flit endlessly. Groups of elegantly-clad people sit and talk excitedly in that way only the Greeks seem to do, some (although not as many as it used to be, thankfully) with one hand at the end of a forearm that's pointing vertically from the elbow and a smouldering cigarette glowing at the end of the fingertips.

Theodoraki, Rhodes Town, after midnight, October 21st.

Here you can sit and order a Metaxa that will arrive in a brandy balloon that's never in its life been violated by being shoved from below up against an optic measure. You know, those little devices that fit under inverted spirit bottles in bars. Here you still usually get a quintuple for the same as you'd pay in the UK for about a thimble-full. Sitting there at midnight a few evenings ago, it was inevitable that we'd draw comparisons with the culture, or lack of it, back in the UK. In a street crammed with hundreds of people there was no aggression, no tension in the air. There was no drunkenness, in fact many were still drinking freddo espresso at midnight. How they can do that is beyond me. I don't sleep well as it is. If I drank coffee at any time after about 3.00pm I'd be running around the garden all night; or, in this case, the balcony of my hotel room.

You arrive at a table here and within a few seconds a polite attentive waiter will take your order and you can sit back, in late October in nothing more than a long-sleeved t-shirt, and people-watch for Greece. It's magic. It may not be the 'old' Greece, but it definitely can be termed the 'real' Greece. OK, I'm sure that this applies to some degree all across the Mediterranean, but you know what I mean. There weren't a lot of people in that street on this particular evening that were even more than half my age, but it didn't matter. Squeezing past some young person to gain access to my chair I was not surprised to see them move their chair slightly and say "signomi" as I passed, and with a smile of apology. It wasn't even their fault anyway, it was simply a proximity issue. One can't fail to note the difference. I find so many people in the UK these days to be of the 'swagger' type. They're saying with their body language 'I'm somebody. Don't mess with me.' The amount of alcohol that gets consumed is also of some concern, not least because of the way it affects the folk who are drinking it.

Tell you what too, apart from an excellent evening spent (inevitably) in the Odyssey taverna in the Old Town, we also enjoyed a very good meal at the modestly sized taverna called 'To Megiston'.

More about that in the next post.

Back in the hotel, after a ten minute walk along the sea front and up past the Casino, we squeezed into the lift with a couple of portly (I'm being kind here) Scandinavian ladies. Every time I enter a lift (elevator) and find myself facing the other occupants, especially in a small lift where it's quite difficult to turn around, I'm reminded of the old Woody Allen scene (can't remember which movie it was now) where he did the same and, in order to hopefully break the ice, he said, "I expect you're wondering why I called this meeting." Classic.

Instead I smiled and enquired, "So, where are you from?"

"From Finland" they replied. 

The conversation ended there. I couldn't think of anything else to say. The thirty seconds before they exited at their floor were very long indeed. But at least my face muscles didn't ache from the smile I sustained throughout.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks John. Agree with you about the strange choices for breakfast the Scandies make! We have just had 2 nights in a lovely (our usual) hotel in Scandie land and part of our fun at breakfast is watching the choices! And that trendy coffee area--we thought we'd walked into a flock of starlings when we turned the corner! But take your point about no rowdy behaviour--and I suppose the really good thing is--if they're busy chatting to each other--see flock of starlings bit!!--then they aren't on their flipping machines!