Friday, 28 December 2018

No Brass Monkeys

Back in the balmy days of October you'll remember, if you read this stuff with any regularity, I made it to the top of Mount Attaviros for the first time after having lived here for 13 years. If you didn't catch that post, it was called "Looking Down on Snowdon" because, as it happens, Mount Attaviros, here on Rhodes, is 3986ft high, whereas Mount Snowdon in Welsh Wales is 3560.

I mentioned in the text of that post that John and Wendy would be over here in December and - yup - they're here now, and due to depart for the UK in the Jeep in two day's time. The weather here's been pretty good this week, except, that is, for the fact that we're now experiencing one of those cold spells that we get now and then during our winters when the temperatures can drop to single figures overnight and the lower teens, or even lower, during the day.

Anyway, yesterday, Thursday December 27th, was Mount Attaviros day once again and we drove up there, this time in John's monster Jeep Commander. Also along for the ride this time was my better half, who'd been working on the previous occasion when I'd made the ascent.

Now, despite the fact that it was a gloriously sunny day, the temperature when we left the house here in Kiotari in early afternoon was around 12ºC, and when we reached the highest point on the mountain at which you can still be in a vehicle, the outside temperature was reading 34ºF, which translates into a smidgin over 1ºC. Folks, that's cold.

We'd stopped in Profilias en route to eat lunch at the delightful "To Limeri tou Listi" taverna, which translates into 'The Lair of the bandit/thief." The last time I remember eating there was back in 2012, when I wrote this post, where you can find a few photos taken at the taverna. This time around the food was as excellent as ever, plus we were treated to a free glass of Mastika and a delightful, honey-covered sweet-cheese pita each for dessert, made to a traditional Cretan recipe. I also mention this restaurant on my "Play, Eat, Visit" page.

Just about to go into the very snug (hey had the log-burner going inside) "Bandit's Lair" at Profilias

A very acceptable lunch inside us, we proceeded to the mountain. As I said, when we got to the top it was barely 1ºC outside, and we then made the 100 metre climb on foot from the Jeep to the summit, where the ruined temple stands, and proceeded to feel as cold as I've ever felt in my entire life. At the top, when you're literally enjoying the 360º view, the windchill must have made it feel like -10ºC. TBH, we couldn't stay up there too long for fear that our ears would fall off. But I was just able to snap these before we beat a hasty retreat back down to the Jeep...

In fact, something we very rarely see at home is ice. But up here, John discovered some. If you do check out the post from October, you'll see this shot...

It was in the corner of this 'basin' that John was able to break some quite thick ice with his boot. Now that's a first for us on Rhodes!

Although the four of us were losing the feeling in our cheeks by the time we got back into the Jeep, we all agreed that it was worth the effort. It was totally exhilarating being up there. John actually clocked the length of the lane from where you turn off the road to start the ascent, to the very top, at something like 4 miles. At about two and a half, during the ascent, we had to pass a pickup coming the other way. We'd hardly seen a vehicle the whole time we'd been out, and here we were half-way up a freezing cold mountain, negotiating some seriously rutted lanes when we meet a truck coming in the other direction. 

The pickup had a large cab, and staring at us like we were stark-raving bonkers were what we took to be three Greek goatherds as they passed us at close quarters. We gave them broad smiles, but were convinced that those three men would be expecting to watch the dramatic rescue of some foolhardy foreigners from the mountaintop on the TV news that evening.

By the time we walked back into the house, at around 5.30pm as the light outdoors was fading fast, we'd never been so grateful for the log burner in the lounge.

Oh, and hot-water bottles.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Rhodes in December

The 'elephant in the room', it seems, here on Rhodes right now is the awful murder of the young girl student from northern Greece, who was studying here on Rhodes. I don't want to go into the ins and outs of the case, except to say that it's a terrible tragedy that has shocked the island to the core. There is so much more behind the obvious in this case, which is one reason why it wouldn't be a good idea to talk about it here.

The awful thing, well, one of the awful things, is that the poor girl's body floated ashore in a beautiful little secluded bay to the south east of Pefkos, a bay about which I'd only just watched a brief YouTube video showing a rock that intrigued me, and so I'd wanted to go and have a look. The bay is popular with scuba diving excursions and hasn't got very much actual beach, but it does have crystal clear waters and, like I said, a fascinating rock which juts out into the sea, on which one can walk, with one or two almost circular holes in it, down through which you can see the waters lapping 15 feet below you. It can be quite dangerous, in that there is no barrier around the holes. You need to be very aware. I'm told by one or two locals that the villagers used to lower their cheeses down into these holes with ropes, in order to keep them cool.

So, without going into the details of the case that's of course ongoing in the media here, I'm going to show you some photos, which I was due to go and take well before the case made the news. We took a drive out on Thursday December 20th, the day before the shortest day of the year. Here are the photos I took during that excursion...

Firstly, Fokia Bay, Pefkos.

This was taken on the rock with the holes in it. The holes from here are behind me and to the left.
The rock with the holes in it is visible here, above and slightly to the left of centre.

You can see what I mean about being alert. You could walk right into this if you weren't watching where you were going.

Next, the Astronomy Café, on the headland south of Faliraki and north of Anthony Quinn Bay.

Owing to its location, quite a long way up a small road on the headland between Anthony Quinn and Faliraki, the Astronomy Café is closed off-season, but we wanted to do a reccy, since we hadn't yet ever been there. You can follow a path for about a fifteen minute walk down to Anthony Quinn Bay from here too.

As you can see, it has its own observatory for customers to stargaze while enjoying an evening drink.

This was taken just over the fence past the observatory. The far headland is the one at Anthony Quinn.

And, finally, Faliraki, perhaps as you'd never seen it before. I have to admit to being someone who avoids the place most of the time at all costs. Yet, the harbour to the south of the main beach is a delight, and we're definitely aiming to go and eat there one evening this coming summer...

Yes, Faliraki has its own little fleet of delightful traditional fishing boats, reminding one of the fact that, prior to mainstream tourism coming here, it was a tiny fishing village. It's nice to see that there are still a few locals carrying on the tradition.

Now I could see myself enjoying a nice meal here, could you?

This shot reminded me a little of Elounda, in Crete. And that surprised me, to say the least.

On the main road through Faliraki, is a café called the Mythos. Notwithstanding the fact that it's in Faliraki, it's full of locals at this time of the year and the prices are excellent. Thus we had a drink and a cheese pie there before moving on...

Inside the Mythos Café

If you're a regular in Greece, you'll know that it's nothing unusual for the local sparrow population to be quite brazen about going into supermarkets and bars to pick up any crumbs they can scavenge. But here in the Mythos, we found this lovely little pied wagtail getting in on the act.

Here's a short video of him hanging around waiting for some filo crumbs from our cheese pie...

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Rain Drops and Lamb Drops

Yesterday, Tuesday December 18th, it rained a lot. We awoke to the sound of heavy rain and it came back several times throughout the day. Here's the photo I took looking through the French windows just as we were about to sit down and eat breakfast.

...and the view out of the side window.
As a result of the rain I was able to write about 6,000 words of the new novel. Plus, I don't know whether it was the weather, but I had kind of flash of new inspiration. I'd reached a place where I wasn't sure where to go from there. But, as with all the other books, well, the works of fiction anyway, something seems to come from somewhere and suddenly a whole new plot twist opens up and I feel like there's a good thirty thousand words still in there waiting to come out, so that was good.

The rains did stop for a while in the early afternoon, thus giving us a chance to do our half-hour circuit through the olive groves behind the house. We're so glad we made the effort, because the route takes us past the new pen that the local shepherd has built for his flock of sheep, and as we passed it, we came across a ewe that was outside the pen, whilst all the rest of the flock was inside. At first we thought that she had a plastic bag at her feet, until, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a brand new baby lamb that had literally just been born. In fact, we watched the little mite stand up for the first time. I whipped out the mobile phone to take the photos below, and I thought I was taking a video showing the lamb actually getting up, but it turns out I only took one second of the action. Curse my need to see the phone's screen with glasses, which I wasn't wearing at the time.

Also, just down the lane on the other side of the house, toward the road at the bottom of the valley, I passed this lone ewe with her rather sad-looking baby. I could have sworn that lamb was saying, "I'm not enjoying this, I'm cold and I'm wet and I'm fed up."

I dope hope she'll be looking better tomorrow, when the sun's liable to be shining once again.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

A Quiet Lindos in December

Saturday December 15th, 2018. Sunshine and clouds, around 19ºC, in Lindos...

This one's actually taken at what's locally called "Lardos Limani," the quay near Lardos where ships tie up occasionally. It's unusual for there not to be anyone fishing today, but I guess it's owing to the swell on the sea.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018


It's rained much more during this past couple of weeks than it has done at this time of year for ages. In the past two weeks it's rained, or at least showered, about ten times. In between, of course, we've had some wonderfully bright, clear sunny periods, which is why I so often liken a Rhodean winter to a British summer.

But, during all of October and the first two weeks of November this year what we experienced was virtually a drought. Of course a lot of ex-pats and holidaymakers love it, and I suppose you can't really blame them. But it's bad news for the farmers and anyone who wants to eat.

This morning I've been writing and the better half reading, because, once again it's been raining. Now, though, it's brightened up and we've been out to throw the compost in the ditch and empty the coffee grains and, for the first time this winter, watch the sheep come past the front gate. The shepherd has a new vehicle. He used to come by in a little Seat Ibiza, then an old Renault Scenic. Now he's got a 4x4 pickup, which isn't brand new, but it is in good shape. On his way back up the lane with the flock we had the chance to greet him for the first time this winter. Yvonne-Maria said, 

"You're early this winter. Last year we didn't see you until January."

"Well," he replied, from his half-open window, "The weather dictates. This year it didn't rain at all until the middle of November, but now the grass is greening up and the sheep need nourishing. So best to get started."

We touched on the whole area of how the weather's changed recently and he confirmed something that I've suspected, although purely through observation. The past five winters now have been far too dry. It affects everything. If there isn't enough rain the citrus fruit becomes much more susceptible to disease and pests, if it even grows at all. last year we saw this, with Greek friends having lots of problems with little worms in their mandarins. In fact our own entire apricot harvest last summer was wiped out by worms in the fruit, turning the apricots to mulch.

It goes through every aspect of nature, and we are all affected by it. The olives are very few and far between this year, because the autumn rains make them fatten up, but there was none. One of the three mills in Arhangelos, which is normally running twenty-four-seven throughout November and December, is actually closed. I've never seen that before, and this is my 14th winter here. The shepherd explained.

"If there isn't the rain then the plants can't extract the nutrients from the soil. The oranges don't grow and aren't juicy. The corn on the cob (which is under-developed anyway) we have to feed to the sheep because there's no grass, then they miscarry when the ewes don't get enough goodness from what they eat to help their fetuses to grow in the womb. There was no rain this year to fatten the olives and so there will not be much oil on Rhodes." 

I've probably mentioned this several times before, but on one of the routes we follow when going for walks through the forests and olive groves up behind the house here, we cross what in past years has been a babbling brook that used to flow for several months every winter. In fact, it usually flowed long enough for frogs or toads to law spawn and for it to hatch, produce tadpoles and eventually more frogs and toads. This past four or five winters it hasn't flowed at all. Small wonder that only this past week my wife remarked on how seldom we've seen the beautiful Mediterranean Toads around the place that used to be abundant in the garden during both the winter and summer months.

Our conversation with the shepherd drew to a close, he remarking that ex-pats and tourists say that hot, sunny weather feels great, but if we don't get the rains when we need them, everyone hurts.

He's right, of course.

Monday, 10 December 2018


On Saturday evening we enjoyed a meal around the table with three other couples in Rhodes Town. All the others were from among of our circle of Greek friends and I was interested to observe something that (call me preoccupied but...) preoccupies me every time I sit down to eat with Greeks.

In fact, just a week or so ago we were watching the rather good (and you can't say that about much Greek comedy on TV) 'Min Arhizeis ti Mourmoura', which is a kind of sit-com showing twice a week at 9.00pm on the Greek Alpha TV channel. The title translates roughly as "Don't Start Moaning," and it's about a series of couples at various stages through adult life. The oldest of the four couples that feature on the show has been in it since the beginning, which is probably six or seven years ago now. Many scenes revolve around the kitchen table at meal times, as you'd expect. There was the husband, called Minah, tucking into his meal with a fork in his right hand. He was eating something like pastitsio and it needed a piece cutting off so that he could put it into his mouth to eat it. 

I lost all the dialogue, because all my attention was on something else. I was once again fascinated by this strange habit that so many Greeks have of never using a knife. It's true I tell you. I think I mentioned it in one of the "Ramblings" series of books, the fact that Greeks probably believe that knives (that is, knives for the dining table, not hunting knives etc) were only invented so that clever Greeks could show how they could eat an entire meal without one.

There was Minah, chasing this food around his plate while arguing with his wife Voula, trying desperately to cut a piece using the side of his fork. I've seen it so many times. To emphasise the point, we've had Greek friends over for dinner and, of course, laid the table with a knife and fork for everyone, only to see the Greeks totally ignore that the knife even exists, pick up the fork from the left-hand side of their plate with their right hand and begin attempting to eat a cooked meal using only their fork.

Thus, on Saturday evening, there we were seated, the eight of us, around the table, which was well stocked with a selection of home-made pizzas, a penne pasta/pesto dish with oodles of Parmesan grated on top, some traditional Greek salad and a delicious large spanakopita, cut in readiness into lots of two inch-square pieces. Now, to eat a pizza (without resorting to simply picking it up with your hands, of course, which we did all begin doing after a glass or two of lubrication had further relaxed the atmosphere) or indeed a spanakopita, which is made with a fairly resilient pastry (they're not always made with filo) without using your knife is, to me, foolhardiness in the extreme. Yet, after a quarter of an hour or so, I was fascinated, gazing around the table surreptitiously, to see that half of those around the table were doing just that. And that despite the fact that knives and forks had been laid for our convenience.

Observe any social session around a dining table in Greece and you'll see how easy it is to notice the British person, or persons. They'll be the ones blithely using their knives to conveniently cut their food, before pronging it with their forks and raising it demurely to their lips. The Greeks, on the other hand (and, granted, there are a few rare exceptions, maybe they've lived abroad) will gamely be pushing their food all around the plate for ages, trying resolutely to cut it with the edge of their forks, thus taking ten times longer to demolish their meal.

You know something? Maybe I've just hit on the reason they do this. Maybe they do have a point. I mean, us Brits are famous for rushing our food, which is bad for the digestion, since we often don't chew it for anything like long enough before we swallow it, and shovel the next mouthful in. If we were all to abandon the knife and start trying to cut our food on the plate with the edges of our forks, perhaps we'd all be much healthier.

See? All that talk about the Mediterranean diet being healthier for you, when all you have to do is eat using your fork only.

Monday, 3 December 2018

No Prizes

Mooching around the remote southerly village of Kattavia recently, snapped the one above. That's about it for that one.

The next three photos mark a milestone in my efforts to become a 'new man.' When I was in the UK last July, my brother-in-law (my wife's brother), with whom I stayed, showed me how to cook what the recipe book called 'One Pot Spaghetti.' It looked so easy that I had no excuse but to say, "OK I'll surprise my beloved by offering to cook the dinner one evening when I get home."

It took me until now because, and it's a genuine excuse, we needed spinach and cherry tomatoes, both of which have only just become available, and we make it our policy to try and eat everything in season, and thus avoid having to recycle unnecessary packaging, because the produce is all fresh, and thus we don't take home tons of cardboard and polystyrene from the stores. Oh, I feel sooo virtuous sometimes.

Anyway, once you've got your ingredients ready, it only takes 15 minutes to create a truly amazing and tasty pasta meal, which can be vegan if you use vegan cheese, but I'm afraid we're nuts about Parmesan (or we often use the Greek equivalents, like Graviera or Kefalotyri), so it'll just have to be vegetarian, OK?

The photo below truly delights and amazes me, because that baby spinach in the foreground is straight from our newly created raised veggie beds. I planted it as seeds a few weeks back and look at it now. Nature is truly miraculous. Who wouldn't want it to rain, eh?

OK, not quite Jamie Oliver, but not a sight you'll see very often. The other person in my household was one happy bunny that evening I can tell you.

 Basically, it's cherry tomatoes, spinach, the zest of lemons, olive oil, sea salt and spaghetti. It all goes in together and comes out like this...

...topped with strong cheese, grated, of course.
All we needed now was to taste it. I was hoping desperately that it was going to turn out as it had at my brother-in-law's house. Guess what, it did. Boy did I score some points that evening, chaps!

If you want to give it a go, here's the recipe, if you can make it out...

And, finally, the next two photos (taken this very morning) ably demonstrate what time of year we're in now. No prizes for guessing that we're well and truly into winter mode, and it's great. Days spent logging and chainsawing are not only excellent exercise, but they're just a very 'good craic,' as my Irish friends would say.

Hmm, yes, it may just be winter!!

Monday, 26 November 2018

Well Into Winter Mode

Well, the temperatures are almost imperceptibly dropping little by little and the birds in the garden becoming more diverse again as the cooler months of the winter approach, and it is good. We've already been delighted by robins, jays and redstarts, even blue tits and warblers, making use of our two 'bird baths,' which are simply two plant pot trays placed on the ground in different parts of the garden. Oh, and we now have resident blackbirds too, which we're very excited about, because it's only in the past couple of years that they've started taking up residence in the garden and orchard.

We've had some rain, although still not as much as we ought to, but it's meant we can turn off the irrigation system for a while and let nature do the job instead. I know it's been said so often, but real rain is so much better for the garden than water from the tap. 

What I really love about this time of the year is the fruit trees and how they look...

Grapefruit packing the tree, with many more 'lurking' in the inner branches than at first meets the eye.

A little lemon tree that we almost gave up for dead a couple of years ago. Now it's crammed full of lemons, which are just beginning to turn from green to yellow.

We often remark on the fact that, if you plan your cuisine to fit in with the rhythm of the seasons, you soon find that the earth produces what you need at the right time. Here we are, heading into another winter, which, granted, is not much of a winter weather-wise by northern European standards, but nevertheless the nights can be chilly and you can get caught out in the rain (hopefully!) now and then in daylight, and the produce of the season is citrus fruit, crammed with vitamin C.

It's amusing too, to see that, despite the fact that the daytime temperatures lately have been consistently in the twenties Celsius, if you go an sit in a café in your shirtsleeves, perhaps even still a long pair of tailored shorts, you'll be surrounded by Greeks in jeans, boots, woolly socks, jumpers, scarves and leather jackets.

Most of our Greek friends aren't harvesting their olives this year. As you probably already know, olive trees tend to produce abundantly on a two-year cycle, but this year's harvest has been affected by the distinct lack of rainfall during October and November anyway. When I say 'lack', I mean in comparison to what's needed. Once you get into October, the locals are to be seen turning over the soil around their olive trees, so as to let the hoped-for rain penetrate below the surface and reach the roots. This, normally, enables the olives to fatten up during the last month-to-six weeks prior to being harvested, but this year the rains just haven't been enough around these parts.

Night-time temperatures are now beginning to drop to winter levels. Tonight, for instance, as I type this at around 2.00am, it's 12ºC outside. It doesn't get much colder than that as a norm throughout most of the winter, except when we get the occasional 'cold snap' that during most winters might occur two or three times.

We've already been out scouring the surrounding area for wood for the stove. We've come up trumps too, as it happens. Within walking distance of the house there are several dead trees that we shall be able to cut and bring home. In fact we've already had our first foray and returned with some four-foot-long lengths that we were able to section down to stove-size using my newly-built saw horse. Most gratifying. of course, cutting any live tree, or part thereof, is strictly illegal as is the culling of dead ones too if you're thinking about selling the wood. That's a 'no-no.'

We usually light our wood-burner around the end of the first week of December. Looks like it's going to be near enough on schedule this year. Then we'll be using it most evenings until the beginning of March. We actually have lit it once already, about a week ago, but the evening temperatures since then have again been too warm to warrant it. 

Finally, out in the garden a couple of days ago, we were gardening in bright sunshine, when just a few kilometres up in the hills above us and to our north, the sky was as black as your hat and rain could be seen sheeting down, probably around the Siana, Embona district. We didn't get the rain, but we did get a double rainbow. I did whack one photo on Facebook, but here are all three that I took then. I'm only sorry that one of the rainbows had almost vanished by the time I was able to get the camera out and take the shots...

Anyway, 'tis the season to be saying to all and sundry "Kalo himona!" 

Funny how small things can get one so excited, like being able to wear your jeans again and go for long walks without dissolving into a morass of sweatiness. Winter's here and I say, bring it on.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Oh, My Aching Feet

Winter is definitely upon us. We've just done our first walk to Gennadi and back since last March, something we never even attempt during the season because, a) it's too hot and, b) it takes too long and we don't have the time.

There and back from our front gate is about six and a half miles, or ten and a half kilometres. Today was perfect for such a walk, with the temperature hovering around 22-23ºC and a light breeze blowing. According to the forecasts, it'll be the last clear day for four or five days, with rain expected over the weekend. 

As the Greeks would say, "makari," which means basically, "I wish."

So, here are a few photos taken during our trek today...

The "Lab", the trendiest Café in Gennadi

Asklipio Kastro is clearly visible on the ridge.

No, you're not mistaken, it is November 15th. 

The atmosphere is especially clear today, with very low humidity.

And here are a couple more from a few days ago...

Cats hanging out in Malona.

The guard cat of an orange grove, also in Malona. Try getting past him eh?

And lastly, our very own patio, with the table being set for lunch with honoured guests Keith and Vicki this Sunday lunchtime past.

Y'know, I'm as much a sucker for a pretty little Greek village like the next person, but when it comes to where to live, I have to say that there could be nowhere more suited to my likes and loves (our likes and loves in fact, since there are two of us, after all) than where we actually live. We're both wildlife and country freaks and we both so love the wildness of much of the beach between Kiotari and Gennadi.

OK, yes, there have been a couple of hotels built in the past couple of years, but they still only occupy a fraction of the beautiful expanse of wild beach that we can stroll along when we have the time. Plus, in winter, which officially begins at the beginning of November, they're all closed down anyway. And when we venture out of our front door and head upwards behind the house, we are immediately amongst a mix of untamed forest and tended olive groves, where the only company we keep as we walk are deer, goats, birds of prey and smaller birds like black redstarts, robins, blackbirds, Sardinian warblers (their passports must be up to date), thrushes, blue and great tits, warblers and wheatears. There are crested larks and gnarly, prehistoric-looking lizards, as well as the more sleek-looking bright green ones too, which scurry across the path before us or sun themselves on the rocks.

My wife said to me as we walked along the beach road back from having eaten a spanakopita and drunk a couple of iced coffees in Gennadi square, she said "Do you ever think to yourself, 'is this real?' - as in, 'can you grasp that we do actually live here?'"

I replied that, yes, I do 'pinch myself' regularly. Through all those years when we used to come to Greece for holidays, and would be quite depressed about having to catch a plane home again, I couldn't have dreamt that one day I'd wake up every morning to this. Yes, life here can be very frustrating, it can test one's resolve to the limits on occasion, yet the environment would take some beating. The sense of wellbeing one gets from a long walk on a totally clear day, when the sea is inky blue and the sky impossibly azure, and the air is as clear of pollution as most anywhere on the planet, when people passing wave and shout "Ya sas!" or "Kalimera!", when often the only sounds are those produced by creation and nothing manmade assaults the eardrums, on times like this I'm thoroughly content to be where I am and able to walk amongst it all.

The best things in life are truly free, and lots of them are to be had here, in Kiotari, on a November day.