Friday, 27 April 2018

Plants - Two Different Kinds

Robert Plant is one of my musical heroes. In case you've been living on another planet for the past forty years, Robert Plant was the voice of Led Zeppelin and has produced some amazingly diverse music in his long solo career since then.

A couple of evenings ago, I'd have sworn he was also holidaying on Patmos. We were dining in the excellent Taverna Ostria, where I'd ordered the special of the night, which was oven-baked mackerel. Let me say right at the outset, that for €8 a portion, it was fan-blooming-tastic. Antonis, the waiter, brought me a plate with three very acceptably-sized fish on it, with a tasty rice garnish, and it would easily have fed two.

So, there we were, sitting on the terrace, looking out at the beautiful view along the bay northwards toward Netia (where we're staying), when a scooter pulled up at the periptero across the way and this guy who looked remarkably like Mr. Plant got off to buy some cigarettes. I remember saying to my beloved, "Now that's what I'd call a mountain-man", owing (apart from his clothes!) to his shock of shoulder-length, dishevelled wavy hair, which was more grey that its original colour owing to the fact that its owner was easily my age, if not older, I'd say. Pretty soon thereafter he climbed the stone steps to the Ostria's terrace and asked if we minded him sitting just behind us, in the corner, where he was soon joined by the other Antonis from the restaurant, the one who was working primarily behind the indoor bar and in the kitchen. A spirited conversation that we very much enjoyed ensued as it was getting toward the end of the evening and the customers remaining (all French. remind me to talk about that) were fast thinning out, giving Antonis time to sit, smoke and talk. 

"Robert Plant" turned out actually to be Sotiris, and a very gentle-mannered and erudite man he was too. He also knew Rhodes, since he lives there during the winter months. In fact, he even knew where we lived, since he's a butcher by trade and knows the local one near us, Yiannis, who used to keep his pigs up the lane that leads to our house.

We told these two genial men, as we were leaving the restaurant, that the next day we'd be making the trip up to Hora (the picturesque village surrounding the huge, imposing monastery) on foot. I'd checked out the maps and it seems there is a footpath from the waterfront at Skala leading all the way up, and it was considerably more direct than following the road, which zigzags wildly as it climbs, thus making the trip a great deal longer. Of course, we'd seen that there was apparently a footpath cutting off the zigzags of the road too, but the one that appeared not to go near any of the roads seemed a nicer prospect. If you check the scan of the map below, you can see the path we were planning to follow, it's marked in orange around a dotted black line, and it sets out from just south of the main quay at Skala. 

The path begins rather inauspiciously between a couple of old buildings across the road from the waterfront, just a few metres from the Tsipouradiko restaurant. You have to look hard to find the sign, which is a rather weatherbeaten old piece of wood that could do with a good sanding and re-varnishing if it's to do its job properly. As my wife said, in a rather jaded manner a little later on, that sign ought to have given us an indication of what we'd let ourselves in for.

Almost immediately, as one begins to follow the path, it starts to rise steeply. For the first couple of hundred metres or so you're ascending through a fairly typical Greek village environment, where the 'street' is narrow enough to give shade at any time of the day, where you pass old olive oil cans sitting on doorsteps and brimming over with geraniums and hibiscus. Cats sleep lazily beside the pathway and there's the occasional gap between two buildings where, incredibly, you see a car parked up under a canopy. On more that one occasion, on seeing one of these vehicles shoehorned into such a small space, I found myself thinking, 'How the dickens do they get that car in there? How do they even get it along this street in the first place? How do they get it in or out of that cubbyhole? I reckon the owners must winch their vehicles in by helicopter and then re-close the roof above it. They must use an awful lot of Vaseline, smearing it along the doors on both sides to get that car in and out."

Pretty soon, though, you leave the buildings behind and you're faced with this...

OK, it doesn't look so bad. Despite the better half expressing a doubt or two, I felt it looked fairly well tended and easily negotiable, so we continued on undeterred. Not long afterwards, this was what we saw before us...

Then this...

and so it went on...

At least the views were nice

You feel like you're about to fall off the world at this point.

At numerous points during the climb, the path appears to completely wither out. Only when you arrive at a spot like that do you see that it does indeed continue onwards and upwards, if somewhat faintly. The 'Parks Department" don't appear to have been near it with a strimmer for many a year.

This view alone made it worth the effort. Even though, with shorts on, I was getting nervous about 'ticks' in the undergrowth, since for most of the climb your legs are brushing through half-metre tall grasses and other (wait for it, here's the clever allusion to the post's title) plants.

"I no want to work here any more!!! [get it? Sorry about the silly voiceover]" The beloved protests and says too, " I may not like churches too much, but I'm mighty grateful they built this one here," as she made for a sit down in the shade.

Aah, yes, nothing like a pleasant stroll in the countryside. That is the path, it's in there somewhere.
After a very long hour or so, you see this before you..

That is the final thirty metres or so of the path. Where it meets the wall is where you step out on to a surfaced road at last. Turning to look back at the view, you get this...

No sooner had I shot that, than a motor scooter could be heard trundling along the road to meet us. Turning to look in the direction of the sound, we were surprised to see that the rider was none other than "Robert Plant" himself, Sotiri, from the previous evening at the Ostria.

"You won't believe what we've just done!" We told him.

"Yes, I would." He replied, "I saw you from my window, I can see down the mountain from my kitchen window and I spotted you a few hundred metres before you got to the top. Not many people attempt that these days."

Why were we not surprised to hear that? I told him that top priority now was to get to a bar for a long cold drink. At this point he became just a tad vague. I asked which was the quickest route to a watering hole and he just gestured with his hand and said, "Kat efthees," which basically means 'straight on'. With that he smiled and bade us cheerio and set off along the road and down the snaky hillside towards Skala.

We began to ascend into the village, eager to find a bustling plateia with lots of tables and chairs and thus for me a very cold beer and for her a frappé. Things, however were not going to proceed according to plan.

Turning a few steep corners and ascending all the while, remarking on how quiet it was everywhere, we saw these three men (above photo) having a natter. "Aha!" We thought, they'll be able to point us in the right direction.

As they say in Yorkshire, "Did they 'eck as like?!"

We bade them kalimera and enquired about where one might find a café at which to resuscitate oneself after a mighty hot, sweaty and exhausting climb. One waved and went his way, one smiled and said little and the third said:

"Sit down, sit down! Where are you from? Tell me where you are from."

We sat on the wall beside him and told him of our origins. Looking at me he said, "Hah! Wise man, choosing a Greek for a wife. The best choice you ever made."

"Yes. Thanks. But, umm, where can we get a drink?"

"See that?" he said, pointing to the building just below us (the one on the left in the above photo), "That's my store. I'm not open yet though. If I were I'd fix you a drink." Now I don't know about you, but after what was now an hour and a quarter walking in difficult terrain on a very hot cloudless day, we were fast running out of conversation. So, realising that this man wasn't going to be of much practical help, we did our best to bid him a good day with grace and headed off further into the village itself.

Now, as you can see from the photos below, there's no disputing the beauty of Hora, which seemed to us to be a perfect meld of Lindos on Rhodes with the Old Town area on Naxos, but you may also notice a distinct lack of humans. In fact, it was almost like having been transported to the set of a Greek version of that old cult TV series "The Prisoner", only quieter.

To be honest, in view of how quiet it was everywhere, we both began to feel quite claustrophobic. It is very easy to get hopelessly lost up there. We found our way to the entrance to the monastery, but on seeing a very clear sign outside forbidding drinks and snacks being taken inside, we turned away and continued our reccy. There do not appear to be any signs anywhere showing maps of the place and telling you where you are. This can be very disorienting, because it's huge, and the warren of little tiny streets and alleys completely surrounds the rather huge edifice that is the monastery.

Having gone up a few blind alleys and retraced our steps, we were almost ecstatic when a young chap came trotting around a corner carrying two ice coffees in one of those cardboard holders. Hoorah!! Eh?


"HI!" We both said, our parched throats bitterly complaining by this time, "Where did you get those, please?"

His reply? "Skala."

Well, thanks a bunch for nothing. We did have with us a small bottle of water to whet our whistles during the climb, but it wasn't anything like enough, since we were sure we'd find a quaint little square somewhere in Hora where we could have a drink and look at the view. The only people, other than this young chap (and a couple of women who also didn't seem to want to help much either) that we saw was a party of Chinese tourists that disembarked a minibus at the bottom of the village and were led by their guide up to the monastery. Of course they were safe in the knowledge that they only had to pile back into the minubus, after they'd clicked away taking photos inside the monastery, and they'd be back down in Skala in five minutes flat. Oh, wait, no. They couldn't snap away because that was something else that the sign outside the monastery entrance appeared to forbid, the taking of photographs inside.

Returning to the young chap with the iced coffees. When we bumped into him we'd just walked through a tiny 'square', hardly bigger than your living room, where there had been a few old metal and freshly-painted blue tables and chairs outside of a café that was closed. He'd said, "Go back there. it's my family who run that bar. Rap on the door. They'll fix you a drink."

Before we could even turn on our heels, he'd disappeared, as if he'd been a fanciful figment of our delirious imaginations. We did as he said, returned and tapped on the old brown wooden door of the establishment in question.

Guess what. No one came.

The long and the short of all this is: Hora to us was a massive disappointment. I suppose mainly because it's very early in the season. And yet it's a big village, easily as large as Lindos on Rhodes, yet it's like a ghost town in April. You may find us strange, and - as I so often say - 'each to his own' but we're not into monasteries and religious relics of questionable provenance. Without going too deeply into this kind of stuff, the so-called Cave of the Apocalypse is as likely to be the place where the apostle John received that series of visions as my back garden is to host the US Open Tennis Championships. Even the local guidebooks concede that, whilst of course it's established that John was an exile on this island when he received the Apocalypse, there is a gap up until the eleventh century before anything else much is known about Patmos. So for anyone to assert that they know where he was held is absurd in the least. Still, that kind of detail never was an obstacle to those seeking to make religious shrines out of all kinds of questionable locations.

It's only a personal thing anyway, but anywhere that masquerades as a shrine leaves me with a cold aversion. I went to Lourdes, in France, once. Couldn't get out of there fast enough to be honest.

No, what we like to see is the architecture, the terrain (saw plenty of that on this expedition!), the living history in old village streets and the characters that still live in them, and this was what was missing when we went up to Hora.

There was nothing for it but to head back down to Skala by the quickest route. So we set off down the road this time...

Down THERE! There are cafés and bars and restaurants!! Quick, run!!!
Taking the road and the shortcuts that cut off the squiggly bits, we made it back to Skala in considerably less time that it had taken us to make the climb through the wilderness earlier.

Boy was I relieved when we flopped down into a couple of canvas chairs at the Petrino café/bar and I ordered a large Fix Hellas. The better half chose a frappé. They never tasted so good. 

Dimitri, the waiter, told us, when we gave him a quick account of why we were so glowing with perspiration and desperate to drink something, "You should go up there in August. It's like Faliraki!"

Although we like Sotiri, 'Robert Plant', we were just a little miffed that he hadn't warned us what we were going to find when we asked him where we'd find a bar up there. Mind you, everyone (although few anyway) we'd met up there had evaded giving us a straight answer about were we could find a drink. I've actually abridged the tale a little. There was a woman too who'd kind of avoided the issue.

Curiosity satisfied. Next week we'll be walking to Kampos, to the North. I think we'll take two bottles of water with us though.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Patmos People

The Petrino café, in the pretty little plateia just opposite the main port. The best place for 'people-watching'.

One of the most enjoyable things for me about visiting a new island, is the way we begin, slowly at first, to get to know the people around us. By the time we leave, it's like we know some folk really well, and through them have learned a lot about their island.

For example, Katerina, whom we met on our first night at Pantelis Taverna, is not a Patmian native, in fact, but came here four years ago, fell in love (with a bloke as well as with the island) and stayed. Now she's engaged to be married, although, as she put it, "There's no hurry." She it was who told us what the island's population was. It's a mere 3,000, not counting seasonal workers. There are only three villages on the island and four in the summer. When she told us that it put us in mind of Pefkos, near us on Rhodes. For those who know the village it's by no means deserted in winter, but for anyone passing through in a vehicle, seeing all the restaurants and bars in mothballs, one could be forgiven for thinking so.

To put some perspective on that. Naxos, our previous island of preference for a spring holiday, has a population of something approaching 19,000, and has (large and small) some sixty villages. Rhodes has an island-wide population of 105,000, more than 30 times that of Patmos. Interestingly though, the 'waiter' (he's most likely one of the owners) at the Petrino Café where we sipped our Mastikas last night at around 11.00pm, told us that he couldn't imagine living on such a large island. We had to explain to him that 50% of Rhodes' population is concentrated in Rhodes Town, and that Rhodes is, in effect two islands. There's the cosmopolitan North and the rural and sparsely-populated South, where we live. He still, though, betrayed his doubts with his facial expression.

"I like to live somewhere where everyone knows everyone else," he said. Whilst I could 'get' that from one angle, from another it kind of betrayed the quaint parochialism of one who's been born and bred somewhere very small. It's not a bad thing in many ways, it just perhaps imputes into one a kind of fear of the outside world. Certainly a small island like Patmos can boast a virtually nil crime rate. It's islands like this that first engendered in me the thought that, were I to have been able to immigrate to Greece in my twenties, I reckon that I'd have applied to be a Policeman on just such an island as this. Dreams of long days spent sipping a frappé with my feet up on the desk in a one-roomed Police Station, the only highlight of the day (or perhaps week!) being the arrival of a ferryboat now and then, perhaps requiring me to show my face on the quayside for half an hour or so.

As you can see from the above photos, the Petrino appears to be 'where it's at' for those of the local population who have time to hang out. Having now been here five nights, we're already realising that, with such a small population, you see the same faces all of the time. At first it was "Ooh, look, we saw him/her the other day." Now, though, we realise why that is, there are only so many 'extras' in this movie.

While chatting with the very attentive, if slightly obsequious waiter, Sozaki, at the nearby Netia Taverna one evening, we asked him, as we do most of them as an opener: "So, are you from Patmos?"

He told us that, yes he was, although he'd been around the world a couple of times before coming back here to settle. Plus, we asked him if "Grillis" was a Patmian surname, since it seems that many of the businesses here seem to be run by people with that name. He said that lots of the surnames here are corruptions of where the families came from, since lots of them have moved here over the decades from other parts of Greece. To the astute observer, the surname of a particular family gives away their original roots. Fascinating stuff we thought. Sozaki's own surname (which slips my mind right now, sorry) is a corruption of "Cretan", since his ancestors were from Crete back in the mists of time.

Returning to the Petrino, which is fast becoming people-watching central for us, we sat there again last evening and asked Dimitri, the gentleman who served us our humungous Mastikas, if we were right in assuming that most tourists on this island seem to be French.

"Yes," He replied, "they are." We asked him how this came about, and he continued: "It started circa 2011, when maybe 50 French folk came here. The next year it was 100 and the following year 1,000. then the more well-heeled among them started buying properties here, and so it's mushroomed." Sitting at the table by the wall last night, we must have counted at least thirty French people here on their holidays. The only British voices we've heard so far have been maybe one or two who seemed to us to have moved here and also to have learned the language, indicating to us that they're probably been here many years.

Just before I sign off this post, I've got to mention the rather encouraging 'freebie' culture in the restaurants here. Time was when it was ubiquitous all over Greece that at the end of a meal you'd be brought something as a little gift. It may have been some fruit, a liqueur, perhaps a modest dessert or something, but it seems in recent years to have become much more of the exception rather then the rule. I'm here to tell you that on Patmos the practice is alive, well and robust in health.

I may well post again about the food here, but just on the subject of 'freebies' - we've been very pleasantly surprised indeed. In fact we've even been told that for a Patmian restaurant not to give their customers something free at the end of their visit is considered rude and insulting.

The first night we ate at Pantelis [see previous post], where we received some homemade halva when we asked for our bill. The next night we went to the Tsipouradiko, where we received a nice dish of freshly prepared slices of apple (two varieties), orange, strawberry and something else too that I also forgot to note down. Saturday was Netia night, with our friend, the Clive James lookalike Sozaki, where we received a delicious slice of their homemade walnut cake. Last night, Sunday, we went to the recently re-decorated and rather shabby-chic, ever-so-slightly Bohemian Yiamas, and there they brought us also a very acceptable dish of fruit. Tonight we ate cheap at the Souvlaki Tis Plateias, where we ordered two veggie pitta wraps, a half litre of house white and a lettuce and onion salad. The bill came to a princely €12 and the delightful young waitress asked us, when we asked for the bill, "Would you like a sweet?"

I asked her what it might perhaps be, and she said "Pasta."

When pressed further, she said it contained chocolate. Now, I know what you're thinking, pasta à la chocolat? REALLY? Let me disillusion you right away, the word 'pasta' to a Greek doesn't refer to macaroni, it refers to literally a 'paste', but that can include such things as mousse, for example. So I knew what she had in mind and we both assented.

She brought us a portion each of a delicious chocolate mousse, which almost had the consistency of moist cake, topped with a kind of cheesecake mix and that was topped with a cherry syrup. It was a decent-sized brick of the stuff and, as we ate, it had us thinking that maybe, just maybe, we'd been had. It was the kind of dessert that we'd have expected to have paid €4 each for if we'd ordered it from a menu in a restaurant. Here we were, though, in a souvlaki joint and they'd brought us this. We knew what our bill was going to come to. The pittas were €2 each and the wine and salad both €4 respectively. Thus what we'd so far ordered totted up to €12. So, when the young waitress actually brought us our bill, I kind of expected it to perhaps read maybe €20. It didn't, it read €12.

Now how about that for generosity?

Just returning to the people for a moment. Something that's rather amused us, and this is in no way meant to be derogatory, but we've noticed that native Patmos women are all short-legged. People-watching as we do, we've already come to the conclusion that if a girl or woman that passes has regular-length legs, then she's almost certainly "not from these parts." Once you get your eye in, you see it clearly. Only yesterday, while sitting outside the Petrino (you get the idea of a sort of pattern emerging here, yeah?), we remarked on a number of otherwise model-like young women, who, had you only seen them from the thighs upwards, you'd have agreed that they could have been models, but when you noticed how close their body was to the ground, well - we found ourselves agreeing that they needed an extra six inches in the leg department in order to have carried it off.

I'll see if I can surreptitiously grab a snap or two before we leave to illustrate the point. As I said, no offence intended, merely observing!

Here are some photos from the last 24 hours or so...

I just liked the look of this house, which was only a few metres up this lane from the waterfront.

Tables and chairs of the Tsipouradiko Taverna.

Just setting up for the season.

A view down across Sapsila Bay on the road from Skala down to Grikos.

The front at Grikos, which really is still a ghost town at the moment. There was, however one taverna open, where we were able to order a couple of frappés before the walk back, which took just under an hour each way.

Ah, the wonders of the ten second delay.

View towards Skala on the walk back from Grikos.

Skala again.

The view from our balcony at night. I don't have a good enough camera to take a decent shot at night I'm afraid. But at least it shows the beautiful reflections of the lights in the calm waters of the harbour/bay.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Do We know That Person?

Many years ago, in fact far more than I care to remember, we spent a few weeks in County Cork in the Republic of Ireland. Some friends of ours from our home town of Bath had moved out there and were renting a house along a quiet country lane a couple of miles outside of an, as until then, unknown small country town called Millstreet. Of course, all that changed when, totally unbelievably to us, Ireland hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993 and they hosted it in Millstreet. Even now it's almost impossible to believe that this was even possible, when you consider that Millstreet is a one-street town in a rural area far from anywhere. Even today, the population of Millstreet is only around 1,500.

Having just taken a stroll along the centre of town (although it's more of a village really), courtesy of Google maps 'streetview', I can see that the centre has barely changed since we were there, which was an also barely believable 43 years ago this year. But the environs and the periphery have expanded hugely and there are totally unrecognisable developments on all sides that didn't exist when we visited the place.

I only mention this because something that we found strange, yet ultimately wonderful, about rural Eire was the fact that everyone and anyone you passed on the street or road would wave at you. Everywhere we drove people would do this, even down to the farmer trundling along the lane on his tractor. Lots of people would get around from town to town or village by simply sticking out a thumb and anyone passing who had room in their vehicle would stop. It was the culture and we grew to love it. That aspect, I'm glad to say, is also true of southern Rhodes, where we live.

Thus our experience after only a couple of days on Patmos so far has reminded us of our time in Millstreet, because the natives here are seemingly every bit as friendly as they were in that humble Irish locale all those years ago. We can't walk past anyone without them wishing us a 'kalimera', or exchanging a 'yia sas' or two. Sitting in a bar or taverna, if other customers walk in, they'll nod and speak to us as if they've known us all of their lives. The first couple of times it happened, we exchanged perplexing glances with a mutual unspoken 'Do we know that person/those people?' passing between us.

We've already taken a few short walks along some country lanes and, if any vehicle has passed, the driver and/or passengers wave at us like we've been friends for years. It's taken us back, I can tell you. Not that the Greeks all over this country aren't in general a very friendly, welcoming lot, but here on Patmos it's a fine art, the art of making everyone feel at home.

On our first night we ate at the Pantelis taverna, along a small street one block back from the waterfront, near the main harbour. As it's still very early in the season, we were the only customers seated outside in the street. It was just about warm enough, at least until it was getting near time to leave. We enjoyed a superb first meal on Patmos of their special salad (pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, mini croutons, lettuce all dressed in oil and balsamic, plus lemon juice), kolokithokeftedes and gigantes. The waitress was a lovely girl called Katerina, who, since she wasn't exactly rushed off her feet, had plenty of time to natter with us, as she stationed herself at the doorstep, waiting to serve anyone else who happened to indicate that they may be coming in.

We covered a lot of topics and she even corrected my Greek here and there, for which I had to fight back the pride and thank her, of course. But one thing she said had us thinking, "she's having us on here, surely."

A couple of locals happened by at one point toward the end of the evening, and they hung around while Katerina chatted with them for a few moments. This must have been around 10.00pm. When they took their leave, she called after them "Kalo proi! [have a good morning!]" 

We caught her eye and laughed. "Yeah, funny!" We said.

"No, everywhere has its own slang and local ways of expressing things. Well, here it's a Patmian thing, in the evening when you bid someone goodnight, you say 'Have a good morning!' Seriously!" She appeared to be talking in all earnestness, but we were finding it hard to take seriously. Surely she was having a gentle laugh at our expense, to see if we'd fall for it maybe.

The following day we ambled about the place, taking everything in, enjoying the beauty of the scenery and expressing great approval at just how they seem to have recycling down to a fine art here, with all the colour-coded bins everywhere you look. In fact, I've been ticking boxes left right and centre since we got here: 

• Friendliness of the locals - box ticked.
• Comfy, modest accommodation in just the right location - box ticked.
• Lots of gorgeous backstreets, ideal for wandering around, in the area of Skala - box ticked.
• Prices for eating out and drinks - box ticked.
• Drinking water fountain for the public to fill up their bottles, easily within walking distance of accommodation - box ticked.
• Lovely traditional bakery also within five minutes of the front door - box ticked.

Apart from the beloved suggesting that she'd like it a little busier in the evenings (not bothered myself) we're fast falling in love with yet another Greek island.

Here are a few shots taken in our first couple of days...

Seems these white day-lilies are popular here. This show was stunning.

I had to allow the cheesecake to be forced upon me of course.

Meloi Beach, a mere fifteen minutes walk over the hill from our accommodation. This was early evening.

Lunch on the balcony. That white chunk of soft cheese in the centre is homemade goats' milk cheese, left in our fridge for us by our lovely host Suzanna. Yes, she made it herself [OK, with a little help from a few goats, Vicki!].

This charming shot of a door threatens to end up in a frame on a wall somewhere.

This very old cottage sits up on the hillside above the harbour area. Pretty eh?

The walk from Skala back to our place. It takes about fifteen minutes. Interestingly, at the far end of the bay is the area known as Netia, where the taverna of the same name sits across the road from the quayside. In one TripAdvisor comment, someone suggest that you'd need a car to visit this taverna, as it's a fifteen minute walk!!!! Give me a break will yah?

Taverna 'H Netia"

This little beach is five minutes over the hill behind our place. It's the narrowest part of the whole island, see next shot.
The little blue dot is our location. The beach in the shot above is the one just above where it says Hotel Asteri
This evening, which is actually yesterday because I'm bashing the keys now at 1.30am, we ate at H Netia taverna and were pleased and charmed to have met Sozaki, who waited on us the whole time. He is a bit of a lookalike for the clever journalist Clive James (who'll be well known to UK and Aussie readers) and wrote the book on how to be a genial, attentive, kindly yet not at all in-your-face host.*

I asked him how long the taverna had been in business and he told us about seven years. I remarked on the fact that the quayside across the road looked fairly new and he replied that it had been constructed to reclaim the area from the sea. Prior to that quayside being built, the area where now sits the taverna had been under water. Again, the taverna is just visible in the Google Maps shot above [the orange knife and fork symbol], in the far bottom right, as is part of the fairly newly-constructed quay.

While we talked with the very likeable Sozaki, a couple of guests, evidently locals, got up to leave. They waved to us equally as much as to Sozaki, and he and they both exchanged a "kalo proi!" as they left the premises.

There you are then, Katerina had been telling us the truth.

*Yes, Vicki, we received the walnut cake as our freebie. Scrumptious.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Rhodes-Patmos, The Voyage

The trip and the boat with which we did it (click for larger view)

Just before we begin, I should explain that some of the narrative below is in the present tense and some of it's in the past tense. This is because I typed it in real time as we were making the voyage. Some of the narrative involves me talking about things as they were happening on board the boat, and some relates to events in the immediate past. Hope it doesn't confuse...

Thur 19th April. Set out from Rhodes commercial harbour at 08.30am sharp.

9.30am: Pulled into Symi, just an hour after the prompt departure from Rhodes. It was strange standing there on the upper outside deck of the Dodekanesos Express, scanning the harbour area for the modest little traditional apartment where we'd stayed many years ago. The sky was still leaden, although there were tiny cracks of blue appearing among the clouds overhead. Restaurant terraces were still enclosed with their polythene curtain walls and there was a distinct lack of pleasure vessels tied up around the harbour area.

Symi too.

The boat stayed quayside for only five minutes while passengers streamed off and some others streamed on board. We watched as our old friend Haralambos disembarked. We'd spotted him in the passenger lounge only minutes after boarding at Rhodes. Haralambos is probably nearer to 70 than he is to 60 now, and we have fond memories of his kindness going back years. When I used to do the Symi excursion, every week during the season for probably more than five years, I'd often sit in his harbour-front café-bar and enjoy a drink while waiting until it was time for our boat to depart for the return to Rhodes. I was never once allowed to pay for a drink. Even when on occasion Yvonne-Maria would come too, he wouldn't hear of us paying him, although only now and then would any of my guests come in to join me or us.
About ten years ago now, we spent a few days over there during November with our good friends Timotheo and Sylvia. We'd stayed in a tiny hotel half-way up the Kali Strata, run by relatives of Sylvia, and we'd watched from our balcony as the whole width of that steep, stone stair-walk had turned into a cataract, as torrential rain had fallen during one of the days we were there. We'd waited in Haralambos' bar early on our last day for the ferry taking us back to Rhodes and, even then, while we were effectively on a short holiday, this kindly man wouldn't let us pay for our hot chocolates and croissants. We still remember the reason why he seems in a perpetually melancholy mood. He lost his wife while she was still quite young and he never really got over it. He has a beautiful daughter, whom we'd met once or twice while she was assisting in the bar, but it's quite clear that he'd had a good marriage. He'd been deeply in love with his life-partner and has never ever taken up with anyone else.
When we boarded the boat at Rhodes and caught his eye, even before we'd found ourselves a couple of seats, he'd smiled and nodded, at least 'smiled' to the extent that he is able. My wife went over to talk to him while I deposited our bags on a couple of seats and she asked if he realised who we were were. After all, we hadn't seen him in probably nine or ten years.
“Of course,” he replied, “Of course.” I asked him about the serious floods and mudslides that Symi had experienced early this past winter and he told me that 15 cars had ended up in the water around the harbour area. As I stood up on the top deck and scanned the natural amphitheatre that is Gialos, with the flat calm waters not even lapping at the stone quayside, as I took in the beauty of the neo-Venetian, pastel-coloured shuttered houses, it was hard to imagine what it must have been like, because now it all looks just as it always did to me; only with an air of expectation. The season is just awakening, the blue umbrellas are already in place on what we used to call Nos Beach, but which I believe nowadays has been renamed I don't know what. Several of the waterside tavernas are still all closed up, the terraces where they will soon position their tables and chairs looking forlorn, wintry, bereft. But soon now, all will be vibrant again, with bronzing bodies and rattling souvenir stands, with taverna staff doing their thing and trying to get passers-by to take a seat and partake of their fayre.
Soon the leather shops, the sponge shop and the jewellers will all be explaining why their wares are so worth purchasing and I found myself thinking, as the klaxon sounded and we slipped quietly away from the quay, it is good. The islanders will soon be earning their living again.
I also found myself thinking, as we headed north for the next stop, which would be Kos island, “I wonder if we'll be harassed by any Turkish gunboats on this trip.”
10.45am: Approaching Kos. At the risk of offending some, I was never much taken with Kos. Many years ago we took a last minute holiday there late in the season. The weather had been perfect, but the apart-hotel where we'd stayed was just a tad too 'touristy' for us and its location nothing to write home about. Maybe that was why we hadn't liked the island very much. We had hired a car and gone exploring, and yet we'd never found quite what we usually look for on a Greek island.
The wind was warm, but very strong as we approached Kos. These are some of the students referred to in the narrative.

Kos harbour. No protection from the elements it seems.

Just about to tie up at Kos.

There were one or two positives though. We discovered a rather nice café-bar in the corner of a large square at the back of the main town, some way away from the harbour area. Here was where the local youth and young business-types would sit and, even back then, tap away on their phones while their fredo espresso sketos sat, expectantly perspiring condensation on the tables in front of them. On the far side of the square from this bar was the market, where all kinds of dried herbs and spices could be bought. There was also a small taverna, which was kind of like a house with a walled courtyard, situated half a kilometre or so up a lane behind the town, where one of the delicacies were courgette flowers, deep-fried in a kind of batter. We only discovered it because a couple of friends who'd holidayed on Kos a year or two before we went there recommended that we seek it out.
Apart from that, though, we had no desire to re-visit the island.
As the boat approaches and I'm typing this, there is traditional music playing on the ship's tannoy and a bunch of young male students are getting into the spirit of the thing by linking arms over each others' shoulders and dancing in the aisle. This sizeable party of teenage boys and girls boarded along with us at Rhodes and it looks, from the way they're preparing themselves, like Kos is their destination. They're a boisterous, enthusiastic crowd who, like most groups of Greek young folk, are always eager to show respect to others. Pass a few of them on the stairway, for example and they'll defer to you, or always thank you if you allow them to pass first. Greek students and school kids don't wear uniforms, they wear whatever they want, which usually means blue jeans which seem to have been sprayed on (and that includes the boys these days) and, in the case of the girls, skimpy low-cut tops that would have had a British teacher in a lather and sending them home to change into something much more appropriate for a day's learning in the classroom.
Just to illustrate how polite the Greek students are: there was a sizeable gaggle of them in my way, as we approached the rather bleak, seemingly exposed and, as a consequence, rather unwelcoming quayside at Kos, thus preventing my getting up the stairs so that I could go out on deck and watch the proceedings as they all disembarked and the next load of passengers came aboard. I had to ask four or five boys and girls to make way for me to squeeze through. I never worry about such situations, because they were all (as I expected) only too quick to hand each other out of my way with plenty of “by all means” and “sorry sirs” as I passed among them with a few polite “excuse mes”.
Although it's very early in the season, it's nevertheless amazing how many languages we heard being spoken by the newly embarked passengers. We heard Italian from what was evidently a group of keen cyclists (of course they were wearing all the correct 'gear'), German, French and even a couple of American “Oh, my Gods” were in the mix, as people came and stood in the aisle, scanning for potential places to sit. There was no lack, since the main salon had only just been vacated by the large student party.
Then, once again within five minutes, the ramp was up and we were on our way to Kalymnos.
The mysterious case of the Kalymnos man who has a package for a head.

Kalymnos, during the approach.

The flag on the hillside - just in case anyone wondered which country they were in.

Kalymnos gets ready to 'bustle'.

11.45am: Kalymnos. Now this is more like it. Kalymnos harbour and town is so much more cozy and welcoming than Kos. You sail deep into a protected harbour with a huge breakwater and the two sides of the town, built around the base of some impressive hillsides, shelter you, much like Symi only on an altogether grander scale. Once the ramp goes down, all hell breaks loose yet again. People stream on and off (once the crew-member standing on the end of the ramp gives the signal) and three-wheeled pickups do six-penny turns on the apron, leaving black rubber curves behind them, one heading off with a cellophane-wrapped sofa balanced precariously on its only-just-big-enough flat bed.
Looking up at the hillsides above the town, you catch sight of a huge Greek flag painted on to the bare rock a couple of hundred feet above the rooftops. The Greeks don't want any chances taken. This is the front line with Turkey and, in view of the current ratcheting up of tensions by the Turkish government, which is currently hell-bent on provoking their near neighbour over sovereignty disputes about lots of the islands in this area, they want everyone to be sure about which country you're in.
The Greeks, rather like the Americans, have always been keen on hoisting the national flag anywhere and everywhere they deem it appropriate. I have to say, though, that I get the distinct impression currently that there are even more of them dotted about the place than normal. As in the USA, many Greek homes sport the flag hanging from a pole attached to the corner of the building, or springing upwards from the garden wall, but I see them appearing on harbour walls, on hotel roofs, in fact lots of places where perhaps in the past they might not have bothered. You can put this down to the Turkish provocations, that are rumbling ever on and on and getting ever more aggressive in the process.
Once again, after a very quick turnaround, we were off again. Next stop will a favourite island of ours, Leros.
Leros next...

Coming in to Agia Marina, Leros.

Agia Marina, Leros. The blue building is where we stayed many years ago.

Leros again.

Leros expects...

There is a video to go here, but '' said it was too large to upload. 
So I've posted it here instead. the caption would have been: "The Italian cyclists decide it's easier cycling on dry land than at sea..."

Leros again.

12.40pm: Leros, Agia Marina. It was lovely to tie up here again, albeit for a very brief moment. Leros is a truly hidden gem, largely because of the time it takes to get here if you're travelling from another country. We took a couple of holidays here some years ago and I talked a little about it in the first “Ramblings” book, “Feta Compli!”. The accommodation in which we stayed was easily visible from the boat and fond memories came flooding back.
Of course, tell a Greek you're going to Leros and he or she will immediately assume that you're either quite bonkers or you have a relative who is. Leros is home to the most famous “trelokomeio” in Greece. The word means 'madhouse'. In decades past it was a disgrace and a shame to the country, owing to the awful conditions in which the patients were forced to live. When we went there for our holidays, however, which would have been around the early 'noughties', we had a few long conversations with a guy called Nikos, who worked in the hospital as a male nurse. He also doubled as a waiter in a taverna, which was how we came to know him.
Nikos told us how they'd campaigned for years for more funding and the right to clean up the place, and give the patients more dignity. He said that much had improved and there were already in place, even then, activities to help stimulate the mental powers and abilities of the patients. If you go there for a holiday you'll be hard-put to find out where the place is though, because even now they tend to keep its location a secret. This is primarily because of the stigma that mental illness still carries within traditional Greek communities. You can imagine, with the in-breeding that goes on in small communities on small islands there is a naturally higher incidence of mental and physical disabilities than in a larger community with a more extensive gene pool.
When we took a holiday on Samos once, we decided to take a day-trip back to Leros, for old time's sake. The girl behind the counter in the booking office in Pythagorion, on Samos, looked at us incredulously when we said we wanted tickets for Leros.
“What do you want to go there for? Are you both mad?” She asked, with a deadly serious look on her face.
Frankly, in my opinion, if you're a true Grecophile, you'd be quite mad not to want to sample Leros.
Anyway, it's Lipsi next, and then our destination, Patmos, with an ETA of around 1.20pm. Judging by the trip so far, we'll be getting off this boat right on time.
Hmm, little Lipsi didn't light our candle.

Lipsi again.

1.10pm: Lipsi. Yes, it's very small, yes it's sleepy. To be honest, though, looking at the waterfront on Lipsi, we both decided that we could probably forego the experience of a day trip here. Maybe we were misjudging it, but the place looked to us to be sort of, all right, but not spectacular, and thus we said to each other almost in unison, “Nah, maybe we'll give it a miss.” Perhaps the very picturesque waterfront at Halki, which is not a stone's throw from where we live, spoils us for other tiny islands.
Patmos, from our balcony at Suzanna Studios.

Decidedly rickety, yet quite picturesque jetties, Skala bay, Patmos

Same again.

1.25pm: Patmos. Just a few minutes late and after a fairly choppy crossing, we docked at Patmos and were met on the quayside by not only some bluer skies and bright sunshine, but also by our host, the welcoming Suzanna, and her daughter Sylvia. They led us to their modest old hatchback and we were soon loaded up and on our way the extremely short drive long the front to our accommodation. Arriving as close as one could get in a vehicle, we were led up some steps a short way to the gate which gave into their courtyard, and then up the steps to our very own and completely private balcony. Yup, we'd died and gone to heaven.
Our rooms are right there in the middle.

That's our private little balcony (which nevertheless has a substantial table and 4-chair dining set on it), up the steps.

Suzanna had left some homemade cheese in the fridge for us, along with half a dozen eggs, a bottle of water and a couple of cans of beer. No sooner had we deposited our cases on the bed in the bedroom, than she'd offered us both a frappé and also pointed out that sitting on a dish on the kitchen worktop in our apartment, there were four of her very own homemade cheese tarts, under some clingfilm. I say 'tarts' because, although they're savoury, they resembled a sweet pastry to look at, and not the traditional tiropita that the words 'cheese pie' would bring to mind.
A welcoming frappé and nibbles from our lovely host, Suzanna.

The apartment is wonderful. Exactly what we'd hoped for, and the view from the balcony (which is private enough to sunbathe in the 'nuddy' if one so desired) is to die for. The kitchen is fully equipped with everything we're going to need, including decent sized fridge-freezer, a kettle, a toastie-maker and plenty of glassware, cutlery and crockery.
While the better half took a nap, I found that I couldn't sleep (maybe owing to having imbibed a frappé after midday), so I took off for a reccy. First impressions of Patmos? Simply wonderful. Everything that we look for in a Greek island for a getaway break. These photos don't show much human presence, but then they were taken during siesta time, and it is still only April...

Pantelis Taverna, where we enjoyed our first evening meal much later. More next post.

We've landed on our feet.