Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Room Service? Or Room to Breathe?

Our view, as evening approaches and the light begins to fade

You know, this time we're spending here on Patmos is throwing a particular issue, about which I have quite strong feelings, into sharp contrast. It's the whole 'plush hotel vs staying somewhere small' debate.

Although I completely don't get it, I have to accept that there are some people who simply want a posh hotel with polished marble everywhere, potted plants in the reception lounge and a selection of swimming pools with all kinds of convoluted shapes at their disposal when they go on holiday. They want in-house entertainment and smartly-dressed staff hanging around to pander to their every whim. They want a spa and pool tables, infinity pools and room service.

OK, I suppose if I wanted a couple of days r&r simply to unwind, maybe then I do get it. But to travel to a foreign country, with all the prospects of broadening the mind and experiencing the way people of a different race and language go about their daily lives, the possibility of learning something about how the world ticks, away from one's own neighbourhood 'comfort zone', the chance to interact with people with different customs and to discover that, underneath, we're all the same species, we're all basically brothers and sisters; well, to me, staying in a cottonwool environment, cushioned from the real world outside, is a huge missed opportunity.

I'll try and make my case. See what you think. 

Me and the better half were sitting on our balcony the other day and we both agreed that, frankly, there probably isn't a balcony in all of Greece with a much better view (OK, so Santorini would be in with a shout, admittedly - but then I'd have to add: 'within our budget')...

View from Suzanna apartments and studios.

For starters, our balcony is quite a bit bigger than what we'd have had in the majority of tourist hotels in our price range, even assuming that there were such hotels here in Patmos, which there aren't. There's point number one right there. Package tourists will never even get the experience that we're having by staying here. This island's too difficult to get to for most package tourists, who by and large want to get off a plane and very quickly be deposited (from their air-conditioned coach) right outside the front entrance of their hotel, job done. We were ruminating on just what we have here in our accommodation, and we concluded that, even had we paid probably twice as much for a 'hotel' holiday, we'd not have had anything like the luxury we have in what's loosely termed a 'studio' run by a middle-aged widow, upstairs from her own dwelling and in amongst the locals, the extremely friendly locals, it has to be said.

I'm not going into too much detail about the money, but we're spending 18 days on Patmos and the cost of accommodation and travel tots up to somewhere around €700. Our accommodation consists of a very acceptable balcony with table and four very good quality folding 'director's' chairs, we have a comfy kitchen/diner with a fridge freezer, kettle, filter coffee machine, toastie-maker, fresh dishcloths and towels every two days and a landlady who gives us a regular supply of her very own goat's cheese (my wife reckons it would cost around €6 a pop in a supermarket). We have more than enough cutlery and crockery (quite unusual these days. More often than not there have been so many breakages that you'll be lucky to find two cups or glasses that match). We have a double sink in the kitchen area too. We can sip our wine out of a couple of nice wine glasses when we're sitting out on the balcony admiring the view. Oh, and Suzanna, our landlady gave us half a bottle of olive oil to use when making our modest lunches to eat on the balcony.

There is a bathroom with a shower which has a curtain on a rail. The curtain is in excellent condition and the shower head still has a bracket that you can use to hang it on if you want a hands-free shower and to wash your hair. The bedroom has a double and a single bed and cavernous pine wardrobes, which we haven't even half-filled. There is air-con in the bedroom at no extra charge (Take that package holidaymakers! Sorry, got a bit carried away there, but how often do they charge rip-off prices on top of the price of your holiday if you want to use the air-con?).

Going back to the kitchen, Suzanna also provided us with a brand new bottle of Palmolive washing up liquid. We'd actually brought some with us, fully expecting to have to bring our own. In fact, due to the fact that my beloved loves to tidy things away, she put the washing up liquid in the cupboard under the sink the other day and, when we returned from our morning stroll and coffee, there was a new one on the worktop!!

What makes it a really pleasant experience staying here though, isn't so much all the stuff that our very thoughtful landlady lays on for her guests, it's the cozy, family-feel of the place. We live up a flight of steps, where our balcony has a gate that closes firmly with a catch, thus affording complete privacy if we want it. There are Greek neighbours next door to us, but there's a solid and opaque trellis fence cutting off vision so that we can't see them unless we look around it and visa versa.

This is the homely courtyard downstairs from our apartment, The steps on the right are our access.

We walk up here to get 'home' as it were. The blue wall on the right hides the gate into Kyria Chrissie's place. She's a sweet ya ya with a walking frame who likes to exchange a few words with us each time we pass. The smell of cooking from her place is always exquisite. Sometimes her daughter and granddaughter (also, of course, called Chrisanthoula, after her grandmother) are there too.

The better half just arriving 'home' after a hard day's relaxation. Note the superb canopy too, no umbrella to fall over or occupy space on the balcony with its post and base.

View from our lounge/kitchen/diner through the mozzie net.

Downstairs is the courtyard belonging to Suzanna, who is certainly not 'in your face' but often sitting at her table in the shade nattering on her mobile phone when we come in or go out. She'll wave a 'kalimera' or perhaps in the evening a 'kalo proi' (See the post "Do We Know That Person?"). She's probably in her late forties and has a teenage daughter. There is no husband/father. Apparently he died, thus her situation put us in mind of our very first Greek island visit, way back in the seventies, when we stayed on Poros with Mrs. Mellou, a widow (who's still there, as the link shows) in similar circumstances. Owing to the system over here, it's often the best a surviving widow can do in order to make a living, ie. convert her upstairs into tourist accommodation.

Homemade cheese, plus home-baked koulourakia - courtesy of our landlady, Suzanna.

One of Suzanna's cute little dogs, which I've taken to calling 'the rats'. This is Bella, who comes up to say hello now and then, although she'll never let you pet her.

To get to our place we walk up about twenty metres of pathway with occasional steps, passing a cottage on our right where a delightful and friendly old ya ya called Chrissie lives. She's always to be seen in her courtyard, with her walking frame, and there's always the most delicious smell of cooking coming from her ever-open kitchen door. The pathway is a dead-end, so there is no other passing pedestrian traffic to cause a noise nuisance. 

When it comes to eating out, there's a very adequate supply of tavernas and restaurants, all of which, it seems to us, offer excellent fare, generous helpings and a freebie at the end of your visit. OK, on a DIY holiday you have to budget for eating out, but we've so far not failed to be totally stuffed, eating meze-style, and the biggest bill we've so far had (including a half-carafe of the house wine almost every night) has been 29 Euros. The smallest (and we still could hardly move at the end) was last night at the Ostria, where we ordered fava, taboulé salad and Imam (a kind of of baked aubergine dish with loads of subtle additions, making it extremely tasty), plus the house wine, and the bill was 19 Euros. We were especially touched because it was our second visit. I'll tell you why...

The first time we went there, about a week before, Antonis (who runs the place and also sits on the local council) asked us what tipple we'd like to round off the visit. We asked for Mastiha, which he apologised for not having. So I ended up with a very acceptable huge measure of Metaxa and my better half with something else. Last night, part-way through our meal, the other Antonis, the rather diminutive and very friendly waiter, shot off on his motor scooter, soon to return with a bottle wrapped in a plastic bag, which he was quite evidently trying to smuggle past us without our seeing it. When we asked for our bill, which, as I said, was a princely 19 Euros, Antonis was overjoyed to present to us (with a great degree of ceremony) two huge glasses of our favourite liqueur, Mastiha. They must have been at least quintuple measures. Now, when you consider that to order a couple of glasses of the stuff in a bar would set you back 3.50, maybe 4 Euros, that's 7 or 8 Euros we didn't pay on top of a bill of only 19. They hardly made a fortune out of us, but such is the hospitality of the Patmians, which (apart from at Hora, which was just strange!) we're experiencing continually.

By and large, we're in seventh heaven staying here and will definitely be paying another visit to this beautiful island. But I haven't finished yet. Stay tuned for the next instalment.

Oh, yes, of course. Back to my point. Wouldn't you prefer to stay in a faceless hotel, where, once you get inside, you could be in any one of a hundred countries around the world? Answers on a postcard please...


  1. A faceless hotel?? No thanks--you could be anywhere. But the hospitality and cattiness you describe has suited us VERY well for the last 38 years visiting Greece.
    As for the view--as I write this on our balcony in Tilos--our view will run you a close second! Enjoying reading your Patmos doings--and like EVERY good Greek island, the lack of an airport is it's very saving!

    1. You're very right about the airport. We have had a couple of long breaks on Naxos/Paros, and the last time we were there we learned that they are building a new airport on Paros for package holiday aircraft to use. For anyone thinking of going there, do it quick before it's all ruined!

    2. Just a little unsure about your use of the word 'cattiness' - am I misunderstanding you somewhere maybe?

    3. Sorry--missed out the "h"--should have read "chattiness!" Not very good with this tinternet lark!

    4. Aha!! Phew, glad we sorted that one out!!

  2. It sounds as if you have both really enjoyed your visit to Patmos and Suzanna's studios may well become our base next time we visit! We found that all ( well most) of the smaller islands we visited last year had exactly the ambience we were seeking and I now realise it is the lack of airport which preserves the charm. After our first visit in May 2017 we returned twice more before October and I think that says all there is to say about the island! Have to agree with you on Chora though , apparently most of the houses are holiday homes so I don't imagine that helps !
    Safe journey home.

    1. Funnily enough, talking with a delightful young lady who served us our frappés this morning, she kind of suggested (not our words, hers!) that the 'Hora people' were a little 'elitist' about being from there rather than from Skala, below. We mentioned a slight tendency for some in Lindos, Rhodes, to be similar, and she gave an enthusiastic nod of understanding. Coming, as we do, from Bath, we know exactly what the problem is. Tell a Bathonian that you think they're from Bristol, see what response you get!! 🧐

  3. Haha don't know what they have to feel elitist about. It may be 'pretty' but we weren't taken with the tat on sale masquerading as religious artefacts!
    Rant over.

    1. This whole "religious artifacts" thing does my head in.