Monday, 24 June 2019

On the Up and Up

We've lived 4km from the village of Gennadi for 14 years come August, and for much of that time it's remained a sleepy village, with perhaps an appeal to those who'd like things really, really quiet, but not much atmosphere during the long warm summer evenings. The main 'street' which leads several hundred metres along from the square to the part-time police station, (which, incidentally, is where the main character Adrian Dando lives in my novel "Two in the Bush" - the street, not the police station), is quintessentially "Greek village" in appearance. It's barely wide enough for a vehicle to pass along for most of its length, and is closed to traffic anyway for much of the time during the summer season.

Part-way along from the 'square' end of the street is Mama's Kitchen, which has been there a very long time. In past years, when we've had the chance to go out for an evening and have chosen to eat in Gennadi, this would have been the only restaurant along the entire street with a few tables out in the street for diners to sit. They also have a nice courtyard across the way from the restaurant itself. Now, though, things are much different.

Last night we went out for a light meal, looking for our favourite, which is vegetarian pitta, stuffed with salad, fries, tzatziki and a generous chunk of grilled Haloumi. Most souvlaki houses now offer this as an option for those who don't eat meat. We'd seen a photo on a friends' Facebook page very recently, showing the souvlaki joint just adjacent to the nice and trad-looking Antika bar, run by the bloke who also services our car, Stergo (where have you heard that kind of scenario before, eh?). So we made a bee-line for that place first, because the location looked so appealing. Sadly, they didn't do what we wanted, but instead offered us Saganaki. Never mind, we simply trotted off to our favourite souvlaki house in Gennadi anyway, the excellent Lime Grill, but it was a bit of a shame in one respect, because I'd particularly wanted to sit in the main street, where the atmosphere has most definitely taken a turn for the better this season. 

Although the Lime Grill is truly excellent, it's location isn't as nice as some. Not complaining though, since we sat out on their agreeable terrace and devoured two wonderful, well-stuffed Haloumi pittas, a serving of Hummus, which also comes with a pitta to dip into it, two bottles of water and a bottle of retsina and the bill was €17.

But, we've made a mental note to go out again soon and this time try perhaps Zorba's, one of the establishments that are now packing the 'main' street with tables and chairs and thus giving it a truly enjoyable and essentially Greek evening atmosphere. I took these two quick shots before we headed off to the Lime Grill...

Bear in mind that these were taken quite early in the evening. We'd been down to Gennadi beach (where the water was as flat as a mirror) for a swim, because they have good walkways there to stop your feet burning, a couple of changing huts still in serviceable condition, and showers that work well too. Following this we just shot up to the village to eat something before going home to watch the closing stages of the Queens Club doubles tennis final between Andy Murray/Feliciano Lopez and Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury.

I think you can tell from the photos though, that the atmosphere in Gennadi on a summer's evening is well and truly on the up and up. If you click for a larger view on those shots you'll see that there was already a sizeable crowd of diners enjoying the balmy June evening.

I can't remember Gennadi ever looking so attractive and I'd suggest that if you're staying in the south of the island any time soon, it would be well worth checking Gennadi out for an evening meal or a drink.

I'd say that a good and satisfying meal out along that street may go quite a long way towards curing some of any dependency that may have had to book all-inclusive too!

A day or two earlier, we had lunch at the Il Porto, situated on Kiotari Beach right down the lane from where we live, too. Our friends Anastasia and Tassos, the couple who run the place, always extend us a warm welcome, even if we don't patronise the place nearly as often as we'd like. Here are a couple of photos I took before the food arrived...

We were going to sit at one of those tables under the parasols, but TBH it was too flippin' hot.

This year they've commissioned a new logo, making the place feel a little more up-market, although it's still very good value. The menu is excellently laid out and offers all the trad Greek food that you'd expect.

I know, it's only a swallow, but I've such a soft spot for the little perishers.
We ordered a beer, a tonic water, a green salad, some hummus and fries (chips!), which are hand-cut and done in olive oil. Not exactly going to make Anastasia her fortune, are we eh? Nevertheless she brought us a plate of dolmades on the house. Nice touch. The bill? around €14. Cheapskates? We wrote the book.

Frankly, I can't think of a nicer place to enjoy a meal or a drink within shouting distance of our home than the Il Porto.

See, finally the fact that we're not having to rush off to work any more is beginning to make a difference. Apart from having been out several times this week, we've also watched a whole load of excellent tennis from Queens Club in London, something we'd never have had the time to do over the past ten years.

I will be writing about stuff other than food and drink soon, honest!

Friday, 21 June 2019

It's Oh, So Quiet...

Considering we're both not working any more, it's been a bit hectic of late. There we were, back during the winter, planning how we'd be at the beach and having lunch in a beachside taverna at least once a week when the summer was under way and here we are getting to the tail end of June and, apart from a few walks down to the local beach in the early evening for a swim, then the walk back, it's not really gone according to plan.

There have been a few extra-curricular things to do, which have largely fallen into the category of helping out friends and doing a spot of destructive DIY for a neighbour, plus other stuff like having to visit the accountant, having to post a letter to a UK government office, and...

"Wait." I hear you cry, "Having to post a letter to the UK? Is that really something that could be counted as an 'extra-curricular' thing to do?"

Oh yes. See, the nearest post office to us is in Gennadi, but, unless you want to spend a couple of hours waiting your turn and, in the process, lose the will to live, we tend to avoid that one. I've written about the experience of using the Gennadi post office before. If you have long enough (I'm serious) check out these posts:

"It Helps to Pass the Time"
"Up and Down"

So, as and when we have a need to post something, we tend to do it at the post office in Arhangelos. There is a post office in Lindos, of course, but to park the car about a mile outside the village (it's tourist season now, remember) and then walk all the way into the village and then through the warren of tiny streets you need to negotiate in order to get there, well, you may as well be sitting on your rear in the Gennadi office for an hour or two. It's less sweaty and you don't have to continually collide with the barely dressed and tattooed hordes all the way there and back.

Thus we bite the bullet and, once we've written our epistle and inserted it in a neatly-printed envelope, or package-taped up our package, or whatever it is we need to send, we find it less stressful to drive the twenty-five minutes up the road to Arhangelos, where one can almost always pull up in the car right outside the post office, and dash inside, often discovering that the place is empty, save for the decidedly "Grizzly Adams" type bloke who's sitting behind the toughened glass screen waiting to be of service.

Despite his appearance, which gives one the very definite impression that he's liable to be out in the hills howling up at every full moon, he's actually quite erudite and always efficient at processing your request, often sticking the stamps on for you himself. And before you say, "How do you know he actually sticks them on and doesn't simply chuck the letter in the old 'circular file?'" We know because nothing we've ever had occasion to post from there has ever failed to reach its destination.

The plus point about going to Arhangelos too is that we can then do a spot of serious people-watching over a very reasonably priced Freddo espresso and perhaps a slice of bougatsa, plus we can buy some mountain tea and fresh fruit and veg from the very 'ethnic' local fruit and veg shop in the main street. A result, whichever way you choose to look at it.

Anyway, as I type this we are actually planning a stroll down the hill to the Il Porto café-restaurant at lunchtime tomorrow for a drink and a spot of lunch. Maybe then we'll finally reach the realisation that we are now supposed to be people of leisure.

I was talking with Petros the other day, he who's very 'careful' with his money whom I wrote about in chapter 10 of Tzatziki For You to Say. A few years ago he planted up a huge number of aloe vera plants in order to try and start a business selling them for the gel that's found in their 'leaves' that appears to carry so many benefits for one's health. At the time he told me that the plants need three years before they're mature enough to be harvested for the gel. Well, the three years have now passed and not much has happened vis a vis his getting the business off the ground. Plus, the crop looks decidedly under par if I'm going to be honest. I asked him about the whole project and why it appeared to be stalling. 

It all has to do with the water. Now, I've talked on many occasions on this blog about how the last few winters (leading up to, but not including the winter we've just been through)  have been much too devoid of rain. Before last winter began, the water shortages on Rhodes had reached critical levels. Friends of ours in Rhodes town have endured a couple of summers when their mains water was cut off for 20 hours at a time several times a week, owing to the severe shortage of water, due partly to the drought conditions of winters that were much too dry, and partly to the over-development that's going on all over this island.

Now, I have it on good authority that new hotels that are constructed near the beach must also install a desalination plant for the water that's to be used in the hotel, so as not to place further strain on the already-overstretched water supply on Rhodes. But the fact still remains that the natural aquifer beneath the island has been dropping for some years now, and the upshot of this is that the sea makes incursions further and further inland metres beneath the surface of the ground. As the aquifers retreat, the seawater advances. It's happening in places like Majorca in Spain too, I hear. Now, this past winter we finally had something like the amount of rainfall that was once normal for Rhodes, thus filling the reservoirs and likely to some extent helping replenish the aquifer to some degree.

From what I'm told by friends who live in town, the water coming out of their taps is now once again sweet and drinkable. Even we here on a hillside in Kiotari did have a few weeks of 'brackish' water coming out of our taps a couple of years ago, which did kill one or two plants in our garden. Some parts of the island had non-potable water coming through the pipes for months, even years. That problem seems to have been alleviated, though, after this past winter. 

So, back to Petros. He'd told me ages ago that the aloe vera plants had suffered, and some died, owing to his having to water them with this - what amounts to - sea water. It was that or nothing. Now, though, we were discussing the fact that his house in Kalathos once again has sweet, potable water coming out of the taps and, like us, they can simply filter it and use it for drinking. They'd had the problem of brackish water for much longer periods of time that us.

Looking at his 'crop' I asked him if it was taking time to recover, now that the water was sweet again. He said, "it's not sweet, Gianni, it's still virtually sea water." Reading the puzzlement on my face, he went on to explain that the water he uses to water the 'farm' comes from a well on his land. If he'd had to use mains water, it would have greatly increased the cost of the project and severely cut his anticipated profit margins. So, there was the rub: the aquifer, since his house is so close to the sea, is still not recovered sufficiently to displace the invading salt water deep underground with fresh water, and thus he still has the same problem, despite the improvement in the quality of the tapwater.

I have to admit to feeling deeply sorry for him, since it looks like the whole project is dead in the water. And that's not intended to be a pun.

He'd invested in the new plants and irrigation system right at the time when the natural aquifer that feeds his well had begun to lose the fight owing to a) tourist development outstripping the available water supply and b) a succession of winters that didn't bring the needed amount of rainfall.

Seems that everywhere you look, man's idiocy when it comes to managing our planet's resources is becoming more and more evident. Even a beautiful Greek island isn't immune. And I must stress that, despite the problems, despite the apparent lack of careful thought going into infrastructure-planning, Rhodes is still largely a wonderful place to be.

So, apart from the delay in our summer of leisure actually getting going, and apart from the ecological changes going on, it's generally really rather quiet around here at the moment.

Back soon.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

A Little Bit of This, and a Little Bit of That...

If you haven't ever heard of Lee Ritenour, then it's time you did. He's a guitar virtuoso from the West Coast of the States who's been at his craft for many decades now and has produced some of the best music I've ever listened to. My favourite album of his was called Rio, and it was packed with all South American rhythms and percussion and stuff, with Ritenour playing acoustic throughout. Why am I droning on about Lee Ritenour? Only because I nicked the title of this post from a track on that album. Plus it gives me the excuse to plug his music.

All kinds of stuff has been trekking through my brain of late. But first, I thought that just for a change I'd start with some photos and then start rambling on, and on and on...





Someone's got it sussed.


Right, in the first two photos (imaginatively labelled 1 and 2) you see why we were rather delighted to have had the opportunity to take a meal at Tsambikos Restaurant in Kolymbia the other evening. The location is nothing to write home about; situated, as it is, on a fairly unattractive section of road leading from the traffic lights at Kolymbia up towards Epta Piges, or Seven Springs (mentioned with photos in this post, and this one. Oh, silly me, this one as well. Hope you have an hour or two). In fact, as soon as you take that turn, it's only when you're about fifty metres from the junction that you see the taverna on your right hand side, and it's right next door to Anthoulas, which we once had difficulty leaving. Now, go on, admit it, you were thinking, 'He's going to refer to yet another older post,' weren't you? Damn right I was. Check this one out and you'll see my report on our one and only visit to Anthoula's back in February 2012. 

The fact that we haven't been back to Anthoula's since then is no reflection on the quality of the food or service. It's merely that it's a location that we seldom have cause to be near to at a time when we need some sustenance.

Having been up to town a few days ago with a friend who needed some assistance with a medical matter, we were driving home in the early evening and all three of us were in no mood to get all the way home and then have to think about what we were going to eat. Solution? Eat out. I don't need much encouragement in that area anyway.

Our friend suggested Tsambikos, after she'd been there once by accident. She and another friend had intended on patronising Anthoula's, but it was closed for renovation, and so they went next door. There are just the two tavernas there, adjacent to each other, and literally nothing else apart from pine trees and the road. Having eaten an excellent meal at Tsambikos, her loyalties were severely tested and she ended up going back there a few more times. Poor Anthoula's. Still, that's life.

Now I have been known to bemoan the fact that when we're on Patmos, we never eat a meal without receiving some kind of freebie at the end. Whereas on Rhodes, it's become a bit of a rarity in recent times. Tsambikos is the exception. Not only did our friend rave about the freebies she's received at Tsambikos in the past, but she convinced us that they were probably as generous any anywhere else in the country. No contest. You've got to give it a go then, haven't you?

The photo labelled '1.' above shows just how generous the lovely people at Tsambikos are. When I called for the bill after a lovely meal, during which the three of us had ordered a meze and all tucked into the various dishes until we were stuffed, they first brought us that delightful box with the logo of the best Mastiha from Chios you can buy (Skinos) on it. It contained a half-bottle of that fab digestif and three themed glasses for us to imbibe. We didn't even finish it, there was so much there for us. Now I know there are some folk who'll make sure they drain every last drop if it's a freebie, irrespective of how much alcohol they've already drunk, but we weren't those kind of people. It's an unexpected kindness that they bring you this gift, so it's good to show a little respect and appreciation. But then, I'm old fashioned. I like to leave a good impression when we get up to leave. I may well be coming again, after all.

Apart, though, from the Mastiha, they also gave us six (two each) little pots of panna cotta and ice cream (just visible beyond the box in the photo) to eat, which went down very well after a good savoury meal. Oh, and when we finally did receive the bill, it came with this...

Nice touch. Now we have something nice and ethnic-looking to put some savoury nibbles in when enjoying that early-evening aperitif.

All in all, the bill came to €41.20 for three of us, so we theorised that, factoring in the freebies, they didn't make much out of us. Yet the staff were very helpful, friendly and attentive, without being obsequious. I'd say there's a real possibility that we'll go there again. Photo no. 2 above was how the place looked from across the road when we left. Anthoula's is next door to the right.

Photos 3 and 4 you need to look at more closely, perhaps click for the larger view. OK, so the Mediterranean Toad is common in these parts, but when you're walking in the backstreets of a large village, as we were doing last Saturday in Arhangelos, and some movement catches your eye as you admire the plants in the pots placed along the edge of the street (which is barely wide enough for two people to pass, leave alone a motor vehicle), you'd probably be as delighted as we were to discover lots of baby toads lurking behind the pots. The street has no water anywhere, there's no drain or stream for miles around, yet somehow these little cuties seem to survive on the water from someone's watering can (or old olive oil tin more likely) which they regularly dowse their potted plants with. No doubt the toads aid in keeping the general level of biting insects in check as well.

The fifth photo I haven't numbered. The caption says it all really.

The next two, captioned 5 and 6, are of one of the apricot trees in our orchard. Boy is it laden with fruit this year. Must have really appreciated the rains we had last winter. We've already sampled a few, and they're truly delicious. The flavour is something you'll never be able to appreciate if you buy 'fresh' apricots in a supermarket in the UK. Last year our landlords were here in June and every apricot they picked was mushy on the inside and had little worms crawling around in there too. This year we've yet to pick one (even fallers) with anything alien on the inside. Hooray. The muesli's looking good in the mornings right now.

Finally, the other day we dropped in to see our good friend Mihali, he of the smallholding in Kalathos who regularly dispenses horticultural advice when we talk about planting vegetables. He's laid up after surgery right now, poor thing. He's had a new knee. At first the surgeons said they couldn't operate because he was too young. We couldn't get our heads around that one at all. Only when we went and sat by his bed did he explain their reasoning. A new knee of the type that he needed is expected to last maybe 15, or twenty years. Had he been sixty or more, they'd have said OK, it'll see you 'out' so to speak. Since he's only in his mid fifties, their logic was that he'd outlive the implant and hence need more surgery when he's an old codger (I know, I know). He was in a good deal of pain, but found it endlessly amusing to think that he's now a small percentage German, since that's where his current knee-joint originated.

The fact that he couldn't get up didn't stop him enthusing when we put it to him that we needed to know what veg to plant at this time of the year. Seems the best thing to go for in the next few weeks will be the black-eyed 'French' beans we'd planted at his suggestion over a decade ago.

Once again he repeated the planting method in case we'd forgotten. You make a small saucer in the soil. You plant one bean each side of the 'dish' and wait until they germinate. Once they're about six inches high you decide which is the more robust of the two and pluck out the other without mercy. 

"Right," we said in unison. "We'll stop by the garden centre and get some to put in."

"June 20th." he replied.

"What?" we responded? 

"June 20th. That's when you must plant them."

I think I've mentioned before that it never ceases to astound us how precise the locals here are regarding dates for planting their vegetables. You simply must comply if you want the best results. Now since Mihalis, like all the other agrotes around here, was born and raised on this land, who are we to argue? June 20th it is. Assuming we can get ourselves to the nursery and buy the beans in time, of course.

And so I round out this post, which has truly been a little bit of this and a little bit of that. 

The other? I'll leave that to your imagination.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Down the Tubes?

The season's well and truly up and running now, as the roads around here well testify. This island is still a wonderful place to visit, at least, parts of it are, yet I can't help feeling that the authorities here are hell-bent on killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

I don't, as a rule, like to dwell on the negatives, but the occasional post of 'realism' is probably the right thing to do. So, this post may seem somewhat less cheery than most, but I shall endeavour to inject a modicum of humour next time. Stick with it until then. I'll say please!!

The Rhodes 'powers that be' are perpetually telling us in the local press about how the numbers of tourists are up by 5% here and 10% there, year-on-year. It must be good, surely? Hmm, well, I'm not so sure. I'll illustrate.

My very good friend is the head chef at a restaurant on the edge of Pefkos. She is an excellent chef and the restaurant where she works has a very good reputation. As far back as the last week of April, she told us that the place was already almost full. I guess we assumed that meant she'd be pretty busy by the time we got to the end of May. Yet, when we spoke last week, we asked her if she was rushed off her feet now and she replied that the restaurant was barely half-full the previous evening.

See, the thing is, in the past most people staying in this area would have been in self-catering accommodation, or at most a modest hotel where they would perhaps get breakfast included. Even today true Grecophiles know that eating out is the heart and soul of a good Greek holiday. Yet the increase in visitor numbers is largely down to the proliferation of the dreaded 'all-inclusive' holiday, which is being ever more aggressively sold to the UK's prospective holidaymakers by the tour operators.

Some adverts on UK TV try to make a virtue out of the advertiser being a company that is exclusively 'all inclusive.' The result? Yes, more people are getting off aeroplanes at the airport, but there is less revenue for all the small businesses across the island, across the country (the world, in fact). Our friend says that she can't remember a time when the restaurant was so empty at the end of May-beginning of June. All the while the local government announces that tourism on Rhodes is booming.

I'm only a very tiny voice, but I beg anyone who reads this, or considers taking a holiday abroad, to remember...

1. All Inclusive hotels bleed very little income into the local economy. Most of the profits go to the owners, many of whom are not even Greeks. Yes, they provide some labour, but it's usually very poorly paid and involves people working ridiculously long hours, seven days a week for six months. They have no life to speak of whatsoever during the summer.

2. I worked on excursions for eleven out of the 14 years that I've lived here. I would be a rich man if I had a Euro for every time a guest on my coach asked me to recommend a restaurant at which to eat out. I'd reply, "but surely you're 'all-inclusive,' you get your meals at the hotel, right?" "Yes," they'd reply, "but the food's awful." Either that or they were so fed up with the same food and the same faces (all of their own nationality, or maybe from other countries, but none of their fellow diners was a Greek), that they were desperate to try something else. One might argue that, well, there you are then, money going into the local economy! OK, so one meal out of a few hundred, when fifteen years ago all those people would have been enriching their lives by eating out in local restaurants and enjoying the hospitality of the local folk.

There can be no doubt, and I stress - it's not the fault of the tourists, they're simply swallowing the propaganda put out by the tour operators - but 'all-inclusive' is relentlessly homogenising the planet and killing off local businesses at a rate of knots.

Do yourself and the local people who live in tourism areas the planet over a favour, holiday 'small' and feel your life being enhanced by the whole travel experience. I've been doing some sums of late, and it's a truth to say that if you find a good quality, modest apartment to stay at, arrange your own flights and transfer, then eat out sensibly, perhaps doing it like the locals, you'll probably pay the same or even less than you would by going 'all inclusive'.

But your abiding memories of that vacation will be infinitely more satisfying. Plus, a few less locals will have closed their businesses due to lack of custom.

Also, since we've lived here in Kiotari, at least five (or more) huge new hotels have been built in our part of the island, all on 'green field' sites. These edifices cater for hundreds, even thousands of guests, virtually all of whom are 'all inclusive' holidaymakers. I was trying to work it out, but even by modest calculations, the extra vehicles on the road in the south of Rhodes from the thousands of hotel guests now staying here hiring cars during the season must have added around 25 to 30% to the traffic on the modest roads around here.

The road system anywhere south of Kolymbia is two-lane only. Plus the roads are often twisty-turny and thus don't allow for overtaking in very many places. It seems to me that the authorities here have given very little thought to how the infrastructure of the island is meant to cope with all the extra cars that all these new guests are hiring. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to discourage you from coming to Rhodes. There are still wonderfully remote places up in the hinterland, with quiet villages and little old men playing backgammon in the kafeneions. All that it still here to be discovered. But facts are facts and the coast roads are being put under much greater strain than they were ten years ago. There are probably five or six thousand more people staying in the area between Lindos and Lahania than there were a decade ago. Probably 90+% of those are all inclusive too.

The power to change all of this is in the hands of those who take summer holidays in foreign countries. It would be so great if more and more people would think a while before booking what the tour operators thrust at them.

Right, rant out of the way, the next post - I promise - will be a riot. 

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Smile. Well, Say Cheese...

As happened last year, our host on Patmos, κύρια Suzanna, kept us supplied with her delicious, home-made cheese. She has a χωράφι [smallholding], up near the village of Kampos, where she keeps goats and chickens, among other things, as well as growing vegetables.

Every morning she's up and out at 4.00am to go and tend to her vegetables and livestock. The cheese she makes from the milk of her own goats and it's delicious. When it came time for us to leave Patmos, just as last year she presented us with a brand new cheese to take home with us. She makes it in a mug-sized steel container with a convoluted surface, so that when it's set she can turn it out on to a plate and it looks like an off-white, mug-sized thingamybob that tapers toward the top, not unlike a mini-model of the mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Once set it's very hard, and you can grate it. I suppose one could describe the container as a giant tea strainer type-thing. Only as well as holes it has a surface that gives the cheese a rippled surface when it comes out of the mold.

It was Suzanna who suggested that her cheese (it's very tangy) goes very well on a 'spag bol,' and so we grated it when we got home and we shall be very sorry when it runs out. But for now, we have it (what's left that is) in a glass container, from which we spooned liberal amounts on to our meal last night. Be prepared to lick your lips...

Incidentally, not wishing to preach or anything, but I challenge any carnivore not to find my wife's vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese entirely delicious.

C'mon chaps, every fella needs to score a few points now and then.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Back on the Block

I know I've already talked about the fact that we're back home, in fact we have been for over a week now, but I had a couple of shots that I hadn't posted, which I'd taken on board the Dodekanisos Pride during the voyage home, so here they are above. The first two were taken during our approach to the gorgeous Symi Harbour and the other one shows you how tantalising is the island chain that we live on. Looking at that map (on the wall inside the salon) as we travelled back, I couldn't help thinking that we still have a lot of work to do, including accepting an open invitation to visit some ex-pats on Tilos. Least I think it's still open. I could be wrong!

We'd only been home a few days when I received a phone call from an unknown local number. I answered the call to find that it was the very helpful man from the KEP office in Lardos, keeping true to his word that he'd call us when our Greek driving licences had arrived. And, wonder of wonders, they had. It had been the middle of February when, after an exasperating few weeks during which we'd had to compile a huge dossier of paperwork in order to transfer both of our licences from UK ones to Greek ones (see 1st photo in this post), we'd finally completed the process while sitting across the desk from this very chap in the Lardos KEP office.

Now, as promised, he'd called to tell us we just needed to drop by and sign for them, and our lovely new shiny Greek licences (all hi-tech with holograms and everything) would be in our hands. Look...

I know, my thumb conceals much of it. I'm not dumb enough to post all my driving licence info on line now, am I. But just look at all that clever hologram-type stuff reflecting in the light.

Last Friday morning we breezed by the KEP office, signed a form each, which our friendly, helpful civil servant had passed across the desk to us, and we were given our licences. They came in specially sealed bespoke envelopes too. It was almost like getting a present, we were so excited! I even almost want to be stopped by the boys in blue now, just so I can flash it!

Since coming home we've been trying to tidy up the garden (funny how weeds seem to deliberately wait until you go away, and then go "Hey chaps, let's get this party going!!" - isn't it?). Already the temperatures during the day are up into the mid-to-high 20's (that's the upper 70's to lower 80's to you poor folk across the pond who have yet to catch up with us modern, metric types over here in Europe), and it's starting to get too warm to do much during the middle of the day. As usual, despite the winter trying to hang on by its fingernails and returning to taunt us several times this spring, the weather seems to change like someone's thrown a switch some time during May and, without warning, we're panting and 'phew-ing' and reaching for those extremely un-cool hats that keep the sun off your nose and ears while out in the garden. Oh, and I've also dug out the factor 50 and begun slapping that on at every opportunity as well. The plus point is, we've already rigged up our hosepipe-shower on the side of the carport and enjoyed a few al fresco cooling sessions in the great outdoors, brill!

Yesterday I walked out into the garden at dawn, must have been around 6.00am, and it was wonderfully calm and peaceful. Already the swallows and swifts were swooping around in the sky taking their breakfast on the wing, not to mention gathering food to feed their chicks, some of which we've already been gazing at in their mud-nests on the building where they nest every year, as we walk past it down to the local beach for a swim. Plus there were bee-eaters, with their distinctive whirring call and pointed wing profile, doing something similar. 

Up the tree-and-shrub-studded hill to my right, though, I heard this cooing sound, primarily two notes of the same pitch repeated. It was not more than fifty metres away, I calculated. We've already seen a few hoopoes around this year, but hadn't heard them. Now I realised, that this was what I was listening to. You want to hear it as well? Click this link. You get visual, too, of these amazing birds. I love them. They're extremely timid of humans, and so not always easy to see from close quarters. Go on, take a look at that link and tell me you don't like hoopoes. [See this post from 2015 for some photos.]

It's taken us a week and more, but just yesterday morning, as we sat in the Gré Café down the road and sipped our freddo espressos after having been down for a morning swim, it finally began to sink in that we're no longer working. George came out to greet us, slapped us on our backs and declared that we were now 'touristes!'

For the past few years we haven't been able to go for a swim in the morning, since one or the other of us had to set the alarm and trundle off to work. Now, since I'm working for the Queen of England, who pays me to stay at home (dashed good of her, isn't it?), we're once more able to do so. It's something we've missed, because the sea's always at its calmest from dawn until around midday, when the sea breezes come up and make the surface become 'corrugated,' as it were. When there are three inch waves (more like ripples, really) coming on-shore, my wife always declares that's it's 'too choppy' to enjoy a swim.

Thus begins the first summer that we can truly anticipate as going to be enjoyable for over a decade. It's almost unbelievable to me that, come August, we'll have been living here 14 years. I wonder what the next 14 will bring.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

A Patmos Postscript

Early evening at the Tsipouradiko Mas restaurant, which has the archetypal location for a Greek meal. This was taken at sundown, and that dish is the legendary Rocket and Parmesan salad that they do there. Accompanying that (not shown) was the truly superb Fava purée with octopus in caramelised sauce. The two dishes together are more than enough to fill you up (especially when you factor in their delicious wholemeal bread) and they comprise a truly legendary feast for the tastebuds.

Well, we came home on Saturday, after seventeen days on Patmos. It was our second visit in as many years and it looks like we've found our 'bolt-hole," as it were. I take nothing for granted though, since we both of us count ourselves truly blessed that we come home to a hillside on Rhodes, with a gorgeous view down the valley to the sea, and we don't have to go to an airport and fly back to colder climes.

Don't get me wrong, there are things about the country of our birth that we truly love, and even some things that we miss, but it has to be said that to live where we now have for nigh on 14 years is a privilege we don't ever fail to appreciate.

Patmos has it all for us. When I say that, what I'm referring to is those things that we always looked for in a Greek holiday, back in the days when a holiday in Greece meant going there for a couple of weeks or so, but then returning to the UK to get on with our 'normal' lives. Since moving out here our lives have borne very little resemblance to what had been the 'normal life' back in the UK, yet everyday life is still everyday life as it always was in many respects, so it's still nice to have a change of scenery now and then. I've often said that in more recent years my wanderlust has faded somewhat, since the kind of life we now live and the environment in which we live it is the stuff of many peoples' dreams, and that is not lost on us. But when I think back to my earliest holidays in Greece, which began in 1977, I always looked for a number of things to make the holiday complete.

You've probably got a list of your own, but here are a few things that make Patmos just right for us...

1. The perfect place to stay. A small apartment, set amongst residential properties, with a wonderful view. The place is run by a lovely, welcoming lady in the shape of Suzanna, who's kindness and helpfulness itself, without being in your face.
2. A bakery within five minutes walk from our front door. 
3. A waterside walk that allows us to both work up an appetite and to walk off the meal afterwards when we go out to eat in the evening.
4. Friendly local people.
5. Just enough life to give the place 'soul,' without it being overrun by tourists.
6. Excellent primarily traditional local restaurants and bars, with prices that are very acceptable.
7. The size of the island, plus the location of our accommodation mean that we don't need to hire a vehicle. walking is a truly beneficial pastime, not to mention extremely de-stressing and good for the health and wellbeing. Oh, and there is a modest local bus service anyway.

There are probably a few more parameters I could add to that list, but Patmos could almost have been designed for us when we muse over what we look for when going somewhere purely for some serious R&R. And we can get there on one boat all the way.

Thus, here we are, home again and already thinking about our next visit. Having the same apartment each time we go is almost the same (but a good deal cheaper!) as owning your own holiday 'gaff,' only without the responsibilities that go with it. Let's face it, a lot of people who own holiday homes or apartments don't spend more than a few weeks each year occupying them anyway, the rest of the time leaving them empty, or letting them to strangers. What's the difference then? We now have a wonderful, comfy, modest apartment that we can use whenever we like, and it's great!

Anyway, I decided to now post a bunch of photos from our last few days on Patmos this time around, most of which have short descriptions to accompany them. Hope you like them. They're not in any particular order, so some of the same scene may be separated by others. Here goes...

This is the beach where sits the Kyma restaurant/bar. That's it at the far end of the tiny bay. Sadly, looks like it's not opening this year. It's just along a lane from Meloi beach.

The puddy tat greeted us from his favourite chair each morning, hoping for a little something from us. It was all cupboard love, but he did enjoy a bit of petting too. His left eye, when we looked closely, had an iris that was fogged-over, so I guess you'd say - since he's a cat - that he has a 'humanaract.' That may be an indicator as to how old he is, although in all other respects he is in good shape and is well looked after.

The actual seaside terrace of the former Kyma restaurant/bar. Imagine, in the UK they'd have been closed down anyway until they fitted cast iron railings all along that quayside for 'health and safety.' The harbour area and Skala village are the other side of that hill in the background.

Street scene in the thick of the old village up behind the seafront, harbour and village square.

Who's that woman? She keep following me around.

More from the backstreets.

A female sparrow taking advantage of the leftovers from the table's previous occupants. "Hmm, I think I'll have that one..."

The tables on the beach at the Tsipouradiko Mas. This was taken from our table in the restaurant itself, just across the road.
Just minutes earlier than the one above it.

I'm being stalked...

The main square, from the Petrino Bar. Closing time for the shops as the people begin to thin out for the night.

The Kyma from behind, taken from a rather lovely block of holiday studios that do look as though they may be open for business later in the season. the gardener needs to get a move on, though.

The sadly neglected WC's at the Kyma. I rather like the rusty stains that make it look like the occupants of the two small plaques, demarcating which loo is which, have had unfortunate accidents.

Oh, and another backstreet in Skala.

As above!

The front right across the road from the legendary Ston Afro, where the chef is my old mate Manolis. I suppose one could call this the 'town beach.'

Harbour scene as glimpsed from a gap in the buildings when one wanders around in the upper area of Skala.

As you'll know if you've read any of my other recent posts, me and the better half have now given up working during the season. This will hopefully mean that we can get out and about a little more often this summer. That should result me me being able to post a few more photos of places here on Rhodes that I haven't previously shown here on RFR. Maybe I'll add some more tavernas and bars to the "Play, Eat, Visit" page too.

Ah well, holiday over, back to the grindstone. Mind you, my grindstone doesn't weigh much these days!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Hijinks and a Hearty Lunch

It's always fun finding an occasion to take the bus on a small island. We've had some of our best times on island buses, because they very often don't just carry your regular 'passenger', but have to double up as handy transport for livestock, supplies, and the occasional postman, to name but a few other uses to which an island bus can be - and very often is - put.

For a few examples of how much fun a bus ride may be on a Greek island (and I'm sure lots of people reading this will already know of such joys), check out this post and this one too from our visit to Naxos in 2014. Also, if you've read my fourth "Ramblings From Rhodes" book "A Plethora of Posts", you may remember our Symi bus trip described in chapter 24, imaginatively entitled "Taking the Bus." Sometimes you can't improve on the original, that's my excuse. This video might tickle your fancy too, as may this blog about it.

Anyway (which is fast becoming one of my favourite words, it seems. Still, anything's better than following that annoying current trend that everyone in the UK seems to have at the moment of starting every sentence with the word 'so'). So, anyway (Aaaargh!) we decided that, after seeing those rather ideal taverna tables laid out under the plane trees on the beach at Kampos last week (see the post "Out and About'), we simply had to go back up there and have lunch. It was simply too picturesque (I refuse to use the word idyllic, all right?) for us to miss such an opportunity. 

Last time we went, we walked it. It may look like a grueller, but it's only forty-five minutes or so from Netia, where we're staying, through some pretty spectacular scenery. This time, however, we thought we'd take the bus, since it only takes about ten minutes to get from where we are to the beach at Kampos. The bus leaves the square beside the port at Skala at 12.30pm, passing the bus stop immediately below our rooms at 12.35, and gets to Kampos Beach at 12.45pm. Doing it this way we could have a coffee in the bar at the end of the beach, walk back to Taverna "Ta Kabourakia" for lunch and then, after having eaten, stroll back to Netia mid-afternoon at our leisure. 

The bus fare is a princely €1.50, and thus we got our small change ready and arrived at the bus stop, just across the road from the boatyard, five minutes early. We got there just in time, in fact, to be able to watch the bus as it drove along the front towards us from Skala, bang on time, too.

Some of the island buses we've taken are actually minibuses, but this one's a full-sized, quite modern one with rather cushy bucket seats. As it approached us and indicated to turn into our road, which is the road that leads all the way to Kampos, my better half said, 

"That driver doesn't half look like Theologos from the Petrino Café-Bar."

Now, there are three regular chaps who serve us at the Petrino, the bar in the square at Skala where all the locals hang out (largely because it's the only one that stays open all winter too), and they are Dimitris, Andreas and Theologos, all of whom have got to know us pretty well by now (There are quite a few photos taken at the Petrino from last year in the post "Patmos People" BTW). They change shifts every few days or so, so that none of them has to work evenings every day for the entire season. Theologos is often to be seen parading the square pushing his baby-buggy during the mornings when he's not on shift, as it were, because his wife is then at work and he's looking after their eighteen-month old cutie. 

Sure enough, as the bus approached the stop to pull up for us to climb aboard, the driver tooted and waved as, not only was it indeed our friend Theo from the bar, but he'd spotted us waiting there too. When you think about it, on an island with only 3,000 inhabitants (that's less than the population of Arhangelos on Rhodes), it's not surprising that they probably can't afford to employ a full time bus driver, and thus a few locals share these duties between them. I well remember my friend Zois, who runs the Babis Taverna on the front at Halki, who also drove the local bus much of the time. After all, it only involved the occasional trip from the waterfront, up past Potamos Beach and then up the mountain, past the abandoned village and on up to a little old church at the top, then back again. Maybe he'd do this two or three times in a day. So it oughtn't to have surprised us that the bus driver was someone we'd already met. 

As we got on, my wife said "Are you sure you've got a licence to drive this thing?"

Of course, Theo treated this remark as hilarious and, as we proffered our fares, told us to worry about those later.

On board the bus, which seats probably fifty, was a mere handful of people. There were a couple of German and French tourists and one or two local 'seniors.' The only bus stop to speak of, after we got on, is at the square at Kampos where we'd been for a coffee a few days earlier, at the delightful Aroma café. When we stopped there, two girls of school age got on, apparently going to the end of the route, which is not much further up the lane from the beach where we were to get off.

Once we'd got off and suggested that Theo might also be the island's Doctor, or perhaps estate agent, which raised a chuckle from him as he said "See you tonight!", we made our way to the end of the beach to have a coffee at George's Bar.

Nothing personal intended, but although the location of this bar is rather nice, we weren't all that impressed with it. Maybe it was because we thought the prices just a tad 'captive audience' infected, or perhaps the staff were not as friendly as we've been used to, I don't know. Plus, all the clientele, such as it was, was composed of foreigners, like ourselves I have to admit. Never mind, we passed a pleasant enough half an hour or so over some nice, if rather strong frappés, paid up and set off along the beach for the taverna for lunch.

Whilst it's completely understandable that the government wants to ensure that all businesses pay their taxes, there are (as all Hellenophiles will know) some old ways that those of us who've been coming here for decades are ruing the loss of. One of these, I'm happy to say, is still alive and well at Kampos Beach. Now, let me say at the outset, before any taxmen reading this get the wrong idea, when we asked for our bill, it came, as it ought, on a printed receipt, OK? Good, that's got that out of the way. But I remember the days when you'd go into a traditional taverna and there would be no menu, the proprietor would simply either invite you into the kitchen, or list verbally what's on that particular day. 

We got ourselves comfy in the simply superb setting of the beach tables...

The lovely old frontage of the building, across the narrow road from the beach, where we planted ourselves.
Not long after we'd made ourselves comfortable, out came the portly proprietor, a plump man with a jolly double chin and teeth that wouldn't have won any prizes in the 'best aligned set of teeth' championships. One or two I remember had actually gone off into retirement too. As he laid the paper table cloth and secured it with those ubiquitous metal clips, to stop the breeze from taking it away, we asked if he could give us the menus.

"Um, no. Don't have menus." He replied, but continued, "But here's what's on today..." And then proceeded to list what was indeed, 'on.' The only problem with this system is the diners being able to remember what he describes. We were aided, of course, by the fact that, once, as he took a breath, we were able to interject that we didn't eat meat, the list could be shortened somewhat. To be honest, we only wanted something light anyway, since we were still planning to eat out that evening. The important thing to us was the occasion and the environs (I know, that's two things really. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition). So, after having settled on a green salad, a plate of gigantes and a portion of chips (see this post!!), plus a large bottle of water, he went off to prepare our order and we settled into our chairs to admire the view. We did, however, both remark on how nice it was to find a place where they still do things the old way.

We hadn't been there more than five minutes, when four young Greek lads turned up on two scooters, flipped them on to their stands and rough-and-tumbled over to join us at the beach tables. They were joking about and, as they approached and selected the table next to ours, said to us:

"Sorry, are we ruining your peace and quiet?" 

They were all wearing posh sunglasses and touting iPhones, but were sporting very short hair and - amazingly - no beards. We found out the reason for this within a few minutes of their arrival. We answered that no they were not spoiling anything, but in fact were very welcome to sit nearby. So the conversation ensued in which they told us they were conscripts doing their National Service and had been given a couple of days off. They were based on Kos and had taken the boat to Patmos for 48 hours or so. 

As they set about a heated discussion with the proprietor over what they were going to order, we remarked on the difference between lads like these and the majority of their peers back in the UK. Now, I don't want to upset anyone, no offence is intended, but we do rather believe that the youth here in Greece are of a completely different disposition to most of those in the UK. OK, I am generalising somewhat I know, but we were quite sure that, had this been a comparable situation in the UK then they'd have a) set about drinking a darned sight more than these boys did, and, more importantly b) been a lot less happy-go-lucky and respectful toward us. 

In fact, as they were horsing around taking photos with their phones, I asked them if they'd take my iPad and take a shot of us, with the sea in the background. They had us in stitches as they decided who'd be best qualified to take the photo, and the results are below...

The above shot was a selfie that the one who took our photos decided he needed to add to the collection. One of the other lads is behind him and the other two are this side of the camera, aping him as he does the shot. I think it shows from the expression on my face (at least in the first two!) how much fun we were having with these chaps.

And this was our lunch. Modest, but just perfect to keep one going until the evening. The chips were hand-cut and lovely and light, and the gigantes were excellent. The spring onion in the salad added just the right amount of zing to it too. That's the 4 lads' table in the background.
Once we'd all settled down to the serious business of eating, things quietened down a little. When the time came for me to ask for our bill, the owner's wife told us to hang around while she prepared a little something for us. It turned out to be some chopped honeydew melon (the first we'd had this season), on the house, of course.

It was around 3.00pm when we set out for home, taking this photo as we reached the end of the beach and turned up the hill toward the village of Kampos...

On the way back, you pass a spectacular view of Agriolivadi beach...

We were about two thirds of the way home, just walking down the hill past the military camp, when a couple of scooters hared past us, horns tooting and hands waving maniacally. It was the boys from the next-door table back at the beach, making sure we knew that we'd been spotted as they headed back to Skala themselves.

Quite frankly, far from ruining the peace of our beachside lunch, they'd quite made our day.

Once we got home, there was our resident sentinel on duty outside the door to welcome us back...