Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Get Up and Go

After a few months being glued to my keyboard writing Panayiota, it's time I got moving. Neither of us likes to be too sedentary for too long, so we decided it was high time we went out in the garden and pruned everything in sight.

If you've ever been here at this time of the year, you'll know that the Greeks don't mess about with the trees along the roadside and in the pavements (sidewalks, guys) in villages and towns. They set to with the old chainsaw and literally brutalise them. It never seems to do them any harm, because, usually, by half-way through the tourist season they're once again gently swaying in the breeze with a lush green canopy providing welcome shade to anyone passing on shank's pony.

We've got this tree in the garden that we planted ourselves a few years ago and it's gone ballistic. We like it a lot, but it does have the habit of growing zillions of long narrow pods, that start out green and eventually turn brown and crispy, before dropping thousands of tiny black seeds everywhere, each one of which sets about trying to grow a duplicate of the mother tree. It's a constant battle to prevent the garden becoming a forest.

We've pruned it gingerly on a few occasions, but we've always been too fearful of going too far. This has meant that it's still been left with hundreds of seed pods still hanging in it, all ready and eager to send their contents spraying all over the pathways and beds.

This time I decided to take a leaf (see what I did there?) out of the Greeks' book, so we got the chainsaw out and, since it was such a lovely day today, kept going until we'd accomplished a major change in the tree's appearance. Tonight, as I write this, we're both knackered, but extremely happy with the result, which still isn't as extreme as it would have been, had a couple of Greeks done the job, but the pods are all gone, at least for a while...

Yes, I had used a stepladder by the way, to get to the high bits!

I do believe that it was almost as warm here today as in the UK!!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

The Sweet Smell of Success

See, the thing about Greece is, for all the negatives and the gripes - indeed the justifiable gripes - we have about the endless bureaucracy one has to endure here, sometimes she surprises you. 

We finally had all the bits of paper we needed in order to get our driving licences converted to Greek ones and, following the advice of a few friends and the woman in the KEP office at Arhangelos, we decided to go straight to the KTEO office in town to get the process finally under way. We thought about going on a Monday, but then remembered that, apart from the national 'yiortes' they have every five minutes over here, which have often in the past meant we'd gone all the way to town only to find everything closed, there is a selection of local ones too that can often catch you unawares and again find offices closed on a Monday.

So, we decided to go last Friday. Nice ordinary weekday that Friday is, right?


After almost an hour in the car, we drove into the KTEO compound, parked up, grabbed the huge file off the back seat and made our way into the building. Once inside we were struck by the decided lack of people. Wandering along the corridor to the office where we'd been before, we found the door closed and the dreaded A4 print-out stuck to the outside saying: Office hours 8.00am - 2.00pm Monday to Thursday. Closed on Fridays.

We are talking about a government department here, right? I mean, one which exists for the benefit of the populace, yeah? 

I can't even begin to describe how we felt right at that moment, except that, trying hard as we are these days to keep looking for the positives, we decided to shoot on into town and have a wander around the shops, where the sales are still on, and have a drink somewhere, plus maybe lunch. The driving licence applications could wait a few more days. We'd go this time to the KEP office in Lardos village and hope for the best.

Thus, we found ourselves half an hour later wandering around town and sitting in one of our fave little cafés, People & People, right along the front at Mandraki harbour...

It's green tea, OK? NOT beer!! I'm on a bit of a de-tox right now. The better half was drinking filter coffee.

I know, considering the fact that it was a wasted journey, she looks surprisingly upbeat. Well, we did hit the shops I suppose...
So, to continue with the saga, and arrive at the bit where you understand the reason for the title of this post. Last Tuesday we set off for Lardos, which is mercifully only ten minutes drive up the road for us. A good friend had told us that the bloke in the KEP office there was very nice and helpful. That remained to be seen. Going into the office I saw a man sitting at a desk in the first room to my right, and he didn't have any customers! That's a first in itself. I asked him where we needed to go to get our driving licences transferred and, guess what, he said "I'll do it."

I wasn't sure I'd heard him right. The better half was already in another office waiting to ask there, so I called her back rather over-enthusiastically and we sat ourselves down in front of him. After a brief explanation about how we'd been to KEP in Arhangelos, then to KTEO in town, and how I'd gone and got my extra paperwork from the cardiologist and the ophthalmic surgeon, plus paid my two extra 'parabola', I thrust my big fat folder at him. If you saw the photo in the previous post about this saga, you'll just about make out the large cardboard folder under all that paperwork. This was what the fella in the KTEO office had put all my paperwork in (well, the stuff I had up that point, which was still a long way from all of it). This folder, now contained everything (or so I believed) required for my licence conversion to begin.

The man opened the folder and I experienced feelings like ...how can I compare them? It was like waiting to hear the results of some serious medical test, or to hear if I had qualified for a brilliant job I'd been interviewed for. Heart firmly in mouth, I waited while he carefully examined every sheet of paper very slowly. Just when I was certain that he was going to say, "Well, you still haven't got your..." he said, "OK." 

That was it, "OK." I've never felt so relieved in all my life. Well, maybe once when I got away with sneaking in at three in the morning when I was still only 16. My parents didn't even hear my turning up on my Lambretta. He began typing at his keyboard, and the process was under way. As he was about half-way through preparing the paperwork that he'd be printing out for me to keep in the car in case the Police stop me while I'm waiting for my new licence, I showed him my wife's paperwork too, adding, "She's a little younger than me, look how much less paperwork she needs, eh?" Her papers were in a see-thru plastic folder.

"Um," he said, "you don't have a 'fakelo?' You don't have a folder to keep your wife's papers in?" Here we go, yet another problem threatening to put a stop on things.

"It's all there." I replied, "Everything she needs, it's all there."

"But it needs to be in folder like yours. Where did you get your folder? Didn't you get two, one for each of you?" I've got to be honest, he wasn't being awkward, he was charm and civility itself, but it still didn't alter the fact that we were one folder down.

"The man in the KTEO office gave me that folder," I replied. "He never got around to looking at my wife's papers, after he'd spent a quarter of an hour explaining all the extra stuff that I was going to need."

"Well, I'm sorry, but I need your wife's papers to be in a folder like yours."

Just when we were envisioning a mad dash 20 km up the road to the stationers in Arhangelos, with the probability that we wouldn't get back here before his office closed for the day, he saved the situation. What a nice chap.

"You can get one in the stationers here in the village..." Now, not in a million years would I have thought there was a stationers in Lardos, a village of just about 1,000 souls. But, when he described where it is, we remembered. It's a tiny shop where we used to go to buy newspapers, down a backstreet. So I suggested my sweetie go off and purchase her folder while our friend behind the desk got on with finishing processing my licence first.

It was not more that two or there minutes walk from the KEP office, which was why I was just beginning to worry when she hadn't returned after a quarter of an hour. The KEP man had finished my conversion paperwork and had printed out the forms I was to keep, when she eventually came back through the door, and she was carrying a folder of the correct size and design. Phew.

"Sorry I took so long. The place was closed. There's a stairway beside the door, leading up to a flat above. So I went up there, but it was an Albanian couple living there and they couldn't help. Coming back down I saw an old papou in the yard next-door. He said, 'You want Maria? Hold on.' With that he let out a banshee's cry of 'Mariiiiiiaaaaa!' - but it worked. Out of nowhere appeared this little old lady, who scuffled to the front door of the shop and opened it. Seems she only ever opens up when someone shouts for her. Anyway, she had the right kind of folders and this one set me back €1.20. All's well that ends well."

Thus it was, my friends, that half an hour after entering the KEP office at Lardos, feeling extremely dubious about the chances of success, we emerged with our "Statement of Driving Licence Conversion", one each, and a feeling of relief that probably exceeds even that experienced by someone who's just got over a particularly bad bout of constipation.

The chap behind the desk in the KEP office at Lardos knew how to treat his clientele, and we really liked him. He told he that he'd be phoning us when our new Greek licences arrived, which probably won't be for a few months yet. We don't care, as long as we have the appropriate paperwork to show that the process is under way (which includes photocopies of our current licences anyway) we're in fairyland right now.

Changing the subject completely, we've finally hit on some normal winter weather, after what was officially the wettest January for decades. Yesterday, we went to visit a friend in Lindos, who was out. Never mind, we sat outside for a drink at the Ice Bar and then took a wander through the village. It was too warm to keep our jackets on much of the time. Here are some photos, hope you like them...

OK, so I'm drinking a filter coffee. A week without any coffee was enough! But I'm still de-toxing everything else, honest.

The anemones are truly miraculous this year. These are on the bank above the archeological ruin/stoneyard just beside Krana Square.

Old Kleo standing sentinel.

Winter on Rhodes. Even with all the rain we've had, it ain't bad is it?

One more for you. This morning it's very warm, but hazy. It's shirtsleeve weather outside, but the sea is as calm as a kitchen worktop, plus, with the haze you can't see the horizon. Thus, this tanker, anchored in the bay, looks like it's in the sky...

The ship in the sky?

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Driving One Crazy?

So, to the ongoing saga of getting our driving licences converted to Greek ones. TBH, it's the last piece of the jig-saw when it comes to our living here. Of course, with the prospect looming large of Britain exiting the European Union, it was all the impetus we needed to get on with it, since, if we don't have Greek licences after the UK has left, there is the real possibility of having to take a driving test again.

So, off we went to the KEP office, armed with my list that I'd nicked from fellow blogger James Collins (thanks James, big help BTW!) to sort out the €30 'parabolo', and I know I nattered on about this in the post "How Will You Find the Time?" But here's the rest of the story, and it's not brief.

Firstly, just to help you get some idea of how involved it is to get your licence converted to a Greek one if you've turned that magic age of 65, take a look at this photo...

And not all of the papers are visible in this shot either!
Impressive, eh? See, to change your licence to a Greek one if you're fortunate enough to be still under 65, is dead easy (laughs). You need to go to a lawyer, and get an official translation of your UK licence, rubber stamped (of course) and signed. The lawyer will also have to rubber stamp and sign photocopies of your residency permits and passports.

You'll also need to have four photos, mugshots just like passport ones, and they must be exactly the right size. Oh, and you have to go to the KEP office, get them to print out the "parabolo" as I mentioned earlier, then take it to a bank or post office and pay a €30 fee. Once you've got all that done, you're ready to go either directly to the KTEO office, or to the local KEP, where they'll give you yet another form to fill out and hopefully begin the process, which takes several months!

Now, here's the thing, if you just happen to have passed that magic number of 65, age-wise, it all gets much more complicated. That's what accounts for the dossier that you see in that photo. Of course, here I ought to mention that I'm not actually 65, that's only what my birth certificate shows, but there must be some mistake somewhere, because I could have sworn I was only 19. Incidentally, never trust a mirror, they'll always try and convince you that you've turned into your Dad overnight.

We'd gone to the KEP office in Arhangelos to hopefully get things under way, and the woman there (not the nice fella we'd seen the previous time) told us that it was better if we went directly to the KTEO office, on the edge of town. 

"See, if you ask us to process it, we only have to go through them anyway, so you'll get the whole thing done quicker if you go direct."

Seemed to make sense to us. So, since Arhangelos is already half-way to town from our place anyway, we bit the bullet and headed further north. Once we got to the KTEO centre (it doubles as a vehicle testing centre too) we went inside and, to cut a long story short, well, shorter, we eventually got to the right office. 

If you've ever read Charles Dickens, or indeed watched any half-decent TV dramatisation of one of his books, you'll know what an "office" in 18th century England would look like. Well, this office in the KTEO building did a pretty good impersonation of that. There were two modestly-sized desks, behind which sat a couple of clerks, one female, one male. They were at right angles to each other, but, what catches your eye first is the shelving system you see behind them, which occupies probably 60% of the room's floor area. From floor to ceiling you see nothing but cardboard files and folders, all stacked vertically and cramming every available space from wall to wall. I can't remember the last time I saw so many physical files in one room. It makes one wonder just what percentage of the Greek bureaucracy has yet made it to computer systems. It ain't much that's for sure.

As it happened, for some miraculous reason we arrived at the desk to find no one in front of us. We'd not been in there more that a minute when we had four of five people queueing up behind us. It all started so well. The girl behind the desk looked at my various papers, all rubber-stamped and signed and everything. She began by printing out the next form for me to fill in and sign, then stopped, re-examined something (had to have been my date of birth) got up from her desk, apologised and left the room. She came back three or four minutes later and suggested we go and see her colleague Kosta in another office along the corridor. 

Oh, oh. Once in Kosta's office things soon took a turn for the worse.

"You are 65 years old," he said. I felt like saying, "You know what? I knew that!" But thought better of it. Never get on the wrong side of these people, that's something I've learned over the years. 

"Well, you need more than this. You need to pay two more "parabola", plus you'll need a signed report from a cardiologist, as well as the same thing from an ophthalmic surgeon. Come back when you have those."

Visions of running from pillar to post and forking out Euros like confetti flooded my mind. I asked him to explain further. To his credit, he whipped out a piece of paper and wrote it all down for me. Two extra 'parabola', much like the €30 one, but one costs €50 and the other €18. The cardiologist and the eye surgeon will charge €10 each for their services. Oh joy.

Thus it was that two days ago I was back in Arhangelos getting my Cardiologist's signed form and the one from the optician. The cardiologist, when you tell him what it is you need, sits you down, takes your blood pressure and then asks you for a photo to attach to the form. Be warned, you'll need one for both the cardiologist and the eye surgeon. Fortunately, purely by chance, I had a few floating around in the file I carry with me. Phew, another visit to the photographer narrowly averted. The eye surgeon slides a card in front of each eye and gets you to read a few numbers on a wall chart. Then he too fills out his form, stamps it and you hand over your ten Euros.

I have (truly I have!) cut this story down as best I could. Once I got home with all the forms, the two new 'parabola' plus the two reports from the Cardiologist and the eye surgeon, I decided to check over the €50 and the €18 parabola. Couldn't tell the difference. The only obvious difference is the charge that's specified on each of them. Thus, my friends, if you're 65 or over, you'll have forked out the following if you want to have your driving licence converted to a Greek one, something which you are best advised to do now that the UK is clearing off from the EU:

1. €50 per head for the lawyer's services (driving licence translation/photocopy of passport plus residency permit, all rubber-stamped and signed of course)
2. A total of €98 paid for the rather suspect "parabola" (three of them!)
3. €14 a head for passport-type photos.
4. €10 for the cardiologist's form.
5. €10 for the eye surgeon's form.

My friends, it's cost me so far €182. Plus we've paid out €60 for my better half's version as well.

And they say the Greek government is broke.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Waves of Emptiness

A photo-heavy posts for you today. First, a few photos from the local beach here in Kiotari from Wednesday February 6th, around midday. 

Then a bunch of shots from Friday February 8th, mid-afternoon, in Old Rhodes Town.

Hope you like them...

Could almost be Cornwall!

We know this stretch of beach well, and yet we couldn't recall ever seeing that tree so engulfed in the sea before. After some pretty horrendous winds recently, the beach has effectively been eaten away. There will be a lot of beach-landscaping done before the season begins, that's for sure.

Just a tad quieter than August, eh?

You won't see cars all the way up Socratous St. like this in the season.

As you can see, there are places open all year round. This one's only this quiet because it's siesta time.

There are some major renovation works going on in the Street of the Knights. Don't worry, once the season begins it'll all be done and dusted. But then again...

"You're NOT taking ANOTHER photo, surely!"

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The Thing is, What Do You Wash it Down With?

On Feb 1st, on my Facebook "Published Works" page, I posted a photo of my wife's superb Briam, just before I made it disappear. Fortunately, she'd made enough for me to do the same trick the following day too.

Here's the photo, in case you haven't seen it...

I was asked by one or two people to share the recipe. Now, here's the thing, I can do that, but you have to remember, the recipe you're about to see on the page I've photographed below is only half the story. Firstly, though, here it is...

You'll need to click for a larger view to read it all.
The page is from an excellent book which she often consults. It's called "The Complete Book of Greek Cooking" and it's written by Rena Salaman and Jan Cutler. It's also wonderfully illustrated throughout with excellent photographs, as you can see from the page above. Here's the cover...

Now, although my better half does consult this and other books, it's also a fact that she knows how to cook a lot of traditional Greek food as a result of her Greek heritage. But it never does any harm to have a peep at books like this too, does it? Which brings me to my comment about recipes like this one being only half the story. When you look at the ingredients, they're not really a fixed thing. They depend on the season. For example there is no mention in the recipe in the book of carrots or aubergines (eggplant, guys). If you look closely at the photo of the dish that I demolished, you'll see broccoli in there too. So the thing about briam is, you chuck in whatever you have in the larder.

If you make it right, though, which my beloved certainly does, you'd have to go a long way to find a nicer-tasting dish, ideal for winter evenings when it's cold and rainy outside, and the log-burner is blazing indoors.

That brings me neatly to the reason I named this post "The Thing is, What Do You Wash it Down With?" If you've ever been invited to a meal in the home of a Greek family, you cannot fail to have noticed that very often, taking pride of place on the table along with the food, is a bottle or two of regular Coca Cola. I mean, c'mon chaps! But it's true I tell you. We get invited to various friends' homes quite often during the winter months, and there are often ten people around the table. Yet, where you or I would have a bottle or two of Retsina, or perhaps a nice chilled white or full-bodied red, your average Greek household will think you can't enjoy a nice meal without washing it down with that brown, fizzy stuff that's full of sugar and cleans old coins brilliantly.

It's happened so often that we've come to realise that they must really believe all the hype that they used to pump out about Coke back in the days before advertising standards made them stop it. The bloke who's credited with inventing it (although he borrowed from a few other drinks in the process), used to claim that it was a cure for many diseases, including morphine addiction, indigestion, nerve disorders, headaches, and even impotence!! Apparently, a typical can of the stuff contains 38 grams of sugar, so goodness only knows how much is in a bottle.

Ah, well, there you go I suppose. When you live in a country where the home cooking is indescribably healthy, wholesome and tasty, I suppose one can forgive them a weakness for fizzy caffeine-charged fluid that's better used to clean your loo (in my opinion). Still, all the more reason to take a bottle along with you when you get the next invite. 

Not that bottle!!! I mean a glass one, preferably with a cork.

And finally, a couple of photos I took the other day. We've actually been enjoying a few more typical winter days of late, with bright sunshine and temperatures around 18ºC. T-shirt weather, in fact. The rains have certainly made the countryside look beautiful though, don't you think?