Thursday, 28 March 2019

Nostalgia, not what it used to be

Since I've now given up working as an excursion escort, I've been trawling through old photographs of the glory days of doing boat trips. So, here are some acutely embarrassing photos taken over the past decade or so whilst doing "Bay to Bay" and "Lazy Day Cruise", plus one or two from Halki as well. At least there are one or two passably OK ones in there somewhere.

They're not in any particular order, so I'll just caption them...

This is me with the inimitable Mihali, whose boat The 'Captain Mike' is named after him. He's a true one-off and was always a lot of fun to work with.

Babis, who runs the wonderful Odyssey Taverna in the Old Town. I count him as a true friend after all these years. Me and the better half will continue to patronise the Odyssey at every opportunity.

Arriving on Halki and making a spirited attempt at communicating our departure time for the six or more language groups that we used to have aboard the boat.

The bow of the Captain Mike (I think!)

My beloved and I with Mihali and his mum Levkosia, who makes the best moussaka in Greece. This is at their lovely traditional taverna on the front at Halki.

I've worked on some truly lovely boats, with some first class people. Here's Adonis, who owns the beautiful Magellanos, waiting for my party to board at Kolymbia.

The Magellanos at anchor.

Getting all reflective on the bowsprit of the Magellanos (Oh, yes, I know all the nautical terms. The bowsprit's at the sharp end).

My good friend Zois, who's a Rory Gallagher fan. He also runs the Babis taverna on the front at Halki. Knows a good tuna when he hears one, right?

At yet another of my fave tavernas on Halki, Maria's. Location-wise, it's one of my favourite places in the world to eat.

Manolis the TUI driver, whose heart is as big as his girth. During the school holidays his son Stratos used to come along with us and he'd serve as my "secretary," taking the tickets from the guests on the coach.

One of our many sightings of dolphins. Here it's Kalathos Bay and a mother and her calf swam around the boat for several minutes on this occasion.

Heading away from Lindos on board the "Lindos."

This is Dimitris and his sartorially elegant dad Kostas (he of the hat with ear-flaps!) on their way to the beach to collect the guests after their lunch. The Lindos is at anchor behind them.

Again aboard the Lindos, with Kostas (left) and his son Dimitri (right). These two were exceptionally nice to me during my time working with them. Kostas always made sure he had a few Fix beers at the bottom of the ice box for us, often remarking that the tourists could have the Mythos, but the Fix we kept for the crew. If you ever go on the Lindos and they're playing reggae music, it'll be from an MP3 CD that I made for them.

Another shot with Zois on Halki.

The "Free Spirit" in St. Paul's Bay, Lindos, a classic old Greek cargo boat. She's had a major refit since this was taken and is now even more enjoyable to spend a day aboard. Many people would assume such a beautifully shaped boat was built for fishing, yet many of these were built to carry goods between islands.

On board with the TUI Lazy Day cruise. That young lady serving the rather sumptuous lunch is Vaso, the owner of the catering firm that used to service the culinary needs of the guests. Those lunches were legendary and the company supplies ready meals for all kinds of businesses on Rhodes. The company's called Omorfos (beautiful) and their vans can be seen all over the island during the season. Vaso is one smart young lady.

Heading out for another hard day's relaxing on board the "Free Spirit." I sacrificed much for my guests.

The stern of the Madalena, the boat I worked on for the last couple of season. The Captain's name was Kosmas.

That's me, top right, conscientiously ensuring the safety of my guests you understand.

On board the Captain Mike, when I worked with my good friend and proud South Walean, Sharon. She would always get the party going and here I was slaving away trying to be a rapper. Hey, some of us have it and some of us don't I guess.

Yeah, I know, you were thinking "Surely that's Jazzy J Zee, or MC Lumphammer or something, eh? Eh?

The warm-down after the 'show.'
And so, there you have it peeps. My career as an excursion escort, tragically cut short by 'jobsworth' mentality on the part of some, yet holding some lovely memories for me. If you ever came along with me on any of those trips, thanks. It was a pleasure and a privilege.

Monday, 25 March 2019

A Veritable Cornucopia

Had a coffee (Freddo Espresso) at Haraki Dreams yesterday (Excuse for some photos showing the fabulous sea and sun of a sunny March day on Rhodes)...

Of course, Sunday is 'volta' day for Greek families anyway, but since this weekend it's also a double celebration in Greece, the families were out in force. It's a three-day celebration that revolves around March 25th, the day when they celebrate the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. They also 'celebrate' the 'annunciation', reputed to be when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a son. March 25th, the Orthodox Church is quick to point out, is exactly 9 months before Christmas. 

You can skip this paragraph if you like. But there might just be some who are interested in what's logical and factual, so I'll put it in anyway..
The only problem is, a quick bit of mathematics makes it easy to work out that Jesus was actually born in early October, and not December 25th at all. December 25th was selected in order to fuse pagan sun worship with 'Christianity' a full three centuries and more after the death of Christ. If you want to know how it can be deduced that he was actually born in October (and I know, some of you have already glazed over! I did warn you about this paragraph), it's easy. The prophecies (especially in the book of Daniel) specify that Christ's ministry would last exactly three and a half years. Since history is definite about the date of his death, which was in the spring, then you only have to count 6 months forward or backwards from then to arrive in the autumn as the time for his birth. Slam dunk. Regular readers of my rubbish will know that I have little time for any religion that claims that God belongs exclusively to their country anyway. Sadly, this applies to most, not simply to the Greek Orthodox. And, despite all that healthy cynicism, I still love living here.

So, the front at Haraki was great for people-watching and, as you can see from the photos above, the weather was absolutely perfect, just over 20ºC and very clear. In fact, from most of the east coast of Rhodes you could catch a breathtaking view of the snow-capped Turkish mountains, magic.

Driving along the road on our way from Haraki to Lardos for lunch, we were reminded of an occasion when we'd been travelling up to town some years back with a female Greek friend. She was the one driving, as it happens, and for most of the time she was slap, bang in the middle of the road, her wheels equidistant on both sides of the centre lines. At the time, peeking out from between our fingers, we just thought it was her, but have since seen it so often that we've come to the conclusion that a lot of Greeks have this idea that they're supposed to be in the middle of the road, unless something comes in the other direction, at which point they'll veer to the right to get into the correct lane, usually avoiding the oncoming vehicle by a gnat's whisker. We followed several cars today that did the same. As it happens, the roads are still pretty quiet (just as well, eh?), but won't be for many more weeks now, as the tourist season approaches at a rate of knots.

Talking of 'heart in the mouth' moments. we also witnessed some pretty hairy antics from riders of some very big motorbikes too. Coming from Haraki on our way to Lardos, the road approaching Kalathos is dead straight, with only a couple of gentle curves, for several kilometers. At one point, just south of Massari, we came up behind a beast of a bike with a rider and his girlfriend on the back tootling along quite slowly. Thus, I decided I'd go on past. No sooner had I got alongside them, than the bloke 'driving' opened his throttle and they tore off into the distance at a speed approaching that at which an airliner would be making just before take-off. Here's the thing though, neither the rider nor his lovely young girlfriend were wearing helmets and they only had what looked like basic trainers on their feet.

Now, peeps, I'm no killjoy and I used to be a biker myself. But I also know that if you ride a 750 or something bigger, at terrifying speed, you need to have a) protection for your bonce and, b) the same for your feet. If you come off at that speed you die. But if, by some miracle, you don't, then you'll probably lose a foot or two if you're not wearing suitable footwear. Fact. It wasn't long before this bike caught up with another, very similar one, which also had a couple astride it and they too were without helmets. Here on Rhodes there is a bit of a tradition for bikers to do a round-the-island jaunt on Sundays. I well remember my good friend Kostas, he who has the sun-beds on a local beach, telling me that every year there are accidents in which riders or their pillion passengers (or both) don't come home. Well, correction, they do, but in a box. 

On a much lighter note, when we arrived at Savvas Grill, in Lardos at around 2.45pm, intent on enjoying a very fine and exceptionally good-value Sunday lunch, we heard the cacophony before we even saw it. Trotting up the front steps, we were greeted by a restaurant packed to the gills with Greeks of a certain age. You know what I mean, there were probably a few thousand Euros worth of perms and colour rinses atop the females, and the males were nearly all wearing the regulation plaid, or check, shirt under their suit jackets. I know it's a 'yiorti' weekend, but we were still surprised by the number of people in that restaurant. I soon got to the bottom of it, by accident really. Luckily for us, there had just been a modest table vacated when we went in, so we were able to sit down. Savvas had reinforcements waiting at tables, something he rarely needs. Not only was his son running himself ragged, but his daughter and son-in-law also were keeping the clientele well serviced. 

As it happened, right next to our table there was someone I knew. Sitting alone at a small table was a certain Adonis, a slightly rotund and very friendly coach driver whom I've known for many years, having once worked for his company doing excursions. I asked him how come he was here in Lardos, since he works from the other side of the island and lives in Ixia, and he told me that it was he who was driving this huge party of revellers on a day excursion from his part of the island. Aha! Mystery solved. 

We were served pretty quickly, when one takes into account the sheer workload of the staff, and ordered what we often order in Savvas: oven potatoes, a green salad of lettuce and spring onions, gigantes (big beans) and chick pea rissoles (revithokeftedes). We added to that a bottle of Retsina and one of water. It was, as always, delicious, healthy and filling, and the whole lunch set us back €20. The family, as always, greeted us with warmth, like old friends, which I suppose we almost are by now, having been going there off and on for over thirteen years and counting.

Just as we were beginning to find one woman's screechy voice (which rose above the melee due to its sheer volume) a little grating, the coach party of mainly pensioners began rising from their tables to leave. Adonis went off to fetch the coach and at four o'clock prompt, they were all climbing aboard after slapping Savvas and his trusty family hard on the backs in appreciation for an excellent lunch which was had by all. Most of them, who didn't know us from Adam, also smiled and bade us a smiley, spoken farewell as they left, and soon the place was down to two or three occupied tables, with huge piles of debris on the rest.

Returning for a moment to the plaid shirt phenomenon. I wrote some years back about the penchant that most middle-aged Greek men seem to have for wearing horizontally-striped polo shirts. I theorised that there must be some gent's clothing retailer somewhere that is making a fortune from these fashion disasters. It's true I tell you. Now that I've mentioned it, you look. Go on, next time you're out and about here in Greece, just count the number of pot-bellied men, greying at the temples if they still have any hair at all, that are wearing horizontally-striped polo shirts. Where do they get them from? When they dress up in their Sunday best and actually put on a suit jacket (well, some were wearing anorak-type things, but only a few), which means wearing a shirt, it seems that the vast majority cast off their stripy polo shirts and reach for the regulation plaid/check shirt instead. If I had a Euro for every bloke wearing some version or other of a plaid or check-patterned shirt in that restaurant, I'd have easily paid for our meal with quite a lot of change. Maybe it's me, because I can't recall ever seeing a shirt like that on a rack in any clothes shop that I've ever been in, so where do they get them from? Same bloke who stocks the striped polo shirts I shouldn't wonder.

Finally, since there were so many people for us to 'watch' while we took lunch in Savvas Grill, we were able to easily discern who among them were the really religious ones. You may know that here in Greece, during Lent, they're not supposed to eat meat. Only seafood or vegetables is allowed. I've often wondered how the butchers shops manage during this forty-day period. Well now I know.

Surreptitiously examining what the other diners were eating, we could see that here was a group of ladies all eating kalamari, whereas there were two couples tucking into roast lamb. Others were rationalising and eating chicken, which they say 'isn't really meat now is it?'

All good, clean fun, eh? By and large, we passed a truly enjoyable Sunday.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Busting Out All Over

I've probably got the premise for the title of this post quite wrong. I had in mind the song "Spring is Busting Out All Over," but I have that nagging feeling that it might not be "spring" in the title, but rather "June," but I haven't googled it yet so I'll run with it anyway.

Photo time...

The anemones are starting to go over now and they are being replaced by these poppies (above). These aren't the type that is common in northern Europe, and they do rather resemble the anemones in shape and size, but I am reliably informed that they aren't anemones, and are actually a genus of poppy. That's why they don't flower simultaneously with the anemones, but come out about a month later, filling the countryside with a scarlet blush. This year, as with the anemones, the poppies seem to be in greater abundance than usual, which I put down, as with the anemones, to the generous amounts of rainfall that we've enjoyed this past winter.

Yesterday morning, as we were driving down the lane, we saw our first Hoopoe of the season too. They're just arriving from Africa. I didn't get a chance to photograph it, I'm afraid, but you know when you've spotted one, as they're so exotic (check out these links, one, two). Amazingly, they can be seen in the UK sometimes, but very rarely. Those that arrive there in spring tend to (as the RSPB puts it) 'overshoot' their migratory destination. They don't breed in the UK at all.

The above shot I took on Saturday morning. It's a little side street in the village of Pylona. It's very typical of a Greek 'avli', with the lemon tree in evidence, stretching out over into the lane. Lemons are mind-bogglingly useful. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you all of their health benefits, but one thing that a lot of people don't know is that you can leave them on the tree for as long as you like, only picking them to requirements. So, in mid-summer, when you need a new lemon to slice up to add some zest to your gin and tonic, you simply stroll out into the yard, pick one straight from the tree and off you go.

This one (above) was taken this very morning. the garden is just beginning to enter its most colourful season now, with the osteospermum (we have several versions in various colours dotted about the place) and the gazanias going crazy in their attempts to outdo each other. Gazanias are sometimes called African Daisies, since they so resemble giant daisies, although in a huge variety of colours. I've posted a few photos of ours in a photo album on my "John Manuel the Published Works" Facebook page.

And, finally, be warned, knobbly knee alert! Yes, I dug my shorts out for a session of gardening today, and we had a frappé for the first time this year instead of a filter coffee at break time. Summer is a coming and spring is, indeed, busting out all over are my legs.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Sand in my Shoes

It's decidedly spring-like now. The gorse is a riot of yellow and the poppies are taking over from the anemones in the fields. We had a hard day's gardening all day today and my back is aching from all the hours of weeding. But it's all good.

It's crested 20ºC for the past two days and you can feel the change in the air. I know I keep posting photos of the scene below (on our terrace), but, let's be honest, it's not a bad view while you're eating your chopped fruit, nuts, yogurt and muesli, now is it?

...oh, and peppermint tea as well. That was breakfast at around 9.30am.

After that full day's gardening I mentioned above, we went for a short walk down to the beach, where I took these shots below as well. I have to say, frustrations with all the bureaucracy aside, I really have to admit, we don't have much to complain about living here, do we...

We were a hair's breadth from taking a skinny dip. I can tell you.

The sea looks like a pussycat doesn't it? It's hard to picture how wild it was just a week or so ago. But now we're into March and the temperatures are warming up, it's starting to take on its summer calm and the air is full of expectation. As per usual, we're now about ready for people to invade the place and for the season to begin. Plus, of course, since we're no longer working, we're looking forward to enjoying this summer like we haven't done for some years.

Maybe I'll take a lot more photos of some places this year that we haven't visited so often over the previous four or five. You'll be the first to see them when I do, of course.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Deja Vu?

When I worked as an excursion escort, I had lots of conversations with guests about their holiday habits. Sometimes they'd say,"We never go to the same place twice. The world's just too big, and we only have so much time." Others would say, "We've been to Rhodes (for example) eleven times, and we love it."

Over the forty-plus years or so that I've been either coming to Greece, or actually living here, I've come across people just about everywhere I've gone that say the latter. Whether it's Skiathos, Thassos or Poros. Kefallonia, Corfu or Symi, you always come across those who came there many years earlier, then just kept coming back, year after year, sometimes several times in one season. Of course, here on Rhodes there are loads like that too, which includes those who eventually make the move and, of course, they move to their favourite destination. When you talk to such folk, they'll always swear that their chosen favourite is simply the best place on the planet, and that's why they wouldn't go anywhere else.

Call me a little blunt here, but those types are often, to me, manifesting a fear of trying something different. They're worried that if they go somewhere new, then it won't measure up to what they've already experienced. Maybe they feel that, if it doesn't go so well, then they'll have wasted some hard-earned cash. I can understand that, but, in my experience, you never lose by trying something new. 

That's not to say that there isn't some value in repeat visits to a favourite resort. I often agreed with my guests that, whichever way they saw it, their viewpoint had some merit, but that neither was entirely correct. For example, if you go back to somewhere you've holidayed before, you do tend to settle in much quicker. If you only go for one week, it can often take most of your time discovering your favourite restaurant, bar, beach or bakery. Then, just when you've settled in, you have to go home. If, though, you're making a repeat visit, you settle in much quicker and thus it seems that the time goes that little bit slower. It feels like you've been there longer and so that feeling of relaxation kicks in faster.

I suppose the above reasoning is why me and the better half have held the policy for years now of going back somewhere at least once more, before perhaps moving on to pastures new. Thus, the reason for this ramble. In May we're going back to Patmos. We went there last April (blog posts: Rhodes-Patmos, The Voyage, Do We Know That Person?, Patmos People, Plants - Two Different Kinds, Room Service, or Room to Breathe?, An Affirmation of Sorts, Did You Hear the One About?, The Walk Up to Kampos, Whatever Gets You Through and, finally Patmos, the Verdict. I did write rather a lot about the place didn't I), and I can't wait.

The lovely lady who runs the modest accommodation where we stayed has agreed the same price per night as last year, which we thought was very kind because we're going a full month later this time. Plus, and here's a tip I should pass on if you're going island hopping in this chain, the Dodecanese islands, I enrolled for my Dodekanisos "Bonus" card, which gives you discount off all bookings as soon as you're enrolled, which is a very quick and efficient process, all done on-line.

So, expect more gushing reports come May about that most unspoilt of Aegean Islands, plus maybe one or two nearby ones as well. Now that me and her indoors are people of leisure, we can go when the season's well and truly up and running, which should mean there could be the occasional knees-up with some live music, plus more opportunities to take day-trips to other places as the boats will be running this time.

Plus, of course, having already been, we know where we like to eat, where our favourite bakery is (three minutes walk from our apartment) and where to enjoy our late evening glass of Mastika before retiring to bed for the night.

Should feel like we've been there ages after only a day or two.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Climb Every Mountain

Yesterday was a bright, clear day, if a little cool out of the sun. So we took the car out to park up and do a walk that we've wanted to do for a while now.

If you know the area around Lardos-Pilona, here on Rhodes, then you'll know where I'm talking about when I mention the 'windy-windie' bends on the road between Lardos and Pilona. That's 'windy-windie' as in 'windy', pronounced as you'd expect, and 'windie', pronounced as if you were trying to irritate someone, ie. 'wind' them up. Try explaining such different pronunciations of words spelt almost the same to a Greek. Report back to me.

Anyway, there's this hill you see to your left after you've left Lardos and headed uphill toward the first of the windy-windie bends, after which there's a hundred or so metres of straight road before the next, really windy-windie corners, on your way to Pilona. About a third of the way up the straight bit, there's a lay-by on the left, just metres past a dirt track that leads up into the hills. We parked up there and took that dirt track...

Here is the result...

Poppies (not generally the kind you get in the UK) begin to replace the anemonies about now, plus Asphodel is coming into its own too.

"The hills are alive..."

That's Lardos behind me.

Without 3D it's difficult to grasp the location here, but we're atop a high ridge, and the hillside behind my beloved's head is half a mile away, with a deep ravine between that hillside and her. Pilona's behind that higher hill beyond.
Lardos again, with the Lardos Beach area in the distance.

Although it was warm enough out of the wind, up there, with a full 360, it was pretty cool!

On our way back down. Hopefully this give a sort of idea of how steep the sides of the hill are. Lardos Beach again in the distance.

That's the hill/ridge that we'd climbed in the background, top-right. On the left? Good job this isn't Ireland, or I'd be making all kinds of female leprechaun jokes.