Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Over the Hills and (not so) Far Away...

We've been getting into the great outdoors again, tempted out by the delightful spring weather and temperatures that are still conducive to hiking in the hills.

This time we decided to strike out up a track that we drive past with great regularity, yet had, up until last Thursday April 18th, never walked along. If you leave Lardos heading south to Kiotari and Gennadi, you round the headland and pass what's known locally as Lardos Limani (Lardos quay), which consists of a concrete jetty thrusting out into the sea between the two headlands, one of which bookends Lardos Beach and the other Glystra Beach. As you pass the Molos taverna, to your right, you then pass a few modern 'link' houses and then you see a hill around which the road is about to pass. It's easy to spot the gently rising path that leads up the side of this hill. To your left is the sea, and right opposite the track is a wide parking area above the rocks that tumble into the blue waters below.

Image courtesy of Google Maps. The path is clearly visible in this aerial shot, beginning right above the letter "Pil" in the word "Pilonas."

The path ascends there to the right, and the parking area is clearly visible on the left.
We set off up the track, not having any clear plan as to what route we'd follow as we got further away from the road. Here are the first few photos...

Our car is just visible down there in the parking area across the road from the track.

This was taken as you crest the first ridge, a few hundred metres from the starting point. Suddenly a fairly level plain opens up before you, offering quite a few different options as to which way to go. Later photos below were taken on that ridge above my beloved's head and slightly to the right.

One of the first things we noticed was the proliferation of these amazing flowering plants, known under many names, including: Dragon Arum and Voodoo Lily.

We'd seen the Voodoo Lily plant before, but not for many years had we seen them actually in full flower. We knew that they reportedly smelt of rotting flesh and I'm here to tell you that they sure do!  Sadly, we know what rotting flesh smells like because sometimes we come across the carcass of a sheep or goat, even of a dog, in the undergrowth when we're doing a rural walk. In fact, we hadn't lived here long when my wife dug up one of these plants because she liked the 'leopard skin' pattern on the stalk. We'd actually planted it in the garden when Mihalis, our farmer friend, dropped by and, in his usual blunt manner, declared, "You'll want to get rid of that and do it quickly. Unless, that is, you enjoy the scent of rotting flesh."

Thus we learned early on about the 'delightful' aroma that these plants put out. It works though, because it's apparently irresistible to the flies which pollinate it. If you haven't seen one 'in the flesh' as it were, the flowers are easily half a metre and more in length. As you can see from the fact that I photographed several of them, that they're having a good year this year, probably owing to the amount of rain we had over the winter.

If you take a peek back at the photo of my beloved above, you'll see behind her a steeply rising hillside, atop of which are two rocky peaks, between which is a sort of pass. That's what we decided to aim for.

If you're tempted to try this walk, be aware that there are no paths. Once you strike out to your right from the track that stays on the valley bottom, you'd be a fool not to be wearing very stout footwear and to also have your mobile phone (well charged) with you. Once you start the ascent itself, the ground is exceedingly rough, and peppered with dead woody shrubs, which, by the time you get half-way up the incline, often need snapping off so as to get through. Plus, since the vegetation is so lush at the moment, you have to be very observant to avoid a twisted or broken ankle. Also, I found to my cost that there are some pretty robust cobwebs (some with residents) strung between the dead woody branches, often at eye-height, so, unless you stop and take a breather, don't bother trying to admire the view as you walk. 

If, however, you do decide to stop, somewhere where the rocks are just about OK to stand with a degree of stability, the views are lovely, and get better the higher you climb...

Most of the Kiotari coastline is visible here. Glystra, however, is tucked beneath the hillside to the bottom left.
Lardos quay is just out of shot to the left here.
Again, Kiotari is behind us.
Now we're a little higher up, getting amongst the crags. Gennadi is there in the far distance.
Lardos Beach and Pefkos are both in this shot.
A couple of bemused locals, no doubt looking at us and saying, "We don't get many of those up around these parts." This was taken at the top, on the ridge, or 'pass' between the two peaks.
Same spot as the one above. It looks level, but drops away steeply either side of us.
Beginning the descent well above the Molos taverna.
Another Voodoo Lily, with Lardos Quay visible below. You can see from this shot how rough it was underfoot.
This one gives a better impression of how steep the descent was, coming down toward the Molos Taverna. Once again, Lardos Beach and Pefkos are visible in the distance.
Yet another shot showing the terrain. Ankle-breaking territory if you're not very diligent.
The wild flowers are still an absolute joy at the moment.
Still descending. It was a long way down!
A fishing caique leaves Lardos Quay, towing its skiff behind it.
This is simply the view to the right of the one above it.
Another attempt to show the flowers under your feet. Click for the larger view.
Finally arriving back near to the car, which is just visible behind my left ear. To reach this point from the steep descent also entailed finding one's way through the occasional rusty chainlink fence.

The beloved standing right where she stood to take the one of me. After this it was straight to the Gré Café in Kiotari for a Freddo Espresso and a sit down.
The whole adventure took us around 75 minutes, with very little time to stop and admire the views. Incidentally, while that last caption is on the subject of our retiring to the Gré Café, I've become much more inclined to order a Freddo Espresso than a frappé of late. One of the reasons, apart from the even better taste, is that Espresso is a healthier option, since frappé is made with instant coffee and Espresso from beans.

The weather is finally beginning to warm up this week, and we had just a tad under 24ºC in the shade outside yesterday, so the walks will soon be curtailed owing to the heat. But we hope to get a couple more in before we convert to beach/swim expeditions.

Hope you appreciate the great lengths to which we went to bring you those shots!


Back in January I talked about the conversations we'd had with a couple of locals in Kalathos about, primarily, the water situation. Only now have I realised that there was one other chat we had on that occasion which I'd intended to mention in that post ("How Will You Find the Time?") but had left out, mainly because I went off on a tangent talking about the nightmare of trying to get our driving licences converted to Greek ones before the dreaded Brexit. Sorry to mention that, I'll try not to do it again.

There's a rather traditional-looking taverna just a couple of metres off the main road as you travel north out of Kalathos. You could easily drive right past without spotting it, as it's a few metres down the lane that leads to the area known as Ostria Beach, passing the Atrium Palace Hotel en route. The taverna's called "Stefanos Family Taverna" and we've never eaten there. 

However, we were passing on foot recently and struck up a conversation with the two women that are involved in running it, and they are mother and daughter. They'll forgive me not remembering their names now, as it's some weeks ago that the conversation took place. The place is named after the mother's husband, who is indeed the Stefanos to which the name refers. So it lives up to its name as a 'family' taverna.

I remarked on the fact that, although we'd been living not all that far away for well over 13 years now, we haven't as yet paid them a visit (so many restaurants, so little time). I did say, though, that I thought they must be good, because they're out on a limb and yet still in business after all this time.

"I suppose you get a lot of locals in, is that the secret?" I asked the ladies.

"Well, actually, no." Came the unexpected reply. "The locals tend to look out for themselves, and we're still considered interlopers, outsiders, by the villagers of Kalathos."

"How could this be?" I asked them. I mean, they've been in business there since well before we arrived in 2005. Surely they're locals themselves?

"Well, no," said the ladies. "Our family is from Massari, not Kalathos. They have the Ostria and the Milos, near the beach, so we tend not to see the Kalathians here too much."

I found this amazing, yet reminiscent of the situation in parts of rural Britain too (certainly in deepest West Wales). You only have to originate from a couple of miles over the hill to still be viewed as an outsider, even if you've lived in a community for many years. Family origins still engender a fierce xenophobia it seems. Massari is only two or three Kilometres along the road from Kalathos, yet it may as well be in Australia!

Still, owing to the fact that, finances permitting, we aim to be dining out a little more often from now on, since we're neither of us bound by the constraints of a working schedule any more, we promised the ladies that we'd give the Stefanos a try this year. I do rather like the look of the place, since it exudes a traditional taverna atmosphere when one peers on to the front terrace from the road. 

Plus, if you've taken a look at the Facebook page (the link was above, where I first mentioned the taverna's name), you'll not have failed to notice the positive reviews. It seems to have a rating of 4.9 out of 5 from the 44 reviews that have been posted on that page.

That's good enough for me. If and when we get there, you'll be the first to know our verdict on the outsiders.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

A Jay in the ...Loquat Tree.

As you'll no doubt know, my last non-fiction work (to date, that is. I mean, I don't want to sound needlessly bleak or anything) was entitled "A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree," and that's because a Jacaranda that was planted soon after we moved out here finally had Jays sitting on its branches after some ten years of our being here.

The Jays don't come to the garden specifically for the Jacaranda though, they come for the mousmoulia, or, in English, the loquat tree's fruit. This year the mousmoula tree near the front gate is looking lusher than it has been for some time. Owing to the fact that it was hit badly by a particularly tenacious cold spell that we had a few winters ago, it had been set back quite badly in its development. Now, though, although still not huge, it produces better fruit every year. We don't particularly like eating the loquat fruit, but we're very happy to have it within easy sight of our French windows, because the Jays (native to the UK too) treat the fruit as a bit of a delicacy. The fruit this year is abundant, although still far from ripe, but it's evidently ready enough to tempt the local Jay population, who've already been visiting the garden to peck at them.

Thus, yesterday morning, as we were chomping on our muesli, sitting inside the French windows, we were treated to the sight of a Jay, who flew into the tree, speared a fruit and then hopped to the nearby wall to feast on it. Later on he reappeared on the wall the other side of the front gates, beak stuffed with nesting materials. I say "he," but it could have been a female. I don't think the sexes of Jays are very different from each other, as most bird species tend to be. Although my digital camera's zoom isn't marvellous, I was rather pleased with these shots...

The loquat tree is left of shot.

He/she's got his/her beak facing the other way, but you can easily see the nesting materials he's carrying.

While I'm about posting photos, here are a few I took later that morning in the village of Kalathos...

The fig trees have just about reached full-leaf status now. Before the summer arrives and they get dusty, they're a lovely vivid colour.

Blousy poppies like these are everywhere now. These were taken through the chainlink in someone's orchard.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Greece's Green and Pleasant Land?

The photo above was taken gazing out of our French windows earlier this morning. I don't know how much of the landscape down the valley you can discern, but frankly, it's looking as 'green and pleasant' as the countryside where I was brought up, in North East Somerset, England.

We've just been working out the statistics regarding rain during the winters here on Rhodes and there's no doubt about it, this has been the rainiest since well before we came here in 2005. On the plus side, it's probably solved the water shortage problem for Rhodes for the time being. On the negative, there have been places in Greece (not so much here on Rhodes, generally) that have suffered major damage and disruption from the torrential downpours and flooding that's ensued from the extreme weather.

The results of all the rain are reflected in the landscape all around us. I've already mentioned how there are babbling brooks in the forested valleys up behind our house, and the absolute explosion of flowers blooming everywhere you walk is verging on the miraculous. In fact, walking down the valley yesterday we found ourselves thinking that the whole wild environment around the area where we live is like a garden this year.

Here are a couple of shots taken during yesterday evening's walk. Sorry the quality's not so good, these were taken with my rather inadequate mobile phone...

In the first of the two above, you'd never guess that where my wife is walking is actually a dirt-road through the forest. We've never ever seen it so taken over by wild flowers as it is this year. The second, if you look really carefully, shows a Painted Lady butterfly at rest on the flower of a pink rock rose. If you click for the larger view you'll just about make it out. There were literally clouds of Painted Ladies fluttering around us as we walked. Yvonne (Maria) actually remarked, "Who needs butterfly valley?"

As I've also mentioned many times before on this blog, my wife keeps an accurate record of rain or shower days during our winter periods, so we can make pretty good comparisons. She notes on her MacBook's iCal any day from the beginning of September through to the end of April when it either rains or even showers for more than five minutes. Here's what the statistics for the last three winters reveal:

Winter of 2016-17 (September through April inclusive): 40 days when it rained/showered
Winter of 2017-18 (September through April inclusive): 39 days when it rained/showered

You can see from the above that both of those winters were pretty similar. Both too, incidentally, were below the average expected rainfall. Now look at this past winter (which we're still just about living in, owing to the figures including April):

Winter of 2018-19 (September through April inclusive): 71 days when it rained/showered
...and April still has 21 days to go, including today. 

Thus, our island has been transformed into a fairly passable impersonation of the UK when it comes to greenery and lush vegetation. The Spring has put in an appearance, as you'll have seen from other recent posts, plus from photos I've posted on my "John Manuel - The Published Works" Facebook page, but each time it has done so, it's retreated again and the rains have returned, as they have done this past couple of days.

There are even a few early tourists about already, with a few hotels having opened their doors and started up their water slides, but I don't think they're getting much use just now.

I wouldn't worry, though, if you're coming to Rhodes for your holidays, it has a habit of sorting itself out before the larger crowds turn up. If you're coming early in the season this year, though, you do stand the chance of seeing a much lusher countryside scene than has been seen on this island for many a long year.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Below the Salt?

No, I'm not referring to the old Steeleye Span album, but rather to the medieval custom from which it took its title. I got to thinking about this expression the other evening when we were enjoying yet another superb, healthy and ridiculously cheap meal at Psitopolis, at 88 Mihali Petridi street, out on the south-western edge of the town. As per usual, the place was buzzing, but we were able to find a table and ordered their wonderful (best we've ever tasted anywhere) oven potatoes, a green salad (which consisted of chopped lettuce, caper berries, cucumber, green peppers and green olives), a portion of grilled Halumi, and a 500ml bottle of Retsina. We ate our fill and the bill was about €12. As usual, too, we found ourselves comparing this food with a UK portion of heart-attack food, as in [battered] fish and chips, which would have cost us twice as much, plus a few years off our lifespans too.

It was while we were chomping away that I sort of studied a party of Greeks sitting behind my beloved. There were eight of them, evidently comprising four couples. What attracted my attention as I looked over my wife's shoulder wasn't the fact that the men were tucking into seriously large amounts of grilled meat (this is meant to be Sarakosti, isn't it?), or even the fact that the table was crammed with Coca Cola cans (surely would have been beer if this had been in the UK). No, it was the fact that the four chaps were sitting at one end of the table and the girls the other.

I've noticed this before when dining out with a fairly large group of our Greek friends a while back. We must have numbered around fourteen, and we too were a bunch of couples. The only reason why I ended up sitting beside my beloved on that occasion was because, more by luck than judgment, we were sitting in the centre of the long party, which had joined several tables together to accommodate all of us. To my left sat all the blokes, whilst to my right, starting on my side of the table with my wife, sat all the women. I remember, as we filed into the restaurant, noticing that the Greeks separated into men and women almost without thinking about it. There was I thinking that we'd all sit man/woman-man/woman around the table, but I was quite wrong. Before I knew it, the girls were immersed in a furious chat and the men were doing likewise, but at opposite ends of the table, and with little interplay between the two groups.

I haven't done any research on this, but can only assume that it's a throwback to the cultures of old times, when men were considered socially higher than women. Like I've said before on this blog, I'd been surprised a couple of years ago when we attended a gathering of probably thirty or so friends down in the village of Kattavia. When the call went out for everyone to tuck into the buffet, all the women remained seated and waited until the men had gone and piled their plates up first. It didn't sit easy with me, being, as I am, more accustomed to us chaps deferring to the women to go and get their food first at such social gatherings.

There we go, I suppose. It's something that we as guests in the country don't have the right to question or criticise. it's just that I do recall that in medieval Britain, when banquets were held, the salt was placed mid-way along the banqueting table and the gentry would sit "above the salt" and the more lowly hoi-polloi diners "below the salt." 

See, "Hoi polloi" - now there's another expression that, up until I came to write this post I hadn't realised comes from the Greek. Go have a look at this link and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, it's not something that gets me up in arms or anything, I'm merely passing an observation. But it does, I suppose, demonstrate that much of Greek culture, even in 2019, when they've all got smartphones and every café and restaurant has wi-fi, when they drive modern cars and watch smart TVs, much of Greek society, and its mores, still shows links with times long past.

Some aspects of this are positive anyway, like the close family ties that still result in a generally safer society (especially in rural areas) than is to be found in many of the more 'developed' countries of Europe. Others are perhaps still capable of influencing the thinking of people in a perhaps negative way. I mean, it's still difficult for women to deal with men in many situations over here. There are still a lot of men who don't find it comfortable dealing with women in 'official' scenarios, like when a woman wants to make a business contract for example. If a women goes to the local Dimos to complain about the state of the road where she lives, or the street lighting, or the rubbish collection, if it's a man she has to interact with, very often he'll find it goes against the grain to be dealing with a female. 

Of course, changes are coming, as is the case with every country and culture. Plus, like I said, I'm not losing sleep over such things. But when you observe the way society works here, as an Englishman, it's still almost weird to experience first-hand, social intercourse that reminds me of times long gone in the world where I was brought up.

If you're out for a meal any time soon here in Greece, see if you notice any large social groups out dining together. Greeks I mean of course, not tourists. I'd be interested to see if you spot the phenomenon I'm talking about.

Right, I'm tucking in. Pass the salt will you?

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

An Addiction

I appear to be addicted to taking photos at the moment, especially in the garden. The light is simply wonderful today, and it's 22ºC out in the garden. The wet winter, combined with the bright, mainly sunny spring, has produced a stunning array everywhere you look. Here are a few shots taken in the orchard and garden this very morning...

I've no idea what this is called, but we bought it at the local nursery on the main road near the village of Gennadi, on the proprietor's recommendation. It took a while to 'settle in', but look at it now. He says it'll flower for many months, so there's a pretty good chance we'll be getting some more of these. They can become quite a big, dense, flower-filled bush, so it's a must really.