Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Strolling in the Sun and a Scandinavian Surprise

Yesterday I was in town on my regular excursion ("Rhodes by Day") which, as you can tell then, is still running, and I decided to do the Moat Walk. I always try and do at least an hour's power walk to avoid spending the entire five hours sitting around. Not good for the middle-age spread or indeed the circulation.

The last time I circumnavigated the entire moat was when I did the "Rhodes For Life" charity run in November a couple of years ago. I hadn't actually walked it for a long time before that. On the way into town I usually tell the guests on the coach about how impressive the old town walls are. Completed in 1465, one can only get a true impression of the sheer scale of the whole thing by walking the moat, so I decided to refresh the old memory on the subject.

Thus, this post is primarily a lot of photos (that's a lot of photos!!) taken during my moat walk of Tuesday October 17th 2017. Temperatures around 26-28ºC, wind light. Off we go then (there's a map at the end)...

(For some odd reason, even though I tried to upload these in the correct order, they seem to have shuffled themselves somewhat. If I try moving them around they lose the 'click for a larger view' facility, Hopefully most are where they should be, but if not, just bear with it folks...)

Not long after entering the moat from the gate behind the taxi rank, you turn a corner below the imposing wall of the Grand Master's Palace and see this gate. Going through it, you enter the 'Sound and Light' garden. See next photo and also previous post.

The 'Sound and Light' garden, recently heavily pruned to allow visitors to roam again. Hard to believe that just to the left through those trees is the New Market and Bus Station street.

That's the bridge across to the St. Athanasios Gate

You come across these quite often. barely large enough for a man to get into. Seems they may be access to an underground quarry beneath the medieval town.

Just around that next 'bend' is the gate of St. John

Yeah, this one ought to have been at the top. It's the uphill section soon after you enter the walk. The Grand Master's Palace is above left.

Rounding a bend at the top of the climb past the Grand Master's Palace, you get the first glimpse of the widest section and the bridge leading to the Gate d'Amboise.

Beneath the bridge leading to the Gate d'Amboise.

Standing, staring at all this, it seems incredible that it all could have been completed in a couple of centuries. Really must check out where they could have got all the stone from too. Underground quarry a clue I suppose.

Beneath St. John's Gate

Approaching the Melina Mercouri amphitheatre a little way down from St. John's Gate. I noted that the further I went, the fewer the number of pedestrians! Seems a lot of people give up part-way around.

Closer still to the Melina Mercouri Theatre.

What an amazing place for a concert. Really must try and do one some day.

By now you are only a couple of hundred metres from the exit near the commercial harbour.

The exit gate can now be seen in the distance.

A good link to information about the medieval town and moat is here.

About half an hour's easy stroll after entering the moat at the South end of Mandraki, you reach this exit, beside the Akandia Gate... 

You can re-enter the old town here, just metres from the exit of the moat.

Rather than entering the Old Town at the Akandia Gate though, I decided to skirt the walls past the commercial harbour and re-enter via the much smaller and less easy to find Virgin Mary's Gate. On my way around I gazed up at a couple of huge cruise ships...

This one caught my eye because...

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but should the 'h' be in that word? Must admit to having laughed aloud when I saw this!! Apologies to my German (Deutch) readers. Actually, I had a few guests from Germany on the coach, who proved to be good sports when we drove past this on our way out of town and I casually made mention of the apparent spelling mistake! OK, British humour I suppose.

Entering the Old Town again through the Virgin Mary Gate...

Later, I exited the Old Town through the gate that most people use, Eleftherias, which sits between Mandraki and the Old Fishing Harbour. As I approached the courtyard just outside the archway leading out of the Old Town, I was aware of a live concert going on there, and the music was "Dancing Queen" by Abba. Hmm, I wonder...

Now, as it happens I have an old friend called Mehmet who used to work with me on the Halki trip some years ago. He's the mainstay of the Abba tribute band Abba Dreams that plays all over the island. He plays keyboards. he's bald as a coot and wears a very dodgy wig. I've no idea which was Benny and which was Bjorn, but he was one of them!! As the band came into view I was pretty delighted to see that it was indeed Mehmet's band. The two girl singers were sensational. In fact, since the last time I'd seen them perform at Pefkos By Night some years ago, all the personnel have changed except Mehmet. This bunch were the biz, if slightly out of context! I have to say that apart from the scale of the thing, you could easily have been listening to the real McCoy.

That's him!! Arrest him for wearing a dodgy wig!

TBH, the crowd was larger than it seems from this shot, as lots of people were standing on the roadway beside me.

Coming full circle, as you enter the moat from the old gate to the rear of the taxi rank at the south end of Mandraki, you pass a souvlaki joint that has tables on both sides of the path. To the right it's all table cloths and tourists, but on the left the tables are bare wood and seem to serve as an acceptable kafeneion for a few 'old boys'...

And, here's a map of the Old Town, courtesy of the Municipality of Rhodes:

I'm sure you know the drill. Click on it for a larger view.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

On Parks and Plates

Things are looking up in the parks and gardens around Rhodes Town. Everywhere you look it's getting smarter, tidier, neater and well tended. What can be going on?

Well, apparently, one of my Greek friends living in Rhodes Town told me that this year the local municipality has finally decided, after several years of simply leaving the parks and gardens to go wild owing to budget restraints, to 'sub out' the care of the parks and gardens to a private contractor, who's certainly been getting on with the job from what I can see.

When I sat down to write this post I fully intended to post a photo which I was sure I'd taken of a rather clever and extremely large 'bouquet' of flowers which is on display as you cross the bridge from Mandraki harbour to the Eleftheria Gate...

This photo courtesy of Wikimapia
If you were to stand just there on the right hand side and gaze down at the garden below that parapet, that's where the bouquet is situated. A lot of work evidently went into its construction and lots of people stop to take a photo as they cross that bridge. I could swear blind that I'd done the same, but could I find it when I sat down to write this? If you'd like to come back to this post in a few days time I'll hopefully have corrected my oversight and snapped a photo of it, which I'll then insert about here.

And my thanks go to Roger and Christine Sharp, who came with me on one of my excursions recently, for sending me these (first 2)...

And this one's courtesy of my correspondent and long-time 'fan' Annette Robinson
The area where they used to put on the old Sound and Light Show (the signs are still there advertising the now-defunct spectacle), just down and opposite from the Top Three bar and right across the street from the bus station ticket booth, was looking decidedly like a dense section of jungle up until a few weeks ago, but now it's all been cut back so that the walkways are negotiable and in fact there are pedestrians to be seen ambling along the pathways in there. The only problem is, the main gates which used to allow entrance to the show are still chained and padlocked. I wonder whether anyone even knows how to find the key any more! There is, however, access from the moat and that's how people are getting in there at the moment.

The walkways here were completely invisible before the parks contractors moved in. Now it's a very different story. (My thanks again to Roger and Christine for these two photos, this and the one below)

All in all, a markedly better vista for tourists and residents alike, who were subjected to a display of complete natural chaos up until recently in many areas which ought to be beauty spots, including Rodini Park.

The amount of work in Rodini Park is probably going to take years, but they have made a good start. (My thanks again to Roger and Christine for these two photos also)

Some years back, a Greek friend living in Asklipio surprised me by tootling past us on a moped while we were on one of our walks, whereas usually he drives a little Volkswagen Polo. Not long after that we walked down the lane past his family's allotment, which is on the quickest route to the beach on foot from our house. Hey presto, there was Basili's Polo, parked up and without number plates on it.  

"Hmmm," we thought, "that's odd. Maybe he has a mechanical problem and has decided to take it off the road." 

Here in Greece vehicle plates are under much tighter control than in the UK. You can't just amble into a car accessory shop and have a couple of plates made up, they are all manufactured under government control and each plate carries a hologram to prevent illegal copies being made. In fact, every vehicle license plate here belongs to the government. That's why when the austerity first kicked in and lots of Greeks found that they could no longer afford to drive their cars, there were huge queues of folk returning their plates to government storage centres, because as long as you keep the plates you're liable for the road tax, to get the vehicle tested and to have insurance. There were regular video clips on the TV news showing racks of shelving in Government owned stores all loaded down with car number plates. Cars without plates were to be seen parked up on plots of land all over the country, 'mothballed' while their owners awaited the day when they felt they could once again afford to run the thing.

As it happened, as we walked past Basili's VW, he emerged from the gate of the allotment across the lane and we asked him what had happened. At the time there was a hare-brained scheme that had been introduced to have a one-way traffic system in the village of Lardos. Thankfully, after a couple of years and various permutations the whole thing was scrapped and we all went back to squeezing past each other along the parked-vehicle-clogged Lardos streets without much of a problem.

Unfortunately, Basilis told us that he'd inadvertently driven into Lardos the wrong way on the first day of the scheme being tried out. No sooner had he proceeded to go a hundred metres or so along the street, than a Police officer pulled him over, inflicted a fine and confiscated his plates for a month. The worst of it was, this jobsworth was a school friend of Basili's, but would brook no argument. Basilis was off the road for a month and that was final.

See, that's what they do here, the Police take your plates. Under normal circumstances it has its advantages when you think about it. I mean, in the UK, if some twonk is driving dangerously, maybe under the influence for example, he can be banned from driving, but since his car still has plates he can very often simply drive illegally and, unless he's unlucky enough to get spotted or stopped, the rest of Joe public is none the wiser. Here, the Police whip out a screwdriver and take your plates. You drive anywhere without your number plates and it's very obvious very quickly that you oughtn't to be on the road. See what I mean?

In fact, just last week while I was doing one of my power walks whilst in town on an excursion, I saw a Police car behind an illegally parked vehicle and the officer was actually in the process of whipping off the plates with his trusty screwdriver. Imagine that owner coming back to his or her car and seeing the plates gone. Oops. To be honest, I have very little sympathy, because illegal parking is inconsiderate and all too often causes jams.

Maybe they ought to think about a similar system in the UK, eh?

And finally, here's a candid shot I took in yet another part of the Old Town that I hadn't previously explored until this summer...

Funny, but I get an irresistible urge when looking down this street, to say :"Ee were a great baker were ower Dad..." Anyone not from the UK will not understand that at all!!

Happy motoring!

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Still There if You Look Hard Enough

My better half on the left, with some close friends of many years who visited the Platanos Taverna with us just last week.

The village of Lahania (sometimes spelt Lachania in the Roman alphabet) is a little hidden gem. I've written posts about it before, most of which contain photos. Here are a couple of links to these:

Lahania, a study in doorways
A Lazy Lahania Morning
Village Views

...and here a a few more shots taken off season...

It's rather sad, though, that in winter you can roam the village and hardly encounter a soul, since so much of the village is now either comprised of empty houses or properties given over to tourist rental, but the beauty of the place as an old traditional village is undiminished. Of course, you may be lucky enough to bump into the old 'retired' papas, George, who always has a sparkle in his eye and an offer of a free drink or slice of melon should you see him in the kitchen of his taverna (situated on the 'main' road through the upper part of the village) with his wife and son, preparing vegetables for the table.

But head down to the 'bottom' of the village to the old square with the restored church and clock tower and there, beneath a huge old plane tree you'll spot the tables and chairs spilling out of the Platanos Taverna, tucked away in the corner, almost as if it wishes not to be found. 

We ate there not long after first arriving here twelve years ago and it's changed a little since then. Yet still it is reminiscent to me of a bygone era, the days when the proprietor would scribble your bill in pencil on the paper tablecloth, when you'd be invited to go into the kitchen to chose your meal because there was no printed menu. In fact, the first time we went there that's exactly what happened.

Nowadays, of course, it would be illegal for the staff to scribble your bill from memory on the table cloth, often rounding it down once they'd written down all that you and they can remember. And they now have printed menus too, but for all that the feel of the place is 'old Greece', the days when tourism here was in its infancy. It has no sea view, but part of its terrace does overlook a wonderfully unspoilt hinterland valley that contains precious little of anything that's man-made. Eat there in the twilight of the early evening late or early in the season and you're liable to witness a few deer emerging from the shadows to go foraging amongst the wildness.

If you want to get a feel for the place, do click this link and take a look at some of the photos on their website's gallery page. Sitting at a table in the corner of the square though, is a quintessentially Greek experience. All around you is history, speaking to you from the old fountain set into the wall on the other side of the square, from the whitewashed walls of the houses and courtyards, from the old church with its tower that stands beside the taverna. Just up a narrow lane is the old olive press.

Eating at the Platanos you have to realise that they still serve up the food in the traditional way. Greeks have always eaten from the common plate. It's a habit that goes back centuries, in fact to Bible times and beyond [check out 1st Corinthians 5:11], and it's a very important way of demonstrating friendship. If you eat around a table and each one present picks their food from a common plate it signifies that you are all friends, you are viewed as family. You don't eat with enemies when you share the common plate. Thus, whatever you order is prepared with this custom in mind. We foreigners are so used to eating out and ordering our own starter, main course and dessert, but this isn't how the Greeks do it. They'll order a selection of dishes, all of which will be placed in the centre of the table and everyone tucks in from there. That's why Greek restaurants, at least the genuine ones, always start with an empty plate at each place. You fill that plate from what's before you in the middle of the table. Everyone around that table has all the food in common. 

Thus, we ate last week at the Platanos with a family of good friends with whom we go back many years. In fact the children will not thank me for telling you that Maria [Yvonne] and I remember them all too well as tiny toddlers, whereas they're now in their twenties. If you order, say, moussaka or pastitsio in a tourist restaurant, it'll come very much à la Johnny foreigner mode, with a few vegetables on the plate too, maybe a little salad, more than likely with chips [fries, guys]. In the old traditional way it'll come on a plate all on its lonesome. That's because you'll have already ordered a plate of salad, maybe some vegetables like gigantes, fasolakia, you get the idea. Your fellow diners will want a slice too in all likelyhood. But then, since all the food is in common that's OK, that's fine. It's how it's done.

Remember, too, that in a traditional taverna they'll have cooked something different from the menu every night. Thus the waiter who brought us our menus proceeded to show us from the dishes listed which were 'on' that evening and which were 'off'. This is why it often pays still to ask to go into the kitchen and have a look. They don't mind in the least. Just don't utter a groan of dissatisfaction when you see that some dishes aren't 'on' when you go, it's how they do things and it's proof that the food is indeed all home-cooked. Go another night and something else will be 'on'.

Thus our friends, who were eating at the Platanos for the first time, encountered a steep learning curve. I'm happy to say, though, that they all thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and the size of the helpings, and were soon into the spirit of the thing. We order bottles of Retsina, which as you'll probably know usually comes in 500ml sizes rather than 700 or 750, the regular wine-bottle size. With all of us well stuffed and after three bottles of Retsina plus a couple too of water, the entire bill for six people came to a few cents over €67. Needless to say, we left €75.

So, if you're ever in the south of Rhodes and can navigate your way to the square at the bottom of the village of Lahania, I can recommend the Platanos taverna. Only - just remember, don't expect your food to come all dressed up with side salad or vegetables. Why not try it the Greek way anyway? order up a selection of dishes and then all tuck in together. You'll not only be eating the true Greek way, you'l be cementing a fast friendship between one and all.

PS. This is the sign that greets you when you visit the loos at the Platanos...

I didn't say that!!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Purple Patch and a New Publication

My attempts at growing vegetables have met with ever more depressing results over the years that we've lived here. The first time I planted up our modest little vegetable patch we had a fairly respectable crop of French beans, after we'd saved the plants from being eaten by a pesky hare who'd decided that our plants were the new fast food joint in his area [see chapter 4 of Tzatziki For You to Say]. The first time I grew red onions I thought this whole 'good life' thing was going to be a piece of cake, since that first harvest yielded a goodly number of tennis ball-sized onions that I was well pleased with. I even had enough to give a few away.

We grew peppers (the capsicum variety), garlic, cucumbers, melons, courgettes, lettuce (various kinds, but we like the purple crinkly ones the best) and even a few tomatoes. We also ate our own aubergines (eggplant, guys).

As the years have gone by though, the quality of my yield has gone down the swanny, as it were. So, last winter I made a determined effort to rejuvenate the soil. Not only had I already left the patch fallow for a whole year, but I'd worked in a whole load of horse and chicken manure, plus dug compost pits for all our kitchen green waste and also poured on and dug in a few sacks of general purpose compost from the local garden centres. This year I was going going to reap the benefits of all that preparatory work, we were going to eat the produce of our own graft once again. (Wait for it, wait for it...)

It all started out with such promise. Our neighbour David, from two houses up the hill from us, had entered into the whole 'good life' spirit with gusto and built himself a rather impressive greenhouse from bamboo canes that he harvested himself and lugged up the whole kilometre of our dirt track strapped to his bicycle and acres of polythene sheeting that he bought down the road in our local DIY store. All we had to do was ply him with empty yogurt pots and he started returning them with all kinds of seedlings potted up and ready for planting out. 

It was all going so well.

Then came the hottest summer for sixty years. With temperatures pushing 50ºC for a couple of weeks everything withered to a crisp. What the heat didn't kill the water finished off because, owing to the water table having dropped so low beneath the mountains here, the stuff coming out of our taps for several months suspiciously resembled seawater. Salt water and crops - not a good combination. We had healthy cucumber and courgette plants for the first time in several years, some promising tomato plants over which I'd constructed (even though I say so myself) a fairly clever translucent green screen-roof to stop the sun from burning the plants while still allowing them plenty of natural sunlight. Everything was looking good for a bumper harvest. Then the July sun and the fetid tapwater polished the whole lot off. In just a couple of weeks our garden resembled the Gobi desert.

All except, that is, for one aubergine plant. Bless it but it wasn't going to give up without a fight. It struggled admirably on until the mains water was once again sweet and drinkable, until the temperatures dropped to a respectable lower 30s, and produced a bunch of very promising flowers along the way. Here it is folks, the only remaining living thing in our entire vegetable patch...

And doesn't it look good eh? If it wouldn't damage it I'd give it a great big hug for showing such a fighting spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. If you click to get the larger view, you'll see that it has new flowers on it too and another modest little aubergine just ripening nicely. In fact, to date I've picked four little beauties from it already. Here's the one I picked only yesterday...

OK, so it's not the largest you've ever seen, but it's all ours and it's a miracle. I gaze at these amazing fruits and the colour takes my breath away, it's so beautiful. It's almost a shame to cut into it and eat it. The good news is too, that my ever faithful agrotis friend and advisor Mihalis tells me to leave the plant in the ground until the next season, prune it and it'll produce for another year too. 

"Don't pull it out Yianni!" he says, with great earnest. "Leave it where it is and it will give you fruit next year!"

So, after all the ups the downs, the highs and lows of a very difficult season, we seem to have finally hit a (modest maybe) purple patch at last.

Take a look at these...

Sorry about the quality of that one!
These are shots of a brand new perfect-bound (trade term for a publication with a spine) glossy magazine all about Rhodes that I picked up fresh from a pallet sitting outside the periptero in Krana Square, Lindos just a couple of days ago. Some years back we used to have a similar magazine, published annually, simply called Rhodes, and it was excellent. It disappeared though and for a couple of years there hasn't been such a great advert for the island available.

"Greece Is" seems to be an Athens-based venture that looks like producing a dedicated magazine not only for Athens and Thessalonica but also eventually for each island and, judging from my first impressions of this one, it's very, very good. There will be a new one annually and it will be available in shops, bars, offices etc., for folk to simply pick one up and take away. 

If you're in Rhodes get your hands on one and keep it on your coffee table. It looks very good to me.