Monday, 17 October 2016

Rhodes, part one: Pink Pantser and the Rodos Hummus Rumpus

Karpathos, Greece (Κάρπαθος, Ελλάδα) 
26 July 2016
Waking up early in order to squeeze in a morning swim, we frolicked in the waters of Kira Panagia one last time before having to drive to Karpathos town to be cooped up in a ferry for hours on the way to the island of Rhodes.
We hadn't spent much time in Karpathos town, as we had wanted to explore the rest of the island's treasures, but it seemed like a lovely place that was brimming with character. As the ferry set sail, we sunk into stiff armchairs and prepared ourselves for the uncomfortable journey. Along the way, the ferry stopped at Diafani in the north of Karpathos island, where we had eaten lunch two days previous, and then a stunning port on an island that we had no knowledge of.

After frantic Googling, we discovered that the wondrous port we had seen from the deck of the ferry was Halki, and was only 45 minutes away from Rhodes via a fast ferry. As we had all been enraptured by the windmills along the hill and the pastel-coloured houses built onto the waterfront, we decided we would have to look into a day trip while we were staying on Rhodes.

Rhodes, Greece (Ρόδος, Ελλάδα) 
Upon arriving in the port of Rhodes Town, we zoomed down the east coast to the village of Masari, where we would be accommodating for the duration of our stay on the island. Masari was in close proximity to a popular Rhodes destination: Lindos, known for its ancient acropolis. Luckily our village was a little bit inland from the coast, so it was one of the few places on the island that wasn't overrun with tourists. We waited in front of the church for our AirBNB host, who rocked up a few minutes later on a scooter, wearing nothing but pink shorts, jandals and his reading glasses. After leading us to the house he gave us a quick tour, speaking very quickly and enthusiastically. He told us the opening hours of the bakery down the road, and advised us not to eat out in Lindos.

Spending a relaxing afternoon reading and surfing the internet in our new house, we were keen to go out for dinner and stretch our legs. Before we left, we had an aperitif of a sweet pink Vin de Liqueur, which was insanely moreish.
Heeding the advice given to us, we avoided Lindos and instead drove to a waterfront town that was still touristy, bus less so: Haraki. With quite a few options for tavernas, we wandered up and down the beachfront until we were happy with our choice. The hummus was so delicious that we ordered a second plate of it, but a less successful dish was that of the "horta", aka boiled greens. I thought that perhaps there would be a bit more to it than simply boiling greenery, but that is exactly what it was. Oh well. The horta experience won't stop me trying new things! Alongside that amazing hummus, the highlight of the evening was the restaurant's view out over Haraki Bay, with lights shimmering on the water and a clifftop castle illuminated in the distance. As we had just popped out for dinner, we didn't think to bring cameras so were unable to capture the moment.

27 July 2016
Revelling in the possibility of going for a swim before breakfast, we drove a short way to a beach near Masari that was recommended by our AirBNB host. Largely deserted, apart from us there were only a few locals around. Two elderly women bobbed, up to their necks in the sea, and conversed with each other loudly in Greek the whole time we were there. It seemed like a good morning routine.
Requiring sustenance for a long day ahead, we visited the local bakery and purchased a loaf. Right after leaving, we decided we should also try a small sweet roll, so returned for one of those. The baker was friendly, and popped a sesame covered mini baguette into our bag for free! That sesame baguette was one of the tastiest breads I've had, so we made sure to get more of them on future visits. That guy knows how to keep the customers coming back time and time again!
We began our exploration of Rhodes by driving south along the coast, and found that everywhere we went was inundated by tourists and things that tourists might want: massive hotels, sleazy restaurants, and stores selling nothing but 'authentic' pottery (artisanal, if you will). Frankly, this revelation was mildly shocking after Karpathos and unwelcome. For the entire time we stayed on Rhodes, I held onto a glimmer of hope that we would find somewhere (a beach, a village, an archaeological site) that wasn't awash with tourists aside from our lovely Masari.
At the southern tip of Rhodes, Prasonisi peninsula juts out into the Aegean Sea. In wintertime, sea levels rise and the sandy strip disappears under a layer of water, turning the green bluff into an island all its own. Yet when we visited in July, the long sandy beach was exposed, leaving it free for a swarm of windsurfers, caravan-goers, and sunbathers to invade. Far too busy for our liking, we hopped out of the car for a quick photo (to capture how crowded it was) and promptly left. We still wanted to swim, so we started to drive north again, this time along the west coast.

Passing the Kastro Monolithos, a castle on a crag, we found a semi-suitable destination. The beach was extremely windy, which was definitely a contributing factor to why it was less populated than many other beaches, and also meant that the surf was pounding into the sand. I felt that swimming there would be stressful due to the powerful waves, so I stayed on the beach.
From there we carried on, our bellies crying out for nourishment. Following the advice of Lonely Planet, we stopped in Kamiros Skala, where the harbour was described as "very picturesque". This is the harbour that passenger ferries depart to Halki. Quite frankly, it wasn't at all picturesque. Sure, it was slightly nicer than a standard port, but it was really nothing to write home about and certainly nothing to warrant a photograph, which in my opinion is the definition of "very picturesque". However, we did find a taverna in which to quell our tummy rumbles and look out over the so-called "very picturesque" harbour. The area around the harbour was so much less than picturesque, with dilapidated greenhouses scattered around, their white plastic roofs torn and waving morosely in the breeze. How do you expect to grow tomatoes with shredded greenhouses?
On the road we took back to our accommodation, turning inland from Kamiros Skala, François noticed a sign reading "Ancient Kamiros" and followed it on a whim. The site cost €6 to enter, but we had been so disappointed with Rhodes so far we figured we couldn't be let down much more.

In a surprising turn of fortune, Ancient Kamiros was actually excellent! A city of Dorians, Kamiros' golden age was in the 7th-century BC, but earthquakes and competition from Rhodes Town led to its downfall before the birth of Christ. As you can tell from the photos, it wasn't a popular place for tourists, either - there were several groups of people milling about but it was nowhere near as visited as it should have been.

The layout of the ancient city was still plain to see, regardless of any earthquakes. Can you believe that this city hasn't even been inhabited for over two thousand years?! Plaques pointed out various area of interest, including a block of houses, a sundial, the main square, a bath complex and a temple of Athena at the top of the hill.

Rosemary bushes were prevalent along the pathways around the site, so I nabbed a few sprigs to spruce up our culinary efforts.

Continuing the drive back, we found ourselves passing through the village of Eleousa when our eyes were drawn to a great abandoned building. To us, it seemed like the building used to be a palace - some expansive residence with balconies and an arched colonnade facing the street.

However, after compiling some research, the building turned out not to be a palace or private residence at all, but an old sanatorium for Italian soldiers during the First World War. You see, Eleousa was a town settled by Italians. Another abandoned building nearby was apparently the old prison and police station. However, you should take all this information with a grain of salt, as I found no credible sources on Eleousa, so everything written here is merely conjecture. (But interesting, no?)

The peeling walls were an easy target for graffiti artists, some of who took the opportunity to aim a dig at Nazism.

Honestly it's difficult to believe that this was a sanatorium, as it's so beautifully constructed. Each room was designed in separate ways, with a distinct tile pattern on the floor (there was even a detailed mosaic featuring different animals in one) and walls painted cheery colours. One explanation could be that they don't make sanatoriums like they used to!

A few stairways led to the upper floor, but there was little of interest up there. I dare say this would make an excellent location for a post-apocalyptic film. After a little while spent exploring, we found that the quiet Eleousa was filling up with like-minded tourists passing through to see the deserted sanatorium and we once again retreated to our car to escape them.
Swim, rosé, sleep. The End.

Today's post was almost called: 'Convalescing in Post-Apocalyptia'

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Karpathos, part three: And For My Next Trick, I Will Headbutt a Roman Toilet

Kira Panagia, Karpathos, Greece (Κυρά Παναγία, Κάρπαθος, Ελλάδα) 
25 July 2016
Waking up early to have a quiet morning swim, we were once again shocked by how clear the sea was at our little Kira Panagia beach. The air conditioning unit in our AirBNB didn't work particularly well: it had been set up in the corridor, so we were forced to leave our bedroom doors wide open and even then the ambient temperature stayed high enough for us to sweat throughout the night. Even so, we were content in knowing that a wonderful beach was just down the hill.
After a quick breakfast, we drove south to Karpathos town in an attempt to find a garage where we could acquire a replacement tire. This was surprisingly difficult, and after driving around for a while with no luck, Fabienne and Yannick visited a car rental company to inquire there. The receptionist wasn't sure, but rang her mum up on the phone for input. They were given directions to a possible garage that was part of a petrol station (there were only three petrol stations on the island) while I had seen a bakery nearby and leapt from the car to get me hands on some bread! I was stuck in line behind an old woman who had a long list of different pastries she needed, but I got a loaf in the end and returned to the car just as the others were leaving the car rental!
Following the employee's mum's directions, we pulled into the petrol station which did indeed have a garage attached. A mechanic inspected the tire, too it off our hands and told us to return in a couple of hours.
With time to kill, we drove to the town of Menetes to continue our Karpathian adventure. With no car parks around, we found a place to pull over along the main street and walked up to a high point of the town: the church. We could see the tall white belltower poking up above the rooftops and figured that it would make for a first-rate lookout point.

The church (and subsequently its belltower) was closed, but we were able to gaze out from the footpath in front of it at the whitewashed houses sprawled over the hill. Fortunately we had just seen a painter, bucket and brush in hand, walk past after slathering on a new coat to the glistening blue railings, otherwise I might have leaned on one.

Selecting streets to stroll down at random, we became enchanted by the beauty and simplicity of Menetes.

At one point, we turned a corner to find that a Jack Russell terrier was frozen in his tracks, staring at us and silently trying to decide "friend or foe?" We left him alone in case he settled on 'foe' and glanced over a couple of tavernas that were featured on Lonely Planet.
As it was nearly time to pick up our freshly minted tire, we drove back along the coast and stopped for a brief swim at a pebbly beach north of Karpathos. And before we knew it, all of our tires were fully functional again! Only out of pocket €20, we were pleased with the cheap fix (though Yannick and I were informed later that the tire blew out as Fabienne and their dad were driving on the French motorway towards Paris).

Finding no inspiration for eateries in Karpathos town, we drove back to Menetes to feast at the Dionysus Fiesta taverna for lunch (great name!). The shady terrace out the front was very inviting, and as we approached a man ushered us in, asking where we were from. Learning that we hailed all the way from New Zealand, he crossed himself and then asked if we wanted the large round table. We were hesitant, however, as there was an aged woman already sat there. He explained that she was his aunt, and she relocated amiably, so we were free to cluster around the round table. I thought that for once, we might actually be able to fit all of our many mezes onto the table and still have space for wiggle room!
He pointed out which dishes were available that day, indicating that they used local produce and what was in season. We ordered grilled aubergine and courgette, briam (a dish made from potatoes, green beans, artichoke, pea pods and okra in a tomato sauce), baked feta and a local dish called macarounes (oniony pasta). Everything was lovely, including the white wine and the traditional cookie covered in icing sugar that was presented to us for dessert.

Once finished eating and drinking, we were guided inside where his childhood home had been turned into a folk museum. He told the story of how when he was growing up, his whole family lived in that one room. There was a raised area to the left where everyone would sleep, and the lower level was where the cooking and eating took place. The walls were covered in embroidered cloths, decorative plates and woven baskets. We thanked him and his wife profusely for their generous hospitality, and returned to our car as happy chappies. 

After driving through mountainous terrain for a little while, we arrived once again at the coast. The west coast, this time, which we had not yet been to. Finiki was a cute village with just a few buildings and a sheltered harbour.

For our third swim of the day, we dipped into the calm waters of Finiki, paddling next to Greek children in inflatable tubes.
Driving onwards to Lefkos, we kept our eyes peeled for signs directing us to the fabled Roman cistern. The definition I was taught for 'cistern' is the tank that sits behind the toilet that fills up with water. This is correct, but 'cistern' also refers to tanks that supply taps with water, and an underground reservoir for rainwater.

I'll assume this Roman cistern was the latter, as it was underground. We descended the dusty steps and were surrounded by ancient pillars. Great stone slabs were still in place above us, and some scaffolding had been erected to keep certain less secure slabs and pillars from falling.
On the way back to the car, Yannick spotted a doorway down an overgrown track and went to investigate. It turned out to be a cave that someone had converted into a simple house, with the entranceway made of stones that looked like they had been stolen from the cistern. On the way out, I wasn't paying attention to the low doorway and banged my head. I'm told it was quite funny to witness.

Figuring we may as well have a fourth swim, we visited a beach near Lefkos, but it was fairly crowded and so we drove on. Having heard that Achata Beach was nice (about halfway between our accommodation and Karpathos town), we headed there and found that it was beautiful, not too crowded, and the sea was pleasantly warm. Delightful!

Today's post was almost called: 'Fiesta Like You Stole Your Auntie’s Table!'

Friday, 14 October 2016

Karpathos, part two: It’s Lunchtime, By Poseidon's Trident!

Diafani, Karpathos, Greece (Διαφάνι, Κάρπαθος, Ελλάδα) 
After saying farewell to our rusted friend, the digger, we continued north to Diafani for lunch and swims.
On our way to the carpark along the waterfront, we came across a dry fountain with a dolphin curved around a trident (which is the symbol of the sea god Poseidon) and painted tiles encircling the sides. Though not a typically pretty fountain, we all found that we really liked it.

With a gaggle of waterfront tavernas to choose from, we perused menus along the promenade and eventually settled on one that offered a fusion of Italian and Greek cuisine, based off Lonely Planet recommendations and the attractive terrace where tables were shielded from the sun by a wooden canopy with vines climbing all over it. 

The blue decor fit well with the seaside location, and it was so quiet that there was only one other diner while we were there - a northern European man who read his Kindle, drank coffee and nibbled on bruschetta. A family-run operation, we were seated by the chef and he ran through the menu, telling us which dishes he had fresh that day. Our drinks and meals were brought out to us by multiple mates of his (or potentially family members), who sat in a small group sipping on beers in the afternoon laze. It was probably the most casual restaurant experience I've had, in a good way. We ate bruschetta and pasta, and Yannick and François picked flesh from fish bones. Once we paid and left, we saw that someone tipped out the skeletons onto the pavement to let stray cats eat whatever they could find from the remains. Two cats immediately jumped on them, just like how I react whenever I see raspberries. To revive ourselves a little, we went for a dip in the sea and the water was clear and refreshing.

Olympos (Όλυμπος)
Next on our route was Olympos, a hilltop town famed for its picturesque setting and locals selling folk wares. In ancient times, this was the site of Vykous, a city populated by Dorians.
Making our way along the narrow streets, we passed by several elderly women dressed in their traditional black garments next to displays of various hand-crafted items, such as aprons, scarves and quilts.

With houses all around us, stacked onto the hillside, Yannick felt that Olympos might be similar to what the ancient city of Gournia could have looked like in its heyday.

There weren't many other tourists in the town, so we wandered at our leisure, enjoying whenever we turned a corner to spot a stunning view of the sea through a gap in the cute white houses. We could hear the sound of music drifting out from a couple of different buildings, and peered into one open door to see a small girl learning to play some type of Greek string instrument that seemed akin to a violin. Before setting off again, we purchased peaches and nectarines from the little supermarket (they turned out later to be super delicious).
On the road back to our apartment in Kira Panagia, the wheel of our car struck a rock in the road and we had to pull over. Alas, a flat tire! Rocks were strewn all over the roads on the island, as rockslides were common. In fact, Lonely Planet advised against us driving further north on Karpathos because the roads were notorious for being difficult to navigate due to unpredictable and sometimes dangerous rockslides. With some help from a friendly Greek man who saw us and stopped his ute in the middle of the road to come to our aid (his entire family spilled out of the vehicle to stretch their legs and wait), we were able to get the tire changed to the spare and make it back to our accommodation. What a busy day!

Today's post was almost called: 'The World is My Raspberry'