Friday, 30 September 2016

Burning my fingers


 
Up in Olympos today, pressing laundry for the rooms, I was as usual being hasty and burning my fingers on sheets hot from the steam press. My hands are recovering from the summer, though my fingerpads are still crisscrossed with cuts in places from working in the kitchen. It’s been a summer of burning my fingers on this new adventure that befell me at Easter, when I decided to help Minas with his hotel and taverna in wild north Karpathos. This place is not so remote: on a clear day when I drive the Lada 4x4 up to the road to Olympos, I can clearly see the southwest of Rhodes; and I’ve been looking at north Karpathos on the horizon from Megalo Horio in Tilos for years – with no idea of what awaited. Yet north Karpathos feels cut off from the world in some ways. To get petrol or money you need to drive an hour to the south of the island. The post office is a souvlaki restaurant, with letters left in a box outside, and if you want something posted, Yiannis will take it next time he goes to Pigadia.
Olympos was eerily quiet this last day of September, the tour groups suddenly gone, and some of the gift shops suddenly closed. One of the old ladies dressed in black (Foula’s mother? Foula, for once, wasn’t sitting outside on the steps and I missed her shouting ‘Filenada mou!’), asked how things were at Fillios – the other name for Agios Minas – and if there were still people; smiling, she said they hadn’t had a bad summer but people weren’t shopping like they used to; still, ‘Igeia!’ she said, we have our health, that’s the most important thing. I noticed two young boys with school bags and realised the children must be back at school now. The mountain village of Olympos was clear and bright in the sunshine, impossibly vertical from certain angles.
I didn’t have much enthusiasm for cleaning rooms again, having told myself the last time was the final time; but the last guests had left them nicely and it didn’t take too long, and it’s always satisfying to see how pretty the rooms look when they’re fixed up with everything in place again and the sheets and towels arranged. I now remember to wipe the crazy Olympos dust off the washing line if I haven’t used it for a few days, though for once the red-painted woodwork of the hotel didn’t even look dusty – this could be the start of a lovely season. We had an early day of rain a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve seen and heard more birds around the valley, and dragonflies.
Nikos’ wife was sitting outside Parthenon doing some lacework. I’d heard her call out ‘Yeia sou Evgenia!’ through the open door while I was cleaning the top room. It makes me happy. When I asked what beautiful thing she was making she just shrugged and smiled shyly, ‘Oh, just something to kill time…’ Minas’ aunt Miraflora came out of her doorway as we were talking and said we must come up to the village. Old Mrs Zografidis in her kafeneio waved to me. Dina in the supermarket, and the man who says I never eat, who’s packing up his shop, said it would be terrible at Agios Minas in the winter, no people… It seems word has got around that we may be staying open if we can fit the place out for winter. I told him I’d had enough company all summer and would like some peace and quiet by the sea… We shall see, I said; we can always come up to Olympos too. Dina will be there all winter, and so will Sophia – ‘Where would we go? You need money to go away!’ I bought some gifts to take with me to Tilos next week. Yes, there is still Tilos to think about...
Back down at Agios Minas, there were no cars at all the beach when I arrived, but the young guy who checks the poles for the electricity company, who gave me a ride early in the summer, was back and drinking beer with his mate and Minas. Such a contrast to yesterday, when we cooked big fish for three tables of customers, and a fourth table had kalamari as they felt the last fish was too big for two people, but a couple came along later and took it. We were able to pay Stamatis the fisherman some money to fix his car, and we all sat down and ate fresh tuna, filleted and fried, with salad and fresh bread as the sun was setting.
Today I left the boys to drinking beers, and I made something to eat, then went down to the beach with Lisa, had a swim and dried off in the sun and the wind. Lisa sunbathed next to me, licking my hand to make me stroke her. One couple had arrived and were sunbathing in the shelter of the cave; Lisa looked up when their umbrella blew into the sea. Another couple arrived and sat by the sea for a while but then gave up, probably finding the wind too cold, and left. Stamatis returned – ‘Kronia polla! Pos paei?’ – happy that his car is fixed and ready to pick up. Minas wanted to drive him down to pick it up tomorrow, but Stamatis said ‘Wait, let’s work a bit first, and get some fish to sell…’ He says I’m like a sister to him.
I came up to the little house, the spitaki, to write. Lisa was running around with her new friend, the little terrier/poodle thing belonging to the neighbours who are working on their house. I love the cosy spitaki, one of the little single-room places the people from Olympos keep here to use when they do the olive harvest; if it didn’t rain through the ceiling, ahem, it would be perfect. I can see the blue sea through the doorway, and hear the wind in the trees all around. The bed is heaped with cotton blankets and sleeping bags. The tent – the second tent of the summer – is being phased out. The outside of it was torn up like paper by the sun and the wind, and gradually removing itself. I laughed recently when I found the bag it came in and saw it described as a ‘well-ventilated dome’. Just the mesh interior is standing now.
There’s no more rushing around. All those days of getting up to clean and make breakfasts for campers, dashing to Olympos to clean rooms in time for new arrivals, dashing back to help with the lunchtime crowd, hoping to make it to the beach before dark – finished for this year at least. No more waking up in the night, dreaming that there are customers outside waiting to be served. I can still eat chips and ice cream and everything else I can lay my hands on and still look skinny, after the summer’s activity, but this too shall pass. I am slowly getting back into another rhythm. Fingers burning to write.



 
 



 

Monday, 18 July 2016

At Agios Minas





18 July

I woke up this morning when it got light; went back to sleep for a while, then got up when the sun came up over Ayios Minas chapel on the cliffs. I let Lisa loose and we ran through the fields of olive trees and down to the beach, and jumped in the clear blue sea. Coming back and doing a few little chores around the taverna which we call home this summer, I remembered that the figs were ripe on the tree where I usually hang the laundry, and I reached up to pull a few down and eat them for breakfast. Stamatis’ fishing boat was still in the bay. This summer’s diet is fresh fish, our homemade bread made with Cretan flour, salads made with local goats’ cheese made at the top of the valley, yoghurt with local honey made from Erika flowers.



Mid-morning I drove up to Olympos, up the winding, narrow, bumpy dirt track in the rusty Lada, then along the mountain ridge. As usual, I walked up the alley through the village and exchanged greetings and a few words with everyone – Sophia, Evgenia, Foula, etc. ‘How are you? Running again?!’ they ask. Rigopoula and Yianni say hello and ask if there’s enough water pressure for their garden down in Filios. I get the day’s gossip from Maria and Marina, sitting sewing outside their shops. Then I go and clean one of the rooms at Anemos hotel. The hotel I went to stay at for three days back in late April…  

I’m still on the island of Karpathos. I did leave, but only for a week, to go back to Tilos and collect Lisa and a few things I’d need for the summer. The house with the lemon tree in Megalo Horio is hosting other visitors for a few months. In some ways it feels strange to be away from Tilos, but this place is also beginning to feel like home. There’s a long story in it, but for now instead of writing it here, I’ll continue just living it for now, here at Anemos Sunrise on Agios Minas beach.

It’s now eight thirty in the evening and there’s a bright white almost-full moon high above a sky of pink and pale blue. A wild wind is blowing through the olive trees and the pines.

Find us on Facebook or TripAdvisor at Taverna Anemos Sunrise :-)

Friday, 1 July 2016

The story of how I became lost...


  
It’s bright and early in the village of Aperi, and the cafes on either side of the bridge are closed. One has been closed for a while and is looking for a new owner. Another should be open soon, says a man who’s taking a break from painting a wall to talk to a handful of men outside the pharmacy. He gives me a koulouri biscuit and says I can keep them company while I wait. The other men say that then he’ll never finish painting the wall.


Not wanting to interrupt the redecoration of the Aperi bridge, I ask if the spring water is drinkable and it is, so I fill my bottle, return to the road and start walking. When I made my way up from Ahata beach it was still cool, but it’s warming up. Minas, who has the hotel Anemos which I’ve booked into for three days, has arranged for a friend of his to pick me up on their way to Olympos around 9 a.m. There are few cars, considering this is the main road linking the south of the island with the north; it’s beautiful and peaceful but the hill is tough. I’ve put my heavy backpack down and rested a couple of times when a flatbed truck stops to offer me a lift as far as Spoa.
An old man, who introduces himself as Vasilis, gets out and removes a recently slaughtered lamb or goat from the front; it’s just before Easter and several goat-shaped packages were being loaded on the ferry when I left Tilos. He puts it in the back with my backpack beside a pile of leafy branches. Mere minutes after we set off, we crest the hill I’ve been struggling up for the best part of an hour and start gently descending, and I’m mildly disappointed that I didn’t keep walking to the top, especially since I’ve now missed the chance for some stupendous photos of a sheer rock face dotted with pine trees falling away to deep blue sea and a crescent of brilliant white beach. Vasilis tells me it’s Apella.

We chat and he tells me a lot of Karpathos people live in America and Australia and return every summer. As we speed along a winding cliff-edge road with stunning views, he asks if I mind if he stops to feed his animals and something else which I don’t understand. I say of course I don’t mind, hoping it’s something innocuous. We turn off up a dirt track into forest. He tells me to stay in the car as he pulls the branches off the back of the truck and feeds them to the goats, then disappears. When he returns, he puts a covered plastic tub by my feet, and I realise he was milking the goats.

 
We stop briefly again while he checks his beehives and a few minutes later we’re arriving in Spoa, halfway to Olympos, where he insists on treating me to a coffee at the kafeneio. We sit at a table on the road with a tree for shade, and I notice the name above the door is Koumpanios; it turns out Michalis, the owner, is related to the Koumpanios family in Tilos, the people whose house I rented.
A white van is parked outside selling dairy products from the tyrokomeio or cheese factory of Kasos, the neighbouring island. The owner and his daughter sit with us for a while and I buy half a kilo of strong, creamy graviera. They also have butter, dhrilla (a type of cream) and sitaka, a rich, buttery cream which is cooked for over twenty hours – like staka in Crete, but made without flour.




I update Minas at the hotel with my whereabouts so that the friend who’s offered a ride can look out for me; apparently they’ve been delayed. Then I set off along the road again, around the edge of a steep mountain. The sky’s covered with thin cloud but there are lovely views of peaks and old terraces and the sea below. Cars pass from time to time and eventually I give up on the arranged ride and accept one from a very friendly family in a truck. It already looks packed to the gills but Poppy, whose father is driving, insists I will fit and moves around some stuff, and I squeeze into the back seat with her two young girls and a little black dog.
They’re from Olympos but usually live in Rhodes, and they’ve taken the Blue Star ferry today to come home for the Easter holidays and open up their restaurant, Milos. I chat and laugh with the two young girls, who practice their English and tell me their village is just around the next corner… Oh no, maybe the next corner… Oh, no, maybe the next! And then, suddenly, there it is: Olympos.






Minas is waiting for me at Sophia’s café by the car park; he invites me to sit down with his cousin for a few minutes and then leads me through the village to my room. There’s a strong wind blowing and an amazing view out over the sea. I check if the water is OK to drink. ‘More than OK.’ The bed is a soufa, a mattress on a raised platform made of carved wood, with cupboard space underneath. It’s lovely.

The last thing I want to do is work, but a project has taken much longer than expected and I have to get online; I take my laptop and go to find a suitable café. A few minutes’ walk along a little alley I first meet Archontoula. She’s a tiny woman, seventy-something, wearing a thick black long-sleeved dress with a colourful apron and a black scarf tied around her head. She’s sitting outside a traditional kafeneion with framed photographs taking up most of the wall space, and simple tables arranged around the sides of the room. After we’ve chatted for a while she invites me in. I apologise and say I need to find somewhere with internet.

Den sou leo psemmata,’ she says firmly in a voice built for shouting more than whispering. ‘I won’t lie to you. I don’t have internet.’ I’m not at all surprised and I’m embarrassed that I need it. ‘But you might be able to pick up the community internet from the church. Go inside and try if you like.’

So I sit down in the corner and it works. I order a beer and it comes with a plate of dark green olives, some good bread and a plate of mousmoula, a soft orange-coloured fruit. Archontoula sits in the corner with a bag of wool threads in different colours which she plaits into a string. When I ask her about it, she gives me a necklace with a tassel at the end. You can keep your keys on it, she says. Her headscarf keeps slipping down and she continually has to re-tie it around the top of her head.

A man arrives, tall, hefty and chestnut-skinned with a luxuriant moustache and twinkling eyes. Archontoula introduces her husband, Philippas. She tells him who I am and that she didn’t call me in, I came in of my own accord; it seems an important point. The kafeneio is called Kriti, or Crete, because Philippas’ father lived in Crete for a long time; also because Venizelos was from there.

Eventually I ask if there’s anything more to eat and she gives me bean soup and a tomato and cucumber salad with bread and olives. The price is minimal, and when I protest she says it’s ‘because we got to know one another’. She says I should stay for Easter if I can. I’ll have to look into the boats and connections tomorrow. Her husband says they’ll find me a ride to Pigadia whenever I need to leave.

This is the start of the story of how I became lost in Olympos.



 
Next morning, I’m back at Archontoula’s for breakfast, working again at my computer. While I work, she’s trimming artichokes, angenares, ready for cooking and I eat a good hard local cheese with bread and a dollop of thick, flavoursome, opaque honey. People come and go and Archontoula talks with a couple of young men who are doing some work for her on a house. She sounds forceful but fair, and every now and then she erupts into cackling laughter. She tells me that she and her husband pay for the costs of the kafeneio out of their pensions.

A Greek couple arrive, visitors from Patras, and Archontoula gives them a shot of raki. She offers one to me too.

‘I can’t,’ I say, ‘I’m working.’

‘Just one!’ she says.

When I leave around lunchtime, it’s suddenly so windy I can hardly stand up. The supermarket is closed, but someone tells me the lady who owns it has just gone across the street to the pharmacy, so I wait and sure enough she opens up again, so I buy coffee and a notebook and toothpaste. As I leave, a man’s hat blows off and we laugh. He asks me if I arrived on foot yesterday – he saw me as he went past. He says if I want a ride I need to do ‘auto-stop’, otherwise people think you prefer to walk.

That afternoon, sitting in Parthenon café surrounded by more old photographs, I finish the piece of work that has gone on and on. Then I go for a walk. I’m sure it’s partly relief at finishing that project, but I’m practically in tears as I walk around Olympos village, out to its edges on the mountains and down into the valley.

The physical setting, with the sheer mountains rising up, and the way houses and windmills cling to the slopes and ridges. Can there be a more beautiful place? Sometimes it reminds me of Santorini (but before it was discovered); sometimes I feel I’m in the Himalayas or Machu Picchu. Everywhere I turn, there is something surprising and spectacular. The colours of the stone itself – green, brown and white – and the houses – white, blue, yellow – and the way they are decorated. The terraces with olives and figs and vines; from across the valley I looked back to the village and saw a boy leading a goat by a rope; a woman in black picking fruit from a tree; another sitting in a field with her goats. And I love the beautiful dress of the women, black with bright embroidery, black headscarves and high leather boots; and the way they smile. The angles of the steps, the sun setting into the sea.

Arriving back in the room I glimpse myself in the mirror looking rosy-cheeked and windswept. I crawl into my very comfy bed on its raised wooden platform with a window out to the sea, and fall happily asleep for a while. When I wake, relaxed, it’s evening and I hear the church bell close by. The big church is lit up for the service, and inside are old frescoes and gilded wood and huge, brilliant chandeliers, the sound of chanting and the smell of incense.

Archontoula heats up artichokes and potatoes for me, the food I watched her prepare in the morning; with herbs and olive oil in tomato sauce with that hard, white, salty local cheese, and olives and bread and a glass of cold water. There’s no fuss; it’s all just done simply and beautifully.

I’m so happy to be here.






 
 

Monday, 13 June 2016

On the Way to Olympos




‘Karpathos! Olympos! Oreia! Den echo paei, alla…’
I was hearing this a lot. Everyone said Olympos was beautiful but no-one had been.

It required quite a commitment to get there from Tilos. Although I could see Karpathos on the horizon from Megalo Horio, it meant juggling ferry or flight connections, stopover days in Rhodes or Halki. The port of Diafani in north Karpathos, which serviced Olympos, was damaged so I’d have to disembark in the southern port of Pigadia and make my way north by land. Buses only ran twice a week; it was too early for excursion boats; taxis cost an arm and a leg for the hour-long drive. Renting a car seemed an expensive solution. Maybe I wouldn’t make it to Olympos after all…
Yet the film and still images I’d seen of the remote village high on a mountain looked stunning.

I decided to go the week before Easter when I had a pet-sitter for Lisa who was happy to stay as long as I needed. Olympos was said to have retained many traditions and I wanted to arrive before the Easter celebrations to witness everyday life.

‘Olympos,’ said one shop owner during my weekend stopover in Rhodes, where I interspersed work with shopping and seeing friends. ‘I have clients from there – interesting customers.’

‘What d’you mean?’ I asked, laughing.

‘You’ll see. Come back and tell me when you return.’

That evening I went to Mikro Kafe on Pythagoras, down the road from Kristina’s Rooms where I had a lovely place for a couple of nights.
Dimitris, with sharp-cut hair and a tailored shirt, came from the north of Greece and studied old coins but had started working as a bartender since he wasn’t making money selling antiques. Yiannis bought me a drink and they both confirmed that Olympos was the place to go in Karpathos. Manolis then joined us and said they made leather boots in Olympos and the women were in charge of the money. I said I might stay there for Easter, or might not.

‘Karpatho!’ said Dimitris, shaking his head. ‘Fai-nono, fai-nono.’ Food-sleep, food-sleep. Nothing else. ‘You’ll come back fat!’ He stuck out his elbows to suggest how fat I was going to get with all that food and sleep. Then he made me a white rose out of a napkin, but Yiannis screwed it up jealously, so Dimitris bought me a real one and Yiannis bought some more drinks while Dimitris cooked me a feast of sausages and eggs. ‘You must come back to Rhodes for Easter. An den ertheis, tha ginei hamos.’
And so around 2 a.m. in late April, full of good food and wine and with a big smile on my face from the company of all the new friends I’d made in Rhodes, I went back to Kristina’s Rooms for my backpack, then walked past Mikro Kafe and waved, continued past crowds standing outside bars where music was playing. I thought how happy I was to have come to live in Greece. What a life. I walked down to the port to wait for the ferry, the Preveli.

It’s a bright, sunny morning and on the big old ship Preveli, sleeping bodies are randomly laid out like the aftermath of an accident. The engine thrums as we pass down the coast of a magical-looking island. Karpathos, from here, seems to be one long and impenetrable mountain ridge. It looks like something created for a film like Lord of the Rings using special effects.
Although most Greek people I’ve spoken to about northern Karpathos say ‘Ah, it’s beautiful! But I’ve never been’ – as if it’s some distant realm instead of just a hop from Rhodes – my English friend and my Australian friend brought me back to earth by saying, ‘Ah, I wonder if it’s as good as it was when I was there twenty years ago?’ Marc Dubin in the Rough Guide grumbled years ago that it was no longer the place it had been. I wonder how I will find it?

The other foreigners I met on the dock in Rhodes in the middle of the night waiting for the Preveli were continuing to Crete: an intrepid old Scottish couple and a very talkative young Latvian, on his way to work at a resort for the summer, who was sorely disappointed when I said I wasn’t joining him at the bar but going to get a few hours’ kip. When I asked the crew, as I boarded, what time we’d arrive in Karpathos, they looked panicked and said, ‘Depends what time we leave here!’ Crowds were pushing up the gangway as massive trucks drove off. I found a spot for my camping mat (not under the stars but under the stairs) and slept well.
There’s no other land in sight, just that long ridge with a road cut into it and the occasional village gleaming white, up high. It seems like a long, straightened out Santorini. As we close in on the south of the island it’s clear how rugged it is. It seems all beaches and mountains: my kind of place.

We enter the harbour.

 

I previously saw Pigadia when I travelled back from Crete on the Preveli, and was bemused by the density of low-rise apartment buildings; today the bay is a brilliant blue and the water invitingly clear, but this isn’t the Karpathos I came to see. I take a card from a taxi driver in case I need one. I find out the next bus to Olympos isn’t for three days and I realise I haven’t brought my driving licence even if I did change my mind about a car. I’m too happy to be concerned by any of this, though. I’m on an adventure, and the sun is shining.
I call Minas, the man I’ve booked a room with in Olympos - surprised to hear an American accent - and explain I’ll just get there when I can, hoping I can shift my booking; he says to check at the supermarket in case anyone is driving up but they shrug and say they don’t know of anyone going up this morning. While there I ask half-jokingly about walking to Olympos over a few days and a woman says that’s definitely not possible. I have a feeling she doesn’t really know, though, she’s just guessing. There’s a bookshop selling maps but it’s Sunday and it’s closed, so I copy a basic map from the wall of a car rental shop into my notebook. Then I set off walking, to see what happens. After a swim off a sandy beach, I head out of town on foot.




I leave my backpack at the gates of a church at the bottom of the village of Aperi. I’ve been hiking uphill for several kilometres in the warm sun. Aperi seems a prosperous modern village surrounded by well-kept chapels and fields, and I ask a woman beside a gleaming new car if there’s a shop. She directs me to the taverna by the bridge, To Gefiri, where an older man makes me a gigantic pita gyros filled with meat and chips and tzatziki and salad; in fact, he makes me two, one of them to take away for later. There are no rooms to rent in the village, so I ask about camping on Ahata beach, and he doesn’t think it will be a problem. Another man comes over to chat, Nikitas, and when I tell him I live in Tilos he says, ‘Say hello to the owner of the Spanos ferry and squeeze his cheek from me.’







It seems perverse to be walking all the way downhill again several kilometres to a beach, but thankfully the scenery in the rocky, green, pine-filled valley is glorious, reminding me of the gorges of southwest Crete, and I have it to myself. My backpack is digging into my shoulders, so I offload a carrier bag of non-essentials (wishing I’d had less time for shopping in Rhodes) and leave them hanging in a tree to pick up on my way back tomorrow. The road seems to go on forever but finally the beach appears and it is a heavenly white-pebbled cove.


I set up the tent which Edward gave me and have a good swim. Then I turn on my phone and send a message to Minas, saying ‘Am camping on Ahata beach for the night.’ He calls in response and I half-expect him to tell me it’s not allowed, but instead he says, ‘It’s a clear night and should be beautiful, lots of stars…’ He’s also arranged for someone to pick me up at the road tomorrow and drive me to Olympos to stay at his hotel.
It is a beautiful night. With waves lapping a few metres away, I can’t help falling asleep in the early evening, awakening a couple of hours later to moonlight and stars and a fishing boat coming into the cove. I sleep again, and wake to a gale-force wind whooshing through the pine trees and doing its best to blow the tent over.

Shivering, I stuff everything into my backpack and then carry the empty tent, now flapping around and trying to take off, into a more sheltered spot in the lee of the cliffs. It’s less picturesque, next to an old caravan with its windows broken, but the tent feels less vulnerable. I put on as many clothes as I can, snuggle back into my sleeping bag and sleep until morning.



Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Sea Captains, Sea Bream and Swimming in Lovely Lindos


On my first afternoon in Lindos, I’d arranged to meet Karen and Claire from Exclusively Lindos at the relaxed Skala taverna on the edge of the sandy beach. Looking out across the little bay, we spent the afternoon laughing and swapping stories over a superb lunch that included fried calamari and tzatziki and a Greek salad with capers, plus three excellent cooked dishes: a spicy sausage dish called spetsofai, aubergine in rich tomato sauce, baked in the oven and topped with cheese, and one of my favourites, peas cooked with potatoes, carrots and herbs in olive oil. 
As the afternoon wore on we made our way through this feast and drank wine and the sun gleamed on the bay. We thanked chef Giorgos and the team at Skala, sending greetings to owner Sotiris who was working on his new restaurant in Lardos. I waved goodbye to my new friends for now and couldn’t resist slipping into the sea that lapped at the shore. As I swam, a light spring rain began to fall and the soft sunlight that emerged through the clouds afterwards was beautiful.


 
Just as New York isn’t really America, Lindos isn’t really Rhodes; it’s got a charm and magic all of its own. The village and its immediate surroundings have been protected from development because of the archaeological significance: it was a major trading and shipping centre as far back as the 8th century BC, pre-dating Rhodes town and sending a contingent of ships to the Trojan War. The Acropolis of Lindos with its temple of Athena may be older than the one in Athens, overlooking St Paul’s bay where the Apostle took shelter from a storm; the fortress around it was built by the medieval Knights of St John. The buildings are all in traditional ‘sugar-cube’ style and contained within the old village limits. Built around the edges of a hill with ancient ruins atop it and the sea on three sides, from the 1960s it attracted artistic types from all over the world.

I first stayed in a villa in Lindos in the 1980s with my family; a few years ago I returned in midsummer and sampled the restaurants and bars with my friend Hari. This time, Exclusively Lindos had offered me a stay in a ‘Captain’s House’ in the heart of Lindos for a few days in April. It would be a quiet time, I expected, since the season doesn’t really start until 1 May; and Lindos looked very pretty, the surroundings tinged with green.
The Captain’s Houses were the homes of the affluent merchant seamen of Lindos in the 16th and 17th centuries. Hidden behind high walls and grand doorways, they housed sizeable families and were decorated with Byzantine and Arabesque features and pebble mosaic courtyards. On my previous visit I’d seen the Papakonstandis Mansion. The Captain’s House accommodation offered through Exclusively Lindos is owned by a local family who handcrafted the interior woodwork. Off the courtyard are two bedrooms, a kitchen and the tall, magnificent sala, with its painted wooden ceiling and traditional raised platforms for sleeping and relaxing. To stay in such a place, part of the heart and history of the village, was very special.

 


The next morning I had Ayios Pavlos (Saint Paul’s) Bay to myself for a morning swim. 

My mum was flying over to join me at the Captain’s House so we would make the most of the few days. When she arrived, we went straight down to the bay for lunch at Tambakio, a stylish restaurant on the water’s edge. The tambakio was a tannery (‘tambak’ being the Turkish word for leather, apparently); they would slaughter the sheep or goats there and it had been used until World War Two; then converted into a restaurant thirty years ago, and owned by the same man who has two of the most popular summer clubs in Lindos, Antika in the village and Amphitheatro up on the hill. We ate tsipoura, a type of bream which was grilled and tasted delicious with salad and wine.
   
 

Later, we were invited to join a wedding reception at Yannis’ bar, and after dinner at Symposio – where we ate excellent lamb kleftiko (and Joanna, the chef, recognised me from my appearance on the Tilos episode of 60 Lepta Ellada!) – we were invited by new friends Giannis and Michalis for drinks and dancing at Socrates Bar, which usually has rock music except for Saturday nights when they play Greek music. It was a warm welcome to Lindos and by the early hours, it seemed it wouldn’t be such a quiet few days after all.


After a late start next day, we spent the day lazing on loungers and swimming across St Paul’s Bay and had lunch this time at the opposite side, the ‘kantina’, where the tiered patches of land around were planted with vegetables and herbs, and the olive oil, coarse salt and oregano were all local. It was another beautiful setting. In the evening as we availed ourselves of the internet connection over a lovely glass of wine at Giorgios’ bar, Joanna, the chef from Symposio, came by to offer us some of her home-made, delicious chocolates. We ate dinner at Calypso: another bream, this time with horta and dolmades. After a few intense days of walking in Embona, I was making up for it with plenty of dinners and drinks...
On Monday morning, I sauntered around the village just as little kids were walking to school, and bread was being delivered, hanging in plastic bags from door handles. Like the donkeys grazing in the car park, it was a nice reminder that in spite of the style and glamour, Lindos is also a simple Greek village. Once again, I had St Paul’s Bay to myself. In spite of a cool spring breeze and some clouds, the sun was warm and the sea beautifully clear. 


The weather turned rainy again in the afternoon, but Mum and I felt like stretching our legs so we walked around the coast towards Pefkos, up to the little church of Profitis Ilias and then to the thirteenth-century monastery of Ayios Giannis Meroglitis. 



It gave us an excuse to live large again in the evening, with a return visit to Symposio for a wonderful dinner: olives crushed with lemon; succulent kalamari fried whole; bread with tapenade and taramasalata; a salad of lettuce, rocket, tomato, cucumber, pomegranate, avocado and honey-roasted walnuts; a sea bream with a very light lemon-herb sauce; and fresh potatoes with sea salt. We’d had three days of sheer enjoyment in lovely surroundings, eating and drinking, swimming and dancing, with a peaceful Captain’s House to call home, and new friends to visit again.