Tag Archives: Amorgos

Greek Islands, Final Days and a Last Walk

cyclades-postcard

“… but God’s magic is still at work and no matter what the race of man may do or try to do, Greece is still a sacred precinct – and my belief is it will remain so until the end of time.” – Henry Miller, ‘Collosus of Maroussi’

Leaving Tinos the Blue Star ferry made its way to neighbouring Mykonos where we would be spending the last two days of our trip before flying home.

Usually we choose to stay in traditional accommodation with average prices but for the last two days we had selected instead to stay at a more expensive boutique hotel just outside the Chora.  Actually, it wasn’t that expensive just a bit more than we like to pay and the result was that we were allocated a very nice room with a balcony and a Jacuzzi and a glorious view over the town and the bay.

Mykonos Street 1

By comparison the mini-bar and restaurant prices were ludicrously astronomical so it didn’t take us long to make a decision to take a walk back into the centre for an afternoon stroll, search for a sunset and then find a reasonably priced taverna for evening meal.

Now at the end of our holiday we challenged each other to record the highs and lows of the three week trip.  We didn’t agree entirely with each other but I think this list of highlights is safe enough to share…

  1. Amorgos was our favourite island
  2. Homer’s Inn on Ios was, as always our favourite hotel
  3. The gyros in Syros was our favourite meal
  4. Mountain tracks on Amorgos were our favourite walks
  5. The seven hour ferry journey from Ios to Syros (Andrew)

We struggled to make a list of low-lights but these were suggestions…

  1. Car hire in Amorgos
  2. Cruise ships in Mykonos
  3. The seven hour ferry journey from Ios to Syros (Kim)

The list complete we thought about our last day and agreed that it might be a good idea to try and break our walking record and see if we could crash through the ten mile barrier so we decided to start early and walk to Ornos where we had stayed two weeks previously and then on to Agios Ioannis and then return.

Walking in Mykonos

So, next day we did just that and immediately after a rather chaotic hotel breakfast we packed our rucksacks and set off.

It was late October now and the scorching summer weather was on the glorious tipping point into Autumn and there was a welcome breeze, well, wind actually, which made it a pleasant walk to the south of the island.  Once there we thought about a swim in the sea but the beach was still crowded with sun-worshippers cluttering up the beach so we passed straight through and on to Agios Ioannis where we stopped to swim for the last time this year and then to have a drink before retracing our steps stopping in Ornos on the way for a light lunch.

The taverna was next to the bus stop and there a middle-aged shabbily dressed American with grizzled grey hair and an extravagant pony tail was giving Greece travel advice to a younger woman who had admiring doe eyes and was hanging on to his every word as though he was Ernest Hemingway or Henry Miller or Rick Steves.  Some of the advice was quite useful as it turned out but it dried up when the bus arrived and they climbed aboard and left.

We left shortly after and walked the two miles back to the hotel where we sat in the sun, arranged our suitcases ready for the journey home and enjoyed some time in the Jacuzzi.

mykonos-jacuzzi

For evening meal we had chosen a beach side taverna a little way out of the town (we needed the steps) and we presented ourselves at the agreed time of eight o’clock.  It was a busy restaurant and we were obliged to share a table with a couple from France who arrived shortly after us and were both clearly very drunk.  They ordered several starter plates and a bottle of retsina and then nibbled at the food and got seriously stuck into the wine.  They were generous with their food and invited us to share but I noticed they didn’t offer any wine.  They ate almost nothing but very quickly ordered a second bottle.

As we ate the American and his adoring companion walked by and although I am certain they had only recently met they were now holding hands.

It was a good meal, perhaps the best of the holiday? I don’t know, I can’t really be sure, but we enjoyed the musicians who played traditional Greek music throughout the evening and the amusing company.  He danced, she chatted, they were clearly local celebrities and when it was time to go we said goodbye and as we left they ordered their third bottle of retsina!

Greek Dancing

We walked back and saw the American and his friend who were now walking arm-in-arm – the old man of the sea had clearly been hooked.  Back at the room we checked the pedometer – 10.35 miles, we had broken our record and we were self-congratulatory about that.

On the final morning I was surprised to see no cruise ships in the harbour or the bay so anticipating that this might make a difference I made a final visit to the town.  It was charming, empty, quiet, unhurried and delightful.  Without hordes of cruiser invaders the little streets of the town had a whole different ambience and improved quality.  I liked it so much I did at least two full circuits of the town and I was so happy to see it like this in the last few hours before returning back home.

We had enjoyed the Cyclades and agreed that we certainly wouldn’t leave it another five years before returning to one of our favourite places.

Ios Unique Restaurant

Greek Islands, Window Art in Amorgos

Cat Sign Amorgos GreeceRestaurant Sign Amorgos GreeceWall art Amorgos GreeceAmorgos Wall Art

Greek Islands, Naxos and the Cathedral Tour

Blue Star Amorgos to Naxos

‘The problem is not that French is impossible to learn: you can hear it spoken perfectly in Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco. No, the real problem with French is that it is a useless language’. Jeremy Paxman (UK Journalist)

It was still very dark when we made our way down to the harbour and joined a line of passengers flocking onto the ferry Blue Star Paros which was throbbing away in the harbour and we made our way to the partially covered seating area on the top deck of the boat.

As the quayside rumbled with the sound of drag-bag wheels we watched from the deck rail we saw what resembled a sort of Pied Piper story unfolding as people emerged from rooms and spilled out of little side streets all heading in the same untidy direction and making their way to the boat.

It left on time and slipped noisily out of Katapola into a disturbingly rough sea and as the sun rose behind us the wind whipped up the foaming waves and sent them high enough to crash over the sides of the top deck covering our faces in a salty brine.  The ferry lurched alarmingly from side to side and the Greek flag was cracking like a whip in the wind as though trying to detach itself from its pole as we sailed west making brief but frequent stops at Koufonisia, Schinoussa and Iraklia before arriving in Naxos in time for breakfast.

Dash For The Ferry

After eating we walked to the top of the town to find the Venetian Cathedral tour that was highly recommended in the Island hopping guidebook.  We waited around in the courtyard outside the Cathedral and not a lot seemed to be happening and we wondered if we were going to be disappointed.

Eventually an old lady in an extravagant floral blouse and with a worn out old dog for a companion ghosted in from a hidden door in an adjacent room and enquired if we were there for the tour and we told her that yes we were.

She went to a great deal of trouble to explain that her English was quite poor and clutching her stomach she told us that her doctor had advised her against speaking in English because this made her ill.

I’m not a medical person you understand but this seemed highly unlikely to me and whereas conversely I may find it possible to understand that speaking German can give you a sore throat this woman had no credible explanation for a diagnosis of stomach cramps just through speaking English; but anyway as we set off she proceeded to speak perfectly even though it was in a hushed and croaky voice.

This was really excellent, we were the only people on the tour and we received an exceptional commentary all around the interior and the exterior of the Cathedral.  But then disaster struck as  a group of French people gate crashed the party and after a short debate about language preferences with these unwelcome latecomers she continued for the rest of the tour in about 75% French.

Naxos Street

She apologised to us for that and lamented that “English people cannot speak French and French people will not speak English!”  which, when I thought about it, was a very profound and accurate observation.  This shouldn’t have surprised us of course, we know how precious they can be about their secondary World language so we just had to accept the inevitable and struggle to make sense of the French and be grateful for the few stale bread-crumbs of English that were infrequently scattered our way.

There is no good reason for the French to be so stuck-up about their language, after all it is only the eighteenth most used in the World, Chinese is first, followed by Spanish and then English.  More people even speak Portuguese (sixth) and worst of all German (tenth).  The French, it seems, need to come to terms with the balance of linguistic power in the World.

Actually, even in a foreign language, this was an excellent tour and the communication difficulties didn’t spoil it one little bit.  Our guide swept us through a museum, a monastery and a simple basilica as we visited buildings and rooms that would simply not be accessible to tourists who did not join the tour.

In one room there was a pot-pourri of treasures that really deserved to be in a proper museum where they could be looked after properly.  She dragged them out of boxes and held them in her frail hands and in a rhapsodical way accompanied by extravagant arm gestures as though she were conducting an orchestra kept imploring us to “look at this, look at this!” 

Naxos Cathedral Tour

At one point she opened an illuminated manuscript and declared it to be five hundred years old but she turned the pages over as though it was a copy of last week’s Radio Times.  That sort of thing would never be allowed at the British Museum.  No wonder Lord Elgin took the marbles back to London so that they could be looked after!

This was a brilliant tour that allowed us to see something that we would not ordinarily have seen.  It lasted about ninety minutes and then she asked for just €2 each.

Now, I am not usually prone to impromptu acts of extravagance but this had been so really, really good that we gave her €5 each and still walked away thinking that we had bagged an exceptional bargain.

Our sojourn in Naxos was now almost over so we collected our suitcases from the bag storage depot and made our way slowly to the port and waited patiently for the Blue Star Ferry to arrive for our onward journey to Ios.

Naxos Cyclades Greece

Greek Islands, Amorgos – Katapola and the Chora

Amorgos Windmills Chora Greece

“I would stare out the window at these telephone wires and think, how civilisation had caught up with me and I wasn’t going to be able to escape after all. I wasn’t going to be able to live this eleventh-century life that I had thought I had found for myself.” – Leonard Cohen

Katapola was tranquil, peaceful and perfect and at this precise time might possibly have been the most wonderful place on earth and we looked forward to our three days of perfection because apart from concrete, the internet and air conditioning this place probably hasn’t changed a great deal in a thousand years.

Amorgians have a history of preserving the past and resisting progress.  There is a sense of collective defiance perhaps explained by the fact that during the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas (1936-41) the island was used as a remote place of exile for political prisoners.

Forty years ago the island didn’t have electricity, the tarmac roads that link the villages weren’t constructed until the 1990s and the modern ports which today welcome the large ferries are relatively recent additions.  The island has a desalination plant now to provide fresh water but up until 2015 fresh water was shipped in and delivered by tankers.

Amorgos Chora

We took the car to the Chora which cannot be seen from the sea or from the harbour but as we got closer we could see it above us like a fresh snow fall on top of a mountain.  From the outside it doesn’t look especially promising but once inside the walls of the town it is a different matter altogether.  The town turns in on itself in an introspective sort of way and inside there were narrow shady streets and lots of traditional cafés and tavernas where getting disorientated and lost is a certainty.

It was a lazy place where time goes by slowly and no one is in a particular hurry about anything.  If this was Naxos or Ios the Chora would have been teeming with shops and fast food places but this was a local town for local people and completely unspoilt by the retinue of tourist shops that can be found on more popular islands.

We explored the streets and in a very stiff breeze climbed to the very top to the redundant windmills that overlook the town and the Venetian castle that is built on top of a rocky outcrop that soars above it and its mass of dazzling white buildings.

Amorgos Chora

On the way back we were ready for a second stroll through the Chora where we ambled through the corkscrew of twisting streets returning several times to exactly the same place passing by several churches, the castle, blue doors, blue sky, shady vines and friendly cafés and I knew that this was my kind of town.

The Chora is rather like a hippie time-warp, slow, lazy, faded and bleached, pot plants struggling in the midday sun and appropriately slow mood music in the tavernas and bars – it reminded me of a favourite pair of old denim jeans and my battered blue t-shirt that I am reluctant to throw away. 

The ambience is compounded by  cultural traditions. Village life retains a centuries old pace thanks in large part to the absence of motorised vehicles. Old men while away the afternoons sitting in the summer shade chatting.  The labyrinthine, narrow lanes are the province of donkeys and wooden carts. Displays of ripe fruit – tomatoes, figs, golden apples – stand outside the little stores, the local catch is brought into the harbour daily, the wine and the raki is plentiful, good and cheap.

As we wandered around an old lady dressed all in black asked for help negotiating some difficult steps and we naturally obliged and in return for our assistance she treated us to her life story and tales of Amorgian life.  Her name was Limonique and she told us that after sixty-five years of marriage she was now a widow so I guessed her age to be somewhere around eighty-five or so.

Limonique Amorgos Chora

With the hire car at our disposal we decided now to drive around the south coast of the island.  I find that mostly it is good fun to drive a rental car but sometimes it is not.  This time it was not. Amorgos is extremely mountainous and the roads sway like a crazy roller coaster around the peaks and the valleys and the mountain passes and in some places only seem to hang on by crumbling asphalt fingernails to the fragmenting rock and loose shale.

The car, a Chevrolet City Spark with an inadequate 800cc engine was hopelessly under powered and totally unsuited to this type of motoring and it was hard work constantly twisting and turning and forever shifting gears – mostly between first and second!

I had put some petrol in the tank but with the continuous high revs the tiny engine was like a hungry sponge sucking the fuel tank dry at an alarming rate  and I became concerned as the needle started to sink like a stone towards the red zone.

And it was dangerous with precipitous drops with inadequate barriers to prevent a vehicle careering over the edge, oncoming vehicles driven by locals who consider it compulsory to text while driving and then unexpected livestock.

Amorgos Driving Hazard

After an hour or so I gave in.  I really wasn’t enjoying it and could go no further so after consulting with the navigator we turned around and headed straight back to Katapola where we parked the car and resumed walking.

There was a noticeable absence of English travellers but by contrast there were a lot of French people on Amorgos because this island was one of the locations for the Luc Besson film ‘Le Grande Bleu’ which self-opinionated film critics and French film-goers rave about but which turns out to be one of those hard to understand surrealist French non-event movies that goes around in ever decreasing self-indulgent circles until it finally disappears up its own aperture.

We waited now until nearly sunset time and then as the sun began to dip, the hills turn purple and the valleys flood with shadows we took a walk along the southern shore of the harbour, past an inevitable white church and an unnamed statue and as we sat and watched the sun fall into the sea and the sky turn purple through to black we looked back on our time in Amorgos and looked forward to moving on the next day to Naxos and then to Ios.

Amorgos Greece Sunset

Greek Islands, More Doors of Amorgos

Amorgos Door 05Greek Door AmorgosAmorgos Door 06Amorgos Door 04

Greek Islands, Amorgos – Aegiali to Katapola

Shady Relief in Amorgos Greece

Armed with the pedometer Kim had got her really serious walking legs working now so the day after the demanding climb to Tholária we were at it again early and tackling the walk to another nearby village of Lagkada.

Lagkada was about the same distance (two miles or so) but had the benefit of a footpath cut directly through the terraces which did away with the need to slavishly follow the tarmac and we dragged ourselves up the crumbling and uneven steps towards the bottom of the village.

Amorgos donkey

On the way we passed an islander on a mule and it was obvious that he was going about his day and his work on his chosen form of transport.  I got to thinking about how infrequently you see this now, much less even than when I first started to visit the Greek islands over thirty years ago and I realised that soon this will be a thing of the past.

This makes me a little sad!  When this generation has gone it is probable that no one will continue to use donkeys for anything other than equine amusement.  I felt glad that I had been there in time to see this and felt disappointed for those who will come after me and won’t.  Soon, I suspect seeing a Greek man riding a mule will be consigned to the dustbin of nostalgia. They will be gone and Europe will be the poorer for it.

Once inside the whitewashed walls we quickly found a  bar where we could rest a while.  A nice feature in the bars and cafés in Amorgos is the hospitable habit of providing customers with a glass of cold water.  I was unsure of this at first because I was brought up with a paranoia of drinking water abroad, so bad that I used to wash my teeth in bottled water in case I inadvertently swallowed a millilitre or two.

In fact the first time that I went to Greece, to Kos in 1983, I had to have typhoid injections and a certificate to prove it!   Well, how things change and now, thanks to desalination, if you can tolerate the odd taste, it appears to be safe to drink the water across the whole of the Greek Islands without suffering ill effects or an upset stomach.

Lagkada Amorgos Greece

We returned to the rustic narrow streets with decorated paving and adjacent buildings all whitewashed and blue.  All whitewashed and blue because since 1974 in a law passed by the military government of the time all houses have had to be painted white and church domes blue. Recently a debate has been re-opened between the Ministry of Culture and other authorities about allowing the use of alternative colours but as yet the law remains in place.

Amorgos Village Shop

In the middle of the village we came across a curious shop with an interesting window display and when I peaked inside the gloomy interior an old man illuminated by a shaft of dusty sun light invited us in.  It was what I would describe as a sort of workshop and he explained to us that he was the village carpenter, the village hardware store, the village liquor supplier and the village barber!  He obligingly showed us around and explained the family pictures hanging on the walls and invited me to have a haircut but I respectfully declined when I saw the age and condition of the clippers!

Lagkada is a pretty little village but it doesn’t take too long to see all of it (twice) so satisfied that we hadn’t missed anything we made our way down the path to Aegiali for our final afternoon and evening because the next day we were moving to the other end of the island to Katapola.

Amorgos table chairs pot and cat

The bus fare to Katapola was good value at only €2.80 each and after we paid the driver started the engine and left exactly on time.  We sat close to the front of the bus and in the seat directly behind the driver there was an old woman in widow’s weeds who was determined to talk constantly in some sort of quest to distract him and thoroughly test his driving ability as he eased the vehicle out of the village and began the ascent to the top of the mountain that separates the two ends of the island.  Before 1991 when this road was built the only effective way to travel from one end of Amorgos to the other was by ferry.

As the bus climbed higher into the interior and the engine began to complain and the gearbox groan the sides of the mountain became surprisingly greener with rugged plants clinging stubbornly to the desperately thin soil and then we reached the top of the mountainous spine of the island and we could see all the way down across the Chora and into the port of Katapola and still the woman in the seat behind the driver kept talking.

I’d have backed that woman in a talk-off against my mum!

The bus stopped briefly at the Chora to pick up more passengers and then the driver set off down the hairpin bends of the mountain road and down to the port.  I think he liked this part of the journey most of all because he made especially extravagant manoeuvres with increasingly theatrical turns of the steering wheel and he was confident too, even at one stage of the precipitous descent taking time out to make a telephone call while still listening all the time to the woman behind him jabbering away.

Amorgos Wall Decoration

After only a few minutes we arrived at the final bus stop in the port of Katapola, got off and met the driver from the apartments, the Hotel Amorgion and were driven quite some distance away from the town until we reached our destination.

To be honest, this was rather further out than we really wanted to be along an unmade road without any lighting and it was immediately clear that we were going to need some form of transport and with a very infrequent bus service and taxi fares beyond my skin-flint budget it was agreed that we would hire a car for our two-day stay in Katapola.

We negotiated a price of €50 and thirty minutes later it was delivered, a brand new Chevrolet Spark already with several areas of damage on the paintwork.  The hiring procedure was a refreshingly casual affair, there was no insurance hard sell, the man didn’t even want my credit card details and he said that it didn’t even matter if I didn’t return it with any fuel.  Anemos Car Rentals must surely be the most laid back in all of Europe!

Amorgos Sunset

Greek Islands, Doors of Amorgos

Amorgos Door 01Amorgos Door 02Amorgos Door 03