Tag Archives: Greek Ferries

On This Day – Boat Ride to Bodrum

On 30th September 2014 I took an ill advised boat trip in Turkey.

After the debacle of the IMX excursion to Ephesus and Pamukkale and the road side break down we seriously considered cancelling our next IMX  trip to Bodrum because this was by boat and whilst breaking down in a car is bad enough, in a boat it could be catastrophic.

Read the full story Here…

Thursday Doors, The Greek Island of Kimolos

Kimolos 05

Narrow cobbled streets, whitewashed houses with paintwork cracked and splintered by the sun.  With less than a thousand residents across the entire island there isn’t a great deal of local activity to observe. In the tight, sinuous streets paving stones have been edged in white and decorated with flowers, hearts, sailboats and slogans: “My Kimolos, my paradise”. Lovely.

At the top the tall cathedral seemed somehow too grand and too big and completely out of scale with the tiny streets and boxy houses. The streets are ramshackle and without order or planning as they wound their way to the centre and the sixteenth century Kastro, much of which isdilapidated and in ruins with heaps of rubble from collapsed and mostly abandoned houses.

Inside, some people were clinging on to occupation of houses with only very basic facilities that would certainly be declared unfit in the United Kingdom.

The Kastro is an important historical monument and there are plans to restore the buildings and some early work has begun but it is likely to take a very long time because current funding from the Greek Government and the European Union is totally inadequate which leaves the project financially beyond restorative reach.

As surely as a sunflower drops its head and dies if anyone wants to see these old doors they had better go soon because they will soon be replaced with plastic and will have gone the way of the old Greek ferries, the unreliable bus services and the dusty corner shops that sell things people no longer need.

Kimolos 04Kimolos 01Kimolos 02Kimolos 03

Greek Islands, Ferry Ride from Ios to Syros

Greek Ferry

From Ios we were travelling now to the island of Syros and I had found a reasonably priced ferry ride for just €16 each.  This was a seven hour journey (I suggested to Kim that she thought of it as a sort of cruise) stopping off at Sikinos, Folegandros, Naxos and Paros along the way.

I have been visiting the Greek islands on and off for over thirty years and island hopping for the last ten and I have noticed that things are beginning to change, and not always for the better either.

There are new roads being constructed on the islands and EU funded improvements to ports, traditional mini-markets are becoming supermarkets, bus services are being privatised and updated and the ferries are beginning to change.  New roads are fine and improved port facilities are good, personally I prefer the dusty old shops with surprises in dark corners and the inefficient buses but I have to say that I am really disappointed by the ferry changes.

This year again there were new routes and unfamiliar boats and these were all high speed and modern and they are not nearly as much fun.  They are more expensive, have inside allocated airline style seats, in some cases no access to the outside deck and generally lack character or individuality.

I understand that these changes are welcomed by the people who live on the islands, who now have faster and more convenient transport options, but it is a sad day for back packers and island hoppers.  I prefer the uncertainty of missed schedules, the battle with the elements and the confusion and commotion associated with getting on and getting off in preference to the reliability, the smooth ride and the orderly airline style of boarding and departure.

In 2006 I travelled from Naxos to Ios on an old rust bucket called the Panagia Hozoviotisa (named after the monastery on Amorgos) and there was a real sense of adventure. It was two hours late and there was a force seven gale and the boat struggled through the heaving seas but it was an honest hard working boat and the journey was wonderful.

I used it again in 2007 but now it is laid up out of service in Piraeus.  So too the G&A ferries the Romilda and the Milena that used to run the western Cyclades but have now been replaced with charmless monsters called SpeedRunner, Highspeed or Seajet, boats named without thought or imagination and completely lacking any sense of romance.

Using the traditional old ferries was even more of an adventure because the island hopping guide advises that most of them should be avoided if possible.

This year only the Ventouris Sea Lines Agios Georgios was left and we used it twice, once between Serifos and Sifnos, and then from Sifnos to Milos and we really took pleasure from sitting on the open deck with a mythos, listening to the gentle ‘sha sha sha’ as the prow scythed through the water cutting an arrow head of foam into the blue, enjoying the sun and watching the islands slowly slipping by.

On the old boats it is possible to move freely from deck to deck, get close and see inside the bridge and watch the captain plotting a course and then at the other end watch the crew at work at the stern and a mad rush of activity when they came in to a port and then left again shortly afterwards.

It was noisy and fun with creaking ropes and rattling chains and the men looked like real sailors.  On the new boats there is only a monotonous hum from the modern engines and the crew, dressed in smart corporate uniforms, don’t really like you leaving your seat and wandering about unless you are going to the overpriced bar.

This regrettable change is driven by the desire to improve but is in part due also to stricter operating rules imposed on ferry operators after a disaster on 26thSeptember 2000 when the Express Samina Ferry sank off of Paros while the captain slept and the crew watched a football match on TV.  Several of the crew were convicted of manslaughter and sent to jail and the General Manager of the company committed suicide when he jumped from his sixth floor office window in Piraeus.

I am glad that I had a few years of travelling between the islands on the old boats and I suppose I will have to come to terms with the fact that these days have gone but the journey from Ios to Syros on the Aqua Spirit was a reminder of those good old days.

To be completely honest I enjoyed it a whole lot more than Kim because after five hours or so at open sea her patience tanks began to run dry and she certainly didn’t enjoy the last leg of the journey from Paros to our destination port of Syros.

I know this for certain because she reminded me several times!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Gone But Not Forgotten – Greek Islands

Kavala Thassos Ferry

“Somewhere… I once found a list of diseases… and among these occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit.  These are people…who somehow find islands irresistible.  A little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with indescribable intoxication.   Lawrence Durrell – ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’

Greek Ferry Artemis in Paros

“… as you gaze over the rail (of the ferry) you may have a Byronic twinge of nostalgia and decide that one day you might return to settle among those mazy streets and silent dusty squares.”  Lawrence Durrell

Blue Star Paros approaching Athens

The best feeling on leaving an island is the experience of gazing back and knowing one day that you might return!

Turkey, Boat Ride to Bodrum

Bodrum Turkey St Peter's Castle

After the debacle of the IMX excursion to Ephesus and Pamukkale and the road side break down we seriously considered cancelling our next IMX  trip to Bodrum because this was by boat and whilst breaking down in a car is bad enough, in a boat it could be catastrophic.

We didn’t cancel but we both had negative premonitions about the trip and sure enough it started badly when the shuttle bus didn’t arrive to collect us.  We concluded that the reason may well be that after the Pamukkale fiasco and taking into consideration that the company was two vehicles down then this was most likely the reason.  We waited twenty minutes and then thoroughly irritated by this hopped on a Dolmus (a bus transport system) and made our own way to the jetty and the Bodrum ferry boat.

Straight away we were not absolutely sure about this, the boat was ancient, there were gaping holes in the rotting deck, the furniture was shabby old and worn out, we couldn’t see any lifeboats, the sun shades were ripped and ragged, parts of the vessel seemed to be held together with wire and string and the thoroughly unprofessional crew didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.

If this was Greece then the rust bucket would have been decommissioned years ago and this thing had as much chance of complying with EU marine safety legislation as I have of flying to the moon.  On the other hand the sea was calm, the sky was blue, we had paid for it so what could possibly go wrong we wondered?

Well, quite a lot as it happened…

The scheduled nine o’clock departure time came and went and my already half empty cup of optimism was rapidly draining away but half an hour or so behind schedule the ferry eventually left the jetty and began its journey to Bodrum and the skipper steered the boat into open water.

It was a perfect morning.  Everywhere was blue, the sky, the sea, even the distant hills and mountains had a misty blueness about them and we settled down on the very top deck to enjoy the two hour crossing across the bay.

St Peter's Castle Bodrum Turkey

After an hour or so it is clear that the ferry was taking a curious route and didn’t seem to be heading in the direction of Bodrum at all.  Bodrum is around the headland but the boat was going straight on.  The reason for this was that the Bodrum ferry doesn’t actually go to Bodrum but eventually dropped us off on the other side of the peninsula and we were all transferred to a bus for the final leg of the journey and they didn’t tell us that at the IMX travel shop when we booked the tour.  IMX was beginning to seriously annoy me, I can tell you!

The bus leg of the journey took fifteen minutes or so and dropped us at the bus station which was a disaster for me because the bus station was next to the market and today was market day.  Kim was minded to pay a quick visit so I was dragged into the heaving mass of trading recklessness and spent a very uncomfortable thirty minutes negotiating the route from one side to the other.

Emerging from the exit we followed the road down to the harbour and as it was lunch time we looked for somewhere to eat.  It didn’t take long to be invited and then convinced to sit at a pavement table and soon we were tucking in to a lunch of spiced beef kebab with roasted vegetables and playing Russian roulette with a jar of chillies because just one injudicious selection meant a fiery eruption on the tongue!  The food was average and the bill was a shock so sulking about that we left the restaurant and carried on towards the castle.

St Peter’s castle was built by the Knights of Saint John in the fifteenth century as a defensive stronghold in Asia Minor.  Old photographs from the 1960s reveal that there has been a lot of reconstruction but a good job has been done because there is a lot of castle to explore here with several towers, fortified walls and high rampart walks as well as gardens, historical interpretations and the museum of underwater archaeology.

A walk around the harbour in the blistering heat of the afternoon took us now to another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Mausolus.  This was once a magnificent forty-five metre high marble tomb, decorated with statues and friezes and built in the third century BC as a burial chamber for King Mausolus of Caria.  All that remains now are a few toppled columns and splintered stones and a hole in the ground where the burial chamber once was because all of the usable stones had been previously carted away by the Knights of St John who needed a convenient supply of stone to build their nearby castle.

The Knights of St John have quite a lot of lost architectural heritage to answer for it would seem and if the World Heritage Organisation had existed in the fifteenth century I think they may have had a great deal of explaining to do to the Director-General of UNESCO!

The afternoon was slipping away now so we returned to the busy main shopping street and made the souvenir purchases that we had promised ourselves and then had a drink in a shady bar before returning to the bus station for the ride back to the ferry.

Bodrum Harbour Turkey

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure

Greek Ferries

In 2006 I travelled from Naxos to Ios on an old rust bucket called the Panagia Hozoviotisa (named after the monastery on Amorgos) and there was a real sense of adventure. It was two hours late and there was a force seven gale and the boat struggled through the heaving seas but it was an honest hard working boat and the journey was wonderful.  I used it again in 2007 but now it is laid up out of service in Piraeus.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: ZigZag

Oia Santorini Greece

“And then the cliffs… where has one ever seen such colours, seen rock twisted up like barley sugar, convoluted and coloured so fancifully?  They remind me of the oil marbling on the endpapers of Victorian ledgers.  Mauve, green, putty, grey, yellow, scarlet, cobalt… every shade of the heat from that of pure molten rock to the tones of metamorphic limestone cooling back into white ash…. Sunset and sunrise here put poets out of work.”                                                 Lawrence Durrell

Read the full story…

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Perspective

Oia is even more picturesque than Thira but fortunately not nearly so crowded and we walked along the top of the cliff, along narrow roads and down twisting footpaths, around whitewashed churches, creaking windmills and an abandoned castle and it was so much more leisurely and enjoyable than the capital.   It was now extremely hot and as the sun blazed and the rays bounced around the whitewashed streets and houses it made us think of mythos and shade so we found a taverna in a back street and enjoyed a meal at about half of the prices in Thira.

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Island Hopping Plans and Greek Ferries 2012

Agios Georgios

Soon it will be time for the annual trip to the Greek islands and this year I will travel to the Dodecanese island of Kos and then plan to visit a handful of small adjacent islands.  Unfortunately, according to Greek newspaper reports, it seems that this may not be quite so straightforward as it was in the past because there are big changes and significant problems with the ferries and last minute cancellations and rerouting is apparently creating difficulties for island-hoppers as well as the local Greek population.

Despite all the on-going problems in Greece the ferry system has remained relatively immune from troubles, except for the odd one day strike, but now the profitability of the ferry companies is being squeezed and the warning is that this will inevitably impact on services.  Partly as a result of the economic crisis operators are faced with a serious drop in business, on some routes as high as 15% for vehicles and 25% in passenger traffic in comparison with the same period last year.  What is creating the problems are fewer visitors from Western Europe and this year hard-pressed Athenians are staying home and not visiting the islands as they traditionally do in August.

The situation is made even worse by the high cost of fuel, which represents more than 50% of ferry operating costs now that the Greek Government has increased fuel duty in attempt to tackle the budget deficit.

These two factors are bad enough for the operators but many are also struggling due to outstanding subsidy payments owed by the Greek government to the companies in return for running services to otherwise unprofitable remote islands. Some of these payments are reported to be eight months outstanding and this is increasing ferry operators’ liquidity problems and they occasionally have difficulty paying for and obtaining fuel.  The Greek Government has a subsidy budget of 90 million euros for the period from October 2011 to November 2012 but there is pressure from shipping companies to increase this by up to 30% which given the state of the economy is unlikely to be approved but without the subsidies or private sector companies to step in some routes will be vulnerable.

Even before the crisis the ferry system was changing and from an island-hopper’s perspective not always for the best.  In the last couple of years there have been unfamiliar boats and these are all high speed and modern and they are not nearly as much fun.  They are more expensive, have inside allocated airline style seats, in some cases no access to the outside deck and generally lack character or individuality.

I understand that these changes are welcomed by the Government who have privatised the main routes and for the islanders who now have faster and more convenient transport options, but it is a sad day for back packers and island hoppers because I for one prefer the uncertainty of missed schedules, the battle with the elements and the confusion and commotion associated with getting on and getting off in preference to the reliability, the smooth ride and the orderly airline style of boarding and departure.

In 2006 I travelled from Naxos to Ios on an old rust bucket called the Panagia Hozoviotisa and there was a real sense of adventure. It was two hours late and there was a force seven gale and the boat struggled through the heaving seas but it was an honest hard working boat and the journey was wonderful.  I used it again in 2007 but now it is laid up out of service in Piraeus.  So too the G&A ferries the Romilda and the Milena that used to run the western Cyclades but have now been replaced with charmless monsters called Speedrunner or Seajet, boats named without thought or imagination and completely lacking any sense of romance.

Using the traditional old ferries was even more of an adventure because the island hopping guide advises that most of them should be avoided if possible.  By 2009 only the Ventouris Sea Lines Agios Georgios was left and I used it twice, once between Serifos and Sifnos, and then from Sifnos to Milos and I really took pleasure from sitting on the open deck with a Mythos, enjoying the sun and watching the islands slowly slipping by.

On the old boats it is possible to move freely from deck to deck, get close and see inside the bridge and see the captain at work and then at the other end watch the crew at work at the back of the boat and a mad rush of activity when they came in to a port and then left again shortly afterwards.  It was noisy and fun with creaking ropes and rattling chains and the men looked like real sailors.  On the new boats there is only a monotonous hum from the efficient engines and the crew, dressed in smart corporate uniforms, don’t really like you leaving your seat and wandering about unless you are going to the overpriced bar.

This year I will still make plans to visit some islands but it seems that I will need a bigger budget to pay the higher fares on the unsubsidised routes and I will need a good back-up plan if the ferries fail to run on the minor routes between the smaller islands.  It seems that sadly the days of cheap island hopping adventures may soon be a thing of the past.

The Express Skopelitis and Greek Ferries

My Favourite Pictures of the Greek Islands – 20

Greek Ferries

Using the traditional old ferries was sometimes an adventure because the island hopping guide advises that most of them should be avoided if possible.  By 2009 only the Ventouris Sea Lines Agios Georgios was left and I used it twice, once between Serifos and Sifnos, and then from Sifnos to Milos and I really took pleasure from sitting on the open deck with a cold mythos, enjoying the sun and watching the islands slowly slipping by.   Now I fear that the Agios Georgios will probably be gone too and journeys between the islands in thefuture will be less enjoyable.

Read the full story…