This one is from Ios at the very top of the island.
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This one is from Ios at the very top of the island.
“… 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.
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…
We struggled to make a list of low-lights but these were suggestions…
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.
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.
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!
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.
‘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.
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.
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!”
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.
“The flavour of the place is pleasant and alert, 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
Being a nervous traveller, normally when travelling by ferry that requires a crucial connection I like to allow a couple of hours or so leeway so that I can be certain of making the transfer.
The journey to Amorgos required a change at Naxos with only forty minutes on the timetable.
I began to get nervous when the first ferry was over fifteen minutes late and when it docked I tried to use thought transference to will people to board quickly and then to get the captain to slip the moorings and leave and it must have worked because everything went smoothly and soon the Seajet was easing away from Mykonos and was soon at full throttle and heading efficiently south towards neighbouring Naxos.
Once disembarked Kim did her ‘Frenchman in a queue impression’ and pushed her way to the front of the line for the connecting ferry to Amorgos. It wasn’t very elegant but at least we were sure to get on board and that was important because if we had missed this connection then we would be stuck in Naxos for the night.
It wasn’t an especially memorable crossing, I always prefer the older traditional ferries but this was a high speed, expensive but efficient and it roared its way across the water to deliver us to the main port of Katapala. This was a shame because we were staying at the opposite end of the island about fifteen miles away and there was no one to meet us as promised.
There wasn’t a scheduled bus for three hours so we found a taverna for a beer and a salad, phoned the hotel owner and he agreed to drive down and collect us. Thirty minutes later he arrived and after another half an hour or so we were sitting on the balcony of our hotel room.
This was a place to chillax, tranquil and slow, perfect for recovering from a nervous breakdown or contemplating the meaning of life and other serious matters; why are British police vehicles called Panda Cars, how did the Trojans fall for that Wooden Horse Trick and just how did Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton become U.S. Presidential candidates? Here, I thought, I might find the answer to something that has always troubled me – how can I be sure that the little light in the fridge has gone off when I shut the door?
Amorgos provided a huge contrast with Mykonos. No sun-beds cluttering up the beach, just towels spread out and held down in the corners by stones, no pesky buzzing scooters, just pedestrians and no tattooed people but instead lots of ageing bearded hippies with pony-tails, wearing white linen and leather sandals, carrying sketch-pads and all that was missing was the joss sticks and the candles, the flowers and the guitars.
The prices too were much more to my liking and more suited to our budget and in the space of about three hours the cost of living had literally halved.
The beach was close to the port but there was no activity of any kind because there were no boats due today. The whole place had settled down to late afternoon lethargy. It is nice to see boats because it means there is still some connection with the rest of the world, or did I get that wrong and it is the other way round?
Not being dedicated beach people we stayed just long enough to dry off and then returned through the village and back to the hotel where we let the rest of the afternoon just slip through our fingers.
After four days it was time for a shave and I mention this not because anyone would be remotely interest in my ablutions but because I have noticed a curious thing about bathroom wash basins in Greek hotels.
In almost every bathroom there is a notice on the wall explaining how precious the water is and encouraging guests not to waste it – so curious then that there is hardly ever a basin plug and if there is then it more than likely will not fit and the water just pours away into the u-bend and beyond. Surely if they are serious about being careful with water then it would be sensible to provide a simple piece of rubber on a chain to make sure that to wash your face you don’t have to keep the tap running continuously!
Later we dined in a restaurant in the harbour where a full moon was decorating the inky sea with silver glitter that shifted constantly and broke and reassembled a kaleidoscope image on the surface of the water that undulated with a gentle ebb and flow and that reassuring sound of tiny waves lapping the shore and percolating through the sandy gravel.
From the hotel balcony there was a good view of the night time harbour that was peaceful and serene with the lights of the buildings reflecting on the surface of the water and providing an idyllic image of the Cyclades.
In this moment I was reminded why I always say that Amorgos is one of my favourite Greek islands.
A quick preview of my stories about recent travels to the Greek Islands…
I had what I called my gladiator sandals since 1999 when I went to Rhodes and they accompanied me abroad on every single subsequent holiday. By 2006 they were showing signs of wear and were not expected to see through a Greek island hopping adventure. I made it my mission to see how long I could keep make them last.
The Gladiators made it through the island travels and surprisingly lasted another two years when an important part of the shoe infrastructure failed (one of the straps snapped).
After Rhodes, they had been to the Greek islands of Skiathos, Cephalonia (twice), Santorini (twice), Crete, Thassos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Ios (twice), Sikinos, Amorgos, Milos and Sifnos. I finally had to accept that they were irreparable whilst on the island of Folegandros so I thought that this was a suitable place to say goodbye and I left them there to become part of the Greek earth in whatever landfill site they ended up in.
I really loved those sandals!
“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’
Island hopping with a bulging rucksack strapped to my back was an immediately brilliant idea when Sally mentioned it in May and invited me to bring my credit cards along and join her for a week or two in the Greek islands.
Sun drenched beaches, friendly tavernas, Mythos and ouzo, I knew immediately that I would take up the offer but at first I was slightly wary of committing to a holiday with two girls addicted to the internet and who sleep with their mobile phones but I have always wanted to be more imaginative about my holidays and to take control and make my own arrangements rather than rely upon a holiday rep from Thomsons or Airtours and those tedious welcome meetings that seem to go on for ever in a dingy hotel lounge when all you want to do is get outside in the sun.
So the chance to do things my way was a real opportunity and I signed up.
Preparation involved booking the flights and finding suitable hotels on line. This, I later had to concede, turned out to be a bit of a cheat because proper back-packers, I am told, take their lodgings chances when arriving in port, but I just wanted to be certain of a basic level of accommodation. I was fifty-two years old and had certain standards to maintain! I wanted Olympic size swimming pools, air conditioning as fresh as the mountain air and at the very least a minimum standard of bathroom facility. Most people go backpacking in their teens or in their twenties – I had left it all a bit late!
Packing the rucksack was quite a challenge! There wasn’t a lot of room in there and it took a number of clothing/essentials trial runs before I achieved the perfect combination of items. I needed my snorkel and essential bathroom items and some books of course and after that I had room for some clothes. It was like doing the hokey-cokey, in, out, in, out and shake it all about until I got it right.
Like most people I always take too many clothes on holiday, that extra pair of shorts, another shirt just in case, and usually some items just go for the ride there and back and never get worn, this time I was sure I had got it about right but for some unexplained reason I took some socks along for the trip. I didn’t wear them of course because all I had for foot attire was two pairs of sandals including my favourite gladiators.
I had the gladiator sandals since 1999 when I went to Rhodes and they accompanied me abroad on every single beach holiday after that – always the first item in the bag. They were showing signs of wear and not expected to see through this adventure. I made it my mission to see how long I could make them last.
Footnote (please excuse the pun):
The Gladiators made it through the holiday and lasted another two years when an important part of the shoe infrastructure failed (one of the straps snapped) and they had to be thrown away soon after. I left them in Greece, I thought that was appropriate – a little bit of me is in a landfill site in Athens!
Have you been to the Greek Islands? Which is your favourite?