Sunday, 27 April 2014

Probably the Most Expensive Frappé in the History of the World

There's one good thing about the Santorini bus station. It's very near the action. OK, so "Bus Station" is a rather ambitious epithet for what is actually more like a levelled area about the size of a basketball court, on which a few "buses" [or as we Brits would call them "coaches"] of various shapes and sizes hang around to give you the impression that you'll be able to get where you want to go at approximately the time when you'd like to go there. Nevertheless, Santorini Bus Station it is.

Having descended from the bus much later than we'd hoped when we'd booked this slightly crazy day out, and then having been told that, despite the fact that the ferry back to Naxos doesn't dock until 3.30pm and it's only a fifteen minute ride back to there from here, the bus for our return goes at 2.30pm, we were rather understandably anxious to get to the place where all the views are and pdq.

You would have thought (or is it me?) that they might just have harmonized the bus schedule with the ferry times, yea? No such luck. So, here we were faced with a scant sixty minutes to take in one of the most iconic locations in Greece, nay on the planet. But were we going to be beaten? Has the Pope got a balcony? So off we tore hotfoot, up the very steep hill, which led fortunately a mere fifty metres or so to the beginnings of the cobbled street which leads a further fifty metres or so to the first spot where you get that view.

Frankly, nothing prepares you for that first glimpse. You may have studied the photographs for years in fact, as I had, so that you even recognize most of the buildings and features in that view because you've seen them all so many times in the photographs, but it makes no difference.

It's rather like the first time you see the Grand Canyon (name dropping a bit here, granted). When we drove the forty miles or so South from the ticket booth at the entrance to the Grand Canyon [North Rim] National Monument (they call lots of parks 'monuments' in  the USA, …odd eh?), after having breakfasted at Jacob Lake some time before, we eventually began driving along a wooded road at a point where according to the map, the Canyon ought to be just a few metres to our left. Since I was driving I had to concentrate on the road, since it was pretty curly (I like that adjective, OK?), so all I could mentally note was the presence of a lot of trees to both sides of us, but all of a sudden my wife let out the kind of gasp that makes one think she's about to die of a seizure or something. I genuinely thought that perhaps she'd eaten something that was about to cause her a major medical emergency. Glancing left through the trees in the direction that she was staring, mouth all agape while she considered whether it might be a good idea to start breathing again, I had to ram on the brakes and stop the car. Through the trees to our left, which were quite well spaced when you looked at them sideways on, was the biggest gap, hole, ravine, call it what you will, anyone could ever imagine catching sight of. It was so huge that it made the mind doubt what one was seeing. Such was the effect that our first glance of the Grand Canyon had on us. Yup, it was even bigger than the holes in the Greek roads.

Well, it's not a lot different when you stand atop the "Caldera" at Thira on Santorini. The majesty of the view and the way in which the buildings seem to tumble higgledy-piggledy down the sheer cliff face make you doubt what you're seeing. It really is that magnificent. Plus, we'd chosen as clear a day as one could wish for to make this visit and so the light was perfect. Hence the clarity of the photos...

When you gaze down at the huge amphitheatre of sea that is the "caldera", or crater of the old volcano, the view is stunning. Smack dab in the middle of the "basin" is an island which resembles closely the colour and landscape of the Canary Islands, comprising as it evidently does, volcanic rocks of a dark brown and black colour. It looks to be barren, save for a tiny beach far below and directly facing the cliff on which we were standing, where one or two small vessels were laying anchored. It was interesting to observe the route that ships and ferries took when approaching Santorini's harbour. Almost without exception they circled the far side of this small island rather than passing closer to the cliffs. I was left wondering about that cruise ship, the Sea Diamond, that had struck an underwater "spike" back in 2007. She's apparently still down there and I guess that other vessels don't only want to avoid the spot but also the underwater "spikes" that she foundered on.

You know when the Benny Hill show used to end with that speeded-up chase all over the lawns of some country house, or around a public park or something, with more people joining the snake of running (and frequently scantily clad, …as if I'd noticed that!) people all the time? Well our time constraints on this visit sort of made me feel a bit like that. I felt we had to kind of "speed up" our all-too-brief wanderings around the tiny steep streets of Thira and do what all traditional tourists do, in other words snap away like mad with the camera at double-quick speed. Fact is though, we still felt obliged to stop for a frappé, and obviously at a café that afforded one of the best views, so we ascended the steps of one such establishment, which as it transpired only opened for the first time that very day for this year's season, and prepared to be fleeced comprehensively for the privilege.

So, as we sat there and winced at the price, we did have to concede that it was worth it just this once for the view that we had sprawled out beneath us. Mind you, while we sat there waiting for the non-Greek waitress (sweet girl, nevertheless) to bring us our gold-plated frappés, we did a quick calculation on the cost of this trip. Since every single morning of our holiday we've been strolling to a café on the front for a coffee, or occasionally in my case an iced mochaccino (say four "hail marys"), we concluded that this was far and away the most expensive frappe we'd ever drank and were ever likely too. If you brought the whole trip down to basics, we'd left Naxos at some time after 11.30am and, if all went according to plan, would be back there before dark, then you could argue that we went to an awful lot of trouble and expense to drink an iced coffee in Santorini. Gulp, passes quickly on before breaking into a cold sweat.

In actuality though, as regular readers will know, my much beloved mum died last summer and, since we'd lost my dad five years earlier, we'd come into a little inheritance, which, as it so happens, has hit the bank whilst we've been enjoying this special anniversary break. Her house sold and the various procedures were all completed and the solicitor deserves our praise for the very quick and efficient way in which they expedited the whole process. What I'm trying to say is this: we agreed that this was one holiday when we'd not even think about what we spent. It wasn't going to happen again, that's for sure. But we lifted our frappés atop the Santorini Caldera and said, "Thanks mum, thanks dad. These are on you!"

Thus you see before you the photo of my dearly beloved better half and I with the glory of Thira surrounding us, courtesy of a very nice young man from Latvia, who was sitting at the table next to us with his young wife and child. I'd turned to him and rather embarrassingly asked, "Umm, do you speak English?"

To which he replied, "Yes, of course," whilst he reached for my camera, which I was unconsciously already extending toward him with my right hand. No sooner had he taken it, mind you, than I spotted the enormous great photographic apparatus that was hanging around his neck on a stripey strap, shouting without words…"I cost this guy a serious amount of cash, folks!" I could see the word Nikon emblazoned across the biggest part, well, no, sorry, not the biggest part. The biggest part was the lens hanging off the front, which could easily have doubled for a jet engine - it was that big and complicated-looking. So, I immediately felt a prize plonker didn't I, having just handed him my little instamatic digicam with a zoom so small it would make some men feel the need for inadequacy counselling. I'm not even going to mention that my camera is metallic pink in colour.

Anyway, to this young man's credit (and his English was flawless too, curse him) he didn't make any remark to indicate how laughable my little feeble attempt at photographic apparatus was alongside his. He merely eyed us up, asked us to move here a bit, there a bit, and snapped a couple of shots before handing the camera back with a smile and a "You're welcome."

Our frappés duly consigned to the nether reaches of our insides, we paid the waitress and headed off to snap as much as we could as we made our way back to the "Bus Station" for the ride back to the harbour. One thing we did continually as we walked [trotted, more like] was compare the prices in the restaurants and bars to those on Naxos. On that subject, I have to say that, although we love Rhodes, the prices for food in the tavernas and restaurants on Naxos are consistently lower than on our home island. I have to say too that the menus are also much more extensive. We've been genuinely impressed with, not only the prices, but the quality and choice in the tavernas an other eateries here too. 

Santorini, however, well, notwithstanding how much we'd paid to come here, we found ourselves calculating that we'd have been hugely more out of pocket had we decided to spend a few weeks here. Beautiful it is beyond argument, but cheap it ain't. Each to his own, the comment we always have to insert at such junctures, but we'd have found ourselves going home not only much, much poorer, but with a distinct feeling that we'd been subjected - like those sheep in those sheep-shearing competitions they have in New Zealand and Australia all the time - to a thorough fleecing.

And so to the return journey. Yes, folks, we did make it back to the bus stop in time. We even had the same driver, who greeted us with a smile of incredulity, concluding (so we vainly hoped) that we must have had some very important business to conclude to have come for such a brief visit. Not fifteen minutes after having boarded the bus for the return trip, and we were jumping off at the harbour across the way from the string of car hire offices and cafe-bars that line the base of the cliff.

We had plenty of time and so decided that it may just not be too much of a rip-off to have a toastie and a beer here before boarding the Blue Star ferry, which had yet to put in an appearance, since it was still forty-five minutes from departure time. Having repaired to the cafe we'd chosen, I did indeed order a cheese and tomato toastie and a beer and Y-Maria went for a spanakopita [spinach pie] with a can of Tonic Water. OK, so the prices weren't too bad and the staff were quite friendly, but my toastie did a fairly good impression of two pieces of blotting paper ever-so slightly tanned in faint lines here and there on each side, inside of which the cheese was hardly melted at all and the sliced tomatoes still cold. Y-Maria's spinach pie had so much Feta in it that she had to extract huge mounds of it and leave it on the side of her plate to avoid being sick. At least my beer was cold and they did have Tuborg tonic, so all was not lost.

The ship arrived five minutes late and all hell broke loose. This was only the third week of April. I can't imagine what this place must be like in the high season. There was the biggest horde of tourists to-ing and fro-ing as I've ever seen. Yes it was a nice day, temperatures in the lower 20's and unbroken sunshine, but to be honest in the shade it was quite cool and yet vast numbers of "yoof" surrounding us were all dressed as though it was 40ºC and August! Lots of them had so little clothing on as to make us feel like they'd soon be suffering from exposure. Uniformed people with whistles shepherded the masses this way and that between metal barriers, huge articulated trucks manouevred themselves on and off of the ship's vast vehicle deck and general organised mayhem ensued.


By the time we'd managed to get aboard and ascend to the exterior rear deck, so as to watch the rest of the show, it was approaching 4 o'clock. Just when it looked like they'd got all the vehicles off that wanted to get off and boarded all the ones that wanted to board, one of those buses turned up at the quay-side that you usually get ferried around on when you get on and off a plane at an airport where they don't have those "tunnels" that attach themselves to the side of the plane. You know the ones I mean, they're very low with precious little ground clearance. I was leaning over the rear rail far above as they proceeded to try and get this bus aboard. At first it tried reversing straight on to the huge steel ramps that are stored upright against the stern whilst at sea, forming doors. These ramps though are quite steep and the step from quay to ramp is also fairly large. No sooner had this bus begun its attempt to board than there was the sound of screeching metal and this brought the arrival of a half a dozen or so ship's crew-members in short order, one of whom was evidently in charge and began barking orders to the driver and his fellow crew-members whilst waving his arms this way and that. Soon someone arrived with some huge coils of ship's rope and they had the idea of sliding these beneath the wheels of the bus "in series" to try and raise the vehicle's underside high enough to get it boarded.

There I stood, watching in fascination, whilst also checking my watch and seeing the time ticking away. Quite what an airport bus was doing on Santorini's quay I couldn't imagine, but it wanted to leave, that was for sure. By the time they'd finally got it on board and the klaxons were knocking out my eardrums as the ramps were being raised, the sea began churning up as the vessel's screws turned faster and we were slowly putting a space between us and the quay side it was about 4.20pm. I didn't allow myself to think how much more time we may have had on Santorini had we been wise before the event.

One thing I can say with the benefit of experience. The Blue Star ferries which ply the Aegean sea are the bizz. We've used them a number of times and every time felt like we were on a mini-cruise. As the Blue Star Delos began sedately sailing northward, I gaped in amazement at the view above me and took snap after snap until we exited the caldera and met the open sea...

It had been an extraordinary experience, if somewhat expensive. As we disembarked on Naxos a couple of hours later we agreed that Santorini has to be seen, yes. But we felt we'd come home as we strolled back along the Naxos front.

Santorini is not just Thira and the Caldera, of course. All we ever see in the photographs is the dramatic bit, but the island slopes gently away in the other direction (eastward) as it's really just one giant escarpment. Toward the east there are cultivated plains of vegetables and vines, plus the ubiquitous olive groves. There isn't much forest or woodland, though. The overall impression one gets is of an open, slightly bleak landscape. The airport is way over toward the East coast too and thus doesn't seem to present much problem noise-wise to those living or staying in or around Thira or the even more picturesque Oia way up at the northern tip of the Caldera. 

On Tuesday next we're off to see the archaeological wonder that is Delos, an island where no one is allowed to either be born or to die, and then to Mykonos. But before then I've got tons to write up about our second bus trip all the way up to the far north of Naxos. See you soon.

Monday, 21 April 2014

A Bit of a Cliffhanger

This is the first post about our trip to Santorini. Just for a change though, I'll put some of the photos at the top...

I rather liked the fact that this woman's hat looks like the domes of those churches that are dotted about the place!

I can be arty with the best of them...
Not long after we arrived here on Naxos, we thought it would be a good idea to ask Georgia, our landlady, whether it would be feasible to do a day-trip to Santorini. Maybe during the tourist season there are excursions laid on, who knows, but in April it would be the scheduled ferries or nothing.

"Oh, I don't know. Not really," Georgia replied, with that familiar Greek shrug and slight backward nod that usually accompanies a "no". "It's too far I think," she added.

OK, so we thought maybe we would bite the bullet and stay a night. We're trying not to think about how much things cost just for a few weeks in our lives, but old habits die hard. Anyway, we decided that we'd drop by one of the ticket offices in town and ask the experts. There's a modestly sized ticket office just off the square, a mere five minutes walk up the road from our room, so we dropped by late last week to see what they'd tell us. The bloke behind the desk was a stocky, smiley kind of guy whom we took to right off the bat. After he'd asked us what he could do for us, we ventured the idea of a day excursion to Santorini and told him that we'd been advised that it wasn't a realistic proposition.

"Well, we'll see about that won't we," he replied, infusing an immediate ray of hope into our minds as he set about his computer keyboard with relish. To me it looked as though this was his mission in life. He would sit there for ages (in my imagination, at least), probably killing time by supping at his frappé, fingers poised above a redundant keyboard, just waiting for the chance to swing into action and tap furiously away in yet another quest to solve someone's dilemma of travel logistics. As he tapped, his facial expression giving nothing away, we exchanged glances in the growing hope that our quest to see Santorini would be realised.

His face still glued to his computer screen, his fingers came to a stop with a more vigorous tap than those that preceded it and he declared with great satisfaction, "Of course you can do it. Next Tuesday. How about this?"

Seeing that he'd now attracted our undivided attention, he continued, "Right! SeaJet 2 from Naxos to Santorini, departing Naxos at 11.05am Tuesday 15th, arriving Santorini at 12.15pm. Then you can get back to Naxos on the Blue Star 'Delos', which departs Santorini at 3.30pm and gets back into Naxos about two hours later. That would give you just over three hours on the island, more than enough to get a good look at Thira I'd say." His face beamed all over with that transparent expression of someone who's succeeded in his mission of solving yet another problem for an expectant client. He tore his eyes from his monitor to make eye contact with us, beaming with satisfaction. 

"Well?" he continued, "You want me to book it?"

"Hold on," we both said in unison, Y-Maria went on, "How long does it take to get from the harbour to the village, since we know that the village is hundreds of feet above the sea and not exactly right above the new harbour that they use nowadays?"

"Piece of cake," our friend replied, "it's only about fifteen minutes and there are always buses waiting for the ferries when they come in. You'll have no problems. So, are we booking it then?" He added, fingers poised and ready to press "print" for the tickets to spew out of his printer.

The long and the short of it is, we went for it - as you, of course, already know. I'm not going to tell you here how much those tickets cost though, but it did make our eyes water. The Blue Star tickets weren't expensive at all, but the SeaJet 2, because it's one of those extremely fast katamaran-type things with aircraft seats throughout and looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, cost so much that you'd have been forgiven for thinking you were buying shares in the thing. It does 38 knots, which is fast! Still, it was going to be an adventure, so what the heck, ...we did it.

On the day the weather proved to be absolutely perfect. Clear skies with low humidity and hardly any wind to speak of, making the sea like a sheet of glass, or "like oil" as the Greeks say. Arriving almost half an hour early, we strolled along the quay supping our takeaway frappés, as you do, and then spotted this tiny café at the end of the quay which made us wish we'd waited and had a drink here...

Staring at the horizon as 11 o'clock came and went, I decided to ask the two young women who were sitting in a tiny office at the end of the quay and dressed in harbour police uniforms if everything was OK, since our departure was set for 11.05 and I rather thought that the boat ought to be approaching by now. You'll appreciate how we both felt when the girls cheerfully replied, "Oh, it's about half an hour late. Should be here by 11.30."

There wasn't a lot of point telling them that we were running a tight schedule, because they'd only have looked at us "gone off" and exhibited that "you're both quite mad" attitude - and who could have blamed them? We resolved to stroll back along the quay again and return later, all the while trying to work out if we'd embarked on a very expensive total failure. 

Sure enough the SeaJet turned up at 11.30 and we were first aboard. As per usual, a bunch of passengers turned up out of virtually nowhere once the ship's gangway way lowered, but we made sure that we got there first. Once inside, the boat's salon was very busy, but we were able to find seats without too much difficulty. The place was packed with luggage crammed into every available space, having well filled the racks allocated several times over. Everywhere there were youths very inadequately dressed - from our point of view - for April. You'd have thought it was high summer from the look of most of them. There were orientals, Europeans and folk from the other side of the Atlantic, plus a generous helping of Greeks too. Considering that it was only the middle of April, we found ourselves feeling distinctly grateful that we weren't attempting this during August.

The trip went without incident and within what seemed like an instant we were approaching the Quayside at Santorini and preparing for disembarkation. I wasn't well pleased with the fact that on this boat passengers weren't allowed to go outside at all during the voyage, but as we sidled up alongside the huge quay at the bottom of an even huger (huger? Ah, well, it'll do for now) cliff, a crew-member let us out on to the modestly sized rear deck (most of which was crammed with suitcases) and I was immediately shoved violently sideways by a couple of Chinese women who seemed to think that they were entitled to be first off, irrespective of whom they injured in the process, and I use the word "injured" advisedly, they pushed me that hard.

As the gangway's electric motor started up and began to unfold, the orientals, who only came up to my chest, had another go and this time one or two of the ship's crew restrained them as they made further attempts to ram their way through the clutch of tightly packed bodies all waiting to disembark. I thought that the Greeks were a bit unceremonious about such things, but if this was representative of how the Chinese (at least I think they were Chinese, but they may have been Japanese, although we seem to have come across more Chinese during this break) carry on, remind me not to go there any time soon. I value my ribs too much.

Once on the quayside we ran the gauntlet of cafe/bars and tavernas, whose "getter inners" were competing with the "you rent one of my cars!" people for our attention, we searched for the local bus, which, fortunately, was only a few metres along the quay and rather helpfully sported a big sign saying "LOCAL BUS" right by the door. Now we'd read on TripAdvisor that the local bus drivers on Santorini weren't very friendly, so we didn't know what kind of response we were going to get when we approached the bloke standing near the bus' (once again, as in Naxos, it was what we Brits would call a coach) luggage compartment doors. 

"How long does it take to get to Thira?" I asked. The fifty-something wavy-haired, greying around the temples man in question quickly broke into to a smile and assured us "ten or fifteen minutes, hop on!" So, of course, we obeyed.

The first half of the fifteen minutes or so it takes to get from the harbour to the village we all want to see is taken up by the rather alarming climb up the sheer cliff-side from the sea level to the top of the escarpment, which slopes gently away eastward once one crests the summit. This zig-zag route up the cliff face makes most of those Pink Panther or James Bond car chase roads in the French Riviera look like a fairground ride and my beloved was soon having the driver in stitches with her cries of alarm as he rounded each of the many hairpins on the way up. Since we were first on the bus we were able to nab the front seats right above the door, so she could chat with him. I must confess that although in my manly way I didn't display any outward signs of alarm, merely asiding to my dearly beloved that "he knows what he's doing. He does this several times a day. There's no need to panic", I did "start" once or twice as he met a vehicle coming the other way and "malaka-d" a few times at the other driver's apparent incomprehension of his need for more space, owing to the length of the bus by comparison.

As we were nearing the top, but still not in sight of a level road, my wife remarked "It's at times like this you realize that you don't need much in life to be happy! Only maybe your health!" To which the driver replied "...and a little cash, perhaps, eh?"

"Yea..." I quipped, "that and a roof over your head, eh?" Our driver, warming to the subject, went in with "and of course Love, we all need a little love!" Then it was back to my wife to add "And family around us, right?" ...and so it went on, getting sillier as we climbed the sheer volcanic cliff to the top of Santorini's imposing Caldera coastline. By the time we'd reached the top we were all laughing heartily and at least it had taken my wife's mind off the prospect of plunging several hundred feet to our certain deaths on the rocks below. She's nothing if not a little melodramatic.

True to his word the bus driver was entering the one-way traffic system in Thira a scant fifteen minutes after we'd set out from the quayside. Unfortunately, since we'd been first on board the bus at the harbour, we'd already had to wait twenty minutes or so before we set out for the "village on the brink of the cliff". On account of the fact that the ferry had been half an hour and more late, we found ourselves preparing to climb down from the bus at almost 1.30pm, whereas, had the boat been on time, we'd have been in this position at more like just after 12.30pm, depending on how long we'd have waited on board the bus before departing the harbour. 

As we had to be back at the harbour for a 3.30pm departure for our return to Naxos, we still had up to one hour forty in Thira to snap lots of photos and soak up the atmosphere of the place. At least, that's what we thought, until we asked the driver what time we'd be able to catch a bus back to the quayside. 

"It leaves the bus station at 2.30," he replied. That meant we only had an hour before we'd have to get back here to the bus station if we were going to be back in time to catch our boat. It also meant that we'd be waiting at the anything but picturesque harbour for at least half an hour before setting sail back to Naxos, time that we'd hoped to have spent gazing at the awesome views in the village and out across the Caldera. 

"There's no bus later than that?" we asked. Nope, came the response from the now several KTEL employees around us, since having descended the steps of the bus we were met by a clutch of drivers and officials who were busy shepherding the hoardes this way and that. "Well," said one of these helpful chaps, "there is another bus, it leaves for the harbour at 11.30pm." Dead useful that, eh?

You know, I called this post "A Bit of a Cliffhanger", right? Well, true to its epithet, I'll leave it here and continue the gripping story of whether we made it back in time in the next post - "Cliffhanger II"!!

Bet you're on the edge of your seat now, eh? (What do you mean, "Yes, I'm getting up to leave!"?)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Venture to the Interior

(A selection of photos appears at the bottom of this post, just to [hopefully] whet your appetite)

After having ensured that we'd be able to get the bus back to Naxos Town in the afternoon (see previous post), we set off on Saturday morning to catch the bus and see some of the island's landscape away from the coast.

Fifteen minutes after leaving our room we arrived at the KTEL office near the port where our friend from the day before (when we'd enquired about the bus timetable) sold us our bus tickets and pointed us at a large green coach which was sitting out there on the tarmac. We were early and so picked up a couple of take-away frappés from the café nearby, the same one where the woman had tapped us for a couple of Euros. The warm sunshine held the promise of a good day to come as we sat on a bench and awaited the approach of the bus' departure time.

It's always the same here in Greece when you're waiting for a boat, a bus, sometimes even a taxi. It looks like you're the only ones there. No signs indicate that many people are going to join you once the bus arrives, or in this case the driver arrives to open the door ad let us on. There are precious few people about and those that are don't look as though they're remotely interested in the public transport that you're waiting on. Things soon change, however, when the bus, boat, etc. turns up. In this case, as we drained the last of our iced coffee up through our straws and jettisoned the plastic containers into a nearby bin, the hour of eleven approached and a man turned up and opened the luggage compartment on the nearside of the bus, which, as mentioned above, was actually a coach. No sooner had he done so than we casually approached the passenger door in expectation of his opening it and were soon under assault from all directions as tourists, Greek grandmas and other assorted locals carrying packages of all descriptions descended on us from out of nowhere. There was a young couple from China, their backpacks almost bigger than they were, there were two sixty-something German-looking fellas who might just have been an item, a young (and very brave in my opinion) French couple with a very young baby (see?), a selection of old Greeks of various shapes and sizes, there were young Greeks of both sexes all with headphones hanging out of at least one ear and all with their mobile phones glued to one of their hands, plus there was one elderly Greek bloke who quickly took up station at the door as the driver, having climbed in from his own side of the vehicle, pressed the button that caused that air-release sound which indicates that the door is about to open. 

Neither the driver nor this old bloke by the passenger door wore anything to remotely indicate any connection with the bus company. They both sported the ubiquitous denim jeans and the old guy had on a quite tatty woolen jumper over a frayed cotton shirt that had seen better days, probably a few decades ago in all probability. His white hair was cropped short and his skin was a deep wrinkled brown born from years of not wearing sun protection. 

One we'd finally made it aboard and wound our way back to a couple of seats just behind the coach's middle passenger door, after having let the old guy check and tear our tickets, the engine fired up and we were on our way. As the bus wound its way around a few backstreets before heading out into open country, the old guy came and sat across the aisle from us and smiled. My wife was sitting on the aisle seat and so she asked him his name. He told her it was Stefanos. Now having the opportunity to study him more closely we though that he could well have been only a couple of years older than us, but his lifestyle and in all probability a few decades of heavy smoking had taken its toll on his physique and skin.

He asked us where we were from and was soon immersed in conversation with my better half. I chipped in occasionally so as not to appear rude. He surprised us be telling us that he had no children, thus making it easier for him to accept the fact that we'd never really wanted them either, a fact that of course to most Greeks is anathema, if not totally imponderable. The village culture being what it is here, in all probability he'd had older (or younger, depending on their sex) siblings who'd taken so long to get paired up that he lost his chance. He lives alone in the large village of Filoti, which was our destination. He told my wife that he worked on the bus daily and at the time we took that on face value as true. Each time the bus entered a village, he called out to anyone who cared to hear the village's name and often got off the bus to assist some doddery ya-ya or other in their descent of the bus steps. One old woman, seated directly behind us, soon joined in the fray and declared on several occasions that Naxos was the most beautiful island in Greece. If I had a Euro for every time I've heard someone say that...

The conversation, now three-way, did become interesting though. The old woman declared that she'd been born in 1930 and thus was now 84. She had lost most of her family under the Nazis during the Second World War.

A note here about my use of the word "Nazi". The old woman continually said "the Germans", but I prefer to use the term Nazi. Why? Well, you may well be ahead of me here, but this is why: Lots of very nice German tourists come here nowadays and they're all from later generations that have nothing whatever to do with the atrocities that were committed by the Nazis all those decades ago. Had I been born a German, how would I feel about being continually reminded that my nation were the baddies during the largest and most deathly war in human history? The fact is that many elderly folk still remember all too vividly the events of the 1930s and 40s and thus probably have difficulty coming to terms with meeting German tourists today. I don't know if you've read the novel "The Book Thief" (there is a movie too I hear) but I would heartily recommend it. The story presents a side to the events of the war that we in "the west" all too often don't consider. It concerns some Germans living through the Nazi era in their own country and how they felt about the ruling powers at the time. The family around which most of the action centres are Germans who shelter a young Jewish man at considerable risk to their own lives and I found it both gripping an enlightening.

The old woman seated behind us on the bus was soon relating about how the Italians had proven to be benign conquerors, having behaved in quite a civilized manner and, by the time they left under a pact with the Nazis which the latter failed to honour, had in many cases become friends with their Greek subjects. Yet she said [to quote her] "The 'Germans' were barbaric. They left us all to starve, taking all the food for their troops. If anyone raised a hand against them, twenty villagers would be rounded up and shot..." and so on. Thus I substitute in my mind the word "Germans" for "Nazis", since it's not good to tar all of that nation with the same brush. I only refer to this at all because there are still so many people who remember what happened and this old lady was one of them. She lost all her immediate family under the Nazis and has lived alone in her village ever since. She has no one to leave her house to when she dies, a fact which seemed to preoccupy her. Her village was Halki (pronounced with the emphasis in the last "i" and not as with the island of the same spelling, where the emphasis is on the first syllable). This village is reputed to have once been the capital of the island and, interestingly, is situated almost slap bang in the middle of the island geographically. She took delight in telling us repeatedly that her village is "the third most traditional village in all of Greece." Quite what she meant by that we couldn't quite put our finger on, but never mind.

Once she'd descended the steps of the bus at Halki, with the able assistance of both my wife and old Stefanos, both of whom were required to ensure that both the woman and her assortment of bulging bags and packages found their way safely to the roadside, Stefanos seized the opportunity now afforded to regain the initiative in the conversation. Having told us that he lived in Filoti, it then seemed a good idea to him to invite us to his house. Had we been staying nearby we might well have considered accepting the invitation, but since our visit to the largest village on the island was going to be a one-off, we secretly resolved that we'd decline.

Something that made it even less a likelyhood was the fact that he told us that they'd be slaughtering a few goats for "Pasca" (Easter) and wouldn't we like to witness the whole event? Umm, why does that idea not appeal? Especially to a couple of vegetarians?

Once on the subject of slaughtering animals, Stefanos asked about Rhodes, since my wife had told him that we lived there. He's never been and one of his first questions was, "and do they have slaughterhouses on Rhodes?" Of course, you would want to know that wouldn't you? Never know when such knowledge may come in handy, eh?

The countryside, as we wound our way along tiny roads that twisted and turned and passed through villages that had me wondering whether the bus driver may have smeared Vaseline along the sides of the vehicle to get it between some of the houses, bore evidence of much cultivation. Not only do you see the ubiquitous olive groves everywhere, but huge fields of potatoes. It was at this point, as our elderly guide helpfully confirmed that we were indeed looking at potato plants in everlasting rows along the bottoms of some of the valleys, that my wife chose to grant me a pearl of wisdom that hitherto she'd been keeping to herself in all the years of our marriage - the fact that Naxian potatoes are famed through all of Greece. I mean, c'mon, what other secrets may she be keeping from me, eh? Not only that, they're known for their cattle too. On Rhodes we don't see cows very often, but here on Naxos, they're much more common. That no doubt accounted for old Stefanos wanting to know about Rhodean slaughterhouses.

Finally, about an hour and a quarter after leaving the harbour front in Naxos Town, having passed through a selection of villages like Galanado, Biblos (Vivlos), Kana and Ano Sagkri, Damalas, Vournouria, Halki, Akadami and Keramio, we pulled into Filoti, which boasts a population of some 2,000, large indeed for a village in the hinterland. The village sprawls along the side of a steep hill and has a rather pleasing central "plateia" which offers a good selection of tavernas and bars, even a couple of branches of the larger banks in Greece too. Civilized indeed. As you enter the village the lanes leading off to your left rise up steep inclines, whilst those to your right drop away quite steeply too.

Having climbed down from the bus we immediately found a couple of seats in one of the café/bars and ordered a couple of frappés. I know, you knew I was going to say that didn't you. There was a smattering of "old boys" of the village in each establishment (each loyal to their 'local' no doubt) so we didn't need to think too hard about which one to choose. The nearest sufficed. I have to say (and indeed did, to the proprietor) that I here enjoyed the best frappé I'd so far consumed on the island.

A few pics of the central plateia area....

After half an hour or so enjoying the excellent frappé, as well as glancing nervously in Stefano's direction (since he'd sat down at the same bar as us) hoping he wouldn't insist we join him for a session of slicing the throats of a few goats, we arose, paid the host and set off to explore the area on foot. It was around 1.00pm and the bus back to town was due to depart at 4.30. So we ought to have plenty of time to explore.

The first direction we took was up a lane leading through the village to the mountain above. At this time of year the roadsides and countryside in general is abundant with verdant growth and wild flowers. It really did feel like walking in the English countryside much if the time, with some variations in the plant life around us, granted. As the lane rose up above the village we passed the old washing station, a stone building with open-topped cisterns inside its archways, in which once the villagers would wash their clothes communally, before the advent of piped water and drains. Emerging well above the village we took in a spectacular view across the island's interior to the blue Aegean in the distance...

Having satisfied ourselves with that view we traced our way back through the labyrinthine streets of the village to the main road passing through its middle and set off down hill from the square to walk a circuit of other villages. A most enjoyable, if somewhat tiring, walk of about 15 kilometres followed, during which we passed through some of the villages that we'd driven through on the bus. Everyone we passed was friendliness itself and we even took advantage of a public well, where locals turned up to top up barrels with water for their sheep and goats (one pick-up even bring a clutch of sheep with him in the back), to wash our hands after devouring a couple of delicious brown rolls stuffed with boiled egg mayo from the eggs (2nd batch!) that our landlady Georgia had given us.

By the time we staggered back into Filoti to order a well earned Fix beer in the café across the road from the one we'd first visited, it was approaching 4.00pm and still the sun shone out of a cloudless sky. Half an hour remained before the bus was due. It had been a magic experience. As we supped our cold drinks my better half spotted old Stefanos sitting not too far from us. We didn't want to upset him, as he was a nice old guy, but we didn't want our ears chewed off right now, so we just proffered a friendly wave and he returned it, arose from his seat and made his way in our direction.

"Oh shoot!" we both thought, but just as he drew closer he was hailed by a fellow "old boy" who bade him sit down at his table. He threw us an apologetic shrug, to which we did our best to respond with an "aw shucks. never mind, eh?" type expression in return and gratefully watched him sit down with his friend.

No doubt about it, the countryside on Naxos in April is breathtaking...

Something I didn't mention before the photos. Just before we came back into the village on our walk, we passed an olive grove to our right and our attention was drawn to what looked like a goat hanging from a branch of one of the trees. It looked like a goat because that's exactly what it was. As we stopped to look, drawn irresistibly by a desire to be sure we knew what we were seeing, we could see clearly that there was a man setting about the carcass, which was hanging from its hind legs from above head-height, with a sharp knife while his wife stood and looked on. A large pool of blood was soaking into the dust beneath the carcass, which had evidently been killed very recently. the man worked away methodically with his knife as we became aware that we weren't the only audience.

Just a few feet below us and actually within the same olive grove, a couple more goats, including a young kid, also stood and watched in rapt attention, as their probable former family member was systematically butchered for the 'Pasca' table.

I don't know how intelligent goats are, but I could have sworn I saw a look of resignation about their future prospects written across the faces of our fellow observers of this scene.

I wonder how many goats, sheep, and pigs no doubt, will die in this few days leading up to the Greek Easter weekend. Still, can't say we haven't witnessed firsthand a way of life that goes back for thousands of years. 

The irony wasn't lost on us that we'd escaped being witness to Stefanos and his friends slaughtering their goats for Pasca, only to see it right by the side of the road a couple of hours later!

Once the bus turned up, just a few minutes after 4.30pm, we fully expected Stefanos to join us for our journey back, but he remained seated and sent us a wave as we departed. A couple of days later, yesterday, in fact, as we were walking to the jetty for our trip to Santorini, he was there again seeing people aboard the Filoti bus. We were left with the feeling the he doesn't really actually work for the bus company, but they let him do his little bit of shepherding anyway, because it gives him a reason to get up in the morning. We kind of hope that's true in a way, as it would be nice to think that they're considering his welfare in such a way, wouldn't it.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Two Rip-offs, No Less...

 Friday April 11th.

Went out for our daily coffee this morning. Getting into a nice little groove now and starting to really feel like we're on holiday. Like the old days. We've been selecting a different café/bar each day and this morning we went to one at the far end of the harbour, almost as far as the KTEL ticket office [buses] and the causeway out to Apollo's Portal.

I was a bit miffed to find out after five minutes during which no one approached to take our order, that it was a self-service establishment, something that we normally avoid like the plague. But the chairs were comfy and the place was full of Greeks, always something which makes it hard to drag the other half away 'cos, like all women (oops, some offense sure to be taken somewhere there!), she's an expert eavesdropper. C'mon fellas, at least you know what I'm on about. You've just finished one of your fave anecdotes and she's miles away. You ask her why she hasn't heard what you've just said and she says "Ssssshh!! I'm listening…" Yea? Yeah? Mind you, it works the other way around too I suppose. "Will you look at me when I'm talking to you?" is one of the expressions I hear often. Quite what connection such occasions have with women walking past I'm not even going to go into here.

Ahem!! To return to today's events.

Having decided (well, having had it decided for me) that it was I who was going into the scrum inside the establishment in order to procure us a couple of frappés, I checked that I had some cash in the purse and crossed the walkway between the tables and the front door and went inside. It's a kind of bakery-stroke-cakeshop really, rather than a regular café. Smelt amazing in there. The trouble was, I could see that you had to first queue up to pay for what you wanted and then, if it was hot drinks, you'd have to take your receipt with you along to a further area of the serve-over where they'd knock up your order. Of course there was a queue at both places and so I was rather a long time inside and found myself occasionally glancing out through the windows through the melée of clientele to see what my beloved was up to.

The second time I glanced out there it was to see a woman sat in my chair and evidently engaged in an animated conversation with Y-Maria. "Hmmph!" I thought, "where did she turn up from?" I didn't recognize her as anyone we'd so far met since arriving on the island on Tuesday morning. She had long, lank, dark hair and wore a dark-coloured floor-length skirt and light coloured cardigan. Tell-tale indications that she was a street vendor of some kind. She had the Romany look about her. When I finally emerged with an iced coffee in each hand (in those transparent plastic dome-topped cups that you always get at a take-away) I approached the table through a maze of carrier bags all scattered about the paving slabs around the table and all spilling over with tablecloths and throws made from that slightly off-white lacey stuff that old grannies like to drape all over their furniture.

Yup, the woman had spotted my better half, thought for some reason that she looked affluent enough to be worth pitching her stuff to and got stuck in. Her face was almost in my wife's and so she didn't notice me until I stood above her, a coffee in either hand and politely told her that she was sitting in my chair. She jumped up all apologies and stuff and then proceeded to sit down at one of the empty chairs on the other side of the table. Off she went with all this "Your wife is very beautiful" stuff, which she capped with the old "you're such a fine looking couple, you are both very lucky" gambit and thus we realized that, even when told directly, she wasn't going to give up and go away without a fight.

We replied with polite thank you's and assured her that, whilst we weren't questioning the quality of her merchandise, it simply wasn't to our taste. Realizing that she wasn't going to make a sale, she  decided to change tack and went for the jugular. She asked us directly for ten Euro because and I quote, "I'm hungry" she said plaintifully. I made an executive decision that if we were going to be able to sup our frappes in peace then it would require a small cash outlay, so I slid a two Euro coin across the table toward her and told her that was a small gift and would she kindly leave us please. Immediately she grabbed the coin and was across the pavement and in through the bakery's front door faster than you could say "Zorba's dance".

My wife turned to me and told me that she'd been trying in vain to get rid of the woman the whole time I was inside trying to buy our iced coffees. She also told me that the woman had started off with a price of €50 for a lace tablecloth. Anyway, it appeared as though we'd finally seen the last of her when she emerged from the store munching a spinach pie, which prompted my wife to suggest that she may have been telling the truth when she'd said that she was hungry. Yesterday we'd paid €6.50 for two drinks (I'd had the iced mochachino) and so today, knowing exactly what would put a smile on Y-Maria's face I asked her how much she thought I'd paid for our serve-yourself frappes. Boy did she smile when I showed her the receipt for 2 x €1.30, totalling €2.60. Immediately she decided that this was her favourite establishment and that she'd be happy to come here all the time from now on. My arguments to the contrary would serve no useful purpose being further discussed here.

No sooner had we seen the woman with her spinach pie, when a Greek fella with what we theorized was his teenage daughter came striding along the pavement and began sweeping the woman's plastic bags full of lacey wares off the ground from beside our table. Aha, we remarked, he's going to evict her for causing a nuisance to the clientele. Wrong! Instead he and his young companion - making a couple of trips - marched the bags over to a waiting hatchback car and dropped the bags into the already open rear of the vehicle. As if from nowhere another Romany-looking woman joined our would-be friend and the two of them walked over to the car, where we assumed they were going to remonstrate with this bloke and the girl but no, what actually happened was that once all the bags were in the back, the man shut the rear door and all four of them climbed in and he drove off!! The car wasn't more than four or five years old either, it appeared to be quite a smart compact hatch.

Now, make of that what you will, but my ever-sage other half immediately remarked, "Well, looks like we paid €4.60 for two frappes today then."
Spilt milk are two words that sprung immediately to mind.

Anyway, since we've decided that tomorrow we're going to take the bus and make a trip to the hinterland of the island, we decided that, before walking off for our daily constitutional, we'd nip along to the nearby KTEL (Bus company) office to check the timetables, since we knew that there was an A4 photocopy of such sellotaped to the glass door. We'd already noticed the other day when we'd had a glance that one could catch a bus to a village up in the hills on weekdays at either 9.30 or 11.00am and then take the return bus at 4. But as tomorrow is a Saturday we wanted to be doubly sure that the timetable was still the same.

Arriving at the front door of the KTEL office we quickly scanned the timetable for the Saturday schedules and were pretty disappointed to find that it didn't show a bus coming back at 4.00pm, which meant that we'd have to postpone the excursion until one day next week or risk being stranded up in the hills. Well, pooey mooey. Mentally my mind was already playing duelling banjos.

"Hold on," I suggested, "why don't we go in and ask, just to be sure?" The beloved agreed and so we pushed open the door to the compact office and once inside were greeted by a smiling young man seated behind the desk.

"Can I help you?" he asked.

"Yes, please. The timetable shows that on weekdays we can get a bus up to Filoti village at 11.00am and take the bus back at 4. But it doesn't show the 4.00pm return bus on Saturdays. Are we reading it right?"

Immediately, if not sooner, he leapt up from his chair, came around to our side of the desk and crossed to the glass front door, whereupon he grabbed the edge of the A4 photocopied timetable and ripped it from the door. We assumed that he was going to take a good look at it himself, but instead he glanced down at the bus times for Saturday, promptly screwed up the piece of paper and tossed it into a waste bin near his desk.

"You can come back the same day. Look…" he said, directing our attention with both hands to another A4 timetable which lay on the desk beside us. We both scanned this other sheet, which at first glance looked to be the same as the one he'd screwed up and tossed in the bin, but on closer inspection, it showed a bus returning at 4.00pm also on Saturdays. Yay!!

"Glad you came in," he said with a grin, "because I'd completely forgotten to post the new summer schedules on the window. Anything else I can help you with?"

We assured him that we were now fine and exited the office well satisfied.
It had been an interesting morning. One rip off we didn't like, another we'd been well happy with.

More photos to follow next post!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Sounds Familiar

More photos further down (This is the portal of the unfinished Temple of Apollo, Naxos' most famous landmark)

It's photo time folks. Looks well and truly like we landed on our feet with our accommodation here on Naxos. We found the Oniro Studios by Googling around on line and so had no idea if we'd made the right decision until we were greeted by the owner Mrs. Georgia Kontopoulos on arrival. Georgia, who looks a lot younger that her 42 years is a very intelligent and "modern" person and runs the apartments with her husband Petros, whom we met for the first time last night.

We hadn't been here more than a few minutes when she rustled up a frappé each for us and took us up to the stunning roof terrace, where we had an introductory chat and she promised to give us some eggs from her own hens. True to her word she turned up around early evening time with a half a dozen freshly-laid eggs, a couple of which we boiled up and mixed with a little mayo from a local supermarket and my wonderful missus filled a couple of psoma'kia that I bought from the bakery around the corner yesterday morning to eat for lunch. I've never seen yolks so yellow or tasted eggs so delicious. I've told you a thousand times, I never exaggerate!

We got here at around mid-morning in Tuesday and had our first exploratory "wander" yesterday, after first - of course - stopping for a frappé in the nearby plateia. Walking along the harbour-front we soon heard the boom of loud bouzouki music and, as we approached, saw a man rigging up a large banner made from a trimmed down bedsheet, by the look of it. My wife's expectations of a musical event were soon dashed as we read the banner, which said, in approximate translation, "RESISTANCE IS A NECESSITY" and we realized that this was a public demonstration in support of yet another general strike which had been called for yesterday in protest against the austerity measures. I must confess to wondering why they do it this way, as we've seen this kind of demo before. Whenever there's a general strike, there'll be a few blokes with a huge banner in some public place and they'll always have a sound system rigged up to blare out traditional music. I don't want to get into the rights and wrongs of all these strikes, which have been a lot less frequent in recent times, but we were struck (notice how I just slipped that one in there, good eh?) with the feeling of how different the way they go about such things is here compared to the UK.

My wife could almost not have cared what the whole thing was all about anyway, since she was already dancing on the pavement. We did find ourselves feeling grateful, however, that they'd not chosen Tuesday for this one, because it would have meant us hanging around on Syros for yet another day and we'd already been pushed back three days with our plans last week by a national ferry strike that had lasted 3 days and took a couple more after that for the ferry companies to get their ships back on to their correct schedules.

I did, however, get the fleeting urge to wander over to this bloke with the banner and suggest that he consider what the country's alternatives are to the "austerity" measures and perhaps to ask him if he himself had always been straight with the tax man, but then he was considerably larger than me and so I very soon came over all indifferent and thought it best to allow him and his mates to have their little rant. At least the music cheered everyone up, even if there were no banks or offices open and no ferries running - yet again. Mind you, the coffee bars were heaving.

We soon found ourselves at the north end of the harbour front, where it's just a short walk along a causeway to the trademark relic that identifies Naxos every time if you see it in a photograph. That's the Portara of the Temple of Apollo, which some ancient despot around 500 BC or thereabouts, had started to build and never actually finished.

So that's where they get it from, eh? Problem solved. Anyway, here are a few photos from today's and yesterday's walks...

Back soon folks...

Monday, 7 April 2014

Moonlight Serenade?

Sunday 6th April, 1.20pm. 
Waiting for the neighbours to come pick us and take us to ferry port in Rhodes. Glad we’re not flying, or we’d take up all the baggage allowance for the whole plane with all the stuff we’re taking with us.

Monday April 7th, 1.20am. Air Seats, Blue Star Ferry. 

It’s quiet now, but it hasn’t been for long. Travelling at this time of the year is quite a novelty for us. The last time we were on a huge ship like this was when we moved out here in 2005 and that was in August, when to be on board an inter-island ferry crossing the Aegean was distinctly like being one of the “boat people” in the South China seas; bodies everywhere and, if you didn’t have a cabin (which on that occasion we did, fortunately) you’d spend half the trip wandering up and down the passenger deck fruitlessly looking for somewhere to doss down, with your head on your suitcase.

Tonight it’s wonderful how much space we have, but we were somewhat dismayed when, after setting sail from Rhodes and having ensconced ourselves in our pre-booked “Airseats” in the “Airseat Lounge” fully expecting plenty of peace and quiet as the night wore on, our ears very soon picked up the sound of group singing coming from somewhere very close by.

Here in the Airseats, of which there are probably seventy or eighty in this lounge (which doubles as a “Conference Room” if the sign at the entrance is anything to go by) only a scant half a dozen or so were occupied as we sailed out of Rhodes on our way north-west to the first port of call, which was to be Kos, en route to our stop-off island, Syros. Thus we could have been forgiven for expecting to be able to gently doze off whilst reading a novel without too much difficulty. Having done a quick reccy elsewhere and found that the general level of occupancy of the entire ship was probably only about 25%, we’d congratulated ourselves on having chosen to travel by sea rather than fly, where it’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare between those far-too-close-together seats on the plane.

No, here on the Blue Star 2, there’s room to move, you can stretch your legs at will or go sit in the café or restaurant, perhaps take a stroll along the exterior deck in the starlight, yep, a pretty laid back way to start one’s holiday.

The only trouble was, there were - seated at the tables and chairs just outside our Airseat Lounge’s entrance, where there was to be found one of the ship’s several cafés - about twenty Greek ya-yas, all dressed in black and all sporting photocopied hymn-sheets from which they were soon belting out religious-sounding dirges fit to make you want to top yourself with depression. There we’d been, moments before they piped up with this droning cacophony, observing a group of Greek lads, all looking decidedly fresh and clean in their designer jeans and with earphones hanging from the usual orifices each side of their heads, telling ourselves in conspiratorial whispers how refreshingly different they were from the way they’d have looked and behaved had they been British, which would have meant us staring at tattoos galore and piercings liberally dotted about their exposed areas of skin, not to mention the ubiquitous beer cans which would have been glued to their right hands while they “goooarred!” “F-ed and blinded” and “wassupped” their way through the voyage thus disturbing the peace of their fellow passengers and generally making a nuisance of themselves.

Generalise? Me? Perish the thought.

Anyway, just as we got ourselves settled in our reclining Airseats and I’d noticed that there was a huge 60 inch flat screen TV facing towards all the seats which, just as I was about to groan about the constant presence of such devices these days, began showing the Formula 1 Grand Prix from Bahrain, thus instantly changing my view about such essential modern conveniences, this bunch of old women started up with their chants. Talk about disturbing your other passengers in not just your immediate vicinity. Give me a bunch of British yoof any day.

The only hope we could muster was that they’d be disembarking when we got to Patmos, which is a particularly popular place of pilgrimage for old Orthodox grannies, owing to it having been where the apostle John had been exiled and all that. What with easter fast approaching we surmised that they just might be heading off to Patmos for a week’s hand-wringing and weeping over the death of their lord before joyfully crying out “Christos Anesti!!” for yet another year, and we were right. Phew!! After several hours of this cat’s choir (sorry ladies, but facts are facts and it was noise pollution of the purest kind) we were not a little relieved to see them all salt away their songsheets, pick up their carpetbags and shuffle off fiddling with the gold crosses on their neckchains to descend the stairs and disembark when we tied up at Patmos.

We’d already stopped off at Kos and Leros by this time and thus had begun to have our doubts as to whether we’d lose them. If we hadn’t it would have been much more difficult to kick our shoes off and stretch out on two or three seats each and doze away the hours until we arrived at Syros, which is scheduled to be around 4.00am. Yea, I know, I didn’t realise there was such an hour either.

This ferry, tied up beside us at Leros, is dwarfed by the mighty Blue Star

The thing is, since we’d decided not to scrimp on the spending for this holiday, since it is to mark a particularly big anniversary, you could be forgiven for asking why we didn’t splash out on a cabin. Well we would have, but it would have meant having to get up at 3.30am anyway in order to get ourselves ready to disembark at Syros. It didn’t see worth the bother of having a cabin for such a short night.

Sitting here now though, my wife stretched out across three chairs just in front of me and snoring everso slightly, with the minute hand on my watch just approaching the twelve and the hour hand the two, here I am not sleeping as usual and coming to the conclusion that “Airseats” are all very well, but they don’t make good beds.

No firm plan has yet materialised for what we’re going to do after ten days or so on Naxos, but we’re leaning more and more towards heading off to Poros, which will mean a ferry to Piraeus, then another from there to Poros, but it looks like it can all be done in one day, so that’s good. I’ve e-mailed Mrs. Mellou, the lady who’s kept rooms there for the past three or four decades and where we’d stayed no less than five times between 1977 and 1982, so I’m hoping she (well, her son to be accurate) will have replied by the time I get some wi-fi going on Syros, thus we’ll make our decision based on that.

Assuming we do go to Poros, it will then mean that our return trip home to Rhodes will be Poros-Piraeus, then Piraeus-Rhodes, which is a grueller, so we shall definitely be pushing the boat out (well, climbing aboard a big one to be accurate) and booking ourselves a cabin with a window.

After all, we won’t be wanting to take any chances on a repeat serenade from the Rhodean Grannies female voice choir during the last leg of the trip home now, will we?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Step On Up - Smell the Roses

Well, hard-working George has almost finished the alterations to the entrance to the Pelican's Nest down on the beach road here in Kiotari and he's making a mighty fine job of it. See if you agree...

The mill stone on the right mirrors one on the left, which isn't quite as easily seen in this shot as it's also not yet been cleaned up to match the other one in colour and texture, but the steps - as you can see above - are finished and looking splendid. He's just got to tidy up the terrace then and it'll be open well in time for the first clutch of holidaymakers who'll arrive in Kiotari for their Rhodean break in just a few weeks' time.

Everywhere we walk at the moment we're confronted with a staggering array of wild flowers and it's probably the best they've ever been since we moved out here in 2005. There are thousands of white and pink rock-roses all across the hillsides, plus a wonderful scattering of flowering purple sage, the aroma of which makes your mouth water as you brush past it. 

There is French Lavender in abundance and the scarlet poppies are still putting on a blousy display too, plus the margaritas are just coming to their peak, adding the "cheesecake" effect to the meadows.

The photos below don't really do this miraculous natural display justice, but I had a go...