Saturday, 3 May 2014

Apollonas By Bus

In the previous post about a bus trip, "Venture to the Interior" I mentioned the old guy called Stefanos, who engaged us in conversation throughout the hour-long trip into Naxos island's hinterland to his home village of Filoti. My wife, although enjoying the opportunity to have a natter in Greek, did make it known to me at the odd moment when she thought she could get away with it, that the only problem was, "he smells of old man smells, you know, wee and stuff!" But then, since he is getting pretty long in the tooth and lives alone, it was the logical conclusion to draw that his clothes didn't see the inside of a washing machine all that often, always assuming that he knows what one of those contraptions is, of course.

Anyway, we decided that on Thursday the 24th, we'd make another trip by bus, this time to the very northern-most tip of the island, to the village of Apollonas, which is nestled in a cosy bay at the end of a steep-sided valley miles from anywhere, "makria apo pouthena" as the Greeks would say. Apollonas is over fifty kilometres from Hora (Naxos Town) and thus the bus trip was going to be a long one. There are no big roads anywhere on Naxos. This we had no problem with at all, since that's the joy of taking a bus on a Greek island, neither one of us is the driver and thus we both get to admire the view - and what a view. If you hire a car you don't get to see from as high a vantage point too, as you do from a bus window.

For the first 45 minutes or so we were passing scenery that we'd seen before, since the route once again threaded its way up into the heart of the island and passes through Filoti, hence the delights of Stefanos' company for a second time. This time we managed to nab the front seats right behind the driver's head but, sure enough, old Stefanos decided he'd sit across the aisle from us, like he did when we'd sat toward the back on the previous occasion. I had the distinct impression (and my wife the dis-stinked impression) that he'd taken a bit of a shine to her.

Once again, as before the bus doubled as a transport vehicle for assorted packages and other stuff that needed delivering to some of the more remote villages. As it wound its way up from the coastal plain, peppered with potato fields, hedged with high swaying walls of bamboo, we once again enjoyed views of an almost Biblical landscape of white villages clustered atop a ridge or clinging to the sheer side of a mountain. Wild flowers were everywhere, including what we took to be Evening Primrose in full bloom beside the road...

These were taken (obviously) after we'd left the bus and were walking the lanes up into the hills
There were innumerable abandoned windmills, which exuded with sadness the fact that once they'd been the lifeblood of the villages near which they stood, but were now simply handy nesting places for the swallows and for lizards to scuttle or sunbathe on the stone walls. More and more frequently as you climb into the heart of the island you see square towers in or above the villages. These are apparently from the Venetian era, which ran for three centuries from the year 1207. Check out some info and nice photos of these fascinating structures on this website.

Once we'd passed the village of Filoti, where, as we'd expected, Stefanos descended the bus and bade us farewell, the road became progressively smaller and more windy. That's "windy" as in "twisty-turny" and not as in "blowing a gale". See, now you understand why I'd prefer the adjective "curly" eh? Almost every corner drew new gasps from our mouths as we admired some spectacularly dramatic valleys between ever rising mountains on the sides of which still there clung ever more villages, seeming like they'd tumble at any moment down over the terraced slopes to the narrow valley floor far below with just the slightest push.

The bus was finding it ever more tricky negotiating some of the bends and village streets when we did actually pass through them. All the while people would hop off in deserted village streets, where you'd see a couple of rickety chairs outside what looked like a house but bore a sign declaring that it was, in fact, an ouzerie or kafeneion. Staring out of the window we found ourselves looking down some pretty sheer hillsides, which, thus far at least, we were slightly less likely to tumble down since some expense had evidently been shelled out for Armco barriers in recent times. These shots were taken through the bus window, so you may see some reflections...

When we'd gone through a couple of very dramatic passes, the bus driver pulled up at a junction in the middle of nowhere, except for the presence of the ubiquitous small church beside the road, where he declared that it was time for us to change buses. No problem, he was coming too and, sure enough, parked up beside the church was a smaller bus, something like a 20-seater, which we were all now going to pile into for the remainder of the journey. The passengers, who'd begun the journey numbering probably 20 to 30, were now down to a couple of Greeks and about eight tourists, ourselves included. So even in this smaller bus there was ample room, except that the driver had to stack a few large packages in the aisle near the front, ...deliveries still to be made then.

I'm not sure, but I think this place is marked on the maps of the island as simply "Stavros", which in this context probably means 'crossways, or crossroads'. Once the diesel engine of the smaller bus had rattled into life we were off again, this time descending more often than ascending and negotiating ever smaller lanes through ever narrower villages above ever steeper hillsides as we began the descent of the final 15 k or so to Apollonas.

Rounding one bend, and negotiating some pretty large holes in the road surface, we came face to face with a huge cow, standing in the middle of the road, which meant that she blocked it completely. Across the formidable pair of horns on her head was laid a chain of some kind, lending me the impression that she'd escaped from somewhere. The driver merely inched forward as though this was something he did every day (which, of course, he probably does) and the cow eventually decided to squeeze herself against the rising green bank on the furthest side from the drop and let us pass.

I must have been wrong about the cow having escaped because after that we passed three or four more, all of which seemed quite at home grazing on the rich greenery along the roadside. At one point, we rounded yet another tight bend, causing my wife and I to remark that it was small wonder we'd had to change buses, since we couldn't imagine for a moment a fifty-seater bus getting round these lanes, only to pull up beside a man dressed in coarse clothing and standing beside three five-gallon white plastic drums with chocolate brown-coloured tops on them. Where he could have come from was a complete mystery, since all I could see was rural countryside in all directions. There was, however a small gateway beside which this man was standing and he was obviously waiting for the bus because the driver pulled up, opened the door and the man placed his three drums in the aisle, beside and on top of the already existing parcels that were there, and squeezed himself into the footwell beside the door as the driver closed it to ensure he didn't fall out.

As we trundled on I tried to get a look at what these drums may have contained and, according to the labels that I could just make out on the sides of them, it was some kind of Nutella-equivalent. Where the devil did he come from with three drums of chocolate confection about his person? That's a question to which we'll never know the answer. I had just about concluded that they probably had been emptied of their labelled contents anyway and filled with fertilizer or something, when knock me down with a feather if the bus didn't stop in a tiny village right outside of a compact house with a sign over the door advertising the fact that it was a zaheroplasteion - a cake and confectionery shop!

I dunno, maybe the cows up here have a very sweet tooth? probably not. 

Something else that prompted us to ask the driver a question was this: driving through endless miles of deserted hillsides as we were, punctuated with the occasional tiny village, where were all these women coming from then? For, sure enough, we'd begun to pass knots of women, mainly middle aged, but with some younger ones among them now and then as well, all striding along with a purpose, many carrying flowers and most using walking sticks, the long ones that go as high as your head. Apparently today, said the driver, it was a yorti (celebration) for some saint or other who has a little church dedicated to him somewhere out in these hills and every year the women from the assorted villages around the area make the trek to this little church for some reason or other. It made hikers out of them so there was that benefit to be considered I suppose.

Finally, after we'd almost OD'd on scenery and tiny rutted, potholed roads, we caught our first glimpse of Apollonas at the far end of a valley as we entered it, still at some altitude...

...But we still had a lot of twisting and turning to do before finally getting down there...

Opposite sides of the valley it may seem to be, but it's the same road!
A couple of kilometres above the village, we made the final stop to let off a German couple who were going to hike over to see the ancient Kouros before coming on down to the village on foot. We ourselves were planning an immediate visit to a café on the front for some liquid refreshment, before doing it the other way around.

So, folks, the bus emptied out on the quayside with its two remaining passengers (us!), turned at the far end of the quay, near the modest breakwater, before letting us off, the driver assuring us that at 3.30pm the bus would be back to pick us up for our return journey. We had just over three hours to explore. Ample time. As the sound of the bus' engine died away, we drew our very first breaths in the truly peaceful atmosphere that is Apollonas, which within minutes became one of our most favourite places on the planet. Here goes with the photos...

A simple lunch of cheese and onion omelette, which I asked for with chips, so they mixed the chips into the omelette (which, as it happens, was actually a stroke of genius), green salad and Gigantes.

Oh, the stresses and strains of modern life...

After a rather welcome beer, along with which the nice lady in the first hostelry we patronised brought us a plate of nibbles for free...

...we took a walk in the hot sunshine up the valley to see the Kouros for ourselves..

Old Dionyssos has lain here for 2,600 years, so I figure he must like the place. Bit bigger than me isn't he.

Look at the flora. The whole of nature here is like one big garden during April.

Apollonas - perfect or what?

What a flower eh? And the bush isn't bad either.

Apparently they never finished him. Not much changed there then.

As the time ebbed away and we again sat quayside waiting for the bus to return, we got back to the subject of how sensible it had been to change from the big bus to the smaller one for the final 15 k or so down to the village. The turns in some of the villages had been so tight that everyone one of them seemed to sport a parked car with dents all over it, testifying to how difficult it is for vehicle to get through these turns without clouting other vehicles. Judging from the state of some of the cars we saw parked in the villages along these valleys, the owners just resign themselves to the inevitable in their refusal to park further away from home. Can't imagine that many of these have seen the inside of a test centre for a very long time.

So, there we were expressing gratitude that the small bus had been rather cleverly parked way up there in the mountains in order for us to make the switch, when the familiar sound of a diesel engine announced the arrival of the bus to take us back to town. Here waiting for it were two German couples and ourselves, all getting along famously and not mentioning the war, all dead certain that the smaller bus would turn up and that we'd once again have to change over to the larger one once we got out of this valley of the tiny, twisty, potholed road, when around the corner came the bus, the 50 seater bus that is.

I could have sworn I saw Vaseline smeared all along its sides as we climbed aboard.


  1. Wow, what a fabulous adventure. I'm so very envious and all sorts of plans are forming in my mind. The photos of the bay look like a cross between Halki (waterfront) and Haraki.

  2. Sounds like you both had great fun.
    Not long now to our hols,
    On our way on Monday-Looking forward to hopefully seeing you both next week and frappe in the cafe,
    Di and Dave

  3. Brilliant read as always and the photos are just breathtakingly wonderful. Noticed you found some Fix beer lol, bet that's the main beer reining over Mythos, can't wait to have some Fix and try Fix dark. Can't beat getting on a Greek bus, the experience is great.