Saturday 21st of June: Athens
I was fairly tired as the bus pulled into Athens, it had been a long trip and I hadn't managed to get much sleep along the way
. Bound on 3 sides by Mt.Parnitha, Mt.Penderi and Mt.Hymettos, the first observation I made about Athens on the drive in was of its size, its massive, and a sprawling metropolis. Of the 11million people that live in Greece it's said that almost half live in Athens alone. I think that will give you some idea of the magnitude of the place. The civil war that succeeded WWII resulted in a huge population migration of people to various parts of the world, most notable the USA, Canada and Australia. In recent time Athens has seen a colossal increase in population not only from people migrating from other parts of Greece but from Albania, Bulgaria and parts of the Middle East. This urban development has seen Europe's oldest city undergoing something of a transition of late. Getting off the bus I was fairly disorientated as it hadn't arrived at the station I was expecting. Lucky for me Jimmy was on hand and he took the time to bring me to the underground station and point me in the direction of Omonia and the location of my hostel. What a great guy, I must admit I was a little sad shaking his hand and saying goodbye. His kindness has epitomized the experience I had in Albania. In the few days I was there I had only scratched the surface of this ancient land, there is still so much more to see. I definitely intend to go back one day and when I do I hope that it has retained all its rough edges and distinctly Albanian charms. When I look back on this trip in years to come I'm sure it will be one of the highlights I reflect and reminisce about
. I had no problem getting as far as Omonia once I was pointed in the right direction but finding the hostel was a different matter completely. I was up and down the same few streets for ages. The hostel was called the 'Athens House Hostel' and it just didn't seem to be where it was supposed to be. I managed to come across the 'Athens House Hotel', a rather posh looking building with a nice big foyer that you knew straight away wasn't a smelly backpackers but I was running out of ideas so I said id check it out. No sooner had I entered the front door I was surrounded by staff directing me back towards the sidewalk. I think my scruffy appearance was taking down the tone of their establishment but thankfully before they closed the door behind me they were able to point me to where I needed to be. As it turns out I had passed by the hostel 5 times and each time didn't think the dilapidated building was the one I was looking for. The hostel was on the fourth floor and with the lift being out of order I was beginning to realize why it was a bargain at Eur9 per night. You get what you pay for in this life. Actually it wasn't all that bad on the inside and once there's a place that I can rest my head then I'm happy. I've slept in worse places I can tell you. Even the old bloke at reception with the scariest, weirdest wig I have ever seen didn't put me off. It was jet black and the strands were as rough and as thick as bailing twine, and if that wasn't enough to give you the heebie-jeebies then the pony tail that he had coming out the back of it surely would have
. I must have caught him just out of bed and not fully awake because he checked me into the wrong room and I ended up getting better value for my money. It should have been an 8 bed dorm room but instead it was only 3. Boyce and his girlfriend Rachel would have arrived in Athens the day previous from a two week break on the island of Zakynthos but as it was still fairly early in the morning so I figured I would wait till a more social hour before getting in contact. It would be no harm for me to have a power nap and erase the fatigue lingering from the coach trip.
I had arranged to meet Boyce in Omonia square so after a shower and a well needed shave I made my way to the meeting point. I was feeling pretty good after the sleep and the anticipation of seeing Boyce had me in an excitable mood. It seemed that all the exploits of the last month had been an excursion just to get to Athens for this date, this moment and a piece of me couldn't actually believe that I had made it. There were more than a few occasions I thought that I might not make it in time but the preparation and research id put into the route over the last few weeks and various modes of transport id elected for had paid off. Sure I would have liked to see more countries along the way, Croatia and Serbia to name two but I could always visit them after Greece was finished. I couldn't be disappointed with everything id done and experienced so far
. It was been a hell of a ride. Standing at the meeting point for quite awhile and with still no sign of the big man I was thinking had we got our wires crossed. Giving him a call I was amazed to discover that he was standing in the square, outside the same shop as me but yet we could find each other. With a little further discussion, namely describing every building in eyesight, we discovered that although we were both standing outside the same shop we were in completely different squares and not only that we were miles away from each other. Not knowing the city we couldn't get to where the other one was so we spent the next hour walking around trying to look for any kind of landmark, hotel, anything that would help us find some common ground. Eventually we managed to catch up to one another but by this time the heat and dust had our throats arid and in need of some liquid refreshment. The guys were staying in a hotel in the Plaka area of Athens so that was the direction in which we advanced. Plaka, the area in the north of Athens nestled at the foot of the Acropolis, was the Turkish quarter of the city and is now the base for most tourist visits. The whole area is a labyrinthine of paved narrow streets full to the brim with souvenir shops, restaurants, taverna's and carpet sellers. It's touristy in the extreme and for this reason not the cheapest area to wine and dine. However, the virtually car free streets provide for a more relaxed atmosphere in a city that is constantly on the go and are pleasant to stroll around
. Over a few beers we began to devise a plan for the next 3 weeks, namely to decide what direction and group of islands we would aim for. We were both keen to avoid mammoth ferry journeys, I could think of nothing worse than spending most of our time aboard cramped ferries. Island hopping around Greece was a trip I had dreamed of embarking on ever since a visit to Kos back in 2004. With over 1400 islands to choose from and each one surrounded by the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea there was a wealth of opportunity and possibilities for two guys with 3 weeks to spare. We elected to begin our adventure in the group of islands known as the 'Cyclades', where island names like Santorini, Mykonos and Ios, conjure images of golden sandy beaches, villages of white and blue trimmed houses, and long party nights. With every idea that was given voice, given life, my excitement became palpable. One idea that was hatched and nurtured was the possibility of renting a car. With the amount of luggage we were carrying, the embarking and disembarking of ferries, coupled with the size of some of the islands we would intend to visit, the freedom of movement a car would provide to explore each and every island to its fullest and also to achieve this under our own steam was very appealing. After we were joined by Rachel and the obligatory greetings and news was got out of the way we set about getting a vehicle organized. As they always do, the receptionist in Boyce's hotel knew a guy (friend) that would of course be able to give us a great deal on a hire car
. For the 3 weeks it was going to be expensive, there was no doubt, but after a little shopping around the Fiat Panda he had on offer for Eur32 per day was the best deal we could get. With the car hire paid for and with the experience Boyce and Rachel had in Greece during their previous two weeks, it became apparent I was in for an expensive time. Not an ideal scenario for a guy looking to try and keep within a budget that will get him to Australia. Putting the thought of expense out of my mind we spend the rest of the night enjoying ourselves in the bars around Plaka. Early in the night we happened to walk by this traditional Greek taverna where some live music was being played so we said we'd check it out. It was a two piece band with a female singer and a guy playing the accordion, 'the auld music box'. It was no rock and roll, in fact it was pretty tragic but we got into the swing of it nonetheless. The singer was really striking and I've always had a bit of a soft spot for girls who can sing so with our table being right up the front I couldn't resist trying to chat to her in-between songs. As the beer flowed we were getting more and more boisterous, cheering and clapping wildly. With our increase in volume came and increase in music tempo, as our enthusiasm began to take over the whole bar. At one point the guys started playing this traditional Greek song, the type you would imagine smashing lots of plates to. A few people even got up to dance around the bar in this chain, a kind of sideways locomotion that Kylie Minogue would have been proud of
. Rachel got dragged up to join them and fair play to her as she really got into it, the speed at which they were flying around the bar was a little too much for my dancing feet. With a fantastic atmosphere developing the owner of the bar sent us down some free shots to keep the party going. When a round of beers were dropped to the table I presumed they had come from the same source but the waiter informed me they were courtesy of a man sitting at a table on the opposite side of the bar to us. Strange but generous I thought and while raising my glass to him in thanks I motioned to see if he would like to join us. When he came over and sat down I discovered he was the father of the singer in the band and while complimenting him on his talented daughter I got chatting to him. I discovered that his job was to translate books of poetry from English into Greek. He was telling me that he loves Ireland because his favorite poet is Seamus Heaney and also that he got to meet Seamus when he was last in Athens as he was involved in the translation of a book of his works. By the end of the night he was promising to translate the book I'm planning to write about my travels into the Greek language in preparation for the Greek market. Imagine me and Seamus Heaney, a noble prise winner being spoken about in the same conversation ;0). His youngest daughter joined us after awhile so before long we had half the family sitting with us. They were great company but when the music finished up it was time to bid farewell and relocate ourselves in the midst of a younger establishment
. By the time the night finally drew towards a close there had been a lot of laughing, a small bit of dancing and a hell of a lot of drinking done. I was in Poland the last time I had such a quantity of drink in one sitting so I was fairly merry walking back to my hostel. Unbelievably without thinking about the directions I found myself back without any wrong moves. I even managed to stop off at this outdoor concert while making my way. I couldn't tell you what the concert was in aid off or what type of music was being played upon the stage. While standing amongst the crowd, supping from a bottle of beer, it was some time before I realized I still had my ipod on and I was listening to some banging traditional Irish tunes rather than anything that was being played on stage. A strong sign of my state of inebriation me thinks ;0)
I awoke the next morning experiencing a familiar feeling, a feeling that I hadn't experienced since Amsterdam, a feeling on my skin, a sort if itch.....'No, not again' I thought. Running to the mirror I discovered that my worry was not unjustified, the mosquito kisses were back. Luckily nowhere near the extent of what I now call 'the Amsterdam episode'. Gazing around the room I saw the open window above the head of a roommate. It was a window he had left open and as I packed my things and left the hostel I was hoping that he was riddled with them too, preferably more than me, a lot more
. Rachel would be flying back to Ireland that night so I would stay in the hotel with Boyce and we would set off the following day to get the island hopping adventure underway. With her flight not being till late in the day we were left with the morning and afternoon to do some Athens sightseeing. Named after Athena, the goddess of wisdom, Athens has a history dating back to some of the earliest civilizations on earth. With so much of this history based around classical mythology, what remains today are some of the world's greatest architectural treasures. The most notable and well-known of which is the mighty 'Acropolis', meaning high city. The jewel in the crown of this city is the 'Parthenon', the most iconic of monuments stands guard over Athens and is visible from almost every part of the city. The most pleasurable approach to the site is walking through the narrow maze of white washed houses along quaint Anatiotika. The view out over Athens and across to Lykavittos Hill gets steadily more impressive the higher you climb. The entrance fee to the Acropolis is a rather extortionate Eur12 but it does include entry to the city's other ancient sites like the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora, the Keramikos and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Thankfully for me the fake student card I bought in Bangkok provided me with free entry to all the sites, Mark 1; Greece 0. A good thing to note if you happen to find yourself in Athens on a Sunday, entrance to all the sites is free. The Acropolis is constantly under renovation, acid rain caused from traffic and industrial pollution is dissolving the stone from which the monuments are built
. The scaffolding is now as much of a feature of the Acropolis as the monuments themselves. That said the magnitude of the Parthenon is still hugely impressive, with or without scaffold. The ancient Greeks may have left their mark on the city but so to have the Romans with the 'Roman Agora' being the best example. To most people the site might look like a pile of rubble and I'll be honest it was even hard for me to get enthusiastic about trying to picture what it once looked like but as the entrance is through the four tall columns of the 'Gate of Athena Archegetis' and with the impressive 'Tower of the Winds' also on the site it's well worth a visit. By the time we had picked our way around all the ruins it was approaching time for Rachel to get to the airport. Our hire car had been dropped to the hotel so we decided that we would drive to the airport, familiarizing ourselves with the city and the route to Piraeus in preparation for leaving the next day. For a time it was looking like a very bad idea, despite having a map it was almost impossible navigating our way through the traffic congestion and out of the city. It was looking like we might not make it. Even when we stopped for petrol and to ask for directions nobody seemed to know the way or couldn't speak any English. It was by pure chance and luck that we eventually found ourselves on the right road and at the airport in enough time for Rachael to catch her flight.
Driving back towards the city we thought it a good idea to take a detour to Piraeus and get a heads up on the situation regarding ferries to the islands
. Piraeus is situated about 10km from Athens and is Greece's main port along with being the hub for all ferry's heading for islands in the Aegean. With its gray, drab and somewhat seedy veneer the area's got nothing going for it what so ever. I can't think why anyone might want to stay around here. In my opinion the only reason to be in Piraeus is to get the ferry out of it as quickly as you possibly can. As our plans involved us leaving for the islands the following day we didn't want to hang around the district any longer than was necessary but before we drove back to Athens we decided we better check the times and the prices of the ferry to Kythnos, what would be our proposed first stop. Set against a back drop of grungy rundown buildings and cafes there is no shortage of ferry offices with which you can buy tickets. An inquiry within one office resulted in the painful news the cost was going to set us back Eur15 per person plus and extra Eur50 for the privilege of bringing the car. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't little surprised with the payment outlay. The car had cost us a fair whack to rent as it was and I hadn't factored that it would then cost us so much to bring, it was developing into a costly endeavor. A check with some other agencies only revealed that the prices were fixed and there was no advantage in trying to shop around. Driving back through the urban sprawl of factories, warehouses and apartment blocks towards Athens we had a lot of information to digest and consider. At one point we toyed with the idea of not traveling to the islands at all and instead doing a massive road trip through Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia
. There was no doubt it would be a cheaper adventure while the countries were places that I was hoping to see but after reflecting on it for awhile I came to the conclusion that the island hopping experience was something id longed to do for a few years now and it was not the time to give up on that dream. In for a penny and in for a pound was the philosophy I was going to live by from that moment onwards. On our arrival back into Athens we were faced with the problem of trying to find somewhere to park the car overnight. The city is wall to wall cars and the drivers are all rude hotheads, constantly beeping the horns while shouting and waving their hands in various expressions of anger. It was a horrible experience and I was only a passenger never mind poor Boyce who had to drive within the chaos, my nerves would have been shot and I must say I was never gladder to be unable to drive. Our search for a car park led us to the seedier areas of the city where prostitutes and drug dealers ruled the streets. I'm not joking there was a group of guys sitting on a step openly shooting some narcotic into their veins and in broad daylight too. Eventually we managed to find a multi-story car park that was open and which had available spaces. It was a lengthy walk from our hotel but if nothing else we knew we would at the very least still have a car in the morning.
While strolling around the markets we happened to come across an Irish bar 'Jamesons' and with Boyce having a lip for a pint of Guinness we went in for a look
. It was a nice bar and I was pleasantly surprised, not the tacky over the top Irishness that you would normally associate with Irish bars. It was more reminiscent of a bar you would find around Dublin than a bar in Athens. The 'one or two' pints we had talked about before we walked through the door of the pub was rapidly turning into more of a session, especially when the mention of cocktails was expressed. My experience of cocktails is pretty limited but as we had been having a bit of fun chatting to one of the bar staff so I put my faith in her capable hands with the declaration that I wanted something nice tasting and easy to drink. It turned out to be an excellent decision as my confidence in her abilities was rewarded with the best tasting cocktail id ever tried, 'capirossca' made with vodka, brown sugar, crushed ice, lime slices and topped up with soda water. It was really refreshing not to mention easy to drink and we began knocking them back in rapid succession. As the drink flowed the bar began to fill up and we got chatting to this girl Sinead from Cork. She was living in Athens with her Greek boyfriend and was out for the night with her mother and her mother's friend who were over for a few weeks holiday. I was interested to know how Sinead had come to be living in Athens and what she thought of it because for me living in Athens would appear, on the surface to be a living nightmare. Her story was one of working on cruise ships and meeting her boyfriend through that. As for living in Athens, she said it was not great as the Greeks are not big drinkers so she finds it difficult to have the kind of social life she would be used to back home. I actually felt a bit sorry for her, she seemed a bit lonely. They were a nice bunch and we had a good laugh. I think the mother's friend took a bit of shine to Boyce; she would have been old enough to be his mother, and then some. As the night began to draw to a finish and the bar began to close a bit of a sing song started to develop within another group of Irish
. As I'm generally not one to shy away from an auld song I was keen to get involved. I don't know if Boyce had a premonition of things to come or if his fan club was getting a bit much but he was edging towards making a move elsewhere. I won out and we stayed for the entertainment. It was a group of 50 somethings from somewhere down the country and as we all started to sit down they were asking us where we were from. There is one thing I can't stand about Irish people and it's generally the reason why I avoid them like the plague when I'm away. It's the narrow and small minded, begrudging mentality that we seem to have and it always seems to manifest itself between people from the country and people from Dublin. It's a 'them vs. us' syndrome. No sooner had I said that I was from Dublin but the sniping back chat started. I'm pretty used to it at this stage so I chose to ignore it. Then the most vocal of the group says that I've to sing a song, that it was my turn. I started into the first few lines of 'oh lovely Leitrim' when she started talking over me saying there was no such song and that I was actually singing 'spancill hill'. I stopped singing when she started this and I tried to explain to her that although the first few bars might sound like 'spancill hill' they are actually two different songs. She then asks me to sing it again only when I do she starts singing over me to the words of 'spancill hill'. By this time I was starting to get pissed off with her and I started to leave. She was so rude and had absolutely no decorum
. I was determined not to be one of those Irish abroad, the ones that get drunk and start fighting amongst each other living up to the stereotype of the drunken fighting Irish. I used to see so much of it when I lived in Sydney and it was often embarrassing. We have this idea in our heads that everybody around the world loves the Irish but it's a fallacy. On St.Patrick's day a bar called the 'cock n bull' in Bondi Junction had to close at 4pm because all the Irish started fighting with each other. I wasn't going to lower myself to that level, no matter how obnoxious she was. I had to laugh; as I was passing her she took a book called 'Irish pub songs' out of her bag. Imagine bringing a book of song lyrics away on holidays with you, she must have thought she was the life and soul of the party. When I got outside the door Sinead followed trying to get us to stay but I just thanked her and we left. I should have just left when Boyce originally said to go, quit on a high. By the time we arrived back at the hotel we were both laughing uncontrollably as we relived the night. Things were looking up after all we would be leaving for the islands tomorrow and getting the hell out of dodge.
I had only been in the city 2 days but as we were making our way to Piraeus I must admit I was glad to be getting out of Athens. It's dirty, grimy, polluted, over crowded with people and its traffic anarchy
. Id can understand if you are wondering why the points I've just listed I consider to be negative when associated with Athens and yet are some of the positive points I like about other cities. I can sum it up for you in one word, 'charm'. I've been to cities that are worse for pollution and overcrowding, Delhi and Bangkok to name just two, even on this trip Tirana would run Athens close but what these cities have and Athens is lacking is charm. I've always been able to find good things to say about the places I've traveled. In fact I don't think I've ever been anywhere I didn't like. However with Athens I struggle, even with all the history and architectural treasures I'm struggling to find good things to say. It's the people that are the problem; Athenians have this arrogance about them, a mentality that they are superior beings. As we drove to Piraeus the stress levels were increasing with the shouts and beeping of car horns coming from the other commuters. As soon as we got to the port we sorted ourselves with some tickets and prepared to set sail. The ferry was the Agios Georgious and it would be calling at a number of islands so with Kythnos being the first destination we would be one of the last cars to board. As we sat in the car waiting our turn we got the chance to observe firsthand Greek organization. I laugh at this because I don't actually think there is such a thing as Greek organization. The loading of the ferry with vehicles could be described as a giant game of Tetris. If it was a game then the Greeks wouldn't be getting passed level one
. You know if you ever see council workers on a job, for some reason there is always more of them than is actually necessary to do the job in hand and they will all be standing around looking at a hole in the ground but none of them will actually doing any work. Every single one of them will see themselves as an expert and will bark orders as they lean on their shovels. The captain of the ship and his merry crew of imbeciles were the Greek version of an Irish council worker. Everybody had an opinion and was quite happy to shout it out to anyone within ear shot but stand and do nothing themselves. The whole scene was complete mayhem and Boyce and I sat in the car gob-smacked as we watched events unfold in front of us. For starters they began loading the trucks onto the ship with everyone shouting out directions to the driver and the driver leaning out the window shouting things back at them. Once the trucks were aboard then the normal vehicles would begin their line up before driving onto the ship with the same noise level greeting them. After a few minutes of this the line of cars would stop and be asked to back up out of the way while 3 or 4 trucks would come back of the ferry and then go back on but in a different order. We had come up with nicknames for most of the crew by the time it was our turn to drive aboard. The captain we christened as 'captain chaos' and because his first officer had the biggest hairiest mono-brow either of us had ever seen he got christened as 'monobrow'. Our tempers were frazzled by the time Boyce backed the car into its parking space, running the gauntlet of abuse from the crew was too much for both of us
. A good stiff drink was required to calm us down.
Monday 23rd June: Kythnos, Serifos, and Milos
The island of Kythnos is 21/2 hours from Piraeus and it not one that is frequented by many tourists. Due to its proximity to the mainland it is a popular destination with Greek holiday-makers and those seeking weekend breaks rather than the international jet set. The islands landscape it virtually barren with little in the way of vegetation giving it an arid and dusty appearance. We knew before arrival that it would be quiet but as we wanted to visit islands that would provide us with a varied and diverse traveling experience it seemed an ideal place to begin our adventure. The ferry arrives into the port of Merihas, a small town that doesn't really have a lot going for it other than a few bars and restaurants. The majority of rental accommodation is located here but with the island being quite small you can base yourself here and go traveling around easily enough. To be honest if you stay here you will find yourself constantly looking for somewhere else to be as the beach is less than impressive and with a large number of fishing boats and private yachts in the harbor it's not the best beach for swimming
. On arrival we drove straight out and came across the little picturesque village of Kanala on the southeast coast. The village is set into a gently sloping hill that winds down towards the sea in a nice little cove with a beach. We rented this little apartment from a local woman for Eur20 per night and as it had a kitchenette it was quite good value. She didn't speak any English and it was great fun trying to bargain with her. Even when we had the keys and were sitting on the balcony drinking a bottle of wine and admiring the view we weren't 100% sure if it was Eur20 per person or per night. There is not much in the town of Kanala itself, a bar, a shop and one or two restaurants. The best beaches on the island are Apokrousi and Fikiado on the northwest coast and we spent nearly a full day snorkeling around the cliffs between the two beaches. If you are looking for nightlife then this is not the island for you but it served its purpose for us in that we got to relax for a few days and begin the island hoping on a mellow note. We spent just the two nights on Kythnos before looking to head to Serifos, the next island in the Cyclades group. The craziest story to tell stems from the ferry off the island. We arrived into Merihas in plenty of time to get the ferry and as we approached the dock there was a ferry in readiness for departure. As we drove up one of the officers stopped us, checked our tickets, ripped of the stub and waved us on the ferry. As we were being directed to our parking space I was getting a bit suspicious that we may have been on the wrong boat. We were being directed to the back of the ship when we should have been at the front in order to get off at the next island. With a guy ushering us to back the car up I rolled down the window praying that he spoke English. Unfortunately he didn't but he called over someone who could and when I mentioned Serifos my suspicions were confirmed, we were on the wrong ferry. While burning rubber we made our way off the ferry before the doors closed. Meeting the officer again we had to get him to dig out our ticket stubs and return them to us for when the correct ferry came in. It's another prime example of Greek organization, or lack of it. As we drove off we shouted back to see what was the destination of the ferry, just in case it was going somewhere interesting. When the answer returned to us was Piraeus we both nearly died laughing. Mixed within the humor was a laugh of relief for if we hadn't spotted the error we would have found ourselves back on the mainland and back where we had begun. Can you imagine the shock of driving down the gangway expecting to be on a windswept island in the Aegean only to discover we were back in dirty, seedy and traffic congested Piraeus. It would have been a severe blow. When our ferry arrived a short time later, we got the chance to reacquaint ourselves with captain chaos and monobrow once again.
The ferry linking Kythnos and Serifos is a short sail at 11/2 hours. As you sail towards the port the first thing you notice is the islands landscape and like Kythnos it's barren and rocky with the few pockets of green that exist being the result tomato farming. The second sight to behold is the striking village of Hora, the islands capital perched atop a hill looking down on the port of Livadi. Livadi is a long elongated bay with a promenade of small bars and restaurants and first impressions were that it was a pleasant and relatively lively place to base ourselves for a few days. We booked into the hotel just above the main strip for Eur25 per night. The owner seemed like a nice guy at first but it wasn't long before my stupidity and big mouth got us on his bad side. When we first approached the hotel he said he was looking for Eur35 for the room but with bit of hard bargaining we managed to get him down to Eur25 pending a look. The rooms were nice and clean but a balcony that overlooked the port was the most impressive feature. As the two of us stood out on the balcony admiring the view and discussing if we would take it the son of the owner was waiting in the room to hear our decision. We both agreed that it was a good deal and as Boyce went back into the room to confirm that we wanted to take it I got chatting to a German woman sitting on the balcony next to us. I was asking her how long she was here and if she had any tips for us about things to do and places to see on the island and she advised that her and her husband were regular visitors to the island attracted to the relative peace and quiet. While Boyce and I had been on the balcony she had overheard us talking about the cost of the room and inquired as to how much we were paying. I should have kept my mouth shut but I made the schoolboy error of telling her the cost and we discovered that they were paying Eur10 per night more than us. I didn't think anything of it until Boyce and I were leaving the hotel to go for a drink later in the evening when the owner pulled me aside to angrily ask me if I was stupid and to rage that I was costing him lots of money. I didn't know what his problem was and thought he might have the wrong person but he then explained that the German woman's husband, upon hearing the news about how much we were paying came straight down the stairs to complain and demand the same rate as us. As they were booked in for 10days the owner of the hotel was losing a big chunk of money. I felt a bit bad but sure the damage was done by that stage. I tried to put the blame on the Germans for having big mouths. It's not like it was our fault their bargaining skills weren't as good as ours. They had entered into a contract with the owner and should have stuck with it. At the same time I don't want to be traveling around pissing everyone off so I made a vow to keep such information to myself the next time. As we left for the bars we had a warning from the owner ringing in our ears, not to make any noise when we came back to the hotel that night. When we returned later we were making our way to the room and talking quietly when out of nowhere the owner appears beside me dressed in only his boxer shorts and vest. I got the fright of my life when he appeared; I really didn't hear him coming. He grabbed the key from my hand, unlocked the door to our room and disappeared almost as suddenly as he appeared. With Boyce and I staring at each other in disbelief we christened the hotel owner with the name 'Mr sneaky sneaky'. The most impressive feature of the island is Hora. It looks as though it's delicately glued to the mountain and that at any time the village could come crashing down to sea level. The village appearance is the picture you have in your mind when you imagine the Greek islands, timeless white washed houses set against a maze of narrow paved alleyways snaking their way to Aghios Georgios, a small church perched at the summit of the mountain. The view from the top is breathtaking. The sight of these little mountain topped villages might be very appealing to the eye but their creation served a more practical purpose than the beautiful tourist attractions they are today. There was a time when the Mediterranean was full of pirates and the islanders would protect themselves and their worldly possessions from the marauding hordes by building villages perched high in the mountains and in such a way that the narrow and winding alleyway's would be too confusing thus keeping them save from attack. I'm not too sure if they were two successful in achieving this; after all even I managed to find my way in and out with relative ease. If the church and the view down from it is a highlight of a visit to Hora so too is the charming town square with its imposing town hall dominating. There are a number of small taverna's where you can sit and watch the slow pace of island life go by while sipping on a beer or two.
The volcanic island of Milos was next on our hit list. It's a 2hrs sail from Serifos, again in the unfortunate company of 'captain chaos', 'monobrow' and the rest of the ramshackle crew of the Agios Georgious. Due to the richness of the volcanic soil the island is much more fertile in comparison to the other two islands visited so far and as a result flowers seem to grow everywhere. The island is made famous because of the Venus De Milo that is now housed in the Louvre in Paris. The statue was made here from marble collected for the nearby island of Paros and was shipped off to adorn the burial tomb of Napoleon. It's believed that while on this voyage to Paris is where the statue lost both of its arms. With the island being of a volcanic nature the rock formations provide for a dramatic coastal landscape. Although it is a reasonably popular island it has seen a marked decrease in the amount of foreign tourists who in recent years have been attracted to the livelier islands of Mykonos and Ios. The islands port is called Adamas, a quaint and pleasant harbor village with a few bars and restaurants and the majority of the islands accommodation. We found ourselves a room for two nights at Eur20 per night and located just off the main promenade on the road to Plaka, the islands inland capital. With a host of beautiful beaches and charming fishing villages Milos is a wonderful experience. On the south eastern coast is a disused sulphur mine and although the road is more of dirt track with huge rocky craters, our fiat panda didn't look like it was going to make it on more than one occasion, the end justifies the means. The mine is set back from a beautiful sandy cove providing dramatic views and with the trail being unsuitable for most forms of transport the area is unspoilt by the hand of tourism. It was late in the evening when we arrived there and as the sun was heading down we took our snorkel gear out for a swim. When the sun had gone down completely we were swimming back to the beach with the magical colors of phosphorescence lighting our way. At night some salt waters have a build up of bacteria or bioluminescent plankton that emits radiation in the form of light when the water gets churned up. I have never experienced anything like it; it was truly electric, even a little magical as our swimming stroke produced the full spectrum of colors as we glided through the water. Getting back to the beach we met this Italian couple that were setting up camp. They were on their second honeymoon and not a better location could they have picked to spend the night. Just north of Adamas is a small fishing village called Klima which used to be the port of Milos in ancient times but has now become the most picturesque little village of white washed houses, with the doors and balconies painted in some beautiful and eye catching colors. The village is set into the bottom of a hill and right at the coast edge and provides the most dramatic of views from the ferry as it makes its way in and out of the port. Although there is a nice quiet beach in Adamas itself the best of the islands beaches are on the south coast, Yarakas and Provatas. Provatas will go down in the memory as one of the nicest beaches I've ever seen. Although it's small and difficult to get to the little cove is glorious. The beach is situated at the bottom of a cliff and the only way down is through a narrow trail, so steep you have to almost abseil down with a rope that is tied into the cliff face. Once at the bottom you are rewarded with the most tranquil of coves, a very romantic setting that had me thinking to myself that it would have been nice to share the experience with the love of your life rather than one of your best mates.
We enjoyed Milos so much that the planned two night stay turned into four although we think we may have been kicked out of our initial accommodation. The first night we came back in merry humor after going to this great bar in the town. We were sitting on the balcony having a laugh when the owner, an elderly woman came out telling us to be quiet. Well we think that was what she said; it was in Greek so we had to guess. Anyway to cut a long story short when we asked if we could book for another two nights the following morning she told us that there were no more rooms left and that she was full. We would tell that this was far from the truth so I guess she didn't like the cut of our jib. It was not an issue as we found a nice apartment a little further down the road but the cost was more expensive at Eur35 per night. There was this great cafe/ bar in the center of town that we spent most of our time in. The owner was this lunatic woman called Laoula. She was in her 70's and although she spoke a mixture of Greek and English we were able to pick up that she was born on the island and the cafe was a family business that she has worked in all her life. It was really popular with the local old men who used to enjoy sitting drinking tea while watching the world go by. There was this creepy American waiter who worked there. He was as camp a guy as I've ever seen and was always on the hunt for new meat to seduce. One night we met these young crew of friends from somewhere in England, the real private school boy and girl types. You know the ones; the boys played rugby and the girls were all airheads that loved spending daddy's money. They were nice people and we had a laugh with them but the American waiter used to be all over the guys and it was cringing to watch. It was their first time away on their own so the guys didn't know what to do when he made his advances, all shirt open and chest on display. They eventually ran out of the bar with him following them down the street. After that night we gave him the nickname 'the predator'. I've got one hilarious story to tell about Laoula and Boyce, it's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. One day we were sitting in the cafe having a beer while Laoula was telling us for the tenth time that the girls today are terrible because they are working instead of having children and soon there would be no 'bambinos' running around and that TV and America were to blame for it all. In a moment of silence she mentions that Boyce looks a little burnt from the sun and that as she has lived on the island all her life she has become a doctor of traditional island medicine and that she had a remedy for his sunburn. Rather nervously Boyce follows her into the back kitchen and a few minutes later he calls me in to have a look at what she was doing. I dearly died from the laughter, I wouldn't be surprised if I peed a little for Boyce was getting his face, arms and chest covered in natural yogurt by a 70yr old woman. Although he was laughing too it was more out of fear then enjoyment. What a moment, I'll never forget it.
In the 9th century BC the ancient Greek writer Homer told the story of the Trojan War and the subsequent wanderings of Odysseus in his book called "Odyssey". The summer of 2008 gave birth to another Greek odyssey, only this time Odysseus was nowhere to be found for this was a Greek odyssey all of my own. This adventurous journey began and ended in Athens but in-between is a tale of incredible highs, frustrating lows, a tale of romance and love, all making it one of the most emotionally challenging but also most rewarding traveling experiences I have had to date.