Chapter 3: Islands in the Sun

Trip Start May 10, 2006
Trip End Dec 17, 2006

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Saturday, June 3, 2006

The Greek Islands conjure images of whitewashed buildings, beautiful blue water and wild parties. They certainly have all that, and more.

From Athens I took an overnight ferry to Santorini. It was only €10 extra to upgrade to a cabin so I opted for that. I'm glad I did as there were people spread out over chairs and stuff trying to get comfortable while there were loud kids and the lights still on. The cabin wasn't great, but I had a bed so slept ok. I heard a couple people the next morning say the trip was "hell". The cabin was definately a good idea then.
Arrived at the port in Santorini which isn't at the main town so I took a bus to the main town of Fira. Waited around there for the bus to Oia (on the north part of the island). Santorini, and especially Oia, are more of an expensive area so I was glad there's a youth hostel in the town. Apparently Angelina Jolie has stayed there (the owner has a picture)...though I doubt she stayed in the dorms. I took a quick look around town - it's very cute. Lots of picture postcard places. It has narrow streets with the white buildings, some of the churches with the blue domes and the blue Mediterranean in the background.

I'm sure I went picture crazy.

Santorini is actually a volcano. There was a big eruption a few thousand years ago and the volcano collapsed forming a caldera. Water filled the inner part and what remains is the rim of the volcano. It's dormant now so all is safe...for the time being. Most the beaches around Oia are all rocks so the hostel owner told me how to get to the black sand beach, Paradise Beach. People always like to underestimate the time it takes to get places. I was told 25 min to walk to the beach, but it was actually 45 min. Wasn't much of anybody at the beach (read this as "no cute girls to gawk at"). I just laid there and got black sand all over me. The water was a pretty blue and kind of cold. Had the long walk back with what was now a very warm bottle of water. First thing I did when I got to town was to get a cold bottle of water. Hordes of tourists from other parts of the island started arriving between 5:30pm and 6pm for the famous Oia sunset. The small streets through town were literally packed with people. Funny that I feel like they're invading my town. The sun sets a little after 8pm so I was there with the all the old folks for photos. The sunset was disappointing as there were lots of clouds on the horizon to prevent there being various shades of pinks and purples. Nightlife in Oia is virtually non-existent, or rather it consists of being at a restaurant or cafe (there are no bars or clubs that I found). Again, traveling alone sitting at a cafe by yourself is lame. The hostel was very quiet and no one was at its bar so I just sat and read my book.
During breakfast I met Alex from South Africa who had been in Oia the previous week, went to a different island and just returned. She was just chillin' each day as she may have gotten sunstroke. I did a boat trip for the day that took me out to the volcano in the center of the caldera. Met some American girls on the boat ride and ended up hanging out with them. We hiked up the volcano to a couple of its craters where there was a wee bit of steam coming out. Nothing terribly exciting. Then it was to a "hot springs" nearby. The hot springs was all muddy, brown water and shallow so I'm not convinced it was really a hot springs as much as shallow water heated by the sun. We went swimming there and all agreed it was rather gross. There were jellyfish in the water as well that had to be avoided while swimming. Stopped at the island of Thorasia for lunch. We went to the restaurant recommended by the tour operators, but of course that was rather lousy and overpriced. Had two hours on that island so spent most of it just hanging out by the water. Back to Oia for a long hike up over 200 stairs. Ugh. Found Alex back at the hostel and chatted with her. Visited my favorite bakery in town for a slice of pizza for dinner (remember I'm cheap) and strolled around town 'til it was time for sunset. Again, the streets were swarmed with tourists from other parts of the island. The sunsets haven't been very good because there are always lots of clouds on the horizon (they block out the sun before it goes all the way down). Back to the hostel and chatted with Alex more before bedtime. Our minds thought similarly (e.g., thinking a Smurf souvenir that says "i love Santorini" would be a cool gift).
In the morning, I left Oia and took the bus to Fira where I caught the bus to Perissa (on the southeast part of the island). Perissa is right next to the beach so flat and has normal roads around town. Plenty of bars, mini-markets and restaurants. The hostel I stayed at had easy access to everything. I checked out the town then laid in the sun at the beach. That was rough work so had to get me some lunch before returning to lay in the sun and do nothing. Had a shower back at the hostel then went to watch the sunset. It wasn't very good. Strolled on back to the hostel and found a group of girls playing cards so I asked to join them. We played their version of kings as a drinking game. After a couple rounds of that I was thinking I probably should have had dinner first. The girls were all very friendly and good fun. We played cards 'til about 11pm and took taxis into Fira (where there are lots of bars/clubs). Kristin started becoming emotional about her recent break-up with her boyfriend and she latched on to me for some crazy reason. First bar was just ok so we moved on to one with 2for1 cocktails and good music. Got myself two long islands which I realized I didn't need about 1/2 way through the first, so gave my second to the Sydney girls I shared a cab with. By this time Kristin was spending most the evening on the patio crying so we were taking turns trying to cheer her up and be supportive. The little bit of time I spent inside dancing and chatting with the other girls was fun.

Kristin was gone to the bathroom for a while and I was sent to go check on her and found her just as she had come out (she had been sick). Back up to the bar and it wasn't long before she decided she wanted to return to the just walked out. No one else was following her, so I was like "sh*t, I wanna stay here!" but knew someone should make sure she gets home ok. So I was a good, responsible person and took a taxi back with Kristin to make sure she made it back safely. Yeah, taxi back with the vulnerable girl who's been clinging to me the latter part of the night and all I do is make sure she gets back to her dorm room ok. Sometimes it sucks being one of the good guys. Damn conscience.
Very tired in the morning (had to be ready for 7:45am bus to port). Carmen, Brasilian girl from night before, was also up early but hadn't slept at all. We were on the same ferry that morning.

Tried to sleep for the short ferry ride from Santorini to Ios. Ios is one of the "party" islands of the Cyclades. Didn't I just do that the last night? Homer is supposedly buried on this island and there's a tomb for him. Francesco's hostel was waiting at the port for me and took a big group of us back to the hostel in Hora (main town above port). I was tired from the lack of sleep last night, but the dorms weren't ready yet so went off and got some lunch. Caught the bus for the short ride to Mylopotas beach and spent the afternoon lounging in the sun.

Walked back to the hostel, took a shower and watched the sun set (nothing great). I hung out on the hostel's terrace with some Australians I had met earlier. They were nice people and funny. Got myself the best pita in Greece from Porky's (every place in Greece claims to have the best pita). Actually, it was quite good. Back to the hostel where they have a repetetive nightly plan - hang out drinking, welcome shot at 10pm, hang out more, go to their bar in town at midnight. The whole group at the hostel goes to this bar so it's instantly crowded while the rest of the bars are kind of dead. So unless you follow around this crowd, there's nothing happening in the bars. I found it kind of lame. Hit a couple other bars with the crowd and got to listen to the same songs from the previous bar(s). The lack of sleep caught up with me by 1:30am so I left and went to bed.
Slept in a little and had breakfast at a nearby restaurant (it has cheap breakfasts). Checked out the town a bit and its narrow alleyways then went to the beach again. I had lunch at a Thai restaurant there figuring I wouldn't have the opportunity for Thai food for a while. It was good, but pricey. Back to the hostel at the end of the day to get cleaned up before dinner - back to Porky's...I'm now friends with the owner who greets me with a big "hello, my friend!" and a handshake. I walked down to Fun Pub for their free movies, though tonight's selections were lame. I watched Scary Movie was really, really bad. Back to the hostel for their same pre-planned evening. Met a couple Americans from the east coast. East coasters just seem wound up tight. Went out to the same bar at midnight where the Contiki bus tour group was. Followed the group out to the little plaza that's circled by bars and find Carmen (from Santorini). I had a drink with her then we went to Porky's for a pita. Just sat and talked with her for a long time. Apparently, she had a new, interesting experience that night out in Santorini, though I'm not at liberty to discuss. We went back out to the bar area and she found friends from her hostel so left to taxi back with them (it's about 2:30am at this point). The American guys shouted at me from inside a bar right there so I went in. They were wasted. There was an Aussie girl working in the bar and her job was to try to get people to come in and just kind of hang out...sounds tough. She ended up just talking to me for the next hour or so though. As it got to be past 4am, I decided it was time for me to go back to the hostel and get to bed.
Just chilled out at the hostel in the morning and down to the ferry port at noon. Carmen was down there too for her ferry to Mykonos. I was just going to Paros though.

Quick one hour ferry ride to Paros which allowed me a little sleep. There was a girl at the port from the hostel to meet me but she had no vehicle. We were going to bus back but would have to wait 1.5 hours for the next one so she called back and got one of the owners to come out and give me a ride. The ferry arrives in Paros Town but the hostel is in Naoussa, about 10 min away. I got checked in and met my dorm roommate, Colleena. She was about ready to go into town for lunch too so we walked into Naoussa and found a cafe restaurant for food. Naoussa is a cute port town, also with the narrow alleyways with shops and stuff.

This town has lots of stray cats around (other towns had stray dogs as well). Had to have my afternoon nap after a late lunch. Got a beer and went out to watch the sunset before going to dinner with Colleena. I haven't seen any recycling in Greece. I would think being an EU country there'd be some sort of requirement for that.
Took the morning bus to the ferry port and waited for the ferry to Naxos (nearby island). The ferry was late but it wasn't so bad as the ferry ride is only an hour. Didn't get into Naxos 'til 1:30pm so didn't have much time for a daytrip but this coincided well with a bus to the area I wanted to see. I took a bus to Halki in the center of the island in an area known as the Tragea Highlands. My book made it sound really pretty, but it was just ok. Lots of olive groves and some old churches. I wandered around finding a couple old churches then went into town for lunch. The town was really small so there weren't many choices. I had some good souvlaki though. Walked around some more after lunch but had to get back for the bus to the port. There was some time left for me to go check out the Temple of Apollo ruins nearby. Actually, there turned out to be a lot of time as the damn ferry was over an hour late. This caused me to miss the bus when I got back to Paros so I taxi'd back to Naoussa. Colleena had received a card from a guy working at a restaurant in town that would get us free wine so we went there. I ate leftover pizza at the hostel so wasn't so hungry but we ordered "hummus" as an appetizer. We'd actually been checking all over and I'd looked various other places and could never find hummus. This restaurant's idea of hummus was whole chickpeas baked in olive oil. I tried mashing them but it wasn't even close. So my conclusion is that hummus really isn't Greek. After dinner, we went to one of the bars in town. It was ok...the town was quiet.
The next day we rented scooters to tour around Paros. We first went into the hills and stopped in Karkos thinking it was Lefkes and had an ice cream. Found out it wasn't the correct town so continued on to Lefkes. My book said the streets were all marble, but they weren't. There's a big church in town all made out of marble. There were plenty of cute alleyways with nice colors. Rode out of the hills back to the coast to Pico Livardi and had salad for lunch. From here we started our stops at various beaches along the east coast. We circled the island with a couple more stops and back to Naoussa. Watched sunset from the rooftop terrace, but again not so good. Met our new roommate, Kate, from New Zealand. She had a portable dvd player and was sitting in bed watching Sex & the City episodes. Colleena and I went for dinner then back at the room stayed up talking to Kate and her friend, Sara (from England). Sara was getting information out of me on good places to go throughout Europe (she has a really pretty face so I was more than happy to help).
Colleena left early in the morning and I helped out Kate and Sara more with their travel plans. Around noon I caught the bus to the ferry port.

Throughout Greece I kept hearing wonderful things about Turkey, so my days on the islands may have been cut short a bit to get myself to Turkey sooner. My book made it sound like Paros is the ferry hub of the islands with ferries all over, but it turns out that's not the case. I had to take a ferry to Mykonos and wait 8 hours for the next ferry to Samos. Took less than an hour to get to Mykonos and I put my big bag into storage. Mykonos looks like a nice place (it's also a party island). Walked around town, internet stop, walked to the new port where I'd be catching my ferry later, back to town and had dinner. Watched sunset and wandered the alleyways more wasting time until it was time for the next ferry. It was an overnight one that left at 11pm. I just got a seat this time as it's only a 6 hour ride. Met a guy from Brasil named Renato. When we arrived in Samos, he and I went and got our tickets for the morning ferry to Kusadasi, Turkey. Had a couple hours to kill so took a brief wander of town and had some breakfast. The ferry to Kusadasi was just a small boat that went pretty dang slow.

The Greek islands were lovely, especially Santorini. I saw a book that showed the top 10 islands and apparently I only went to a few of them. Most of the top ones are the really small, less touristy islands. Maybe next time...
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