Tag Archives: Greece

A Life in a Year – 4th September, Terror Drive in Naxos

Naxos Terror Vehicle

This morning we had to come to terms with our rash decision of the previous evening and after breakfast on the terrace we set out for a planned full day drive in our hire vehicle.  This wasn’t a regular car or a jeep or even a quad bike but rather a sort of easy-rider roadster dune buggy.  It looked cool and it looked fun but this was to be a full day of terror.

I would not advise anyone to hire one of these vehicles and these are the reasons: to begin with the driver only has about 10% control of this vehicle, the rest is down to pure chance.  There is no suspension so it vibrates through every bone in your body, which is an experience that I can only liken to driving a washing machine on full spin cycle.  There is very little steering control and no effective turning lock so to do a simple turning manoeuvre almost always requires a three-point turn.  In the event of an accident there is no protection from very serious injury as the seat is only a few centimetres from the road surface and your knees are effectively the front crumple zone.  Hit something in this and if you are not killed outright then you face many long painful months recovering in hospital.  In a Greek hospital that is!  Death would be preferable.  To hire one is relatively straightforward, you need three bits of documentation, a driving licence, a credit card and a letter certifying that you are clinically insane!  And then you are completely on your own!

We were heading for the Temple of Demeter somewhere in the centre of the island and it was quite difficult to locate.  This was because it wasn’t a very big site and there was only enough to see to provide thirty minutes or so rest from the killer vehicle and soon it was time to return to the buggy and continue our adventure.  This time Kim decided she would like to try to drive and this, if anything, was even more terrifying.  It is comforting to be in some sort of control but to be in the passenger seat as we flashed past dangerously adjacent rocks and vegetation as she clung to the edge of the road where the tarmac gave way to pot holes and and loose stones, was a complete nightmare.

After a while I resumed driving duties and we decided to drive south back towards the coast and the small map that we had for navigation purposes indicated a straight road through to the beach at Agiassos, which looked like a good location for a lunch time drink.  The road was ok for a few kilometres and then the paved surface suddenly ran out and was replaced by unmade shale road and a big sign saying that the new road was under construction with the generous assistance of EU funding. We had a short debate about whether to continue or turn back and as other people seemed to be using the road we foolishly we choose to go on.  Foolish because most of the other people were using proper vehicles, usually four by fours!

Although the buggy had been hard enough to drive on a regular road that paled into insignificance now that we started to drive down this gravel highway because now it was like trying to drive a fair ground dodgem car over a frozen lake.  The loose shale was like ice under the wheels and we skidded uncontrollably as I tried to negotiate deep potholes that could have rendered enormous damage to the underside of the vehicle.  There was no protection from the dust and the stones that were thrown up by other passing vehicles and just to make driving even more difficult it was necessary to close my eyes every time someone went by in the opposite direction or overtook us.  We were being shaken like a vodka martini and the road surface seemed to be deteriorating with every kilometre that we went on.  Eventually it became so bad that we stopped and turned around even though there was about ten kilometres of sheer hell to renegotiate.

As we stopped to take a breather a young couple in exactly the same sort of buggy pulled up and asked for answers to the same questions that we were asking ourselves, ‘where are we? what are we doing here? Will it ever end?’ Of course we couldn’t help but we took comfort from being able to share our ordeal with someone else and when they announced that they were pushing on to the coast we turned around again and intrepidly followed them.  Soon we did arrive at the coast but this did not bring any respite from the wretched gravel road that just kept on going and going and brought unending agony.

Eventually we chanced across a taverna next to the beach at Pyrgaki and we had no hesitation in pulling in and getting out of the vehicle for some recovery time.  My whole body was shaking, especially my hands and arms because of the severe vibrations that came up through the front wheels and the steering wheel, I felt like Shakin’ Stevens and it took all my concentration and considerable effort not to wobble my beer glass so violently that I didn’t distribute the top half of the contents of cold mythos all over the fresh check tablecloth.  It took a good thirty minutes and another glass of beer to stop vibrating and return somewhere towards normal.

The bad news of course was that we had to return to the vehicle because there was still a long way to go to get back to Agios Prokopious but fortunately very soon after this we thankfully returned to a paved road and we came across a nice beach at Aliko which was an attractive bay with cream sandstone cliffs and ochre red rocks and fine sand.  There were some big waves in the sea and we enjoyed cooling down and cleaning off in the water that’s for sure as we swam and washed the dust from our cracks and crevices.

There was a final thirty-minute journey back to the hotel and I was so pleased to get back.  On the way we stopped to refuel the vehicle and the man at the filling station squirted about half a litre of fuel in the tank and enquired if we liked driving small cars.

 ‘No we just made a big mistake OK!

A Life in a Year – 3rd September, Rayleigh Scattering and Sunsets

In 2006 I went backpacking to Greece and on 3rd September visited the island of Santorini and late in the day went to the northern village of Oia which is famous for its sunsets.  Quite by chance, two years later, I was in Oia again also on 3rd September.

Oia is even more picturesque than Thira but fortunately not nearly so crowded with fine walks along the top of the cliff, along narrow roads and down twisting footpaths, around churches, windmills and a castle and it was so much more leisurely and enjoyable than the capital.  The town has stricter rules on development and commerce and has managed to successfully protect itself from the excesses of tourism.

Oia has wonderful sunsets and about an hour before the appointed time coaches, buses and cars flood into the little town and brings hundreds of people in to see the spectacle.  They take up position all along the little streets and the place becomes overcrowded and far too busy so on both occasions I was glad that we were going in the opposite direction and back to Thira which by now was much quieter as all the cruise ships had started to leave.  We had timed our visit to perfection and here is my visiting Santorini tip; go first to Oia because while Thira boils over with visitors during the day it is empty in Oia and when this town starts to fill up for the sunset go back to Thira which calms down nicely at about this time when the cruisers all leave.  You can see the sunset in Thira just as well as Oia and let’s be honest, despite what they tell you in Oia, it is exactly the same sunset anyway!

If you have ever wondered why the sky is blue this is the reason.  Light travels through space in a straight line for as long as nothing disturbs it and as it moves through the atmosphere it continues on its journey until it collides with a bit of dust or a gas molecule and then what happens to the light depends on its wavelength and the size of the thing it crashes into.  Dust particles and water droplets are much larger than the wavelength of visible light and when light hits these large particles, it gets reflected in different directions. Gas molecules however are smaller than the wavelength of visible light and when light hits them, some of it gets absorbed and then the molecule radiates the light in a different direction.  The colour that is radiated is the same colour that was absorbed but the different colours are affected differently because blues are absorbed more easily than reds.

This process is called Rayleigh scattering and is named after Lord John Rayleigh, an English physicist, who first explained it a hundred and thirty years ago.  The blue colour of the sky occurs because the absorbed blue light is radiated in different directions and gets scattered all around the sky and since we see the blue light from everywhere overhead, the sky looks blue.  It’s as simple as that!

So what about sunsets?  Well, as the sun begins to set, the light must travel farther through the atmosphere before it gets to us and more of the light is reflected and scattered.  As less reaches us directly, the sun appears less bright and the colour of the sun appears to change, first to orange and then to red and this is because even more of the short wavelength blues and greens are now scattered and only the longer wavelengths are left in the direct beam that we can see.  What makes it even more dramatic is that the sky around the setting sun takes on a lot of different colours and the most spectacular shows occur when the air contains many small particles of dust or water because these particles reflect light in all directions and then as some of the light heads towards us, different amounts of the shorter wavelength colours are scattered out and we get to see the longer wavelengths and the sky appears red, pink or orange.

“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.” John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath

A Life in a Year – 30th August, A Blue Star Ferry and a Greek Taxi

I was conscious that we had to get up very early and consequently I had a restless night and woke prematurely sometime before the alarm because it was on my mind that we had to catch the seven-thirty ferry to Naxos. It was still dark when I got up first at about six o’clock and then used my banging about and switching the lights on technique to wake the girls. Not very sophisticated I have to concede but it worked well enough.  Packing a rucksack is quite straightforward and the girls had already perfected the back-packers art of cramming without folding so it didn’t take long to get ready.

The Blue Star ferry was much bigger that I had imagined it would be and we made directly for the top deck and found ourselves a nice seat next to a young German couple. The sun wasn’t up yet but dawn’s rosy fingers were spreading across the already busy port and the first bit of early morning Mediterranean sun was bathing the boat with a teasing morning warmth and solar cheer. The ferry left precisely on time and cast off was accompanied by the sun rising majestically over the city. Unfortunately as we left port it disappeared on the other side of the boat! Being some time since I was in the Boy Scouts and not having a compass with me I’d misjudged our position and direction of travel and set us down on the western side of the deck. It was a bit chilly in the shade and we had to wait about two hours before the ferry and the sun synchronised their position in our favour and we were able to fully enjoy the warm rays of the morning sun.

It was a good journey and the German couple were very entertaining. They were on their way to Santorini and had arrived the night before on a flight from Hamburg and had spent the night drinking in a bar in Piraeus, they hadn’t slept a wink all night and were in a very bad mood with each other. We couldn’t understand German of course but there is an international language of grumpy and we could comprehend that well enough. He was the worst and really very argumentative, I especially liked it when he returned a piece of litter to another passenger that they had inadvertently dropped and it had blown his way. Don’t get me wrong I admire that sort of environmental awareness and litter enforcement zeal but I think it’s wise to check on whom you are picking on before making a fuss over a sweet wrapper (size, muscles, tattoos etc.) After all mid-journey it’s a long swim to Naxos or back to Piraeus. We had a good rambling gossip about them (and Germans in general) and then later realised that they could speak excellent English (doh!). It took about 5½ hours to sail the one hundred and three nautical miles to Naxos including a stop off in Paros and it was a good journey except that there wasn’t any Mythos in the bar.

Being on the top deck of the ferry had kept us quite cool but when we arrived in Naxos it was one o’clock and really very hot. We got off and ran the gauntlet of the frantically animated Greek apartment owners all imploring us to choose their accommodation. The associated chaos was not dissimilar to a French bus queue and I’m not sure which part of ‘no thank you’ they didn’t fully understand but it was an entertaining passage from harbour to town nonetheless and we knew that we would have to go through the whole experience whenever we got off of a ferry again for the entire holiday. And we looked forward to it!

The sun was strong and we walked into town and choose a taverna using tablecloths as a primary selection criteria. We found what we were looking for, a nice green check, and I ordered a Mythos! To my complete surprise Sally and Charlotte choose a Greek salad so just to be different I had a Naxion salad instead. I don’t think I will be having another one! It wasn’t inedible or disgusting or anything, it was just smothered in a sort of cottage cheese, which was a bit sticky and there was an awful lot of it! I had to have another Mythos to wash it down!

We decided that it was time to find our accommodation so we looked for a taxi to take us there. We found one without any difficulty at all and after loading our backpacks in the boot I jumped into the passenger seat and burnt my arse on the red-hot vinyl that had been baking in the hot sun all morning. Sizzle, sizzle no warning or anything! I felt like a griddled steak and I noticed that the driver’s seat had a towel strategically placed across the seat to offer protection but there was nothing for the passengers.  In England we are so obsessed with health and safety that there would surely have been a warning on the dashboard or something but there was nothing here to advise that I might suffer 1st degree burns just by getting into the taxi and sitting down.

It was just a ten-minute ride to our hotel, the Agios Prokopios, which turned out to be really good. Nice people and a very agreeable room with balconies front and back so that we could get the morning and the afternoon sun. We quickly unpacked (well not so much unpacked but threw our bags untidily on the floor) and went to the pool where we chilled out for a while.

A Life in a Year – 28th August, Athens, a Taxi ride and The Plaka

Earlier in the month some terrorists had threatened to blow up some aeroplanes and had successfully disrupted check-in procedures at all UK airports so security was on high alert but Luton was quite well organised and the extra safety measures weren’t too much of a problem. We had a drink in the bar and Sally and Charlotte bought some sandwiches from Marks & Spencers. After boarding our plane we had a good flight to Athens, I had a gin and tonic of course and that helped pass the time and so did the sudoku. The Easyjet flight was a bit bumpy at times but we arrived on schedule. Well I say arrived on time but that’s a bit of an airline con.  The airlines schedule a three-hour flight to take four, to give themselves a huge margin of error and then claim they made it on time. I’m not complaining though, I like the budget airlines for making all this travel possible.

We collected our bags as they came round on the luggage carousel, left the airport arrival lounge and joined the queue for a taxi. When it was our turn to be directed to a vacant vehicle by the man in charge of allocating transport we gave clear and precise instructions to the driver how to get to the hotel. It was immediately clear that these were not clear and precise enough and he had no idea where he was going and he had to make a number of animated phone calls to establish its location. It was a bit nerve racking being in a speeding car on a Greek motorway in the dark while the driver used his mobile phone to make a phone call with one hand whilst holding a map in the other. Anyway, he eventually sorted it out and we arrived at our hotel without major incident. It cost €30, which was a bit of a rip off but to be fair we weren’t very convincing in our plan to pretend to be familiar with Athens and try to fool the driver into giving us a local’s rate!

The hotel was a very nice place with pleasant staff who gave us far too much information to take in all in one go after a long day travelling but it was situated perfectly right next to the Acropolis and the Plaka and we had a comfortable room but with a bit of a makeshift bed for me; It didn’t really matter very much because suitable compensation was forthcoming in the form of a complimentary bottle of red wine. I opened it and tried it immediately of course and it was drinkable in a Greek sort of way and I made appreciative noises that are exaggeratively appropriate when getting something for nothing. Well, I say for nothing, which wasn’t exactly true of course because the room was quite expensive. We were all very hungry and in anticipation of our first holiday meal we dumped our luggage without unpacking and ventured out into the city streets to find some food.

It was hospitably warm and the Plaka was friendly and inviting, colourful and vibrant and all the tourist shops were open and there were many lively restaurants and bars to select from. After a short walk we choose a pavement taverna on a busy street and Sally & Charlotte wasted no time in ordering their first Greek salad and I had lamb in lemon sauce, which was much nicer than it sounds.  The down side was that there was no Mythos available at this taverna and I had to settle for an Alpha instead, an alternative Greek beer which although inferior was ok.

After dinner we continued to explore the Plaka for a while, the atmosphere was distinctly Mediterranean and we all agreed that we liked being here. We went back to the hotel in a contented mood and I finished the wine, Sally and Charlotte got into their comfortable hotel beds with their freshly laundered sheets and I struggled into my cramped little camp bed, I tossed and turned theatrically a few times to emphasise my inferior sleeping arrangements but on getting no response I fell quickly into a deep and contented sleep.

A Life in a Year – 27th August, Island Hopping in Greece

Island hopping with a backpack was an immediately brilliant idea when Sally mentioned it in May 2006 and invited me to bring my credit cards along and join her for a week or two in the Greek islands starting on 27th August.  

Sun drenched beaches, friendly tavernas, Mythos, Metaxa and Ouzo, I knew immediately that I would take up the offer but at first I was slightly wary of committing to a holiday with two girls addicted to the internet and who sleep with their mobile phones but I have always wanted to be more imaginative about my holidays, to take control and make my own arrangements rather than rely upon a holiday rep from Thomsons or Airtours and those tedious welcome meetings that seem to go on forever in a dingy hotel lounge when all you want to do is get outside in the sun.

So the chance to do things my way was a real opportunity and I signed up.

Preparation involved booking the flights and finding suitable hotels on line. This, I later had to concede,  turned out to be a bit of a cheat because proper back-packers, I’m told, take their lodgings chances when arriving in port, but I just wanted to be certain of a basic level of accommodation. I was fifty-two years old and had certain standards to maintain! I wanted Olympic size swimming pools, air conditioning as fresh as mountain air and at the very least a minimum standard of bathroom facility!

Packing the rucksack was quite a challenge! There wasn’t a lot of room in there and it took a number of  trial runs before I achieved the perfect combination of items. I needed my snorkel and essential bathroom items and some books of course and after that I had room for some clothes. It was like doing the hokey-cokey, in, out, in, out and shake it all about until I got it right. Like most people I always take too many clothes on holiday, that extra pair of shorts, another shirt just in case, and usually some items just go for the ride there and back, this time I was sure I had got it about right but for some unexplained reason I took some socks along for the trip. I didn’t wear them of course because all I had for foot attire was two pairs of sandals including my famous gladiators. 

I had had the gladiator sandals since 1999 when we went to Rhodes and they had accompanied me abroad on every single beach holiday since. They were showing signs of wear and were not expected to see through this adventure but I had made it my mission to see how long I could make them last.

 

Footnote – the sandals lasted until 2008 when the straps gave way. I tried to repair them but it was impossible so I had to admit defeat and throw them away!

A Life in a Year – 25th August, Bee Stings and Anaphylactic Shock

In 2006 I went island hopping in the Greek Cyclades islands for fourteen days but even though a year later in 2007 this was extended to sixteen I still didn’t think this was nearly enough so for 2008 decided that three whole weeks would be just about perfect.

On the day of departure we set off in good time for Luton Airport with a plan to arrive early and get the holiday off to a good start with a relaxing drink or two in the airport departure lounge.  It was a good job that we did because as we left Spalding we had no idea that we were desperately going to need that extra hour if we were to make the flight to Athens.  After about forty-five minutes and just south of Peterborough the car started to handle badly and just as I was thinking about pulling over to check it out there was a dramatic back tyre blow out and in a cloud of smoke and burning rubber I had to pull over to the side of the motorway.

I was in a total panic and even though the AA assured us that they were on the way and would be with us very quickly I decided to try and change the tyre myself.  I had the jack in place and the job in hand when I suddenly started to feel strange with a mouth so dry it was as though I had been eating sand, my hands were shaking and I had a heart rate at double what is considered normal.  I was convinced that I was going to suffer the indignity of passing away at the side of the A1 and so took a walk along the hard shoulder to try and calm down and then the AA vehicle arrived and the patrolman took over and made a much better job of changing the wheel than I could possibly have done.  The bad news of course was that we now only had a temporary tyre on the back, which meant a speed restriction of fifty miles an hour that I just knew was going to piss people off!  We had lost about forty minutes of the spare hour that we had allowed and at a reduced speed I knew now that it was going to be tight.

Back on the road I suddenly had a huge burning pain in my right shoulder that was so bad that if it had been the left one I would have abandoned the holiday plan there and then and driven straight to the nearest hospital and I was still desperately thirsty.  The priority was getting to the airport so I carried on and after an hour or so the pain wore off.  I had no idea at the time but I had been stung nine times by what I assume was a wasp caught inside my shirtsleeve and I had probably been suffering from some form of anaphylactic shock.  The pain had gone so I didn’t know this until much later when I finally took my shirt off in Greece and discovered nine vivid vermilion red spots on my shoulder blade that made it look like a nine of hearts playing card!

A Life in a Year – 18th July, Mykonos and Shirley Valentine

Greek Islands I have visited

One of my favourite films is Shirley Valentine, the story of a woman who has a life changing experience when she goes on an unexpected holiday to the island of Mykonos, so it was inevitable that I would have to visit there one day. 

I wasn’t expecting it to change my life in any similar dramatic way however when we visited the island in July 2005 and went for a two week holiday to the tourist resort of Ornos Bay on the south coast of the island.  From the moment we arrived the sun shone continuously and we had a long lazy fortnight baking under the Aegean sun and walking back and forth from beach to apartments located about two hundred metres behind the busy coastal strip of bars, shops and tavernas next to a strip of golden sand decorated with beach umbrellas and brightly coloured beach towels.

We stayed at the Anemos Apartments and they were excellent, pristine white with tiny balconies and brown shutters, in a quiet location of the main road that led in one direction to the wide sandy beach and in the other towards a busy road that went to the lively party town of Mykonos, or Chora. 

We didn’t stay in Ornos all of the time of course because Mykonos is an interesting and lively island with plenty of things to do and see.  First of all we had to visit the nearby beach of Agios Ionnis, which was the principle location for Shirley Valentine with the hotel she stayed at, the beach where she enjoyed wine and sunsets and of course Kostas’ taverna where she worked after staying on beyond the end of her holiday.  It was all fairly recognisable but this was ten years after the film had been made so there had been one or two changes here and there and it has to be said that the taverna with the proud sign outside looked completely different following an obvious refurbishment and make-over.

Mykonos town is a lively place and one of the top tourist attractions in the Cyclades, not as spectacular as Santorini, as historical as Naxos or as dramatic as Ios but with an enviable location facing west with the town rising up from a gentle shelving crescent shaped bay full of traditional fishing boats competing for moorings with pleasure boats and rich men’s yachts.  In the typical Cycladic town of narrow streets and whitewashed houses there was a generous mixture of expensive cosmopolitan shops and cheaper tourist stores, pricey restaurants and affordable tavernas, chic modern bars for young people and tourists and traditional cafés for the local men.  The most famous residents of Mykonos are the pelicans which waddle around the streets, their wings clipped to prevent then flying away, going from one restaurant back door to another in anticipation of fishy scraps from the kitchens and stopping every now and then in a good natured and obliging way to have their photographs taken with the holidaymakers.

Mykonos is one of the most popular of the Greek islands and the down side of this is that it is more expensive than most and that is especially true of the most picturesque part of the town, a collection of old fishermen’s houses built right up to the edge of the sea and known as ‘Little Venice’.  Fishermen don’t live there any more because these gaily coloured buildings are all bars and restaurants and to use them and enjoy the stunning views one has to be prepared to pay elevated prices.  We weren’t of course but we did eat at an adjacent taverna with a good view of the houses on one side and Mykonos’ famous windmills on the other as we sat at the same table as Shirley did in the film and enjoyed an evening meal with moonlight on the water and gentle waves harmoniously rearranging the pebbles on the beach.

The fortnight in Mykonos was a good holiday and maybe I will go back one day but for now I am happy to backpack and wander among the islands using the ferries to transport me around rather than be organized on traditional package style holidays.

A Life in a Year – 9th July, Skópelos, Alónnisos and a Trip to Athens

Two weeks is a long time in the same place and I can quickly become restless and bored and Richard is twice as bad but luckily there was quite a lot to do.  The town was always busy and although there were far too many shops for my liking it was pleasant to walk through the narrow streets and explore the back alleyways and paths.  In the centre of the town at the top of a long climb was the dazzling white church and it was worth the effort to get there because there were great views from the top of the red tiled houses, the mazy streets and the busy harbour with hydrofoils and yachts tied up at their moorings.

On a couple of days we took the local bus  which ran from the north to the south of the island down the east coast main road dropping people off and picking others up at the several pretty little beaches all the way down the coast.  The bus was crowded every time and just like the taxis there seemed to be no limit to the amount of passengers that the driver could pack on board.  The journey to Koukanaries beach only took about twenty minutes but it wasn’t especially comfortable crammed in together in a hot dusty bus without space or air but Koukanaries and the nearby, unfortunately named, Banana beach were worth the discomfort however because they were the best on the island and probably among the finest in Greece.

 

One day all of the boys went on an afternoon snorkeling trip on a boat to a deserted part of the island but it was a bit of a worry when we found ourselves swimming with men fishing with harpoon guns that looked dangerous and potentially lethal.  The girls went to a Greek party night but we sat that one out and on one day Deanna and I went to Athens on a full day excursion.  This was my first visit to Athens and we visited the Acropolis and the Parthenon, had lunch in Syntagma and a stroll through Monastaraki.  It was a good trip but far too much for one day but I have been back three times and seen most of what I need to see now.

The best excursion of the holiday was in the middle of week two when we went on a boat trip to the nearby green wooded islands of Skópelos and Alónnisos, two more of the Sporadic islands and both quite different from Skiathos.  First we stopped at Patitíri, the main port town of Alónnisos, which seemed strangely quiet compared to the frenetic activity in Skiathos town where we wandered around the dusty streets and had refreshments at a quiet little taverna that had lashings of time to spare as they served leisurely drinks and snacks. 

 We didn’t stay long on Alónnisos however and soon left and set off to neighbouring Skópelos, which turned out to be one of the best islands that I have ever been to and I have always promised myself a return visit one day.  Skópelos is best known now as the island where they filmed the ABBA musical Mama Mia and that might have made a difference I suppose but on this visit it was practically perfect.  The main town was busy but not hectic with pebbled streets meandering between red roofed houses with fish scaled tiles up to the ruined Venetian castle at the top where the views over the wide bay with its little boats and transparent sparkling water under the full glare of the mid afternoon sun was practically perfect.  Skópelos was more picturesque and less touristy than Skiathos and we enjoyed a late afternoon meal down at the edge of the harbour before rejoining the little boat for the return trip home.

I liked Skiathos but not enough to want to return.  The green pine wooded Sporades with their fertile soils and picturesque fields full of crops were a complete contrast to the barren and rugged Cyclades that have now established themselves as my favourites but one day I will go back and visit friendly Skópelos as I promised.

A Life in a Year – 8th July, Redundancy Money Well Spent

I have to say straight away that Skiathos is not among my favourite Greek islands that I have visited.  After redundancy and in between jobs I went to this little island in the Sporades in the summer of 2000 for a two week holiday with my brother Richard and his family and found it noisy, cramped and with just too many people around.  Skiathos is an airport island and therefore a package holiday destination, which brings in the football shirts and late night clubbers and I generally try to avoid these islands now.  It was lively and mad and these days I prefer laid back and languid.

Our hotel was called the Pounta and was close to Skiathos town about six kilometres away from the centre and when we arrived this seemed a perfect location, close enough to visit the town but far enough away to avoid the late night noise but we discovered on our first night that unfortunately this was not the case.  The hotel was in an elevated position overlooking the bay and the town and although at night there was a picturesque view of the shore line tavernas and bars with their pretty twinkling lights the noise came straight across the water seemingly increasing in volume as it passed over the bay, echoing around the hills and filling our hotel complex with booming disco beat that went on until well beyond the early hours of the morning.

The hotel was nice enough with gardens and a large terrace, breakfast room and bar and two swimming pools but the rooms were cramped and faced south so became unbearably overheated during the hot July days and without air conditioning were especially stuffy and uncomfortable at night when we couldn’t open the windows because of the noise.  I shared a room with Richard and some nights it was just too hot to sleep so we had some very late drinking on the balcony listening to the hedonistic activity across the way.

Reviews-Pounta_Hotel-Skiathos_Sporades

It didn’t really matter about the hotel because this was one of the most sociable holidays that I have ever been on with an exceptionally friendly group of people choosing to holiday on Skiathos at this hotel at the same time and we spent some lively days around the pool and some lovely evenings in the town enjoying great Greek cuisine.  Our favourite fellow holidaymakers were Pete and Julie in the room next door.  They always had a far fetched tale to tell including my personal favourite about drifting out to sea on a Lillo bed and nearly being run down by a passenger ferry.  They were good company and not just because Julie had a most impressive surgically enhanced bust that she struggled to keep contained within her tiny bikini top.  Richard and I used to chat with them for hours at a time!

A Life in a Year – 19th June, The Greek Island of Thassos

Thassos is the most northerly of the Greek islands, twenty kilometres from the mainland and the city of Kavala, in that part of Greece known as Macedonia, which is where we flew into before transferring to a ferry boat for the short crossing over Kavala Bay and arriving in Liménas, the main town on the island.  Thassos is a medium sized island and we were staying at Liménaria which was just about as far away from the port as it was possible to be on the island so we had to stay on the transfer coach for another hour before we reached our destination.

It was only a budget hotel and we had been allocated a family room which seemed to be at sub basement level and not very thrilling or welcoming.  I was sure I could have persuaded the others to ‘make do’ but then we discovered a corner full of insects and with everyone refusing to unpack their bags I had to negotiate with the Italian owner revised accommodation arrangements which for a few extra drachmas moved us to much more acceptable rooms on the first floor with a nice balcony overlooking the beach and the sea.  This was easy to do because it was early in the season and there were only one or two rooms occupied anyway.

If the hotel wasn’t the best on the island there was compensation by way of the location because it stood at the back of a wide spacious beach that faced south over a perfectly blue North Aegean Sea.  It was an excellent beach that was made up of large grains of marble white sand and lots and lots of tiny sea shells and calcium deposits that was perfect for sitting on without it getting everywhere and good too for beach tennis and frisbee.  There wasn’t a lot to do on the beach so after beach olympics we devised a competition to make food sculptures from the tiny shells and we became so good at it we began to consider turning it into a business.

The sea was deliciously warm but we had to share it with lots of small jelly fish, I don’t think they were the stinging variety and Sally and Jonathan amused themselves by catching them through the strings of a tennis racket and collecting them up in plastic beach buckets.

In the evenings we would make the short trip into Liménaria, the second largest town on the island, for our evening meal.  It was a functional little place with Italianate style houses with iron balconies painted in pastel shades of lemon, lime, cream and rose.  There were a few tavernas with lots of empty tables and grateful for what little business there was and we found a couple that we liked best and alternated between them.  Many places were still closed so the town was quiet in the evenings with just a few bars still open for business so most nights we would have a final drink and then go back to the rooms to sit on the balconies and enjoy the view of the moon over the sea. 

Liménaria is a relatively recent development that started to grow at the beginning of the twentieth century based on the mining industry. Mining companies dug for calamine and iron ore and in 1905 a metallurgical plant was erected for processing and iron ore mining became especially important during the years 1954-1964.  Since 1964 there has been no mining activity on the island and the only useful product left now is a low grade marble. Dominating the town were the dilapidated headquarters of the mining company Speidel called the Palataki, which I think is being restored now but was in a sorry state in 1998.  One night a local man found a piece of discarded marble and drew a picture of the Palataki on it in charcoal.  He gave it to us as a souvenir and it still sits on a book case amongst other holiday souvenirs.

There was only very little to do in and around Liménaria so in the middle of the week we hired a red jeep so that we could get around the island and see what else there was.  We did quite well on this deal because we hired it for three days but due to staff shortages they delivered it to us the evening prior and explained that they couldn’t take it back until a day later.  They apologised for that and asked if that was ok and naturally this arrangement was quite acceptable to us.

On the first day with the car we drove around the east coast of the island and visited the villages and the best beaches stopping off at Pefkari, Potos, Alyki (our favourite) and Skála Potamiás, reputed to have the best beach on the island.  On the second day we went west along a more rugged coastline along a road that clung to the edge of the mountains as they tumbled down to the sea through Tripiti, Skála Sotira, Pachýs and finally Liménas, Thassos town, where we stopped for lunch and explored the bustling streets and the busy harbour.

On the last day with our own transport we drove inland through once great pine forests that had been devastated by the big forest fires in the 1980s, which had destroyed the largest part of the forests resulting in the sad extinction on the island of the wolf and the jackal.  After the forests we drove through fields and prosperous looking farms because Thassos has some of the richest soils in the Aegean islands and produces large quantities of fruit, honey, olives, olive oil and a famous white wine.

When the week was over we returned by coach to Liménas and then once more by ferry to Kavala and on the way back we declared the holiday a success and Thassos a place that we would definitely return to one day.  I have now visited twenty-five Greek Islands but this one remains securely in my favourite top five, which are: Sifnos, Amorgos, Folegandros, Thassos and Ios, in that order.