A Greek Odyssey – day 12

Snails, circles, and my new hero

Today, our first full day in Sifnos, we headed (by bus, of course; two euros per journey, of course) to Apollonia, the biggest village on the island. Having initially got a little lost (we hadn’t got our bearings, and thought we were at one of end of the village, when really we were at the other) we were soon charmed by the (inevitable) whitewashed buildings and splashes of blue, all set against the bluest of blue skies, and the “arty-ness” of the village. On our way into a roof top cafe – recommended to us by a friendly shop keeper – I spied a brilliant piece of art on a wall – a metre square of rusting metal, with a snail making its way across the surface. I loved it. I simply cannot comprehend how someone comes up with the idea to produce a piece like this, but I’m glad they did.

And later on, we visited an art studio, where artist specialised in ceramics, but my eye was taken by some rusty circles on the wall, clearly just lids of oil drums left to weather in the Greek sunshine. Perhaps it says more about me, that I am drawn to rusty old metal – and perhaps this explains why, back at home in the UK, my car is a rusty old banger!

I also loved the triangle shapes set into walls – I’m not sure what their purpose, if any, is, but I like them.

I could share with you a plethora of photos and words highlighting (again!) the beautiful, simple buildings and blue domed churches as we strolled between the three villages of Apollonia, Ano Petoli and Artemonas, or the wonderful food we ate as we spent a happy and chilled day in “real Greece”, but instead I want to mention my new hero.

Having ascended a fair few steps climbing into the village of Artemonas, we saw two benches bathed in a welcoming shade outside a(nother) church, and stopped for a rest and water. Joining us in the square was a statue of a man, and I took a moment to read the information about him, Nikolas Chrissogelos, an educator and leader and he was a key player in the uprising in Sifnos and across all the Cyclades to shake off Turkish occupation. He went on to hold key posts in the Greek administration and was the Head of the School of Holy Sepulchre in Sifnos – the Educational Institution of the Archipelogo.

Reading on, a line his citation struck me

” A free spirit and competent teacher”

I have decided I would like to achieve such status – to be a free spirit and competent teacher, that will do for me.

A Greek Odyssey- day 11

New horizons – Sifnos

This morning we bade farewell to Milos – an island we both enjoyed, and would be happy to return to – and sailed to Sifnos, a fifty minute journey aboard Champion Jet 2. Once again, there was no scope for dilly dallying around, as soon as the sleek, futuristic looking ferry docked, we were boarding, and cast off into the blue horizon within minutes. Another comfortable and quick ferry journey, and it felt like that no sooner had we set sail than we were docking in the port of Kamares – our home for the next five days on the island of Sifnos. We arrived at the same time as another, much larger, ferry and passengers and vehicles from both vessels disgorged at the same time and as we strode forth of the boat we passed a long, very long, line of passengers waiting to embark on the two ships. Once again, competence masqueraded as chaos – like everything Greek, it just works, even if to the north-western European eye it looks like it possibly can’t!

Our room at the Aphrodite Hotel was ready, so we hot-footed it across the bay – struggling under the weight of our rucksacks (both of us asking ourselves what we didn’t really need to bring), checked in and headed out for a quick explore …

… and bite to eat, including the most delicious Greek salad I’ve eaten all trip (and I’ve had a few – none of them bad)

The island, and this resort, is pretty and whilst it has all that we need – tavernas, a mini-mart, comfortable, clean accommodation – it does seem years away (behind) the instagram glamour of Santorini. As the sun began to set, we headed up a small hill (not effortlessly, I was carrying an enormous meal in my belly after a very persuasive taverna owner encouraged me to try a range of local dishes – I wasn’t to sure about the chick pea soup, but he was insistent, I’m glad he was as it turned out to be delicious) to a small church to take in the view across the bay in the fading, colour changing light. Very pretty, and very peaceful, the odyssey continues.

A Greek Odyssey – day 10

Jumping off an elepant

In our original plans, we were going to stay on Kimilos but circumstance (cost & convenience) mitigated against it, but after our trip to the island yesterday, we enjoyed it so much we decided to return today.

One of the places we looked at staying on the island was a refurbished and re-purposed fisherman’s shed on the beach, now called the “Elephant House”, named after the “Elephant rock” in the bay. It transpires that we spent much of yesterday staring at the rock, but neither of us spotted an elephant, but today, with our eyes better attuned we made out first the trunk, and then the body and legs, of an “elephant” across the bay from where we had set up station on the beach.

In fact, unbeknown to me, earlier this morning I had swam across to the rock (having first ventured all the way to the back of “my cave” – I was feeling brave, and encountered no monsters of the deep, only interesting rock formations and a beach at the back of the cave), scrambled on to its lower ledges and jumped and dived into the perfect, crystal clear water below.

Another day of fun in the sun and sea.

A Greek Odyssey – day 9

Kimolos calling – a mini-hop

Today we did a “mini-hop” taking the ferry from Milos to neighbouring Kimolos, and back again. To make the journey we had to get the bus to Pollonia on the north-east tip of Milos, then take a ferry across to Kimolos. We were foot passengers, but the ferry also took cars and motorbikes, but it was a much more sedate affair – both whilst loading and sailing – than our Seajets ferry from Santorini.

On arrival in Kimolos we gathered our bearings and walked up to the Chora (a chora is the main village on a Greek island) and Kimolos’ chora was as pretty as any we have seen. In some areas, behind the whitewashed facade, the buildings were tumbling down, long abandoned as locals will have left the island, but elsewhere the buildings were in good repair and typically charming, an example of the tourist dollar doing some good – we both fell in love with Kimolos and may well return at some point in the future – it will be interesting to see how the island develops, but for now it is perfect.

On our way up to the Chora we spied a lot of cacti, and then noticed it growing wild as far as the eye could see. It seemed to be a theme on the island and we spoke – well gestured – with a lovely old local man who spoke no English (and I (as of now, but have resolved to correct this) speak no Greek) who, I think, grows the cacti, and they use them on the island as an antiseptic when you have a cut but, like many plant growers the world over, he was lamenting a lack of rain. At least I think that is what he said! Anyway, he was a smiley, happy man, and all the locals we encountered seemed happy and friendly.

After a while exploring the Chora …

… we headed back down the hill to the beach (rema beach) in the cove next to the port, and it is a new favourite of mine, eclipsing the moon beach of yesterday. The water was turquoise and crystal clear, and the beach fringed by colourful fisherman caves carved into the rock. Some are still untouched, other than by sea, wind and sun, but a handful have been renovated into small air b’n’b accommodation.

I went for a little explore around the bay, and wondered if it would be possible to jump of this bridge:

… it wasn’t (the water wasn’t deep enough for a safe jump from that height) so instead I swam under the bridge and discovered a sea cave that extended for, say, 20 metres, under the cliff face, the roof of the cave getting ever lower, but never reaching the level of the water. Although the sea in the bay was calm, there was the odd gentle wave and the noise – the boom – as they bounced off the back wall of the cave was something to hear. I will confess, on my first exploration, as the sunlight diminished and darkness developed as I got further and further into the cave, I heard the boom of a wave against the wall and I saw the swell begin to return in my direction, I did allow my imagination to create a leviathan stirring, a kraken awakening, and swimming swiftly from the gloom to take me, the latest foolhardy soul to venture into its realm, as its prey. I beat a hasty exit, pleased to emerge into the glorious sunshine. (Later in the day, having rationalised the sounds and sights of the cave, I headed back in to conquer my fears. I am here, writing this blog, so, for today, at least, rational thought has won over myth and mystery.)

After a wonderful and relaxing day (other than encounters – real or otherwise – with creatures from the deep) we caught the ferry back to Milos, having found a new favourite place.

(For info, the ferry runs from Pollonia on Milos to Psathi on Kimolos, taking about 25 minutes to make the crossing, which cost 2.80 euros each, one way, as foot passengers. I don’t know the cost of a car, but think it was less than 5 euros. The ferries ran fairly regularly, with a hiatus in the afternoon. The ferry timetable can be found here: https://kimolos-link.gr/en/dromologia-osia-methodia/ )

A Greek Odyssey – day 8

A trip to the moon

Milos is famous for its beaches, and perhaps its most famous is Sarakiniko beach, also known as “Moon beach” because of it’s unique, lunar like rock formations. Before coming to Milos, it was top of my list to see/do but I will confess to being a little apprehensive, fearing that it may be too crowded to enjoy. This sense of anxiety wasn’t helped by the first available bus not being until 10.10 am, and I was worried that the beach would already be full by those travelling by car (plus our bus was full – standing room only) Had there been an early bus, we would have made the effort and got up early in an attempt to beat the crowds, but there wasn’t/isn’t, so we got the 10.10 bus for the ten minute trip from Ademas.

On our arrival it was soon clear that I was right about the car drivers – there were a lot of them already at the beach – but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t feel overcrowded, probably because the unique rock formations spread a fair way in both directions giving plenty of space to absorb all the visitors. And I was even more pleasantly surprised by the magnificence of the place: strange, pure white rock formations, contrasting against a brilliant blue sky. It was unlike anything else I have seen.

Another big draw of the beach is a cliff jumping point – not for the feint hearted, a high leap into deep, clear azure sea below. But ever since we arrived on the island the Meltemi wind – a strong wind blowing from north to south – has been blowing, leaving the seas anything but calm and tranquil, particularly on the north side of the island (like the Sarakiniko beach) making the sea beneath the cliff a much less inviting prospect with strong swell topped with white horse, but more importantly the exit “bowl” resembled a washing machine and would make getting out of the sea after a jump very difficult indeed. So, sadly, I decided not to leap into the blue depths, but today’s disappointment has given me reason to maybe one day come back to Milos and have another go …

^^^^^ The exit bowl, resembling a washing machine on final spin, making exiting the sea too difficult and making today a no jump day.

There was, though, a calm channel and so we did both get the chance to have a swim

It is a strange, bizarre, landscape, but I loved it – probably my favourite place so far on our trip. Even the cats love it!

A Greek Odyssey – day 7

Fun afloat

Today we went on a boat trip, along the south side of the island, to Kleftiko – a rock and cave formation set in clear, azure blue water. It was windy when we set off from Agia Kyriaki (we had got a transfer from Ademas to catch the boat at this beach) and we were both worried that it might be a little choppy, but our captain assured us it would be “flat” and he was true to his word – windy, yes, some spray, yes, some waves traversing from starboard to port (got to use the nautical lingo!) but we did stay “flat” for the hour or so cruise along the south coast, occasionally slowing down to view close up a particularly pretty or spectacular beach.

After an hour we droped anchor in a sheltered cove, atop turquoise blue waters and, with an hour for swimming, we were invited to get in the sea. I didn’t need asking twice, diving straight in and swimming out to, and through, a tunnel in a nearby rock stack.

You didn’t have to dive or jump in, the crew lowered some steps and soon the whole boat was enjoy the water. But I like to dive and jump, so like an impatient schoolboy, I was in and out of the water having a whale of a time.

And when the hour was up, the ship’s horn was sounded, we all re-boarded dripping with sea water and excitement after a fun filled sixty minutes in a beautiful setting. The crew served some complimentary snacks – grapes, bread sticks, and more: I hungrily picked up a slice of crusty bread lathered with nutella and took a bite. It wasn’t nutella, but olive paste – perhaps my only disappointment of the day (and it was still tasty!)

We set sail for our home port/beach, but before we reached harbour, we stopped off at another secluded beach for 20 minutes of swimming off the boat – more diving and jumping into the crystal clear sea. And then it really was time to go home, and we docked four hours after we set off.

Our trip was with Zefiros tours: https://zefirosmilos.gr/ costing 40 euros each, and we paid an additional 14 euros each for transfer to and from Ademas (if you have a hire car, you could drive yourself to the beach) The trip was 4 hours long – almost to the minute – and the ship sails twice a day: 10am to 2pm and 3pm to 7pm. We went on the morning trip, booking the day before in Athena Travel in Ademas. Happy to recommend this trip and company – we had a great time.

In the evening we returned to Plaka, climbing to the top of the hill fort to watch the sunset. It was majestic, peaceful and humbling, a wonderful setting to watch the sun go down.

What a busy day!

A Greek Odyssey – day 6

Off the beaten track

Today we went to Plaka – the “capital” of Milos. Its not a big,sprawling metropolis, its just a small town on a hill a short bus ride (2 euros again – the cost of any bus journey in the Cyclades it seems), but a very pretty town, full of alleyways, white houses, an blue doors. Becky loved the blue doors, taking hundreds (and I don’t think that is an exaggeration) of photos of blue doors, blue pots, blue steps. Here is just one:

But we didn’t just restrict ourselves to the town (although we did spend quite some time wandering the streets, and enjoying a drink and snack in a cafe), we decided to head for the hills (well, hill), leave the tarmacked road and pavement behind us, and headed up to the fort atop what seems to be the highest point on the island.

Whilst it wasn’t a difficult climb, it wasn’t simple either. Underfoot it was rough, but maintained, stone steps, but it was a fair old incline, probably enough to put a lot of people off.

This is both a blessing and a curse – you gain a real sense of achievement when you reach the top and take in the views (and glug gallons of water) and not everyone makes it to the top – getting to Plaka is easy: bus, car or taxi will take you there, but you have get to the top of the fort under your own steam, and this thins the crowds considerably. As tourism becomes more and more accessible and easy, to escape the masses you need to go where the internal combustion engine can’t, and when you do it is so worth it.

We both loved Plaka, and will probably go back one evening. I get the sense for a lot of visitors to Milos, their trip is about ticking off “must do’s” and seeing as many of the 70 beaches on the island as possible, even if only for 15 minutes. I’m not sure Plaka is on everyone’s Milos “to do” list, but it should be, and if they can, they should make the effort to climb to the very top. In this age of Instagram and tik-tok, more people should be mindful of the poem “Leisure” by William Henry Davies:

What is this life if, full of care

We have no time to stand and stare

Today, I spent quite some time standing and staring, and it was worth every minute.

A Greek Odyssey – day 5

All change

Today we made our first “hop” on our island hopping adventure, leaving Santorini and heading for Milos. The two islands are two and a half hours apart by ferry, but a world apart in what they offer.

We’ve pre-booked all our ferries for this trip (I think we booked them back in February) and checking in and getting our tickets could not have been easier: 48 hours before we were due to sail, check in opened, I logged onto the “Ferries in Greece” website (we booked our tickets through them) filled in a quick form (my name and booking number) and our e-tickets were emailed to us. Simple. In true “dad” style, I made sure we arrived at the port in plenty of time – about 2 hours early! – found our loading gate, and sat and waited. I watched a couple of other ferries come and go, and then it was our turn …

It may look hap-hazard and chaotic, but it wasn’t – it was well practised cattle herding and it worked. We were released from our holding pen (the check in gate) and shouted at, whistled at and gesticulated at and some five to six hundred foot passengers were shepherded onto the ship in minutes, and we were sailing before we’d even dropped off our bags in the hold (different zones for different final destinations.)

(Becky has told me that I must now always wear my bright pink t-shirt on days that we sail, so that she can quickly pick me out in the crowd!)

As a boy, we used to regularly cross the English channel by ferry, and I remember roaming these giant ships, often going on deck for fresh air to settle my stomach and fend of sea-sickness; with this in mind, I had visions of taking to the deck, enjoying the wind in my hair and the sun on my back as we sailed over blue seas and past islands rising from the water, so I was a little disappointed to learn that you couldn’t go on deck, you couldn’t go outside at all during the trip. But everyone had an allocated seat (although Becky and I were seated in front and behind, not next to, each other) and although we were in economy class, the seats were spacious and comfy, a very pleasant trip, and I even managed a short snooze before the stern doors were lowered and we were herded off the ship into Ademas port on the island of Milos.

And first impressions are very favourable – what we have seen of Milos so far is picturesque and charming, a typical Greek harbour with beautiful water, bustling yet relaxed at the same time, a very pretty place. I think I will enjoy our time here.

(And for the record, just to place this day in time, we woke this morning to the results of the general election (we had voted by post before we left home) – delighted to see change and a new hope. And who knows, perhaps now we can take our first tentative steps as a country to returning to Europe: believe me, things are better here than at home)

A Greek Odyssey – day 4

Classical Greek

Today we got up early to catch the first bus to Thira (7.30 am) and from there get another bus to take us further north, to Oia at the end of the island, arriving in this much instagrammed village of white washed houses and blue domed churches before 9 am.

One of the first sites we saw after we got off the bus and entered the town square in front of the church was a young lady, in a beautiful, long, very long, blue dress being told to run whilst chased by a photographer and videographer, there to capture the blue dress dazzling and billowing behind her, against the pristine white walls of the church and unblemished azure blue sky. Welcome to the world of Instagram, tik-tok and instant likes! The setting was stunning, and the crowds yet to materialise, hence this shot could happen, and we could also begin to explore relatively unencumbered and crowded by the masses.

We wandered the alleyways and streets and were rewarded with spectacular views – this was the classical Greek image of whitewashed houses clinging to the cliff face as they tumbled down to the sea, and the contrast of the brilliant blue of church domes sat atop classic white churches. This was the image you conjure up when you visualise a Greek village, and it did not disappoint. We stopped for breakfast in a taverna overlooking the white houses, blue domes, the sea and distant islands. The food was delicious, but we did have to pay for both the quality of the food and the quality of the view. As we sat and ate our Greek yogurt, there were only a couple of other customers, it was chilled and spectacular in equal measure.

We spent a couple of hours ambling along the pretty streets, but by 11 am any semblance of peace and tranquillity had evaporated into the hot air – the number over visitors had swelled and the chance of an uninterrupted view had vanished.

We decided we’d had enough, and fought our way through the thronging alleyways back to the bus stop and caught the bus to Thira – standing room only – and from there back to Kamara beach where, after lunch on our balcony, we spent the afternoon on the beach; I spent most of the time in the sea, as heavenly to me as the view of any blue domed church.

A Greek Odyssey – day 3

Strong winds, red sand and high seas

In bed last night, the victim of a losing battle between the (high) ambient air temperature and a too efficient air conditioning unit, I lay not quite shivering, but a little chilly, under my sheet listening to the wind howl and swirl outside our room – I could have been at home, in grey England in November. When morning came, I expected to see the balcony (and my towel and trunks left out to air) soaking wet but throwing back the shutters the sun streamed in, along with a glorious warmth, every thing was still intact, but the breeze could be described as “stiff” as I headed to the sea for my morning dip, mindful that I might have to be extra careful in the inevitable swell of the sea.

But as I reached the beach, the water was becalmed, millpond still and I swam out further and deeper in the crystal clear waters, the sandy bottom visible a long way beneath my feet. I found a spot to exit the water and scramble up the cliff face and have my first leap, then dive, into the water below. I remained a little confused as to why the strong wind – albeit blowing in a different direction from before – was not disturbing the surface of the sea, but I didn’t give it too much thought. A perfect start to another perfect day …

All roads lead to Rome Thira

The plan for the day was to explore the south of the island, and the Red Beach in particular, described as stunningly beautiful – red cliffs enclosing a beach of red (volcanic) sand. The excellent Santorini bus system is pretty simple – you can get to anywhere on the island, as long as you start in Thira, and pretty much every journey – whether two stops or twenty – will cost two euros. And they don’t hang about – the bus turns up, they corral and cajole you in, the doors close, and off you go. Dilly dally about and a helpful, but stern, bus conductor will chastise you and hurry you up. Once on route, the conductor comes round for your two euros, and helpfully shouts out the name of each location as you arrive at the stop. So first we got a bus up to Thira, then we got on another down to Akrotiri, the jumping off point for the red beach.

It was a 500m walk along a dead end road, and then a dusty, (slightly) difficult undulating track for another 500 m to the beach.

A number of rock falls had narrowed the beach, and we trekked to the far end to find a spot to park ourselves for the day.

The sea was rough, the red sand was baking under bare foot and whilst there was a rugged charm to the beach, I don’t think I’d describe it as beautiful. The rough seas and rocky foreshore made getting in and out of the sea tricky; I’m happy and confident in the water and quite enjoyed the odd breaker crashing down over my head, but I wouldn’t have wanted to take responsibility for anyone else in the water, and Becky wasn’t a fan, not going beyond knee deep depth, but still getting totally splashed and submerged. I’m glad we went, as I have now seen it (FOMO kicking in here) but if I’m honest, not the most beautiful Greek beach – one you could happily miss.

So we didn’t stay as long as we might and caught the bus back to Thira. As the road ascended towards the capital, we found ourselves in low cloud, with mist drifting across the landscape – not the sun kissed Greece we’ve come to know and love.

But back at base – Kamari beach – the sky was blue and the temperature high. We enjoyed an ice cream as we walked back to our apartment and then enjoyed the more tranquil waters of our pool under the late afternoon sunshine.