A tale or two : my Greek odyssey

A tale or two : Crete

The beach at Georgiopoulos

The beach at Georgiopoulos

So here it is- the final instalment!  I have so enjoyed sharing these memories with you, but I’m sure I’ve been wearing my rose tinted spectacles.

I remember vividly going into work on returning from Crete.  “How was it?  Did you see the rats?  We daren’t tell you before you went, in case it spoiled your holiday.”  I didn’t (thankfully), but was treated to lurid tales of them being rampant in Rethymnon harbour, and running over somebody’s foot!  I didn’t see a one, and neither did my normally very observant partner. (I hope!)

Rethymnon harbour and lighthouse

Rethymnon harbour and lighthouse

In spite of loving the Greek Islands, it had taken us a while to return.  You see, I’m fickle and the love affair with Italy had begun. Our small person loved pasta and Del Piero (a footballer with Juventus), and those were the days when he delighted in cheap copies of his hero’s shirt- now long gone!  But that’s a tale for another series.  Well, maybe.

Still, I hadn’t gotten Greece entirely out of my system (to this day!) and the Summer of 2000 saw us back there.  I had thought long and hard about our base, and was more than happy with Rethymnon.  The old town was almost entirely built by the Venetians, as was the Fortezza, one of the best preserved castles on Crete.  There was so much character, and the atmosphere in the harbour was wonderful, especially by night.

My favourite harbourside cafe

My favourite harbourside cafe

Cafe Soldini, or Spiro’s place as we tended to know it, was a favoured spot.  The waiters were attentive but joked among themselves, constantly having fun, even in the considerable heat.  Who knows if it’s there still!

With just two weeks, I had a full itinerary.  Holidays with me are never purely restful.  So, off we went, bus hopping to Chania, a lovely mix of Venetian and Ottoman influences.  Well, yes, touristy, but so pretty, that you could see why.  The discovery that you could still buy cheap footie shirts in Chania made the place barely just tolerable by James’ standards.  Oh, and the mega chocolate icecream sundaes in the harbourside cafes!

Did you ever see a more elegant creature?

Did you ever see a more elegant creature?

The lovely harbour at Chania

The lovely harbour at Chania

A coach trip next, to view some of the superb Cretan landscape.  It being the largest of the Greek Islands, I knew I could only skim the surface.  Perhaps climb the heights is a better description because Crete has no shortage of mountains.  Heading west to Vryses (meaning fountains) it was up and over the green plateau, skirting the Imbros Gorge.  Wildflowers speckled the green carpet, while overhead hawks and eagles patrolled the skies.

Dropping slowly down to the coast, Frangokastello awaited.  A ruined castle, solid and square in yellow stone, sat almost upon the beach.  Beyond lay the pearliest of blues, shallow water, and I had my first ever paddle in the Libyan Sea.  Never have I been so reluctant to return to a coach, but it was on to nearby Sfakia and the “restored” castle in miniature.

Refreshments at Sfakia

Refreshments at Sfakia

When we alighted at Plakias I wanted to do a Shirley Valentine.  Michael had an urgent mission to find batteries for the camera, so I daydreamed a while.

Plakias looks across a lovely bay

Plakias looks across a lovely bay

The way home took us through the Clapping Gorge, named for the sound of the wind echoing through it.  Not many people left the coach to descend the endless steps to the chapel and springs, but… well, you know I just had to.  And the following day when the boys opted to laze by the pool, I signed up to join a walking tour.

A morning stroll, I described it to Michael.  Wrong!  It turned out to be a 2 hour hike, lunch in a taverna, then back again, via a monastery.  I had dressed in trousers, determined not to be inappropriately dressed again, and I was soon melting.  Shade, some water and a Greek coffee were much appreciated, served by smiling nuns, whose home was still being restored.  I had little money with me, but bought a small paperweight to contribute to the building fund.

The path continued beneath beautiful cliffs, alight with yellow gorse.  I didn’t have a mobile phone, so couldn’t let Michael know that my stroll was in fact a day out!  Despite a mild sense of guilt I was enjoying myself enormously.  Our guide, Raoul, was highly informative, and the wine flowed when we stopped for lunch.  Raoul looked every inch the proud Cretan, but I’d got that wrong too.  When he couldn’t remember the Greek word for cucumber, it transpired that he was in fact a German ex-pat.

Eventually I arrived back at the pool, more than happy to flop into the water.  Michael got his own back because that evening we were Greek dancing.

Oh, my aching feet!

Oh, my aching feet!

The one thing we absolutely had to do on our trip to Crete was to visit the palace of Knossos, archaelogical site of the Minoan civilisation.  The legend of the Minotaur and the fact that the Minoans were decimated by the volcanic eruption of Santorini in 1420 I found fascinating.  There are many details in my link to Wikipedia.

Reconstructed palace remains at Knossos

Reconstructed palace remains at Knossos

The frescoes

The frescoes

Such lovely colours

Such lovely colours

The other “must” was to walk the Samaria Gorge.  James was old enough to quite enjoy the challenge, and it felt quite an exciting thing to do.  An early start took us across the island to Sfakia on the south coast to embark.

Boarding for the Samaria Gorge

Boarding for the Samaria Gorge

The approach to the gorge

The approach to the gorge

Landing!

Landing!

Through the Gorge

Through the mighty Gorge

The River Tara running along the bottom of the Gorge makes it a magical place.  Frequently you hop across the river on wooden log bridges, or strategically placed stones. Drinking lots of water is a must.  Despite the people passing through, nature is fully in control in this gorge.

Can't go to Greece without meeting a goat or two

Can’t go to Greece without meeting a goat or two

Or a reminder of the hard battles fought here

Or a reminder of the hard battles fought here

I didn’t realise when I started this post how long it would be.  I did say it was a big island, and I did my best to cover some ground.  I haven’t yet told you about lovely Georgiopoulos, the lead photo right back where we began.  Maybe I don’t need to.  I hope that it’s unspoilt and beautiful still.

We had a wonderful holiday, with charming people.  I hope I have not bored you with my rambles.  I’ll say goodbye to Greece properly with one last sunset.

Rethymnon beach at sundown.

Rethymnon beach at sundown.

Maybe, just one more!  Goodbye Greece.

Maybe, just one more! Goodbye Greece.

A tale or two : Chalkidiki

Mount Athos beach, Halkidiki

Ouranoupolis beach, Halkidiki

Serene, isn’t it?  I was curious to see a little of the Greek mainland.  Yet of all our Greek holidays, like this photo, it’s a little hazy in my memory.

Halkidiki (though I rather like the silent C) is the distinctive-looking three-pronged peninsula in the north of Greece.  Our base was at the tiny resort, Polichrono, on the third “prong” known as Kassandra.

Map of ancient Chalkidiki, from Wikipedia

Map of ancient Chalkidiki, from Wikipedia

The sheltered beaches of the most westerly peninsula were quite popular at that time, the main resort being Hanioti.  Popular was not what I was looking for, and the peaceful sandy beach at Polichrono was timeless in its appeal.  I planned, of course, to visit Sithonia, the middle “prong”, and hopefully Thessalonika.  The third “prong”, Agion Oros, with its mysterious monasteries, was only accessible by ferry and with special permit.  A ferry ride was always on my list.

For 2 year old James, life was a beach.  With the purchase of a large green crocodile, he sealed the friendship of a lovely blonde mop-headed little boy called Kirk.  Not in the least shy and very adept in the water, Kirk led the exploits, grappling with the croc.  Land-based, their activities included constructing a huge, sand Tracey Island (for Thunderbirds fans everywhere) with a little engineering help from Michael.  Sometimes, while Dad worked, the boys drifted off to play with the Lego pirates, or Stingray- another favourite.

Life's a beach!

Life’s a beach!

Come on, Mr. Croc!

Come on, Mr. Croc!

Please don't eat me, Mr. Croc!

I know he won’t bite, but….

After a few days of lazy sunshine, the urge to travel was with me again, and we signed up for a coach tour of Sithonia.  An early start, in ‘jamas, was becoming the norm.  The scenery was pretty along the coast of Kassandra, becoming more dramatic as we rounded the curve to travel down the western shore of the middle “prong”.

Neos Marmaras made a sunny, pleasant, coffee stop, then on to some castle ruins at Toroni, and up the east coast of Sithonia.  A series of lovely bays, a lunch stop at Sarti then heading back, it was a bit of a marathon day.

Flat calm in an idyllic bay

Flat calm in an idyllic bay

Naturally, beach time followed, and to my dismay the prospect of a trip to Thessalonika was vetoed.  Still, I had one more treat to come.  Mount Athos was an intriguiging destination.

Yet another World Heritage Site, Mount Athos, the “Holy Mountain”, is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries.  The number of daily visitors to Mount Athos is restricted, and all are required to obtain a special entrance permit.  Residents must be males over the age of 18, and must be either monks or workers.  Women are expressly prohibited from entering the territory, known as the “Garden of the Virgin” by the monks.  Quite sensibly, the reason for the prohibition is to make living in celibacy easier for those who have chosen to do so.  Knowing that I was forbidden entry didn’t spoil my day out.

The enormous ferry, complete with swimming pool, set sail from lovely Chroussos Bay.  3 and a half hours at sea passed surprisingly quickly, especially the last half hour, spent looking out for 8 of the monasteries perched along the coast.  Ouranoupolis was a pretty little spot for lunch and a paddle, before the shorter, more direct sailing homewards, excitingly accompanied by dolphins.

Ag. Panteleimonos monastery, Mount Athos

Ag. Panteleimonos monastery, Mount Athos

Moni Grigoriou

Moni Grigoriou

The Mount Athos peninsula

The Mount Athos peninsula, Agion Oros

Our destination, pretty Ouranoupolis

Our destination, pretty Ouranoupolis

And so, another chapter in my Greek odyssey comes to a close.  I’m leaving you with a calm Halkidiki sunset.

Sunset, Halkidiki

Just one last Greek story to tell.  Can you guess which island I’m going to next?

A tale or two : Rhodes

All aboard for the islands!

All aboard for the islands!

Now that the small person had been initiated into Greek Island life, and been found to approve, there was no stopping us!  Six months later it was Rhodes for a Spring holiday.  Another group of islands to call home for 2 weeks, this time far south in the Eastern Aegean, just off the coast of Turkey.  The connection with the Knights Templar has always fascinated me.

I had chosen Pefkos as a base.  The notion of it being a summer home for workers who farmed grapes, olives, tomatoes and figs on the coast, and didn’t return inland to their homes in the heat of summer, I found very appealing.  It promised peaceful days but a close proximity to beautiful Lindos.

Lindos castle

Lindos castle

Donkeys!  No thank you- we'll struggle up under our own steam.

Donkeys! No thank you- we’ll struggle up under our own steam.

As far back as the 8th century Lindos had been a major trading centre and in classical times it was dominated by an Acropolis and temple of Athena.  Practicality interceded in the 14th century when the Knights of St. John built the mighty fortess over part of the temple ruins to defend the island against the Ottomans.

It was, of course, a long hot slog up there!  Always upwards for the view.  But afterwards it was very pleasant exploring the streets and quiet corners.  A cafe was essential and wouldn’t you know it- two year old James proved to be a dab hand at backgammon!  Me, I was clueless, but endeavoured to learn.

A charming corner of Lindos

A charming corner of Lindos

I'm over here Mum!

I’m over here Mum!

This is how you do it!

This is how you do it!  I don’t think it’s an illegal move?

Ok smarty pants- back to the streets.

Ok smarty pants- back to the streets.

Down to the beach for a hint of breeze

Down to the beach for a hint of breeze

It was, as you can probably see, pretty hot.  I even sat in the shade down by the beach!  A lesson had been learnt from the previous holiday in Zante and we indulged in a taxi back to Pefkos, where James favourite occupation was watering the garden of our apartments. (endlessly!)  You remember he had a fascination with hosepipes?  Taps, too!

I imagine it will be more of a resort now, but back then, Pefkos had all we needed.  Many hours were spent at the beach, drawing sand pictures and tunneling away.  The restaurants were wonderfully laid back and a “spaghetti cat” adopted us.  He seemed to survive happily on James’ leftover spag bol.

As on Zante, we did the island tour as a painless way of seeing things with a toddler in tow.  Rhodes town we did on the bus.  I only had to see that harbour to set me off scheming again!

Mandraki harbour, Rhodes

Mandraki harbour, Rhodes

The mighty castle of the Knights of St. John in the background

The mighty castle of the Knights of St. John in the background

The medieval old town is a World Heritage Site and from 1309 was occupied by the Knights Templar.   I tried to imagine Mandraki Harbour when it was home to the Colossus of Rhodes but the bustle of yachts and artist’s easels defeated me.   I’m going to share a wonderfully evocative photo from Wikipedia because by evening time we were long gone.

The harbour as I would have loved to see it- cortesy of Wikipedia

The harbour as I would have loved to see it- courtesy of Wikipedia

Woodcut of Rhodes  from the Nuremburg Chronicles 1493- also Wikipedia

And a woodcut of Rhodes from the Nuremburg Chronicles 1493- equally captivating to me, also from Wikipedia

I had really hoped that a trip across to Kos might have been on the cards, but for once Michael refused to even discuss it.  My consolation prize was the tiny jewel, Symi, famous for its sponges, spices and shipbuilding.  Symi is 41km northwest of Rhodes and nearer to Turkey’s Datca peninsula.  Our honeymoon had included a gulet trip from Bodrum in these very same waters.

The ferry landing on Symi

The ferry landing on Symi

The pastel harbour of Symi

Symi’s pastel pretty harbour

The ferry docked first at Panormitis for a visit to St Michael’s monastery, and then into Symi town.  A wind had sprung up, driving the clouds before it, and I was glad of the jumper packed as an afterthought.  The town climbed up, and up, to Ano Symi, and for once I refrained from hauling us all up there.  It was enough to dodge the wind and retreat to a cosy cafe, where James tried to tempt the local cats with spaghetti.  They didn’t seem to have the same taste buds as their Rhodes compatriots.

Ah, well!  Another island adventure over.

A tale or two : Zakynthos (Zante)

 
The harbour at Zante town- pale and interesting?

The harbour at Zante town- the quintessential shot

Travelling around the Greek Islands on ferries, I regularly encountered families cheerfully hopping on board, the youngsters tote-ing their mini backpacks.   I truly admired them, but wasn’t sure how well equipped I’d be to cope with the “joys” of new motherhood on the move.  Still, I was desperate to get back to Greece after a wet week by the Crinan Canal had reminded me that Scotland is very beautiful.  But wet!

Zante seemed like a good family-friendly place to start.  Sitting in the Ionian Sea, the island was ruled by Naples and then Venice in the period from 1185 right up to 1797, with just 5 years of Turkish rule breaking things up.  Italian influence was such that the wealthiest families sent their sons to Italy to be educated.  My James wouldn’t have minded.  He was always a pasta boy!

Unfortunately the island sits right on a fault line and in 1953 four huge earthquakes reduced most of Zakynthos to rubble.  The rebuilding used strong antiseismic measures, very necessary as there have since been numerous tremors, including an earthquake swarm in 2006.

Fairly oblivious to all this, we occupied the beach at Tsilivi and it was back to the days of sand pies.  It was no great hardship.  Michael and me were by nature beach bums!  If James was happy… you know how it is!

The beach at Tsilivi

The beach at Tsilivi

Except that you know I always had my restless streak!  So after a day or so of exploring the immediate vicinity, I was seeking broader horizons.  A trip to Zante town on the bus was quite straightforward, but to go anywhere else on the island meant route-ing through the capital.  Not so good with a sometimes fractious toddler.  It was late September and still hot.

Compromise meant joining an organised island tour, a pleasant day out which also gave our skins a bit of a rest from the sun.

A little culture was introduced

A little culture was introduced

Of course, there were distractions for James

Of course, there were distractions for James

The stork seemed quite interested too

The stork seemed quite interested too

Then it was time to eat

Then it was time to eat at Cape Skinari’s waterside restaurant

We hopped back on the tour bus just as the clouds blew in

We hopped back on the tour bus just as the clouds blew in

You know it was back to the beach for a day or two after all that!  I always had my nose in a travel book and the little resort of Kalamaki sounded appealing.  A taxi into Zante town and a bus didn’t sound too hard.  Did I tell you that James had a preoccupation with hosepipes?   You can guess what the highlight of his trip to Kalamaki was.

A lot of hose

A lot of hose

I had just one more outing that was crying out to be made.  I couldn’t come all this way without venturing to Kephalonia, the largest island in the group.  It might make a good base for another year!

It was, in fact, my favourite day of the holiday, although a long one.  Waiting for the bus at 7.45, James was still snuggled in his pyjamas.  From Zante, a 2 and a quarter hour ferry crossing took us to Poros.  A very smart resort, with a lovely promenade, from there it was up through beautiful mountain scenery to a monastery.  My floral shorts were not at all the thing, so I was draped in a scarf and floor length skirt to look the part.

The  Drogarati Cave next, and then the highlight of the trip- the Melissani Lake, in Greek mythology the cave of the nymphs.  The boat sailed into the cave and natural light poured in through the huge circular hole in the roof.

My postcard of the Melissani Lake

My postcard of the Melissani Lake

And the Drogarati Cave

And the Drogarati Cave

On to Argostoli, one of four main harbours on this large island.  By this time we were all wilting, but I left Kephalonia, as I often do, wanting to see more.  There are various spellings of Kephalonia, but I’ve gone with the Wikipedia one.  If you follow the links you can find out much more about these enchanting islands.

Kephalonia's stunningly beautiful scenery

Kephalonia’s stunningly beautiful scenery

The quay at Argostoli

The quay at Argostoli

The island of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin remains for me an untarnished memory.  Our first Greek family holiday was a resounding success.

A tale or two : Tinos and Syros

Arriving at Tinos

Arriving at Tinos

Tinos and Syros are two islands I find it quite difficult to distinguish between when it comes to my photo album.  One thing I do remember vividly was the heat on disembarking at Tinos.  The prospect of crawling on hands and knees along this seafront and up the steps to Panagia Evangelistria each 15th August was not a happy one.  Yet that is precisely what takes place each year.  The devoted crawl the 800 metres from the harbour to this pilgrimage church, with its miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary.

It was still Spring in the Cyclades and pleasantly deserted as I ambled past the trinket shops on the harbour, with my partner in crime.  The shade of the awnings was a sure temptation to linger.

The ferry landing on Tinos.  My favourite way to travel.

The ferry landing on Tinos. My favourite way to travel.

My partner in crime!  Doesn't he look young?

My partner in crime! Doesn’t he look young? (and tanned!)

A fine looking pelican waddled past us.  I had expected to see the resident pelican on Mykonos, but, like us, he must have been away day tripping that day.  Perhaps this was his double.

Pelican crossing

Pelican crossing

And then, the approach to the church.

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Our base was on Andros and we had made the sailing to Tinos from there.  All too rapidly it was time to return to the ferry.  Once aboard there would be no regrets.  I am never happier than when sailing between these islands.  I dreamed that I could island hop for ever.

It wasn’t easy deciding where to allocate most of our time, but, checking the ferry timetables an overnight stay on neighbouring Syros seemed like a good idea.  The ferry sailed into the island capital, Ermopouli, amid a cacophony of noise.  My research had not revealed that local elections were taking place, with loudhailers and all the accompanying paraphenalia.  Threading through the hustling crowd, it was a relief to find a friendly gentleman in the local TI.  The rooms he found us were a world away from the Greek mayhem.

Syros harbour

Syros harbour

You can see that the harbour has two hills, Ermopouli and Ano Syros, the medieval quarter.  Our room was at the top of the hill by the church.  Guess which hill we climbed first?  Give me a choice of two!  Fortunately we were travelling light.

As you can see, it's a long way up.

As you can see, it’s a long way up.

The prettiest blue church I ever saw

Maria Della Grazia church at Poseidonia

This is the end of my sojourn in the Cyclades.  In 25 years I have never been back, though I would love to.  The Greek odyssey continues, but with the addition of a small person.

A tale or two : Andros

A windy balcony at Batsi

A windy balcony at Batsi

Despite its traumatic ending in Athens, that first visit to the Cyclades was the start of a full blown love affair with the islands of Greece. The following Spring found me on Andros, in an apartment with a breezy balcony, in Batsi.

I recall a strong sheet of perspex which, while it distorted the view up the hill, provided wonderful shelter from the constant breeze.  The previous Spring there’d been barely a whisper of wind, but here on Andros, the most northerly of the Cyclades, I encountered the famous Meltemi.  Yet, basking in sunshine on the veranda, I could look down on the harbour.

Pretty Batsi harbour

Pretty Batsi harbour

It was on Andros that I had my first introduction to guided walking.  Normally I’m more than happy to just follow my nose.  I usually arrive home again- eventually!  But a couple of hours of countryside in the company of a local sounded an agreeable way to spend a morning.  A very affable expat, he turned out to be, who’d lived many years on the island and had ‘a tale or two’ to tell himself.  And it took the pressure off Mick for a while- he’s gifted with a far better sense of direction than me and inevitably has to take the map from my hands and steer us back.  Map?  What map?  I don’t believe I even had one on Andros.

Up we wound through the back streets.  Don’t you love back streets?

As the sun rose higher, hats were pulled on and sunscreen topped up.  The landscape was majestic and it was with just a hint of regret that I returned to the harbour at Batsi.  But it’s a great place to sit in the shade and chat.

The harbour front at Batsi

The harbour front at Batsi

Batsi harbour 3

Some memories are clearer than others.  I remember arriving by ferry at unpreposessing Gavrio, and then a bumpy ride to Batsi, late in the day.  I loved the little harbour there, and sometimes dressing up (a frock!) for cocktail hour, after a day’s wandering.  The sun seemed always to shine, but there was one blustery day when the wind really whipped those waves.

Andros was a great base for visiting the islands of Tinos and Syros, and that’s where I’ll be taking you next.  But not before sharing my all time favourite Greek Island photograph, taken right here on Andros.

What do you think?

What do you think?

A tale or two : Mykonos and Delos

Little Venice, Mykonos- courtesy of Wikipedia

Little Venice, Mykonos- courtesy of Wikipedia

Did you ever press the Publish button accidentally?  Hmm?  Momentary panic!

Normally I check and triple check my posts before launching them, but I must have had a twitchy finger when I published Santorini.  It was my intention to slip the islands of Mykonos and Delos into a paragraph or two at the end of the post.  I wasn’t there for long, and crucially, the photos of these two, along with Naxos, are missing from my collection.

But twitch I did, and before I knew it, Santorini was out there!  Reading through the published content, I decided to leave well alone.  Maybe it was meant- Santorini surely deserves a post of its own.

But what to do about Mykonos and Delos?  Why, own up, of course.  So, yet again, it’s my pal Wikipedia to the rescue.

Remnants of the Greek theatre, Delos- courtesy of Wikipedia

Remnants of the Greek theatre, Delos- courtesy of Wikipedia

I remember feeling distinctly underwhelmed as the boat docked at Delos.  A barren island, with limited water supply, according to Greek mythology it was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.  Delos became a major cult centre and place of pilgrimage, and to ensure its purity, it was decreed that no-one be allowed to give birth or die on the island.  It is a strangely atmospheric place.  To me it felt sad, the lions no longer commanding due respect.  From the summit of Mount Kynthos, the panorama of the Cyclades below.

The Terrace of the Lions was dedicated to Apollo- source Wikipedia

The Terrace of the Lions was dedicated to Apollo- source Wikipedia

Establishment of the Poseidoniasts

Establishment of the Poseidoniasts

Mosaic floor in the House of the Dolphins- source Wikipedia

Mosaic floor in the House of the Dolphins- source Wikipedia

It was hot on the island, with little shade, and I admit my priority was to reach Mykonos.  I was eager to see for myself the red roofed churches and to idle through narrow whitewashed streets.  The harbour was just as I expected.

Chora- Mykonos Town- courtesy of Wikipedia

Chora- Mykonos Town- courtesy of Wikipedia

There was far too little time, on a day trip including Delos, to do justice to Mykonos.  I was left with an overall impression of beauty and romance.  Probably good to leave it that way.

Looking down on Mykonos- courtesy of Wikipedia

Looking down on Mykonos- courtesy of Wikipedia

A tale or two : Santorini

Santorini

A lot of people who’ve been there, and many who have not, will recognise this shot.  It’s one of the worlds’s iconic images :  the majesty that is Santorini.

There can be few more exciting sights in the world than this island, approached from the sea, across the Caldera.

Through the caldera

She is a survivor, Santorini.  The striations in the rock colour testify to the volcanic activity that almost blew her out of the sea.  Edging towards her, you cannot but help be filled with awe.

Approaching Santorini

But then the awe gives way to mild terror as you dock and realise that all the way to the top is to be accomplished on the back of a donkey!  A humble beast of burden, it may well be, but never think that a donkey might not have a mind of its own.  And, naturally, that mind conflicts strongly with your own.  The memory of sitting helplessly on its back, gazing down at certain death, as it lowered its head over the low stone wall to graze the sparse grass- well, let’s just say it’s not one of my better ones.

A whack on the rump (it’s, not mine) had us lurching upwards again, and it was without a trace of sorrow that I parted company with the beast at the cliff top.  I’m sure I detected a smirk on its face, but then, you’d have to find pleasure somewhere if you toiled up and down these slopes all day.

Looking down from Santorini

Michael is not at all a fan of cable cars and dangling in the air, but even he agreed that it would be preferable to “descent by donkey”.  Me, I absolutely love them, and never more so than on that day.   In the meantime, there was exploring to be done.

More bells, Santorini

Bells, Santorini

You know that I don’t have much expertise in this, so I should tell you that these photos are all Michael’s and completely unedited.

A tale or two : Paros

As the snow twirls gently outside the window, and the daffodils shiver, now is not such a bad time to be drifting back to my Greek idyll.  Remember my Athens post?  Personally, I will never forget Athens!

Up there with the pilot

I was fairly new to flying in those days, so it was with not a little trepidation that I tiptoed across the tarmac. (it was hot! even in May)  Negotiating Athens airport to the Domestic flights had been tricky enough, but when I looked at the tiny Messerschmitt (my husband’s memory for these things is SO much better than mine), my heart was in my mouth.  I would be practically sitting in the driving seat!

I needn’t have worried though.  After a few collywobbles, we were sweeping out across the bay and I was spellbound.

Flying high

For as long as I can remember I had dreamed of the Greek Islands, and now here I was flying over them.  I had had just the tiniest taste of the Greek experience on Corfu the previous year, and it had only served to whet my appetite.  The dream was always to island hop, but using Paros as a base meant that I could see quite a few islands in my miserly two weeks holiday.

Swooping down on to this dry and arid looking land, my stomache churned with excitement.  How different was this world!  Small case in hand, it was down the steps and straight into a tiny shed which passed for Customs and passport control.  The “officer” in his short sleeved blue shirt genially waved us through, and that was it- arrival!

The seafront at Parikia- courtesy of Wikipedia

The seafront at Parikia- courtesy of Wikipedia

Parikia, our island base, was all that I could have hoped for.  The Meltemi was said to blow strongly in the Summer, but I could detect barely a whisper of breeze.

Panagia Ekatontapiliani

Panagia Ekatontapiliani- again the image from Wikipedia

The bluest of doors

The bluest of doors

Treasured memories?  A sprig of lavender in a table top jar in the little port of Naoussa.  The heat toasting us brown as we linked hands round a beer, scarcely believing that this was real.  A donkey, turning his hatted head to watch us from the shade.

The winding streets of Parikia in the evening and a favourite restaurant with an upstairs balcony overlooking the gentle hubbub.  The pancakes from that same restaurant, strewn with honey, nuts and icecream.

Street in Lefkes village

Street in Lefkes village

A visit to the hillside village of Lefkes, gripping the shade for all I was worth.  Foolhardy to be there in the heat of the day, but at the mercy of the bus timetable.

The shallow bay on Antiparos, where I lay full length in the water while Michael went in search of icecream.  I don’t remember eating it so maybe he ate mine too, or it melted on the way back.

The port of Naxos- courtesy of Wikipedia

The port of Naxos- courtesy of Wikipedia

The best, best memory of all?  Sitting on the waterfront in Naxos town.  The ferry ride across to Naxos had me skipping like a kid.  I was doing it!  I was island hopping!  A walk around the mighty gate of Apollo, in isolation in the harbour, had me wondering.  Who were these people who had accomplished so much?

The entrance to Apollo's Temple- courtesy of Wikipedia

The entrance to Apollo’s Temple- courtesy of Wikipedia

Time for a mooch round the back streets and then the obligatory beer.  The sea shimmered and glinted as I sat under a stripey awning and just gazed and gazed.  A moment in time never to be recaptured except in my imagination.  I wanted never to leave.

Sailing away

Sailing away

I need to add a postscript here.  You might have noticed that some, though not all, of the photos are courtesy of Wikipedia.  This visit took place 26 years ago.  Going back through my photo albums I discovered that they stop abruptly with the island of Santorini, which was also part of this holiday.  I have searched and searched and can find neither photos nor postcards before this, though I can remember some of the shots quite vividly in my head.  Sadly I cannot share them with you, but only paint the pictures with words.

I do urge you to visit the Wikipedia pages I have linked to on Paros, Antiparos and Naxos if you have time.  There is so much there that I could not tell you in this simple post.  I know it’ll have you longing to visit too.

A tale or two : Athens

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

There really doesn’t seem anything better to do in this reluctant Spring of ours other than to retreat into my warm and hazy past. I’ve been delving around in the photo albums and the memories came flooding back.  Perhaps you’d like to share a trip back with me, to one of the most romantic destinations in the world : the Greek Islands.  I’m planning a little series of posts, just to warm me up.  Maybe they’ll hasten the Summer.

The amphitheatre, seen from the Parthenon.

The amphitheatre, seen from the Parthenon.

I’m starting with a tale of high drama.  What better arena?  I spent just one afternoon in Athens- in some respects both the longest and shortest afternoon of my life.  It was to be “the icing on the cake”, but it ended in farce.

I had spent an idyllic fortnight in the Cyclades, and the timeslot before catching the plane back to England was just sufficient to allow a glimpse of the Greek capital.  It had to happen.  I couldn’t wait to see the Acropolis in all its glory.

Nothing ever prepares you for standing on a site like this: the weight of history and expectation.  I ascended slowly and respectfully in the warm day.  Impossible to be alone, of course, but it was still possible to gaze in awe and to stroke the ancient stone.

A bare section of wall invited me to sit and sip at my bottled water, and for one last look.

My viewpoint on the wall

My viewpoint on the wall

Feeling serene, I took Michael’s hand, and headed back down the mountain.  Time was short and I had no definite plan other than to wander and absorb.

“Where is your handbag?” asked Michael.  There was a stunned silence before I said “I must have left it on the wall”.  Galvanised into action, I fled back up to the Acropolis as fast as my legs would carry me, my stomache churning.  My passport was in the bag.

Of course, the wall was naked, though I looked and looked, not wanting to believe.  I had about 2 hours before I had to be back at the hotel to collect my case and the bus to the airport.  At the time, possibly the worst 2 hours of my life.  Have you ever tried to hail a taxi in Athens?  I must have been invisible, because I was dancing about, waving like a demon.

Eventually, the Greek Embassy.  I don’t know what I expected.  A cosy armchair with a cuppa and a rich tea biscuit?  A reassuring pat and the necessary papers produced with a smile?  The reality was a cross between a very severe post office and a police station, where I waited in line, feeling the weight of my transgressions.  And the tick of the clock!  How many times did I look at my watch, yet trying not to do so.  Avoiding Michael’s anxious eyes.

A flimsy sheet of paper was finally produced, with an injunction to obtain a passport photo and return.  Wholescale panic!  Where in the whole of Athens was such a thing to be found?  Why didn’t I carry a spare in my back pocket?  This was before the days of photograph booths.  Out into the street, eventually a photographic studio loomed and I was bundled unceremoniously inside, and dragged back out again, precious minutes later.  Back to the Embassy.  Wait in line.  Got it!  Oh no- not another desperate attempt to hail a taxi!

That magical Parthenon- scene of my woes!

That magical Parthenon- scene of my woes!

Well, I made it, though I’ll never know how.  Fortunately the flight tickets were with the baggage back at the hotel.  It will come as no surprise to you to find that on all trips abroad, Michael now carries both our passports.  I also have him to thank for the photos.  I wasn’t trusted with a camera back then.  I wonder why?

Oh, I almost forgot!  The handbag was returned to me, intact, many months later.  So, that was Athens!  Come with me next time, and we’ll go to the islands.