Saturday, 25 September 2010

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Athens.

I am sorry to say that today is the last day of my holiday, and the sound of heavy rain, thunder and lightning work me. Athens was stormy and very wet, I am glad I did most of my sightseeing yesterday.
Yesterday we had put on our walking shoes and explored the Classical City of Athens,(once we had mastered crossing the road with its manic traffic). The city is large and sprawling, but the sights are located in a small and easily accessible area.
The Acropolis, was all that is should have been.
The Agors. The Roman Forum with its fascinating Tower of the Winds. The streets of Plaka, where we stopped and had a very overpriced soft drink. The Temple of Olypian Zeus. The new Acropolis Museum.
That was yesterday, today once the worst of the rain subsided, at around 11.00 we set off and walked to the Museum of Cycladic Art. It is not hard to see where modern sculptors like Henry Moore drew their inspiration from. The simple Cycladic figures, crafted in 3200 to 2000 BC are simply fascinating. The museum is a private collection and I am very pleased that the owners of the pieces have chosen to share them with the rest of the world.
The area of the Greek Parliament was surrounded by Police today, I don’t know if this is a regular occurrence or something special was happening today. Thankfully the fully armed Police compete with riot shields did not spoil the enjoyment of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This happens on the hour, but if you want to see it go about 15 minutes to the hour as it was 13.47 when we watched the performance.

The main shopping area on Stadiou street was like walking down any UK high street or shopping mall, all the same brands. This monotony is broken when you arrive at the Meat, Fish and Veg markets, this is like a different world. The meat traders are chopping meat to order and all shouting at the same time, you can eat in one of the small cafes in the market if you like. There was a fantastic array of olives for sale, or to try prior to your purchase. It was a simple lunch of Kebab today, we called in at a very crowded shop called Thanassis near Hadrians Library. Four lamb sausage shaped Kebabs, more like a Kofta to look at, were served on a pitta bread with grilled tomatoes and flat leaf parsley. Thankfully the waiter let us split on serving between two, otherwise it would have been far to much for me.
I needed the sustenance provided by the lunch for the assault up to Lykavitos hill. The climb up to the funicular seemed to take forever, steps getting steeper and steeper. Once finally at the summit, the view over Athens in spectacular. However, I prefer the view of the Acropolis from Filopappou Hill where the view enhances the magnitude of the ancient building. From the top of Lykavitos hill I felt the Acropolis looked quite insignificant, and that would be an optical illusion.
I have not taken any photos of the Athens Green Apartment Number 4, as it is exactly as it shows on their web site.
I booked this apartment via Trip Advisor, and when we arrived Yanis was waiting for us. We were given a tour of the apartment complex with its beautiful garden / eating area. We were also given a map of Athens and lots of really valuable information about the area.
As I have said, the apartment is exactly as described, it is clean, very stylish and has every thing you need to enjoy your stay in Athens. But the thing I was so pleased with about this apartment was its location. It is absolutely perfect. We could walk to all the attractions, and in the evening all the Bars, Restaurants and Tavernas in the area of Pagrati were all so good, for food and the value, that we did not have to go far.
This was the perfect place to stay for a break in Athens and thanks to Yanis for making our short stay so special.

The next day the pre ordered Taxi was punctual for our lift to Athens Airport, being so early on a Sunday morning the journey was quick and we soon check in for flight A3 602 to London Heathrow on Aegean, due to depart at 08.50.
The economy seats are fine and I would not bother to book business on this airline as all that you get is a window seat and an aisle seat with the middle seat blocked with a tray. Then all to quickly it was back to the madness of London Heathrow Airport and the Great British Motorway system.
So my impressions of the Greek Islands I visited are;
Mykonos, was clean, pristine and with an almost Disney like feel at times, it was the most expensive Island and has the best food.
Naxos, a real working Island, a place where the local population work in other trades, not just tourism. The beaches on Naxos are the best we saw.
Antiparos, this Island was to small and quiet to hold my interest for any length of time. I am glad I only did a Day trip to it.
Paros, has a little of it all , winding streets, fishing harbours, beaches. I would visit Paros again, it was my favorite.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Paros to Athens.

The Blue Star Ferry; the roll on roll of type, left Paros Port with its strange passenger loading pens at 10.45. the Ferry was not full but had a lot of passengers on board, lots of dogs as well. The wind was still blowing and so the sea was choppy. I was OK for the first couple of hours, but after that turned a pale shade of green as the feeling of sea sickness set in. At last we arrived into Piraeus. The getting off the ferry was a bit hap hazard with all the mopeds and cars revving their engines at the mass of foot passengers in front of them.
As soon as we were off the ferry we crossed the bridge straight in front of us and this led us into the station. The ticket for the Metro cost 1 Euro, this ticket lasts you 90 minutes. So all that was very straight forward. We got off the Metro at Syntagma, this is directly opposite the Greek Parliament building. I had booked an apartment, but I had not appreciated how good the location of the Apartment was. It is located in the Pagrati part of Athens, this proved to be perfect for all the sights of Athens.
The apartment is called ‘Athens Green Apartments’, they are fully equipped with all the usual amenities, nicely decorated and have AC, WiFi, TV,ect. The location is absolutely perfect for a city stay.
To enjoy the last rays of sun we climbed up Filopappos Hill and got our first view of the Acropolis on one side and the sea on the other. The area of Pagrati is home to some of Athens best restaurants, and not touristic ones. Having had a busy day we just walked up the street to the local Taverna, and the biggest surprise of all was the bill....this the least we have paid for a meal in Greece, it was just 25 Euros, compare that to Mykonos, its incredible how expensive Mykonos is.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Paros, Parikia & Marble Quarries..AntiParos.

This is morning we went into Paros main Town, Parika and up to the remains of the Kastro, this was again in the middle of a labyrinth of typical Cycliad streets. The remains of this Castle clearly show the evidence that it was built using the ancient columns and remains of temples.
The other thing worth seeing in Parikia is the Church of the Ekatondapyliani. At this large Byzantine church we witnessed a Christening, it differs from a C of E christening in that the baby was striped naked and put into the font as if it was having a bath. As you can imagine the baby did not think much to this cold bath, but soon appeared smiling in her new white christening outfit.
We then went up to the Village of Maranthi to the Marble Mining works, really more like a cave. The entrance is a sheer drop down into the earth and you soon need to have a torch to see, and you really should have good walking shoes on your feet. It is very steep and the floor of the cave is slippy, you can go in one entrance and out the other, but it looked a bit dangerous without a guide so I did not brave it. If you want to do the underground walk the book Greek Island Hopping 2010 has a map of the mine and full instructions.
We spent the afternoon at the Hotel pool, even though the wind was starting again, this pool is protected by the glass windbreaker, so it proved to be a pleasant place to sunbathe.
The next day we were able to take the quad on the ferry from the Paros port of Pounda to Antiparos.
In Antiparos, a very small, quiet Island. It did not take long to see the square shaped Kastro and visit the Great Cave.I am glad I did not stay on Antiparos as there was not that much to do and the beaches seemed to be very poor. We had seen all of the isalnd by midday, so took the 7 minute ferry trip back to Paros.
We had experienced three wind free days, but this morning its blowing a gale. Gusting up to 40 or 50 km. But the Paros beach called Golden Beach offers some protection from the wind, and the wind surfers and kite surfers were making the most of it, if they went any faster they would be in Naxos.We spent the next two days on golden beach and on our last day called in the very picturesque port of Pisso Livadi, where we enjoyed a long and very tasty lunch at Stavros Taverna.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Paros.

We got an early Blue Star Ferry from Naxos to Paros, the Islands are only 5 miles apart and the crossing was over in 30 minutes.We were greeted by the usual crowd selling rooms. The port of Paros looked a bit uninspiring so we got the bus to the North of the Island to the town of Naoussa. In Naoussa we looked at the Paliomylos Hotel and Apartments, they were very nice, but had the usual wooden beds and after sleeping in a damp, crowded cellar in Naxos we wanted a bit more comfort than the beds looked like they could offer and craved a normal bed. Well we found just that at the new Saint Andrea Seaside Resort. The Resort is not located on a beach of any note, the beach near to the Hotel is small, rocky and coverd in seaweed. The Hotel and its rooms make up for the poor beach, they are very tastefully decorated and beds are the best we have slept on in Greece. The hotel was setting up for a wedding, it all looked very nice. The hotel is a bit away from the main town of Naoussa, so we walked down the road and rented a large Quad for two. This was to be our transport around the island. Our first outing on the Quad was the short drive from the hotel into the town of Naoussa, all of 5 minutes.
Naoussa was once a fishing village, since the mid 1980s its tourism industry has developed . Some web sites and guide books are very disparaging of the town calling it a “Tourist Trap’ and stating the town is ruined. I did not think this and found the quay to be very charming with fisherman mending the nets and squid drying in the sun. The Taverners are located around the harbour, and were very busy with a very big wedding and another large family party. The place was packed, it was a real party atmosphere. We ate at Silence of the fish, and the fish were silenced.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Naxos.

Naxos is know for it sandy beaches, and rightly so. Today we went to the beach located southwest of the main port. The beach at Agios Georgios is close to Naxos Town, but very busy and touristy. We drove further on to the long stretch of beach that starts at Agia Anna. Here it cost 7 Euros for the two sun beds, umbrellas and table, a big saving on Mykonos. We took a break for lunch as there were many Taveners’along the beach strip, our choice however was a mistake. The Paradise Taverna is located on the beach. This taverna looks as if it should serve good food, its location is fantastic. For lunch I ordered a mixed starter 8 Euro, Greek Salad 8 Euro and my partner ordered Tuna Salad 9 Euros. What we were served can only be described as slop. The only thing that could be eaten was the Greek Salad. The tuna Salad was per prepared ( not homemade), it was mashed up tuna with mayo, it was a sloppy mess. The mixed starter consisted of a white cream cheese, eggplant salad, squid in vinegar, bright pink stuff and more of the tuna. It was all tasteless and served with a white baggett in a broken bread holder. When it came time to pay the owners were not interested in us paying the bill, just microwaving their own horrid food for their consumption. So far this has been the worst meal we have had on this holiday, it was really horrid.
Back at the Stoudious Bourgos, we went up onto the roof terrace to watch the sunset and use the computer, it was the only place to get a signal.
Then at 20.00 we made our way back to the Garden at the Venitian House in the Kastro for a Bouzouki concert.The music, especially the Bouzouki was top class, the dancing was good, and the unlimited free wines and spirits of the Island proved to be a fantastic way to end the day. Concerts in the gardens are regular event through the summer and I highly recommend attending one if you can.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Naxos.

We got the 08.45 Hellenic Seaways Flying Cat 3 to Naxos, this cost 21.00 Euros. It was a fast and efficient service that took 45 minutes. When we arrived in Myconos from Athens we has sailed into the New Port, this is away from the main part of Mykonos. When we went to Delos we left from the jetty in Mykonos Town and now as we departed to Naxos we went from the Old Port close to Mykonos Town. All very confusing for a small place. My only advise is to check departure point upon booking your ticket.
As you enter the port of Naxos you see the Landmark of the Portara of the Temple of Apollo. In Naxos we ran the gauntlet of the people greeting you with placards of the rooms to let, one was quoting 150 Euros for a small room! . We had decided to stay in the Hora (Naxos Town) in the old part of town. We then spent a very hot hour or so dragging bags up and down small streets looking for accommodation. The place really is a maze of streets and it was difficult to find anything due to the lack of good signage. At last we stumbled upon the Stoudious Bourgos, a small double room for 30 Euros. It looks OK but now, having had the door closed for a while, it smells very musty like the basement it is, and there is no kettle and just one chipped mug in the i will let you know my verdict tomorrow after tonight’s sleep on the rather small double bed. The Studios we are in are next to the walls of the Kastro. This afternoon we visited the Kastro with its Medieval fort entrance and streets, The Venetian House museum cost 12 Euros each to get in and whilst the house its self was interesting, the stuff in it was just a collection of old tat; a lot of which I have seen my Dad throw away over the years! The pillars in the Antico Veneziano Shop were great; they have been taken from an ancient temple years ago. After the Venietian house we did not bother to pay the 4 Euros to get into the Archaelogical Museum, as I read that most of the Cycladic figures are in the British Museum. The temple of Apollo is located on Palatia Islet reached by crossing the causeway. The site is intesting and it is easy to see how impressive the temple was by the size of the remaining door.
To end the day we drove into the centre of this lovely, large island. Admiring the fertile valleys where many crops were being grown, bees being tended to and normal life was going on, as opposed to the frantic touristic activity on Mykonos. It was also good to escape the wind as it was not windy on Naxos today.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Delos & Mykonos.

Seasick Steve is an American Blues musician, his name derives from a bout of sea sickness during the short sea journey from Norway to Denmark . Well on waking this morning and looking out at the churning sea, I felt like my new name would soon be a version of ‘Seasick Steve’; I am not a good sailor.
We were to visit the sacred Island of Delos. The island of Delos is located at the centre of the circular ring of islands called the Cyclades is one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece. It is the island where Leto gave birth to Apollo and Artemis, The tour boat leaves from the old Mykonos Town harbour every day, except Monday it departs at 09.00/10.00/11.00. We went down to the harbour and I looked at the three tour boats with trepidation, a bit like the fairy tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears; there was a big, medium size and very small boat. But you did not have a choice. The return ride cost 12 Euros and we were shown on to the largest craft; The Margarita. The upper deck in the sun was already packed, so I was confined to the lower deck. This had a small area at the back outside and very old fashioned plastic covered seating in side. The crossing took 35 minutes so was not to bad, as we left the boat we were told the return times; 12.00/ 13.30/and 15.00. We could get any of these.
Entry into the site of Delos was 5 Euros. The site was large and far more interesting than i had imagined.

The famous Delos Lions are great, looking like modern art. In the residential area, with it remains of roads, walls and mosaics it is easy to imagine the people of the ancient civilisations living here. Having spent a fascinating few hours we made our way to the ‘Commercial Harbour’. Docked there was ‘Orcra’ our very small return vessel. Well this time I would have to go up top. The top deck was crowded, but once we got underway, and the rough seas started to soak every one, quite a few went below. I was quite bedraggled and very wet when we returned to Mykonos....but I was not Sea sick!

The Town of Mykonos is a maze of whitewashed houses, churches and windmills. It is beautiful and immaculate, once I had changed out of my wet clothing we got lost in the winding alleyways. Debating if this design was to stop pirates or the wind. It would have been effective at both. I did manage to find my way back to Minima Gallery as I wanted the name of the artist of my picture. The gallery was closed, the owner was sat on the step. He told us that a family from Dubai had brought the whole collection on display in the gallery that afternoon, the same had occurred in the gallery across the street. That night at dinner, the pavement next to the tavern was very noisy and diners were disrupted as all the art works started to be moved out of the small town. This caused outrage from our waiter who informed us that no vehicles were allowed to be used in the streets of Mykonos Town at night and he objected to the fact that just because someone was rich, from overpriced oil and petrol, paid for by us consumers of Europe, that they could command the whole town behave in such a way. He said we should all boycott the next raise in the oil price He had a point.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Mykonos.

Today it was time to hit the Islands beaches. We left the town in the small rental car, and headed for a beach in the left hand corner of the island. It is called Kalafatis Beach. The island of Mykonos, like all the Cyclades, is known for the wind, the Meltemi. The Meltemi wind usually blows in July and August but this year it is late arriving and started to blow today. The name might sound romantic and oddly soothing. But the reality is that this is a dry wind blowing from the north, it can sweep across Greek waters, churning up the sea and blowing sand around. It is whistling under the door frames and throwing around chairs and tables with ease. We have chosen to go to Kalafatis beach as it is allegedly sheltered from the wind.

The Island is far smaller than I had realised and it only took 15 minutes to arrive at Kalafatis Beach. It costs 12 Euros to rent two sun beds, a table and an umbrella. You do not seem to be able to split this package. The Taverna on the beach rents the sun beds to you. This sets a pattern for the rest of our stay in the islands, whilst the package of Sun Beds, Table and umbrella is the same the prices vary from this one on Mykonos as the most expensive to the cheapest on Paros at 7 Euros.
The Taverna at Kalafatis beach; The Aneplora, served a superb lunch, and we watched a dive boat from the adjacent dive centre taking a party out to dive, the party included the dive centers dog who rides at the front of the boat, barking with enthusiasm as he goes.
Late in the afternoon we make our way back to Mykonos checking out the other beaches as we go. There is a small fishing village located between Kalafatis and Ayia Anna. Ayia Anna looks good complete with large windbreakers. We miss the turning for Kato Livahi and end up on Elia, this is busy and had a lot of naked old men sunbathing on it. We then stop at Super Paradise and Paradise, the second has a very large campsite, with good facilities and good connections to the local bus route. They are busy with the young crowd, complete with fast food, loud club music, and belly dancing on table tops Greek style...Paradise for some. Ornos beach the closest to Mykonos town, has a few hotels and pensions on it and looks very self contained. I am pleased with the beach we went to today, it suites our quiet style.
Having had a late and large lunch at the beach, we do go down into Mykonos town for supper. We go to The Opa Taverna and have the most wonderful Hummus ever, it was flavoured with cumin. Then fresh ‘line fish’ grilled on the BBQ. Again so fresh and delicious.
After dinner we looked at the art galleries, genuine art galleries with good pieces of original art in them. There were many inspiring pieces of sculpture. But the on the wall in Minima Gallery I see 'IT'. The painting I have been looking for to take pride of place on my living room wall. I don’t know what I have been looking for, but I know that when I see it I will recognise it as ‘The One’. Well I just found it in Mykonos. The painting is large; much to large for my sitting room wall. It is of yellowing corn, with red poppies blowing in the wind. I want it! I ask how much it is 10.000 Euros. I still want it, but it won’t fit on my wall. I ask who the artist is, I am informed that the gallery has scouts out across Europe, and the artist of this piece is a German. I am coming back tomorrow to look at it and find out the name of this artist.

Greek Island Hopping Adventure, Piraeus to Mykonos..

At The Piraeus Dreams Hotel I was woken by the sound of people moving cases in the corridor, and just as well they were noisy as it was past the designated wake up time.
The ferry, SpeedRunner III, was due to go at 07.45, and we had to collect the ticket one hour prior to this. It was not a problem, the hotel is located about a 5 minutes walk from the harbour gate and we quickly found Gate 7, got the tickets and got on.
This is the Ticket collection office in the port. I don’t know what I thought the ferries would be like, but the modern Speedrunner was not what I had imagined.
Speedrunner III, is part of the Aegean Speed Lines fleet, she was built in either Italy or Australia in 1999 or 2000 depending on whether you believe the company or Wikipedia! It is more like being on an aircraft than a ferry, with aircraft style seating. There are cafes on board and free wifi. It took 4 hours to get to Mykonos, with stops at Tinos and Syros.
The plan had been to get accommodation on arrival in Mykonos, but the night before in Piraeus I had noted that the rack rate for the room was 150 Euros, where I had paid 60 Euros by booking on line. Using the free WiFi(I have just discovered the joy of this facility). I found a hotel; listed as a B&B, that looked good, at a price I wanted to pay, checked out its credentials with Trip Advisor and booked it all whilst on the ferry. The accommodation was Villa Konstantine.
Once off the ferry in Mykonos new port, we were greeted by many vendors with photos of the rooms they have to hire. We got a taxi up to the Villa Konstantine and were not disappointed.

This is the wall from the road, its a little difficult to see the sign.

Villa Konstantine as seen from the road.

We received a friendly greeting from the owner Sharon, she had already received the booking on line. She showed us to our room, a studio that can sleep 3. Very clean and well equipped. Within minutes Sharon had sorted us out with a car rental for our short stay this was delivered to the Villa. We then worked out how to get down to Mykonos town. The walk from the accommodation to Mykonos town took about 10 minutes and at night the track was lit up.
Lunch was taken at one of the small Tavernas in ‘Little Venice’, the food was delicious and the setting sublime. The afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun, till, guess what, it rained. Just for an hour rained quite heavily, but its dry now, so its time to go out into the town for a glass of wine and more Greek Salad with the delicious feta cheese.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Aegean Adventure, Day One & Two.

The journey from the north of England to the south using the M6/M40/M25 varies in the time it takes due to the ‘sheer weight of traffic’ on the road. Today the journey only took 4 hours. What a pleasure.

Arriving at London’s Heathrow airport: now the fifth busiest airport in the world, without a map to the hotel was a bit adventurous, as the site covers 12.14 square kilometers . Eventually, having seen most of Hownslow, we found the Marriott Hotel and checked in. As it was late we ate at the hotels ‘Tuscany’ restaurant, this is not to be recommended as it was very expensive and the food only just acceptable as I was hungry. The pasta was Al Dente to the point of not being cooked it was sooooooo chewy. The food and wine were both very overpriced and the waiter was uptight at our late arrival,even thought thay are open till 23.00. I think he had better get a nine to five job as he was not a happy man.
The rooms at this Marriott are very nice, with two queen sized beds. The beds were very comfortable with feather topped toppers, and I do like the Marriott’s pillow menu.
Having breakfast at the ‘help yourself all you can eat’ service in the morning, I spotted a few Emirates crew , in full uniform tucking in, breakfast must be included in the room rate for the crew? But I did not know Crew were allowed to be seen eating in uniform....having heard tales of crew beeing scolded for drinking a coffee with out THE hat on.

We made our way to the free bus into the terminal (not the Heathrow hopper), this bus is one of the normal double deckers with ‘Terminal......’ on them. They are free and you cross the road from the hotel to the bus stop to get it. It only took about 15 minutes to get from the bus stop to the check in desk in terminal one. Terminal One like all the UK airports is an excuse for a shopping mall, and a nice one at that. It has a variety of eateries, including the caviar house that always tempts me but I have not been brave enough to try it prior to a flight yet.
The Aegean Air flight to Athens was uneventful. It was an A320, leather seats, free drinks and old fashioned overhead entertainment. I was not expecting a meal on such a short 4 hour flight, the meal was a Greek salad, the first of many. A strange pasta with chick peas and chicken and a pastry. In no time we landed at Athens airport in rain. As we stepped out of the aircraft to get on to the bus taking us to the terminal, a magnificent rainbow was seen. All the American passengers went ‘wow how awesome’ however I heard some English accents muttering that they had not come to Greece for rain and rain bows!
The customs procedure was as long and laborious as ever, and after getting our small bags from the carousel, we followed the signs for the Public Bus service, and found the number 96 bus to the port of Piraeus, this cost 3 Euros and took 45 minutes.
Once in the harbour town of Piraeus I realised that again I had failed to print of a map of the location of the hotel I had booked on! But remember seeing photos on Trip advisor showing a small church and by using this landmark the hotel was found. There did not seem to be many Hotels in the Port area, I was glad I had pre booked this part of the holiday. We received a friendly welcome and were shown to our small but clean and functional room, this had cost 60 Euros.

The town of Piraeus was very busy with many weddings taking place. We saw the wedding activity’s whilst looking for something to eat, for a large place we really struggled to find a restaurant. There was a large town square filled with coffee shops, but not a restaurant in site. Eventually we found one called The 4 Brothers. The siblings served us a filling meal at a good price. Then it was back to the Piraeus Dreams Hotel for a good nights sleep.