Saturday, 11 October 2008

Greece, Island Hopping 2008, Anti-Paros

The boat left precisely on time and as we slipped out of the port the sunrise illuminated the city and promised a day of good weather. It was a bit windy and the sea was foaming but it was pleasant enough on the top deck as we watched the islands slip by one by one as the ferry made good progress towards its first stop. It arrived in Paros slightly behind schedule at around about midday and we left the boat onto the busy harbour full of people and vehicles getting on and getting off the boat. The quayside was full of apartment owners trying to sell their rooms and it was so chaotic that it made a French bus queue look well organised. The plan was to stay here for an hour or so but there was small ferry about to leave for Anti-Paros so went from boat to boat without stopping over.

The wind was very strong by this time so it was a good thing that it was only a short twenty minute crossing to the nearby smaller island and we found some seats and sat on the top deck and were surprised by the size of the waves and the heaving of the little boat. Despite this the heat was really, really hot and the sea calmed down as it pulled into the harbour that was protected from the wind and we glad to be back on dry land. Where Paros had been a busy noisy place Anti-Paros was a complete contrast and we were hit immediately by a pleasant lazy ambiance. There were a handful of tavernas lining the harbour where brightly coloured boats were bobbing about on the water and we selected one with a table under the shade of a tree and next to a line of dead octopus and squid all drying out under the hot August sun and had a first meal of Greek salad and calamari.

The hotel was supposed to be quite close but finding it was slightly more difficult than it should have been because the Greeks have a strange idea of just how far two hundred metres is. If I could hit a golf ball two hundred Greek metres then I would be outdriving Tiger Woods by some distance let me tell you! So although I was certain that I was going in the right direction by the time we had walked at least three times the suggested distance then doubts began to creep in. Finally, after a bit of grumbling from Kim, we found it and it turned out to be a real gem and over a welcome beer the owner gave us a long introductory talk and told us all about the island. We were only there for a couple of days so she told us about much more than we could possibly hope to see in this short time.

The hotel Kastro was excellent and we had a quiet ground floor room with a generous balcony perfect for enjoying an afternoon Mythos or two. In the garden there was a swimming pool and a bar so this was a perfect place for the holiday to start. We liked Anti-Paros immediately, so much so that we instantly extended our stay there from two nights to three.

At lunch time the little town seemed to have an end of season quietness about it but by the evening it had really livened up and restaurants, tavernas and chic boutiques had all opened their doors for business and the main street had a sense of vibrancy about it. Anti-Paros felt very cosmopolitan and with no riff-raff about it felt just a little bit special. The main town of Kastro is a traditional Cycladic settlement, full of whitewashed cubic houses with little flowered balconies and blue painted doors and windows. My favourite doors are in the Cyclades where, next to the white that we all associate with the islands, the prevailing colour is blue. It turns out that the widespread use emanates from an ancient belief that the sky-blue shade of turquoise has the power to keep evil away. It is believed that the radiation of the colour composes a sort of invisible shield, which prevents the approach of bad spirits. Blue is used everywhere in the Cyclades, church cupolas, windows, doors, walls, staircases, fences and also blue ‘belts’ around buildings, which supposedly provide protection against evil.

That evening the little town was so vibrant and there were so many tempting tavernas that we found it difficult to make a choice and through hopeless indecision we found ourselves at the harbour with a final taverna that had an outside grill and a promising menu so we choose a table by the edge of the water and ate plates of hearty Greek food. The only thing that spoilt it was the dogs that were hanging around the tables looking for scraps and handouts. It’s quite normal to be accompanied by cats when dining in Greece but this was the first time I had been pestered by mongrels like this. It made me think just about how dumb dogs are. Cats have been doing this for years but it has taken dogs all this time to catch on and they are not very good at it either. Cats come along, look cute, stick around if you feed them but move on to another table if you don’t. Dogs just aren’t that bright and they come along, look scruffy, smell bad and just stick around even if you don’t feed them. I just don’t understand the people and dogs thing at all.

Next morning, after breakfast on the terrace, we went for a walk in search of the sea but somewhere in the village took a wrong turn and ended up walking in land. It didn’t matter because it was a pleasant walk through the countryside until we came to a dead end and a smallholding with a particularly nasty looking dog that was barking and growling angrily but which was fortunately securely chained up because I just knew that it wanted to tear my throat out. I really don’t like dogs at all.

Back in the village we visited the ancient kastro that has a quaint but neglected mix of houses, some inhabited but others abandoned and crying out for refurbishment. There were some little shops and a folk lore museum that didn’t take long to look around and by mid morning it was time for a first mythos of the day. Suddenly on top of a chimney Kim spotted a stork and sent me off to photograph it so I raced down the street but felt conspicuously dim when it turned out to be made of metal and purely decorative. Later it seemed as though it had flown away and this confused us but it turned out that it had simply turned in the wind and it was so thin that head on it was practically invisible. It was lovely sitting in the hot sun and the place reminded us both of Folegandros which we would be visiting again this year in a few days time.

After lunch, at the same harbour side restaurant as the day before, we found a gritty beach that was lined with armirikia trees that provided welcome shade from the hot sun in between cooling dips and snorkelling in the warm sea. About two hours on a beach is more than long enough for me so just before boredom clicked in we left and wandered back to the hotel for a swim in the pool and a drink on the terrace. The terrace was blue of course with tubs of neglected geraniums, a crooked olive tree and pink bougainvillea tumbling down from overhead trellising. Heaven!

There was happy hour at the poolside so we took advantage of that and after the sun disappeared walked all the way back down to the harbour, which was busy again, and found a seat at a taverna that we had identified earlier as the place we would eat tonight. It was busy and at the next table was a middle-aged man who was alone and wanted to talk about island hopping. I think I could travel solo if I had to and I don’t imagine the days would be too difficult but it might become a bit tedious at night when it comes to dining and drinking alone so we were happy enough to chat along with him for a while and keep him company. But after a short time it became clear exactly why he was travelling alone because he was a bit boring it has to be said. He was a total anorak who had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Greek island ferry schedules and he was able with total accuracy to tell us the ferries the times and the names of the crews on the boats that we would need to use in the next three weeks to successfully complete our itinerary. He was a helpful sort of chap but he had strange advice about wine and recommended buying it in quarter litres to save having to waste any if half a litre may be too much. Before we could explain that there really was no chance of that he finished his meal, excused himself and moved on and I for one was quite pleased.

In the morning when I walked to the bakers for breakfast I noticed that there was a change in the weather and there was a very strong wind blowing through the little streets and alleys of the village. This was the ‘Meltemia’, the north wind that arrives at about this time of year and brings disruption to the ferry schedules and there was a sign at the harbour that said all boats were cancelled on account of the weather. With a possibility of needing alternative plans and I began to wish that I had paid more attention to the ferry expert last night.

It was a real howler and later on the beach the sea was rough and the gusts blew sand across the beach that shot blasted our legs and made things a little bit uncomfortable so after slightly less than two hours we left the beach and went to the village past redundant windmills and a blue domed church and back to the same lunch time taverna for more salad and calamari.

At the travel agency in the harbour the staff explained the alternative ways of returning to Paros if the wind kept blowing. Apparently it was a force seven gale and that is the point when boats don’t sail. Later in the afternoon the wind seemed to drop, it got hotter, I had more beer and at some point just stopped caring about the weather and ferries and just enjoyed the rest of the day and what time was left in Anti-Paros including a good meal in a nice taverna down a tiny side street with an especially friendly cat for company.

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