Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Greece, Island Hopping 2008, Folegandros
Back in 2007 Folegandros had been our favourite island destination and it was inevitable that we would return in 2008 so on Saturday morning we packed our backpacks and prepared to leave Homer’s Inn for the next leg of the journey. At the port I purchased ferry tickets and made enquiries about our next intended journey from Folegandros to Milos and was stunned when I was told that there were no available ferries for a whole week. This news stopped me dead in my tracks I can tell you but we agreed to carry on and wait and see what happened and when the G&A Ferry arrived we climbed to the sun deck and travelled to Folegandros via Sikinos.
We had wanted to stay in the Chora this year but the prices were a bit expensive and I had got into a muddle over the booking so we decided instead to stay at the Hotel Vrahos in the port where we had stayed last year. This was about half the price and as returning guests we were entitled to one of the best rooms and we were delighted with a spacious room and the biggest sun terrace in the entire complex.
We took a walk to the port and selected a taverna for lunch and ordered a hot cheese salad, sardines and roasted peppers to share but the portions were so small that we thought that they must be the complimentary dips and were shocked to discover that this was the main event. Unusually for Greece it was a rip-off of epic proportions, good for the calorie count but at €20 not so good for the budget. I paid grudgingly, certainly left no tip and didn’t go back there again.
In the harbour the European Union funded work that had been in progress last year had been completed but hadn’t seemed to make that much of an improvement and had the sort of finish that I would call the contractors back to put right if it was my own driveway at home. All over the islands there are big blue sign boards announcing these improvement works and they all seem to be about one million euros in value and this made me wonder just how much European tax payers money is being spent in Greece. It turns out that in 2007 Greece received a net benefit of twenty-five billion euros and that is the second biggest subsidy after Poland at sixty-five billion. Greece it seems is doing rather nicely out of EU membership and judging from the standard of the finished work I for one am dubious that it is being spent wisely. Eighteen out of twenty-seven EU countries make a profit out of membership and the UK of course isn’t one of them because after Germany at eighty-six billion euros the UK makes a whopping contribution of fifty-seven billion. The others that make a loss on membership are France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark, Finland and this is a surprise, Cyprus.
That evening we took the bus up to the Chora for evening meal and made it in time for the sunset that we watched from the terrace of the hotel we originally wanted to stay at and we were pleased that we weren’t because it wasn’t quite as spectacular as we remembered it. After the sunset we wandered through the tiny streets and made our way to last years favourite restaurant that still had the same menu and we were glad about that because we really liked it. Before going back to the hotel I checked the ferry timetables but there was still no information and I started to worry just a little bit more.
Back at the hotel the breeze had dropped and it was a clear night as we sat on the terrace and enjoyed the warm clear night. The sky was like black velvet and we could track satellites passing by and even spotted a shooting star. For a while we contemplated sleeping under the stars and tried settling down in the loungers but it really wasn’t all that comfortable and we abandoned that crazy idea and just went to bed instead.
We woke early to the most stunning sunrise that was pouring like liquid amber through the open shutters and into the room. The sun was only a few minutes old and was a ball of white light with a yellow halo rising through a fiery sky that was sizzling with anticipation for the new day. A bright yellow slash of solar reflection sliced through the surface of water and the whole bay was so intensely bronze that it was as though the sky had ignited and poured its flames into the sea. Slowly the orange sky retreated and was replaced by a reassuring blue and the sea turned from umber through purple to its more natural marine blue and everything was prepared and ready for another perfect day.
Next morning we went early to the Chora and when the bus arrived in the port it immediately turned round and struggled back up the hill to the top. In the daylight there was a good view over most of the island and it was revealed as dusty, barren and devoid of vegetation with a desolate landscape that had been beaten relentlessly into total submission by the scorching summer sun. After breakfast at a little café we went into the town where men were waiting for the newspapers to arrive, local people were sitting in groups chatting and in the back streets they were doing their chores and preparing Sunday lunch. This was clearly a tidying the garden sort of day! The crooked alleys took us around in circles past kittens playing in a garden and stone walls that looked as though they had been put together after a heavy drinking session and everywhere there were vivid red geraniums growing in miscellaneous containers of various sizes and descriptions.
We returned to the ferry booking office because I was getting anxious again but there was no change and my enquiries were met with a dismissive shrug of the shoulders and a maybe there would be some better news tomorrow. This all seemed perfectly normal to the girl on the information desk and she didn’t seem to care at all and it seemed that we might be stuck on Folegandros for the rest of our lives. But never mind, we had a good room with a nice terrace and we could stay there as long as we liked, or at least until the hotel closed down for winter!
I wasn’t sure what we would live on however because the little shops seemed to be dangerously short on supplies and this being Sunday the bakeries ran out of bread well before lunch time. We acquired a few provisions and had a makeshift self-prepared lunch on the terrace and then we had a full afternoon of doing absolutely nothing but we did see three ferries arrive and leave and this made me more optimistic, but the fact that loads of people were leaving the island made me wonder if these were the last boats of the season and I worried again.
Later we went back to the Chora on the bus in a yo-yo sort of routine that we had established and even though I knew that it was pointless I checked the ferry schedules once again. Nothing! With so many people having left the island this afternoon the town was much quieter tonight but was full of interesting people. There were lots of aging beardy hippies with ponytails, wearing white linen and flip-flops, carrying sketchpads and all that was missing was the joss sticks and the candles, the flowers and the guitars.
So Monday presented an unexpected third full day on Folegandros and I was beginning to come to terms with our Robinson Crusoe existence. I worried even more when the bus timetable was slashed as well but in the morning we went back to the Chora for another attempt at getting away. The whole place was much quieter this morning as clearly most people had managed to escape, bars were empty, shops were closed and the streets were deserted. At the ferry booking office lots of other people were in the same situation, travel plans but no ferries so no way to fulfil them. An American couple couldn’t get to Ios in time to catch a connecting boat to Piraeus and their flight home and everyone seemed bewildered and confused except for the totally ambivalent staff behind the desk. And even when there is a boat it is full up and one lady who needed to get to Crete was unlucky because even though there was a boat there was no room on board and that must be even more annoying than no boats at all.
We were supposed to go to Milos today but that seemed out of the question so we consulted and agreed to invoke alternative plans and book a ferry to Santorini and at least get onto the main ferry lines so that we could be sure to get to Piraeus and get back home. Although I didn’t really want to go back to Santorini I did at least feel a little more relaxed now that there was an exit plan from Folegandros. I was not impressed, this lack of ferry information was the equivalent of Ryanair changing all of its schedules and not informing anyone (ok, that’s a very bad example, but you know what I mean!)
Later in the day there was a surprise and suddenly the boat to Milos was running after all so we cancelled the Santorini tickets, but lost 50% of the fare price, and rescheduled back to our original destination even though this was one day later than planned. I t was a warm evening and after we had taken the bus back to the port there was a nice walk along the sea shore, a long climb up the steps back to the room and a glass of wine or two watching the sleepy harbour resting below.
So due to unreliable ferry schedules we had an unexpected fourth day on Folegandros but the hotel let us stay all day until departure time and we had self prepared meals on the balcony and a swim in the sea and a lot of waiting until the late afternoon ferry. We were ready to leave Folegandros after four days because this was the second visit in two years and we had seen just about everything there is to see, the ferry was about an hour late and it arrived after dark and then it seemed to take an age to get to get to Milos…