Friday, 31 October 2008

Greece, Island Hopping 2008, Milos

We arrived at about eleven o’clock in the evening and the hotel owner was there to meet us as he promised. He didn’t seem too pleased that we had cancelled the previous night but I have no idea why because he charged us for it anyway. The port town of Adamas seemed much busier than I had anticipated and in the dark and from the car window I felt a little disappointed but I reminded myself not to make hasty judgments without giving the place a proper chance. On the whole I think it is nicer to arrive somewhere new in daylight because this gives a better perspective to a new place than in the dark. After checking in and approving the room we walked back to the harbour and were lucky to find a place still serving food and we had a basic meal of chicken and pork and a jug of local wine before returning to the hotel for the night.

To lose a work of art is unfortunate but to lose three is careless and Milos is famous for three lost works of art. The statue of the Greek God Asclepius has been take away to the British Museum, Poseidon is in Athens but the most famous of all is the statue of Aphrodite, or the Venus de Milo, which has been taken away to the Louvre in Paris. All over the island archaeologists still search for the missing arms but there remains a lot of debate about just how good the statue of a podgy overweight ancient Greek lady of dubious artistic origin really is and it is unlikely that they will ever be found.

We woke early because we had plans for a very full day and we thought we might just join the search for the missing appendages. There was no time to waste and after a quick cup of tea I walked briskly into the town to hire a vehicle to transport us around. In the morning the town seemed a lot smaller than the night before with only a couple of main streets and down on the harbour front I looked for transport for the day to get around the island.

I found a place and negotiated the hire of a white, sport model, quad bike, which, before being allowed to proceed with the hire I had to undergo a short driving competency test to satisfy the renter that I was safe to go out on the open road. He explained that as a rule English and French people were generally ok, but Italians, who think they know all about scooters and bikes, are not so good and are liable to fall off and injure themselves sometime during the day but the Americans, who know nothing about them at all , are absolutely hopeless and are very liable to crash and cause a multiple pile-up within seconds. I passed the test but I couldn’t help but feel a total hypocrite because I have always told my children for safety reasons not to do anything so rash as ride a scooter or a bike like this when on a holiday but I had total disregard for my own advice and was completely euphoric about driving around like Peter Fonda in Easyrider on my four wheels as I returned to the hotel.

The truth is that someone told me that these things are so dangerous that within two years they will be banned from hire in Greece so I thought that it was important to try them out before they are no longer available. Before we could hit the road we had to change hotels, which was relatively painless and once we had moved to our new accommodation that was big and spacious and we liked a lot we finally hit the saddle and motored away.

The first thing that we had to do was to negotiate our way out of the harbour and this involved a steep climb to the town high above the seafront and this proved quite difficult because it soon became obvious that the quad bike that I had rented was hopelessly underpowered. I t was only 50cc and completely unsuitable for two people, the steering was light because of the weight distribution, handling was a nightmare and it was inevitable than within only a few minutes we had our first near death experience when the thing refused to take a tight hairpin bend with two of us on board and we had a confrontation with the driver of an impatient mineral lorry who was not minded to be very helpful. I was very careful after that because the thing was very difficult to control, it was hard work, essential to keep your wits about you at all time and the slightest road undulation resulted in wobbles and panics all the way to our first stop.

With some relief we stopped at Sarakiniko beach, which is one of the famous picture postcard sites on Milos. The island, like Santorini, is volcanic in origin but there the similarity ends because it is completely different in character and in appearance and here the cliffs are so brilliant white that from a distance they seem to be covered in snow. There are great swirling formations of sea chiselled rocks in the most spectacular and attractive formations. The sea was rough this morning with a stiff north breeze and the wind was whipping up the sea into waves, uncharacteristic of the Mediterranean, and they were crashing with some considerable force over the rocks. Milos is rich in minerals and is the main source of the island’s wealth to the extent that tourism hasn’t always been very important here, and at the back of the beach were an extensive labyrinth of old abandoned mines that penetrated deep into the pumice cliffs where once people mined for sulphur. This was one of the most interesting and spectacular beaches that I have ever seen but there was plenty more to do and see so we continued with our journey to the fishing village of Pollonia.

It was approaching mid day and we walked around the sleepy village and up to the top to the inevitable blue domed church and an uninterrupted view of the nearby island of Kimolos. There were some nice tavernas by the side of the water but it was too early for lunch so we left and returned back along the coast road stopping frequently to admire the colourful rock formations, the pretty beaches and the excavations at the Papafragos rocks all of which were along the route. To be honest I was glad of the frequent stops because I didn’t feel too confident about the quad bike and the way it was behaving with the pair of us, and our luggage, on board.

In the middle of the day we arrived at the main town of Plaka, which overlooks the port of Adamas below and we parked the bike and walked into the little streets of the busy town. First we walked almost to the top and to the Venetian castle but it was hard work and it was getting hot so we called it a day some way short of the summit and returned instead to the shady alleys of the town with its pretty squares and tavernas doing good lunchtime business. Like all island towns it was predominantly white with blue doors, external staircases, kittens and discreet little shops, most of which were closed on account of this being siesta time. There must have been a cruise ship visiting today because there were a lot of Americans who seemed to be walking around in circles and forever ending up back in the same place and getting very confused because they were probably used to the New York grid system. We had a leisurely lunch of salad and moussaka, wine and beer and then we reluctantly moved on.

Next to Plaka was the village of Trypiti that had restored windmills and Christian catacombs that were sadly closed due to excavations and an ancient Greek amphitheatre that we missed because it looked like a long way to walk in the blistering heat of the afternoon. After a couple of Mythos I was much more confident about the quad bike so we left the high level towns and returned again to the beaches on the north of the island and then we had our second near death experience when we stopped for a photo opportunity and I left the bike in reverse and when I started off again almost tipped us backwards into the deep ravine that had provided the backdrop for our dramatic biking pictures that almost proved fatally to be our last.

Our last place to visit was Mandrakia beach and a little fishing community with gaily-painted boat garages cut directly into the rocks. The season was finished now and the village was strangely quiet but I imagine this place would be busy in summer with lots of activity, busy bars and cafés and the smell of fish cooking on the grills at the sides of the streets. There were a lot of these little villages all around this part of the island and before we left to return to Adamas we agreed that this was an island to definitely return to next year.

We rested and recovered from our biking experience and debated whether to use it again to return to Plaka for evening meal, but after we had reflected on the dangerous incidents we decided instead to leave it parked up and stay instead at the harbour. I was pleased about that and immediately opened a bottle of wine, poured a drink and sat in the sunshine to relax the remainder of the afternoon away before walking out for evening meal at an excellent taverna with good home made cooking.

The next morning I refuelled the bike and returned it to the rental shop and after a pastry breakfast in the apartment we packed, paid up, said goodbye and walked to the harbour to catch the eleven o’clock ferry to Sifnos. In the daylight Adamas seemed much smaller than at night and we really liked it. We were disappointed to be leaving so soon because Milos is a really interesting island with so much more to see and do and we had barely scratched the volcanic surface of this lovely island. From the sun deck of the ferry we could see the busy waterfront with its bars and restaurants, shops and shipping agencies and we were sorry to leave when spot on time the ferry slipped its moorings and left the port and the large bay that forms the harbour area. On the way out to sea there were good views of Plaka, the fishing village of Klima sitting below and the quarries and mines that punctuated the coastline all the way until it slipped out of view behind us. The sea was rough and the strong wind made the Greek flag dance wildly at the back of the ferry as we passed the gnarled coastline of Kimolos and made steady progress towards our final destination, Sifnos.

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