Monday, 3 November 2008

Greece, Island Hopping 2008, Sifnos

The boat arrived in Kamara on Sifnos early in the afternoon and even on the approach to the harbour it was the sort of place that you could just tell was going to be very, very good and as soon as we stepped ashore I was confident of this even before I was acquainted with the place. The apartment owner met us in the busy main street and she drove us no more than five hundred metres to the hotel and without any fuss showed us to our little room at the top of the pretty little hotel complex. It was absolutely delightful with traditional decoration and furniture and a terrace with a glorious view over the beach and the surrounding countryside and two days here would simply not be enough.

Back at the harbour there was a great selection of tavernas set along the side of the water with the sea lapping gently in a soporific sort of way and an enormous amount of fish swimming around in the expectation of being thrown chunks of left over bread. We choose a table at the water’s edge and had a leisurely meal that probably included Greek salad and calamari but I was just so relaxed that I simply cannot remember. After lunch we picked a spot on the beach and lay in the sun and went for a swim and squandered the rest of the afternoon as it just casually slipped away towards sunset time.

At the room we met our neighbours, who were a nice couple from Sweden and we watched as the sun dipped and the afternoon turned into early evening and we basked in the glorious sunset that illuminated the entire bay and bathed the town in a glorious golden glow. As I sat on the balcony in a mood of total relaxation and contentment I thought this is a place so good that I certainly won’t be telling anybody else about it. Whoops!

We ate in the harbour of course, at a taverna with green tablecloths and a rustic menu and we spent a whole evening eating drinking and feeding the fish. Yes, feeding the fish! We had obviously been away too long because we became fascinated by lobbing chunks of bread into the water and seeing how excited they became, to such an extent that we visited all of the other tables and scrounged left-over bread from them all much to the amusement of everyone and especially some Australians who thought we might be beggars!

The next morning was an absolute scorcher and for the first time all holiday the ‘Meltemia’ wasn’t blowing and even in the early morning it was hot on the room terrace where we had tea and breakfast and planned the day. Even though we said we wouldn’t do it again we gave in to temptation and I walked into town and hired another quad bike. This time however I went for the 150cc version and I have to say that all that extra power made an awful lot of difference.

We left the harbour and it was noticeable immediately that this was an altogether better machine, it handled better, it went faster, it felt a great deal safer and I felt a lot more confident. This was helped by the fact that the roads on Sifnos were far superior to those on Milos and I began to suspect that here they had spent their EU money much more wisely. It reminded me of what Jeremy Clarkson once said about driving abroad and using the roads that we have paid for. The route away from the harbour was unexpectedly green and attractive with olive and fig trees on each side and little fields, allotments really, full of peppers and tomatoes ripening in the sun.

We drove the short distance to the capital of the island, called Apollonia (like Michael’s wife in the Godfather), which is a collection of four small villages that meet at a cross roads and the sprawl out to all points of the compass. I have to say that Apollonia sounds nicer than it really is and we didn’t stop there but continued instead on the road to the east and the historic capital of Kastro.

When we arrived there it was really hot and there was some amusement when a man recruited us to help him catch a runaway dog that was giving him the run-around. Well, you know me and dogs and I have to say that I wasn’t especially enthusiastic about being drafted in like this and I was really rather pleased when the scruffy little thing darted off down a side street and the man chased it and we were able to move off in an alternative direction. It was an amusing five minutes or so though I have to confess.

The town was quiet in a cathedral sort of way so it felt rude to talk in anything but a whisper but it was quite perfect. Kastro is a traditional whitewashed Cycladic cubic village where most of the local council’s money must go on white paint and where people live in houses on the edge of the world in a cosy huddle of homes, shops, churches and pretty shaded squares with hospitable tavernas and everywhere pots full of blazing geraniums outside intense whitewashed houses with brightly coloured balconies and staircases. There were cats on every corner just minding their own business and waiting for the tavernas to open and meandering alleys and crooked streets that all led eventually to the castle at the top of the town. The narrow streets were shady and we were glad of that because this was becoming one of the hottest days of the holiday and we were glad of the cool spots and the shadows of the houses.

We were reluctant to leave Kastro but there were more things to see so we returned to the bike and set off the village of Faros just a few kilometres away around the bay. This was a small fishing village with a selection of bars and tavernas right down on the beach and we selected a retro sort of place playing music from the sixties and we had a good lunch of macaroni pie and salad and washed it down with a bottle of cool mythos. This was a nice lazy village at the very end of the road and before we left we explored the little streets and the harbour and then we moved on to the little village of Chryssopgi.

For some reason we made it more difficult than it should have been and we sailed past the turning and went for a few kilometres before I had to admit that we were lost and turned around. We found it at the second attempt and after we had visited the church on the headland (and this time we were allowed to go inside even with shorts on) it was now so hot that we had to go to the adjacent beach for a swim in the crystal clear waters where fish swam around our legs and kissed our ankles and we were finally able to cool down. After that we had a drink in a beachfront taverna under the shade of armirikia trees and this being the final day of our holiday spent some time reflecting on our three weeks away in the paradise of Greece.

After a final mythos it was back to the hotel at Kamara and the bike was driving really smoothly now. There was a warning notice near the ignition that said that it shouldn’t be operated after drinking alcohol but to be honest I have to say that it seemed to handle a whole lot better after a couple of beers. After a rest on the terrace we chased around the bay to find the best spot for the sunset but at the critical moment a cloud rolled by and it was disappointing that on our final night the sunset was cancelled. This didn’t spoil our evening of course and later we went back to the harbour and choose a different taverna for a final evening meal looking out over the Aegean and feeding the hungry fish. At the next table were an elderly couple in their eighties who were island hopping just like us and I couldn’t help thinking that I hope I will be able to do this sort of thing for another thirty years at least.

On the final morning we had a leisurely start to the day and after final packing and some last minute souvenir shopping in the pottery shops that Sifnos is famous for we had a last lunch in the harbour and the waited for our final ferry that arrived bang on time at about one o’clock and we boarded for our final ferry journey back to Piraeus via the island of Serifos. I would have preferred a regular ferry but there were none so we had to catch a highspeed boat that got us back to the mainland in just under three hours.

Piraeus was overcast, hot and humid and looked even worse in daylight than it did in the dark when we left for the islands three weeks ago so we didn’t hang around and immediately took the metro through Athens, without stopping, and on to the airport where thankfully this year the flight was on time and we returned without incident to Luton airport.

I had completely forgotten about the burst tyre and the temporary wheel and the drive home was a bit tedious at only fifty miles per hour, but it didn’t matter, I was chilled and relaxed after a wonderful holiday and already I am looking forward to going back again next year.

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