Monday, 19 October 2009

Greece 2009 - Day 7 Sifnos, Kastro

On the way to the village to buy breakfast I stopped at a car hire shop and negotiated the hire of 150cc orange quad bike. We had used one last year with mixed success so were determined to give it a second try. After all how difficult can it be? I have seen whole families driving around on one bike sometimes carrying plants and furniture and a whole weeks shopping as well.

We carefully planned our route, first to the beach village at Vathi and then a visit to the monastery at Panagia Chryssopigi, a swim off the rocks and then on to Kastro for a meal. We left promptly after breakfast and the route away from the harbour was unexpectedly green and attractive with olive and fig trees on either side and little fields, allotments really, full of peppers and tomatoes ripening in the sun.

I drove quite slowly at first, I imagined myself as peter Fonda in Easyrider but I was a long way from achieving that. I had to be careful especially after a momentary lapse of concentration and a slide onto the wrong side of the road. I have always advised my children not to use these things and I was feeling a complete hypocrite. Kim had suggested a scooter but that was too much for me, I have seen too many people wandering around with open flesh wounds and scabs on their legs from falling off to convince me. I would only do it if I had a full set of TT grand prix leathers and even then I doubt I would get above twenty kilometres an hour!

It took about forty minutes to reach Vathi where there was picturesque beach and harbour with expensive yachts moored up or anchored out in the bay. It was a get away from it sort of place where pretentious rahs and hooray henry’s were busy bragging away to each other about their lives. We didn’t stay long and after we had walked the beach and had a mid morning drink we set off again for Chryssopigi just a few kilometres away.

The little church over a bridge was very busy this lunchtime and more and more people were turning up for what was clearly going to be a wedding. Like everything else in Greece it was a friendly laid back affair with guests dressed casually and enjoying each other’s company as they waited for the bride. It was a complete contrast to the stressful, tight arsed, stuffed shirt weddings we have back home and I thought this was so much better. Kim didn’t agree with me and while she waited for the bride I got fidgety and wandered off. At the entrance to the monastery there was a fabulous argument in full flow. Two women were shouting at each other and gesticulating wildly and using the diplomatic services of a priest as an umpire. He wasn’t doing terribly well and I was sure that they would eventually come to blows. They didn’t but it lasted a full ten minutes and although I had no way of knowing what it was about I enjoyed every minute of it.

After the arrival of the bride we went to the rocks for a swim and we glad to get into the sea because it was by now a very hot day. Everyone was telling us that the weather would change again tomorrow and the winds would be back but that didn’t seem very likely right now as we swam for several minutes and then dried off on the rocks in perfect conditions for sunbathing. When we were dry we left and continued to our final destination of Kastro, which is the old capital on the opposite side of the island to Kamares.

When we arrived 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. 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 hungry so we stopped a taverna with an elevated view over the redundant terraced fields and the little port below and we had a lovely meal of lamb cooked in lemon sauce and after we had finished we left and explored the village on foot.

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 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

It was late afternoon now so 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.

The rest of the day was squandered away sitting on the terrace, admiring the view and disbelieving all the weather warnings, even from the Greek lady next door who was clearly in a better position to know than we were. I enjoyed watching the ferries coming in and going out and it suddenly occurred to me that I was beginning to recognise them and there was a familiarity about them that accompanied my increased desire to visit more and more Greek islands. There are approximately one thousand four hundred islands and islets and I have visited only twenty-four so it is unlikely that I will ever run out of new places to visit.

Later the elderly couple next door said they had seen a quad bike outside so there must be a young couple in the hotel, we told them it was ours, they were impressed and we were flattered.

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