Saturday, 29 October 2011

Greece 2011, Katapola and the Chora (Amorgos)

Katapola was tranquil, peaceful and perfect and at this precise time might possibly have been the most wonderful place on earth and we looked forward to our three days of perfection because apart from concrete, mobile phones and air conditioning this place probably hasn’t changed a great deal in a thousand years.

We were surprised to see the Express Skopelitis ferry in the harbour because it was supposed to be sailing today and later someone told us that it had a problem with its certificate of seaworthiness and had lost its licence to operate. To make matters worse another ferry had failed to turn up and there was a lot of activity at the ferry booking office where the clerk was patiently trying to rearrange people’s disrupted travel itineraries. I mention this because in five day’s time we were due to sail on the Express Skopelitis ourselves and I began to wonder if we might have a problem but then Kim reminded me that five days is a long time in Greece so for the time being we thought no more about it.

First we walked around the rather untidy beach and collected more debris and Kim was by now so enthusiastic about the project I had to insist that she show some restraint because the she was collecting far more than we could ever realistically take back home in our luggage if we were to take our clothes back with us as well. The stroll took us around to the northern side of the bay and after we had walked through the streets and alleys we stopped for refreshment in the shade and agreed that for the remainder of the afternoon we would take a bus back to the Chora on the way back to the top of the mountain.

The Chora cannot be seen from the sea or from the harbour and this is where, in the past, Amorgans lived, safe from the sea and from hostile attack. From the outside it doesn’t look especially promising but once inside the walls of the town it is a different matter altogether. The town turns in on itself in an introspective sort of way and inside there were narrow shady streets and lots of traditional caf├ęs and tavernas. It was a lazy place where time goes by slowly and no one is in a particular hurry about anything. If this was Naxos or Ios the Chora would have been teeming with shops and fast food places but this was a local town for local people and completely unspoilt by the retinue of tourist shops that can be found on more popular islands.

We explored the streets and in a very stiff breeze climbed to the very top to the redundant windmills that overlook the town and the Venetian castle that is built on top of a rocky outcrop that soars above it and its mass of dazzling white buildings.

Descending through the mazy streets and alleys there was time for a drink in the main square where old locals were beginning to gather for an end of day chat. I wondered where all the young people were and I think answered my own question – Athens probably.

There was a noticeable absence of English travellers but by contrast there were a lot of French people on Amorgos because this island was one of the locations for the Luc Besson film ‘Le Grande Bleu’ which the French rave about but which turns out to be one of those hard to understand surrealist French non-event movies that goes around in ever decreasing self indulgent circles until it finally disappears up its own aperture.

After we had taken the bus back and returned to the village we found a dusty mini-market because we wanted to buy some wine. It was surprisingly expensive and the information on the labels hard to interpret but at the back of the shop a French couple were passing judgement on a home-made red poured from a plastic bottle. They declared it to be acceptable so we agreed that if it was good enough for them then it would be perfect for us so we purchased a bottle and took it back to the room and sat on the balcony for a couple of hours and sorted through the driftwood in a sort of quality control process.

We waited now until nearly sunset time and then talk a walk along the southern shore of the harbour, past an inevitable white church and an unnamed statue where Kim captured more stunning sunset pictures and then we strolled back to the village stopping in again at the ferry booking office for information. The clerk had clearly had a stressful day and wasn’t inclined to be too helpful but we gathered that she didn’t like the Skopelitis very much on account of the fact that it is heavily subsidised by the Greek government and she seemed to resent that. We decided to leave and return tomorrow when hopefully a good night’s sleep might have improved her demeanour.

We had been looking forward to eating at a taverna called ‘The Corner’ (for no other reason it seems than it is indeed on a corner) but the danger with going back to somewhere that you have been before and enjoyed is that it may not live up to expectations and unfortunately this was one of those occasions.

It was a family run place and waiting on the tables were a couple of young children, clearly their parents were oblivious to presidential decree No. 62/1998, which sets the minimum age for admission to employment, including children in family businesses, at 15 years. After the meal we visited the bakery to buy some calorie packed baklava to end the day and there was a young boy working there as well who served us with expert precision and we took the sticky purchase back to the hotel where we ate it on the balcony and washed it down with a final glass of local red wine from the plastic bottle.

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