Sunday, 7 August 2011

Greek Islands

Wow, where do we start with the Greek Islands. We squeezed in three islands in the space of a week or so, which was too rushed, but barely scratched the surface. Mykonos I will treasure for its beautiful brilliant white buildings, with flat roofs, rounded parapets, doors and windows in rich colours, rooftop living spaces, and often covered with Bougainvillea.

We stayed at a really friendly family-run studio at Ornos Beach, about 10 minutes drive from the main township, and two minutes walk from the beach. They managed to accommodate us, even though the booking agency had stuffed our booking.
  It did seem that the beach was not so much for swimming as for sunbaking or lying under an umbrella. Apparently the next beach around the coast was topless, the following one a nudist beach, and the one after that a gay nude beach. Such was the rumour anyway.

Trying to find 30+ sunscreen was a joke. It was mainly 6, with occasional forays to 12, and maybe an isolated tube of 20. I was getting desparate, while Anna was in heaven, finding all those you-beaut suntan products which have been banned in Australia for 30 years. Nice having all that ozone above our heads, though we did see plenty of beetroots still blithely walking around shirtless.

The town was something else. A maze of alleyways, around 2m wide, packed densely with 2 and 3 storey houses, many with shops below. The alleyways were constricted even further by the regular staircases. Occasional scooters and the odd pelican wandered the alleys with the locals and tourists. The seafront abounds with restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Apparently the place really gets going in full party swing after we are safely tucked up in bed. The only evidence is the dearth of people at breakfast before 10 or 11am, and the deitrus being cleaned from the streets in the early afternoon.

The swimming pool was beautiful, deep and well maintained, and a sociable place to meet other travellers. We enjoyed a couple of relaxing breakfasts, and many cool-off dips at the pool.

Naxos was our third faulty booking in a row, with only one bedroom available rather than the two we had booked. They did kindly find us another apartment, recently renovated, and closer to the beach, under their upstairs apartment, which we greatly appreciated. We did find a very nice piece of beach which had not been invaded by beach umbrellas, and a bay in which many people were swimming. The water was only waist deep for the first hundred metres, but it was very pleasant.

Naxos has a great many historical sites, having being the main centre of trade and culture in the islands for many centuries. With only one day, we did not tackle these, looking only at the Sanctuary of Delian Apollo near the harbour. Another one for next time!!

We then took the ferry to Santorini, widely reported as one of the best islands. It certainly has character, being part of the rim of an active volcano. The prime real estate seems to be the actual rim of the caldera, which has many towns perched on the edge, and down the inside cliff. So many white houses you would swear that there was snow on the peaks. Given that the two ports are inside the flooded caldera, it does seem that the residents will have some difficulty getting out when she blows again. It is not just the lava spewing into the sea from the centre some 4km away, there is also lava being layed down underwater, raising the seabed, and earthquakes. The one in 1956 destroyed much of the housing, and so the island received a massive boost from the rebuilding, and modernisation of infrastructure.

Some of the lava dates from a 1950 eruption, while the previous major eruption was in the nineteenth century. The original eruption in 1650BC is regarded as one of the biggest eruptions of any volcano, destroying the advanced Minoan civilisation based there, landing rocks on Italy, and causing world-wide cooling and disruption of food production. We took a stroll on the top of the volcano centre, with its 6 or 7 craters, and areas of recolonisation.

Then there was the dip in the sulphur spring emerging into a bay of a neighbouring lava island, then across to another island forming part of the rim. Foolishly climbed the 300 metres to the top to see the view. It was reported to be the second hottest day of the summer, only 42 degrees, but I did not believe it. Just your average Aussie summer day really. Anyway the climb just happened. We were just going to the next bend in the switchback path, and kept going. Eventually I really wanted to see what was on the other side of this clifftop town. But what a great view it was, and little cafe with balcony at the top to enjoy it from.

The rest of Santorini is not so volcano-centric. We stayed on the other side of the island at Parissa where it is pretty flat, leading to a nice sandy black beach. Footwear is recommended on hot days. A great feel, with really nice restauants and bars on the esplanade which have adopted the Cyprus trees into their layout. Some sticking through the roof, while others featured in garden settings. Excellent hosts, with great facilities, a pool and bar a few doors from the beach. Anna had a wee bit of trouble sleeping, what with the beach bar music and the patrons raging on into the night.

Did not mind so much the next night when we went to the beach for a late night cocktail and listened to a great reggae band. Nice holiday!! 5.20am start the next morning, back down the switchback road to the port to get to the ferry back to Athens. Santorini was definitely worth the trip.

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