A Travellerspoint blog

Boat Days

Santorini to Venice

sunny 27 °C

Leaving our campsite on the shuttle late Sunday night we met Tim, a very well travelled Aussie and Angela from NZ. It was great to compare stories and photos of the Greek Islands as we leave this wonderful part of the world.

The first overnight ferry ride was spent in reclining lounge chairs between Santorini and Athens. Although not entirely the most comfortable it was good to get a bit of rest before hitting Pireaus and Athens. Saying our farewells to Tim and Angela we headed into our well known region of Plaka to set up for a day of internet, postage packaging, MacDonalds lunch and getting lost trying to find the bus station. In the end the subway was necessary to make our was to the train stop for Patrai on the opposite side of Greece.

Steve fell fast asleep on the station leaving Camilla with the noddies and the daunting task of staying awake. Finally we got into some comfortable seats and sat back listening to the lost French tour group making their way to Corinth. Unfortunately, even with the greatest of patience Steve set up the camera to take a shot of the Corinth channel linking the sounthern and northern seas of Greece through the narrow stretch of land. In an instant this milestone pasts unphotographed and we got off only minutes later for the final 3 hour train ride to the port.

Diligently Steve past the time reading aloud to a very grateful Camilla on a train that could have been mistaken for jumping the tracks and driving full pelt down the worst bumpy dirt road. Surprisingly neither of us were sick and we remained on the tracks pulling into Patrai. It is funny revisiting locations like Athens or Patrai as we know the orientation of the towns and feel immediately more comfortable.

So comfortable infact that we could not think of anything better to do than hang out at the closest Cafe Restaurant for over 3.5 hours reading (Dan Brown is very additictive), eating American sized burgers and to polish it off the bar tender took pity on us at 11pm and gave us each a free coffee liquer (just the right price!).

Shipping two weary travellers from Patrai to Venice was as easy as climbing aboard the enormous sea ferry at midnight and being directed to the top deck. When we re-read the ticket it clearly indicated deck passage, which for the previous boats has meant a comfortable reclined chair however on Anek Lines it literally means deck passage. Setting up camp (no tent required) Camilla found a niche underneath a fixed table and an unused fridge. Fortifying our territory with plastic chairs it was almost 1 am before the mattresses were inflated and we were settled. If it weren't for deck showers we may have been charged with violating some sort of international ocean passage regulation.

To our amusement, early the following morning an young American girl (without tour group - please read between the lines) was entirely disillussioned when we happily informed her that we would not be arriving in 1 hour but that Venice was a mere 25 hours away. Totally shocked she exclaimed 'I have a booking in Venice today' as if someone here could help...

The day on deck passed as follows, eat, snooze, read, stretch, eat, tea, tea, tea, finished book, analysed book, eat, tea, cards, tea, sleep. It was fun watching the pool on the back deck materialise out of nothing, get filled with seawater, used by those who are warmblooded and then emptied before any lowly deck passengers could drown in it.

Arriving in Venice by boat is one of the greatest introductions to a city we have experienced so far. While we remain vigilant not to judge a city by its bus or train station and surrrounding suburbs this rule does not apply when we were watching the Lido materialise out of the morning mist to starboard and the grand canal open up on port in the breaking daylight.

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Look out Venice, here we come.

Posted by snchall 05:40 Archived in Greece Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Santorini

Crispy on the outside, hot and gooey inside

sunny 25 °C
View Europe 2007 on snchall's travel map.

Leaving Naxos and our beloved buggy behind we were off to Santorini, the Greek Island playgound of the rich, famous and those unafraid of staying on an active volcano. We fall into the later group of travellers. Entering Santorini via ferry from Naxos takes you through the western portal of the crater beneath the famous town of Oia and along the sheer craggy walls past Fira to the new port.

If we thought that Naxos disembarkation of visitors from the immense ferries was crazy this was well beyond. Caught in the stampede of rolly bags, tour groups and the occassional semi-trailer we found our safehaven under the armpit of the Santorini Camping spruker. Only a 2 minute walk from the centre of Fira we set up camp under a boganvillia.

Without further adue we went straight for the clifface. Fira is perched on the edge of the volcanic crater overlooking the still active black heart of Santorini. Nearly 350 metres directly above sealevel it is easy to understand why the view is so spectacular. Retreating a few streets back we stocked up on gyros, cold drinks and chips and returned to sit on the wall and admire the sunset.

Day 1 - 8 June
Camilla made the decision without hesitation and selected a resplendant pirate ship to venture out to the bubbling gurggling steaming centre of the island. Walking through town in the morning before the sun was high enough to start penetrating the alleyways we followed the signs to 'Donkey Station'. Dodging nearly 100 rose scented asses (make of that comment what you will) we descended the 450 stairs to the old port just in time to see our ship dock. Joining the flock of other wanabe pirate volcano exploring adventurers the bow pointed through the 30 knot wind and made the short crossing to the volcano.

Our less than satisfactory tour leader was shortly desserted as we scrambled over the lava rock, crunching like coco pops / rice bubbles beneath our feet. Mounting the first crater ridge we stood in silent awe of this young landmass as we visualised the monstrous power of the beast.

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With Fira and Oia sitting high above us like snow capped mountains we realised that the small volcanic mound in the centre of Santorini is merely the top of a pimple penetrating deep into the skin of the earth. It is like walking on the moon between the black lava flows whilst having the opportunity to look back in time at the powers which have helped to create some of our great landscapes. WE ARE FROM THIS DAY FOURTH VOLCANOPHILES.

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The second stop on the tour was to the hot spings. In retrospect had this been avoided we would not have missed much. Diving off the boat into the cool clear agean sea we swam with the other 40 tourists into a luke warm (not very though) cove of mud and turbid water. The perfect desciption of the experience came from our native tongue in thick outback Queensland twang 'Its like walking barefoot through the chicken coup'. Spot on love, need we say more.

Arriving back at the old port looking up at the 500+ stairs to Fira and the embassy beyond it was a no-brainer to guess that the 8 euros was easily parted with for two strong healthy donkeys. Amplifying the Greek / Australian language divide Steve was giving a small stick with Camilla and beast in tow, the end. Giggling the entire way up whilst trying to take out American tourists (we tease, it was by no means discretionary, everyone was in danger) descending.

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Nearing the halfway mark we felt like old hats at donkey whispering. With no assistance whatsoever at the top we parked our asses among the 100+ beasts awaiting their next customer. Although the cable car may ACTUALLY smell like roses there is no real alternative in our minds as to the best way to transport our tired selves uphill.

Reinvigorated from a short swim, de-donkey-smell and removal of remaining hot spring mud we hopped on the Oia bus for the famous sunset. Armed with a near empty photo card and a few more gyros it is absolutely understandable that so many visitors flock to the westernmost town to enjoy the fading light.

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Sunset of Santorini, tick - Ouzo in a taverna, tick - Greek coffee, still outstanding... Settling in to a table setting overlooking the crater at sunset we ordered the thick, hot, gritty black beverage. Had they simply melted volcano stones we would not have been the wiser. In a few words it was strong, strong, strong to be washed down only by our very large slice of lemon pie. Heading back to camp we bumped into the German girls from Mykonos and exchanged travel stories for the ride, small world really.

Day 2 - 9 June
Keen to see more of this amazing island we opted for the perversely slow Quad bike option to venture further afield. Top of the list was a visit to Parissa, a black volcanic rock beach on the other side of the island. Spotting our umbrella before the engine stopped with made ourselves comfortable for a 3 hour relaxation, reading, lunch and cafe frappe session with a perfect view. It is possible to over relax as Camilla proved when she underestimated the height of our rusty steel umbrella. Now carrying a mini Harry Potter like scar on her forehead Steve has promised to edit it out of the photos in the coming days.

On our short tour of the island we made a final stop at the eastern clifface to get a good long look at the wall of volcanic rock stretching off into the distance. Santorini has provided us with lasting images of the overwhelming power of nature and our beautiful planet earth.

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Posted by snchall 03:01 Archived in Greece Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

Naxos

Its Big, Real Big!

sunny 28 °C
View Europe 2007 on snchall's travel map.

Playing dodge with trucks and buses exiting the inter-island ferrys is a skill we have not mastered yet, thankfully Paros is not the busiest port on our agenda so at the moment we feel like the practice is good for us. Leaving Paros with only a short 2 hour slow ferry ride around the coastline to Naxos was a great opportunity to view the coves and cliffs which are inaccessible by road without paying exorbitant tour costs.

Naxos - 4 to 7 June

Battling the crowds in Naxos was a different affair to its smaller neighbour Paros. It is difficult to understand why anyone would choose to visit the Greek Islands during the height of summer if they had a choice as it is easily foreseeable that the crowds would be crippling to these tiny communities.

Naxos harbour is overseen by the famous palace arch erected over 2000 years ago. It is interesting to think what the ancient inhabitants of this island would think if they could see the chaos and commercialism of today. Naxos luckily seems to effectively be able to combine the huge numbers of tourists with the essence of traditional living and ancient culture.

We always feel priviledged to visit these special places yet at times a little guitly of being included in the hoards of camera toting, hiking boot wearing, heavy luggage wielding ferry loads of visitors. Watching the stream of people leave the enormous boats makes us wonder when the original population, economy and communities were lost to mass tourism or if they still survive in some form deep below the glossy brochures.

An interesting long-term travel phenomenon we have become victim of is the incessant chanting of really crappy songs which relate to our surrounds. At a time when the blissful quiet of lying under a beach umbrella should have been all encompassing Steve burst into a single line repetition of 'Do you like Pina Coladas'. On our walk through Naxos town it was inevitable that we would purchase our first ever Pina Colada during happy hour (from 5pm to 2am)! Never again!

To call our tastebuds back into action following their discomfort we ordered what will be remembered as one of our best meals in Europe (so far). Nestled deep in the old town walls of Naxos the family taverna opened in 1908 and has been serving great food ever since. Camilla indulged us both by selecting a brick sized piece of salmon on mustard and garlic mashed potato while Steve was delivered a veal so tender it was difficult to pick it up on the fork. DELICIOUS.

The following days were spent in idyllic holiday mode with no more than a few moments of exertion to visit the second hand bookstore, shop for local produce, buy a deck of cards, and commandeer a table by the water for hours on end in the swanky club.

Not only does The Planet remark that Naxos is blessed with a striking interior, it is unavoidable to notice the 1000m high volcanic cones, deep gorges and terraced hills throughout the centre of the island. In order to adequately cover this expanse of beautiful scenery, and remembering our sore bums from the quad bike, we upgraded to one of the most exciting vehicles we have ever driven.

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The opportunity to thrash (at a max speed of 60km/h) in an off road racing buggy was fantastic. We visited a number of small fishing villages and covered an extensive amount of 'striking' coastline and interior thanks to Camilla's lead foot. There is however a penalty to be paid for being ultra keen to keep up the revs around every bend...

Our language skills in Greece have been a little lack lustre with only the basic hello (Yasas), thank you (sas efkarista) and now the word which we are most familiar with VISCINA. The direct translation is PETROL of which we found ourselves in a back paddock lane without. Thankfully the closest small village was only a short jog for Steve while Camilla sat under a nearby tree making friends with the local goats.

Without the magic word VISCINA the puttering and spluttering sounds Steve made to the cafe owner whilst pretending to steer and invisible steering wheel seem to have been well translated. The end result was the chef finding it in his heart to try and syphon the two nearby cars of any droplet with no avail. Defeated he suggested to try the other two cafes in the small harbour. Met with little enthusiasm it was time to retreat. Passing the original cafe owner with the international symbolic shrug of the shoulders he immediately came to the rescue.

It is not part of the normal trip planning and preparation to figure out how to assist a Greek chef dismantle his fuel filter, hang in the car engine whilst running and collect VISCINA in an empty bottle. Lonely Planet has a lot to answer for as the additional diagram of a 1981 Fiat engine should be included.

Armed with 1 ltr of VISCINA Steve felt confident the small 260cc buggy would make it up the 9km winding hill to the next town to refill. After taking the road already travelled up, up and more up into the hills we felt confident until the now familiar spluttering sound of a buggy preparing to be silent. On a road somewhere between A and B, carved out between the rocky hill and a farm below we shared a very polite barrage of English with the buggy before setting our minds to the task (for a second time).

Within moments Camilla had spotted a farmer with a ute down the hill which was presently being chased by Steve to express the new word VISCINA in a polite yet pleading tone. Seconds later we both found ourselves inside the ute tray with puzzled looks and a free ride to the closest town (a mere 5 km from the nearest VISCINA station). After a troubling interaction with the first shopkeep we came across, who incidently had approximately 10 litres of VISCINA sitting in a big plastic barrel and was not going to share we continued on the long road.

At the next door Camilla spotted a woodworking shop while Steve was calculating the moral dilemma of stealing their generator. VISCINA, said politely with an air of desperation and an accent which took the entire workshop employees to guess at the youngest strode off to his car and pulled out a 1.5ltr bottle he prepared earlier. Restraining Steve from kissing the poor bugger and after his refusal to be paid we had regained faith in humanity and aboutface in the direction of our abandoned vehicle. The satisfaction of pulling into the petrol station was almost as good as now being safe and sound to tell this tale.

Our final taste of Naxos was a prepackage cultural evening in the 7th century fortress / castle to enjoy local wines, dancing and traditional music. It is amazing what instrument a 100AD shepherd can make from a goat skin! Our evening concluded with a short stroll back through the old village still regailing in the sounds of the music and tapping out the dance steps of the ancient fishing folk. Naxos should definitely be on the agenda for anyone coming to the Cyclades with enough time to explore a vast and majestic volcanic island.

Posted by snchall 02:33 Archived in Greece Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Paros

Island hopping continues south

sunny 30 °C
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Our final night in Mykonos was spent at war with the campsite locals. We awoke at about 3am to find the light sound of buzzing in our tent was coming from approximately 15 perpertraitors. Obviously sneaking in behind Steve's toilet break we fought the mosquitos to the death. It was a rigorous bloodbath which has now left our tent stained like a warzone. We survived, not so much can be said of the enemy.

On the old campsite shuttle bus we chatted to our neighbouring tent occupants, a very friendly pair of German cousins. Comparing mozzy bites we seem to have come off rather well to their combined total of more than 100 to our measly 15 (one per culprit).

In the old port, armed with the new photographic equipment we were ready for new surrounds.

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Paros - 31 May

Tea has now become a challenge in polite requests on ferry rides, Camilla obviously having it down to a tea (pardon the punn) where the objective is to arrive on the boat with teabags in pocket and scoring free hot water and milk. Arriving revived in Paros we were determined to bypass the sprukers on the port flogging their studio apartments and make our way to the seaside campsite. Almost out of their clutches a resilient holder-on very politely offered a look at his room (with view, balcony and fridge) for only 6 euros more than camping. We are only human and the temptation was overwhelming.

Agreeing in an instant to make the most of a 20 euro per night accommodation overlooking Paros harbour we ended up remaining for 4 nights. We discovered over our days of relaxation, exploration and over consumption that it is very easy to slip into holiday mode in the Greek Islands.

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Downing paragraphs of Dan Brown's 'Digital Fortress', local wine, sauteed fresh octopus and the daily sunset we came to the conclusion that if we don't pick up the momentum we will not leave. The difficult decision was how?

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Let us introduce you to our new Greek Island choice of transportation. A 50cc (read: totally gutless) ATV quad bike fully equipped with an arse numbing seat, bone crunching suspension setup and airconditioning. It came as no surprise that within minutes of commencing our first uphill ascent Camilla needed to hop off and walk beside, coaching Steve and the vehicle all the way with comments such as 'Catch up' and 'Is that all you've got!' Needless to say the 150km long circumnavigation of the island was at a pace which allowed full enjoyment of the stunning scenery.

Paros is littered with tranquil bays, small villages and hills covered in lavendar and colourful flowers. In contrast to Mykonos, Paros is a quiet town with narrow whitewashed streets, the longest siesta in Europe and very friendly locals. A source of endless amusement was the sound of the ferry horn as they approach the harbour. With the vivid image still in mind of the sprukers lining the port Camilla would call at the top of her lungs (regardless of location) 'GET YOUR TOURISTS, COME GET YOUR TOURISTS, FRESH FROM THE FERRY'. Undoubtedly there is some truth in the affect the maritime signalling requirement has on local merchants as it can be heard from far and wide.

Leaving Paros was not desirable yet our appetite has been aroused to explore the neighbouring Naxos, reputedly the greenest and most striking of the central cyclade islands.

Posted by snchall 02:06 Archived in Greece Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Mykonos

Sunny Days & Whitewashed Windmills

sunny 30 °C

Another ferry ride was awaiting us, this time however it would be a walk in the park at only 5 hours long. Camilla would not allow us to cut it fine this time so it was a 5am wakeup call, early arrival at the metro, quickstep to the wharf and there we were without a boat.

Watching the chaos from high above on an overhead walkway we looked forward to the next 2 weeks of island hopping the Cyclades (our video camera was solely responsible from here on in and did not know what hit it).

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Arriving in the new port of Mykonos we were greeted by a sea of plaques and paper signs inviting tourists to follow hotel owners to their establishments. Spotting Mykonos Camping a mile off we made a bee line for the minibus to realise we were the only patrons. It was a luke warm greeting from the bus driver however we made it safe and sound over the island. Planting ourselves at the watersedge we set up camp with a splendid view of the bay.

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Our days in Mykonos were spent exploring the main town, catching the 100 year old local bus, cooking bolognase back at the tent and generally doing bugger all. It was evident from the set-up at the campsite that Mykonos is a party island by reputation however as out of peak season travellers we were pleased to find that the place was practically ours.

Shopping became the order of the day as Camilla found herself squinting uncontrollably from the whitewash buildings in the glaring sun. Her first purchase was a pair of D&G shades worthy of a moviestar only looking better on her. Spurred on by this flurry of expenditure (doesn't one item count as a shopping spree...) Steve begged to be led to the only Camera store on the island.

With his jaw hanging limply Steve's forehead was firmly molded to the window Camilla peeled him from the glass. There in-front of us was an Olympus 8080-WZ, the finest 8 megapixel prosumer camera ever made. At the time of purchasing the ever reliable Olympus 5060-WZ 4 years ago Steve debated in his mind over and over to stretch out the budget and go for the 8080. It was time to bargain.

Leaving the store aghast at the result, we are now the proud owners of the last ever 8080-WZ manufactured for a quarter of its current RRP. What a steal and to top it off we don't even need to learn the functions as they are identical in most ways to the previous camera. Look out world it is time to pose for the shot.

Our afternoon was spent retracing our steps photographing those sites we had missed previously, enjoying the old windmills of Mykonos, Little Venice and then we ate greek salad under the setting sun on the wall of the old port.

Posted by snchall 12:31 Archived in Greece Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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