Sun, Basalt and Moussaka, cruising the Greek Isles…

11 07 2011

Well after leaving Italy we travelled by plane from Rome straight to Santorini. We travelled overnight in order to save time and hit the ground running but hit the ground running we did not, more like a crawl with a limp carrying our  20kg backpacks to our hotel arriving around 6am (we think we are less intrepid than some people we know- Andy & Roy ;-)). The reception was open but there was no one there so we slept on their lounge for a couple of hours until breakfast was served at 8am- that killed around…45 minutes. We couldn’t check in til 1 so we went and had a look around then chilled out by the pool. This place was beautiful! We stayed at the actual main town called Thira and our hotel was set into the wall, our room was actually a dome with vaulted ceilings with our bathroom built into the rock wall, it was really lovely. From our verandah we looked across to a couple of other smaller islands that used to be part of the island but broke away a while ago, one of the islands is the volcano that actually caused the formation of the island, it’s still active and last erupted in 1956. We could also see the old harbour from where there was a constant stream of cruise ships docking, and as mentioned a steady stream of donkeys coming up the hill. Our first day was spent sleeping and recovering and then finding a nice little place to eat tea.  A bit of trivia – according to the guy in reception the buildings were painted blue and white back in the day to trick any marauders into thinking that they were just water and white wash- very interesting!

The next day we hired two four wheel motorbikes (it was the only way I was guaranteed to get a go at driving: Deanna) and rode around the whole island. The island was really beautiful and it was lovely to get out of the built up areas to have a look at the beaches, the agriculture and the little towns. We checked out Red Beach and Black Beach both of which are made up of different types of volcanic rock. There is also White Beach but you cant get there with a vehicle, you need to walk so we decided against it. Besides, we have the best white beaches at home! While we were touring around we came across a spot where a cruise ship crashed around 2005/04 just off the coast of Santorini, apparently not all the passengers survived. The area was sectioned off with a rope and you could actually see a bit of an oil slick on the water. Further towards the end of the island, Akrotiri, we came across the cutest road side stall staffed by some women folk of the town and they were actually drying tomatoes on the road side on a big wire rack right then and there, it was so cool to see it. We decided to pull over and check it out and they had a huge range of local produce including olives, preserved capers (which grow wild on the island) and their leaves, saffron, pistachios, liqueurs and local wine. We got to try everything which was great and Chris assures me that the sun dried tomatoes were the best he has ever tasted! We then rode to the other end of the island and had a look there too. Chris bought his snorkel and managed to check out each spot – apparently he saw lots of cool fish including baby barracuda and a couple of Moray Eels. We spent around 10 hours riding around and came home feeling very tired but really satisfied. We were due to leave around 4pm the next day but when we got back to our hotel around 9pm we found out that the strike affecting public transport had been extended and our ferry was cancelled. The only other available ferry was 8am the next morning which we kindly declined- we hadn´t had a chance to ride the donkeys yet and surprisingly after 2 months of holidays we´ve become allergic to early mornings. We then managed to arrange another night at Santorini and sorted our accommodation at our next destination- Naxos- and settled in for another night!

The next day we go to do the donkey ride! We had wanted to do it since we arrived so we caught the cable car down to the old harbour and then got the donkeys back. The journey was hilarious! Chris started out with the camera and planned to capture heaps of great shots of me on my donkey by turning around but after about 2 minutes he handed it to me and I had to photograph him instead because it was more difficult than first thought- needless to say there is not one picture of me on a donkey which is probably a good thing as I spent the whole trip terrfied! Some of the donkeys seemed prone to biting as they wore muzzles – mine made a couple of quick swipes in the direction of the fleshy part of my leg and I’m sure they would have translated into broken skin and blood if he had the chance. Another thing about a donkey ride up the hill of Santorini- the donkeys don’t have reins so you are pretty much at their mercy. Sometimes they try to crush your legs against the thick walls of the trail so you have to look out for that, sometimes they rush up behind another donkey and the rider finds their knee up a donkeys butt -not that it happened to me, I mean us, it happened to a friend of a friend of ours 😉 regardless I, I mean they, went for a swim as soon as the trip finished! On another occasion a tourist walking down the hill decided to “help” me with my donkey who wasnt going anywhere by slapping him on the rump-it was touch and go for a while and I saw my life flash before my eyes but thankfully the donkey treated the bloke with the contempt he deserved and didn’t respond! Chris watching this happen from a distance told me later that he was prepared to deliver a stirrup to the blokes head if it had of ended badly- not sure if this would have been much comfort to me if I had have been bucked off a wild donkey 😉 but a kind thought. We got heaps of hilarious footage and the ride was most certainly an adventure. We both agreed that we wouldn’t have wanted to take the donkeys down the hill, it is VERY steep and would be VERY scary! 

While we were there we also managed to sample some local specialties including Retsina- its a drink of white wine infused with pine sap- interesting bouquet, it’s not bad but we probably wont be rushing out to buy it in bulk. Another thing we tried was Mastis a drink made from Mastic plant, a locally occurring plant that apparently has a whole range of therapeutic/medicinal properties. We bought it in the form of a cool drink and it was really nice. Apparently the plots of the plant are handed down from generation to generation and are centuries old, it is a really valuable commodity because of its healing properties and recently it has been developed into chewing gum. Anyway, we had an absolutely brilliant time on Santorini and we were a bit reluctant to leave and head to Naxos as we were told that it was less touristy and a bit more quiet and according to the Santorini locals “the people are a bit funny over there, they think differently” – a bit of old fashioned island rivalry we reckon!

We had a hair raising trip down to the Santorini “new port” which took us through dense clouds on the way down and when we arrived at the port we hit something solidly with the bus when the driver was reversing, we never did work out what it was but it sounded nasty! The New Port was chaotic to say the least, there were around 3000 people all trying to catch different ferries with little or no instructions/directions- luckily we got our ship and headed to Naxos!

We arrived at our accommodation the Iria Beach Art Hotel with the help of a very friendly bus driver – he actually dropped us as close as he could get us and was apologetic that he couldn’t take us to the door- for the grand total of 1 euro 60 cents for a 20 minute trip. The hotel was brilliant and we would totally recommend it, the lady who we had been liaising with during the ferry saga greeted us and was really lovely. Our hotel was literally 20-30 metres from the water’s edge, just lovely.  It was probably one of the nicest rooms we have had on the whole trip- check out the link in the links section. And although the place was less touristy we still had a heap of gorgeous bars, restaurants and beaches just in our little block. We picked up some awesome decorating ideas for home and now want to paint our house blue and white!!! 🙂 We ended up wishing we were there for longer despite our initial reluctance. On one day we both went wakeboarding at Plaka Beach, a short walk from our hotel, and it was awesome! The beach was reasonably flat and the boat they had was pretty nice – a slight improvement on the Fuzzmelli- with speakers and music cranking! Unfortunately Chris nearly broke his arm when it got  caught in the handle while attempting (and perfecting) a stylish stack! It was really great to use some energy and it tired us out for the rest of the day!

In Naxos we also got to sample some local specialties, including a traditional fish dish that Chris had. Chris describes it…”probably the best fish dish I have ever had, they take a fish, in this case Bonito, and butterfly it then sun dry it and basically they then rehydrate it with oil, lemon juice and herbs and grill it on an open fire.”

So, in summary, we LOVED Naxos and would love to go back. We would thoroughly recommend it! On a whole so far we would have to say that Greece has been our highlight in terms of accommodation, scenery, food and most importantly the niceness of the people. No one tried to rip us off, everyone was kind and pretty much everyone spoke English- not that we expect that but it is handy!

We left Naxos by ferry for Piraeous Port near Athens and flew out the next day to Madrid but that’s another story……….

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