12.09.2010 0 °C
The ferry to Mykonos was leaving from Piraeus port at 6am so we needed to be up early to catch the train to Piraeus. As we were just a block from Ominiou train station this did not seem a problem. The hotel staff warned us that the train wouldn't be running due to track maintenance and instead we'd need to take the bus. and kindly sketched out the way to the bus stop on our map. At 5am however the temporary bus stop was a little harder to find and we spent an anxious 15 minutes searching for the stop and asking perplexed passersby for directions. In the end we joined a queue of similarly anxious tourists, which fortunately turned out to be the right stop. The bus drove us through Athens' empty streets before dropping us at a train station to continue the rest our journey.
We reached the docks with minutes to spare and walked briskly to the boat. A Greek man accosted us just as we caught sight of our ferry and insistently tried to point us to another dock. He kept demanding to see our tickets even though he clearly wasn't an official. I was certain it was some sort of scam but in the end it was the only way we could shake him. He glanced at the ticket, realised his mistake and then urged us to hurry on to ferry.
The ferry was half empty and trip to Mykonos was uneventful, except for two ladies sitting in front us who were playing some Greek music on their mobile phone and singing along, loudly, for a long time....a long time....
On arrival we were taken to the hotel and settled in. It was a really nice hotel situated up on the hillside overlooking Mykonos town. We chilled at the hotel a while then headed down the long winding track to the town. Mykonos town is a dazzling white maze of whitewashed walls brightened here and there will radiant plumes of bouganvilia. It's said that the maze like design of the town was part of a defensive strategy to confuse and ambush raiding pirates. It sounds plausible but medieval towns always tended to grow in a chaotic, organic way.
We wandered down by the harbour to look at the windmills which are the symbol of the island, then ate at cafe down by Little Venice, the scenic waterfront of Ottoman era houses.
Back within the maze like town we couldn't help but notice the number of chapels and little churches. There were dozens and dozens of them. Even in a devount country like Greece this seemed a little like overkill. It is worth noting that in the middle ages your family could avoid death duties and taxes if you left your estate in the care of the church. This led many families to establish their own private chapels, leaving the administration of the estate in the hands of family priests or monks. It became so commonplace that in the 11th century the Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus imposed a ban on the establishment of private chapels and monasteries as it was seriously undermining tax revenues. The official churches all flew the yellow double headed eagle flag of the Palaeologians, the last imperial dynasty of Byzantium.
On our second day we hired an ATV and drove around the island.
We stopped for a while at the famous Paradise Beach and had a swim. During summer Paradise Beach goes off and is a non-stop 24 hour party of throbbing suntanned flesh. How exciting! But we'd arrived at the end of the season and the beach was almost empty. At least we didn't have to fight to get a spot! So we bought ourselves a couple of beers, laid back and chilled.
A little way up the beach there was a totally fit, tanned and gorgeous Brazillian couple. It was hard not to notice them, especially as they decided to strutt along the beach and stop directly in front of us, where they proceeded to pose and take photos of each other, then they walked all the way back down the beach to where they came from, picked up their stuff and left. Well, they do say Greece has some magnificent sights.
We enjoyed another nice meal that night before kicking on to the only open nightclub in town - not the Ram Rod gay bar! Shelly generously saved a couple of young lasses from the attentions of a lecherous old Greek man, but it was otherwise fairly quiet.
We had debated heading next to Ios, the party island, but we'd already met some people who'd come from there and the island was shutting down for the season as almost deserted, so we took the ferry to Santorini. Santorini is certainly the most spectacular and beautiful of the Greek Islands. Some people have postulated that Santorini may be have been the origin of the Atlantis story. Three thousand years ago the island was shattered by an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the civilisation on Santorini and sent a tsunami around the Mediterranean coast. As a result of the explosion, today's Santorini is shaped like a C. The major town of the island, Fira, tumbles along the rim of the dramatic cliffs overlooking the caldera. There are few places in the world quite so stunning. Watching the sunset from the cliffside bars over the caldera is pretty special.
We spent two days taking it easy in Santorini. Unfortunately a storm whipped up on the second day, shrouding Fira in a violent dust storm that forced us to spend most of our time indoors. The storm also disrupted the ferry services. We were booked on a midnight ferry to Rhodes but we were warned that the ship might be cancelled due to the weather.
The storm eased late in the evening and at 11.15pm we picked up our bags and wandered down to the bus station, which was really little more than an empty carpark in the centre of town. 11.30 came and went and the bus hadn't arrived. Some twenty minutes later the bus driver appeared, started the engine and we climbed aboard. The drive along the unlit switchback road down the cliffside to the port was very tense, but we made it down safely. The sea was rough with waves crashing over the dockside. There was no sign of the ferry. We settled into the cafe, ordered a coffee and waited.
Just after 1am a light appeared on the horizon and slowly approached the port. The weather was really throwing the ferry around but the crew still managed to swing the ship around and back up against the wharf. No sooner had the hawsers secured the stern than the trucks lined up on the dockside drove aboard, loaded up, and drove out. It was like a military operation. Then we boarded and checked into our berth. It was a really nice room and we settled in for the night.