15 April 2011

I once had a bad experience with a Sea Cucumber [The Greek Islands]

You may have noticed my lack of posts over the last week or two. Want to know why? I have been chilling the f*** out! Want to go somewhere warm? Somewhere spectacularly beautiful? Somewhere where there is nothing much to do other than drink beer and lye on a beach? The Greek Islands are the answer.

My journey started in Paros, the hub of the Cyclades - the group of islands in the Aegean sea - and probably the most touristed. Alex and I arrived at around 9pm. We were worried that we would not be able to find accommodation for the evening - that the tourist information and booking agencies would be shut, and the hotels/hostels would be full. Nina and Peter (my hosts in Athens) told me not to worry - that in the off-season there are guys at the port waiting for the ferries to come in so they can sell you their accommodation. And they were right. There were at least three of them! We ended up at Jimmy's Apartments with a nice studio, including everything we could ever need. 100m from the beach and €25/night... for both of us! WIN!

Paros is a nice, laid back island. Restaurants and cafes line the waterfront. There wasn't a whole lot going on in terms of nightlife while we were there, and I don't think there ever is even during high-season. But it is a great place to just relax and take in the spectacular scenery. And that is exactly what we did, spending most of our time on the beach.

We made a quick stop in Naxos, which is about 1 hour from Paros. Accommodation was again no problem, the only hitch that we paid a little more than previously, but still so cheap! And the place was definitely worth it. If in Naxos, check out Pension Sophi. Naxos is larger than Paros, and there is more of a 'town' there. Again, restaurants and cafes line the beach. Naxos has one cool feature - the Portara (or Great Door), which a huge marble doorway. It was built in the 6th century and is the only remains of the Apollo Temple. Unfortunately the weather was not amazing, although not raining, it was windy. So instead of on the beach we spent most of our time drinking cheap cocktails at one of the waterfront bars.

While in Naxos we also endeavoured to check out the castle, which was more of a hill with houses in it. There was only one small castle-ish side, so that was a bit of on anti-climax. I think there are some interesting ruins somewhere in Naxos, but having just come from Athens we had both seen enough ruins for a while.

Our last day in Naxos was extremely windy. We waited at the port for our ferry to Ios which failed to show. It had been cancelled due to the high winds. Sucky, but we were both travelling spontaneously, with no bookings or strict plan, so we just chilled out in our preferred cheap cocktail bar for most of the day. That afternoon, on the advice of one of the bar-tenders, we decided to skip Ios. It is the 'party island', but off-season it is pretty much dead. And besides, it would give us an extra day in Santorini.

We arrived in Santorini quite late, and again found accommodation provided by one of the guys waiting at the port. This time for €20/night! When staying over two days you have a little more bargaining power. I can't actually remember the name of the place we stayed at, but it was a nice studio in Fira, which is the main 'town' of Santorini. Located about 15 minutes drive from the port. What I didn't realise is that Santorini is quite big, and there is a lot to it. While there is not much to see in Fira - it is not close to any beaches or major sights - it is a good place to base yourself. It is a transport hub, has a lot of supermarkets and other shops, and most of the nightlife goes on here.

One bad thing about travelling in off-season is that the transport sucks. On our first day in Santorini we attempted to get a bus to Oia, the most famous village in Santorini. 90% of the photos you have ever seen of Santorini will be of Oia. It is truly spectacular. Anyway, in high-season the buses run every 30 minutes. We were going to have to wait two hours for the next one! But with every low comes a high - although the public transport sucks, the car hire is crazily cheap. We rocked up to a couple of places and took the cheapest option at €20/day all included. The others weren't much more. Where else can you hire a car for €20? It is crazy how these islands are all so focused on the tourist dollar. There is not much there apart from hotels, restaurants, cafes, and car hire places. The island LIVES for high season, and when there aren't many tourists, competition is fierce. Meaning the prices drop massively.

Anyway, I'm getting off track. We hired a car and drove ourselves up to Oia. There to meet us was my super-duper bestest friend Fi! She is living up her last few weeks in the Northern Hemisphere before she is also unwillingly deported. Fi is travelling with a random group of girls - Madonna, Karen and Katie. The story of who knows who and how I still do not understand, but they were cool girls =)

The next few days involved... not a whole lot really. Alex and I hanging out in the girls AMAZING apartment with a view that would never get old, trips to the beach, drinking, eating. It was heaven. One day we all decided to go exploring, so we re-hired our car, and the girls hired a Chevrolet topless, and off we went. We climbed the highest peaks on the island and found a secret military base, drove to the coast and found amazing beaches with sand of almost every colour, cliffs, islands lying out in the bay... Santorini is a crazily beautiful island, with so much to discover. You really need at least a few days to do it all, at a slow pace of course... you can't rush these things.

On our final day in Santorini Alex and I checked out the old port - which sits far below the town of Fira down a steep cliff. There are two ways to get between the two - a cable car, and a small track with a crazy number of stairs. On the stairs live the famous Santorini donkeys. For €5 you get to hop on board and take a ride down to the crystal clear waters of the port. Sounds quite romantic, but let me shatter that image for you right now. Think of 50 stinky donkeys all shitting and farting (seriosly, they they all had some major gas problems!) all over the track. Growing up on a farm - riding a donkey did not hold all that much appeal, but Alex jumped on and had a go. The only thing I have to comment on is the horrible treatment of the donkeys. The 'keepers' have huge sticks and wack them to get them to move. It wouldn't be so bad if it was only on the asses ass, but they were copping it everywhere, even in the face!

So I eventually had to say a sad goodbye to everyone. It was so good to catch up with Fi, especially as it will probably be at least a year before I catch up with her again... tear! It was also awesome to meet Madonna, Katie and Karen. And Alex... my random travel buddy I have been hanging with the last few weeks - he really made my Greece experience, and I am glad that I randomly bumped into him on that ferry from Italy to Greece.

While everyone headed home, I continued on. My next stop was Kos, still in the Greek Islands, but in a different group, called the Dodecanese, right next to Turkey. In fact it is so close that you can see the houses from across the water! My plans were a bit disrupted as I found out that my Couch Surfing host in Kos had to cancel at the last minute. But I just decided I would work it out as I went along. I took an overnight ferry - well, it left at 1am and arrived in at 6:30am - so I did not get a whole lot of sleep! Almost none in fact, as most of the seats were taken by the time I got on board. I knew finding a single room was going to be more tricky, but when I arrived at the port there were none of the accommodation guys waiting for me! It must have been too early for them or something. So I simply enjoyed the sunrise and wandered in to town.

Along the way a guy on a scooter pulls over and asks if I need accommodation. I ask him a few questions, all sounds good, and tell him that I don't have a lot of money to spend. I get the classic line in response - just come and take a look, no pressure. The thing is that once you lug all your bags to a place and take a look, it is more than likely that you will stay just because it is such a mission to go somewhere else. Plus they lay it on pretty thick... So he tells me to jump on the back of his scooter. I still have huge backpack on. It must have looked freakin' hilarious, two guys and a massive backpack zooming around on a scooter designed for one.

So we got to Hotel Marie, I checked the place out and it seemed really nice, sea views and all. But the price... just for me apparently... was going to be €25. Yes, that is still cheap for a hotel, but I don't need a hotel. I just need a bed. Besides, I have gotten used to paying €10 a night. I bargained pretty hard but he wasn't budging. So I said that I was going to take a look around, and would come back if I couldn't find anything better/cheaper. He said 'you want to pay €20? OK...' and showed me to what can only be described as a converted broom closet. There is room for a single bed and... that is about it. There is a bathroom, but get this - the shower is over the toilet. So taking a shower is a bit of a mission with the toilet right there in the way. All a bit weird if you ask me. But it was 7:30am, I was tired and decided it would do.

After a good couple of hours sleep I got up and explored Kos. I wasn't expecting it, but it was actually one of the nicer islands I had visited. There are palm trees everywhere, cafes sprawling out onto the streets... It is just a cool place. Besides that there are a whole lot of ruins randomly scattered around. There are so many that they even seem a little... neglected. Lying in overgrown grass, no barriers to protect them...

I spent most of my time in Kos just wandering around. One amazing thing I did, and recommend everyone else to do - was visit Therma Beach. It is a mission to get to by public transport; a bus that runs hourly (and as I experienced, unreliably! My bus never came so I had to wait an hour for the next one), then a four kilometre walk. But it is definitely worth it. There is a thermal stream running into the beach... a HOT thermal stream. So you spend some time up in the hot part at the top of the stream, then move down to the cooler area where it meets the sea water. It was so relaxing, I spent about 2 hours in there just lying around.

The final island I visited was Rhodes, the largest of the Dodecanese islands. My journey there required a 7am ferry, so I got to watch the sun rising over Turkey for the second time. I had organised a Couch Surfing host for Rhodes, but they were not able to meet me until 3pm, so I had time to burn. I found the centre of town and the bus stop I would need later, then set about finding at baggage deposit. After asking a few locals and wandering around for about 30 minutes I stumbled across an information centre. Apparently there are no baggage deposit places in Rhodes because of the threat of a bomb being left in a bag... Really? Anyway, the lady at the tourist office was really nice and actually ended up letting me leave my bag there for a few hours.

First impressions of Rhodes? This place is super cool. It is like they built a city inside a mid-evil castle. Well, actually that is pretty much what they did. Everything is so perfectly preserved, the old buildings, cobble-stone streets, city walls. And the town just has a cool vibe, with lots of cafes and bars scattered around the place. An interesting fact - Rhodes was home to one of the ancient wonders of the world - the Colossus, which was the largest statue ever built. It was destroyed and there is now only a couple of statues to mark the spot... so kinda an anti-climax, but still! One random they do extremely well in Rhodes that I did not expect is rip-off clothing, shoes, sunglasses etc. They have whole shops full of clothing that look like exactly like the genuine article, all for crazy cheap prices. Apparently it all comes from Turkey, so I'm going to hold off and buy myself some knock-offs next week.

One other cool thing I found was a square where there were parrots just hanging out. They did have cages, but they were open, and the parrots were just chilling on top. I think they didn't like me, though, because they made a hell of a racquet when I came to take their photo.

I spent one day in Lindos - a small village about 60kms south of Rhodes Town. It is famous for the Acropolis that sits on a mountain overlooking the village and sea. It is an amazing structure, and has a really interesting history. It turns out the Italians tried to restore it at some stage in the past and did a very average job of it, so now parts are in pretty bad shape. From the top you can see for miles over the spectacular coastline. Besides the Acropolis, Lindos also has one of the most beautiful beaches. So it is pretty much a perfect place to hang out for the day.

Other than that, I spent my time in Rhodes just hanging out with my host - Emmanuel, and two other couch-surfers - Lizzie and Mariana. Emmanuel is a generous and really accommodating person, a great host! He was born in Rhodes and pretty much lived here all his life, so a wealth of knowledge. Mariana is a Hungarian girl, and Lizzie is from good old NZ! They are both living in Italy at the moment, and took a week off to check out Rhodes together.

Emmanuel teaches an English class, and one evening he took me along. It was quite cool, I just chatted to the students and they asked me lots of questions about life in New Zealand. Besides that, the class was FULL of nice Greek girls! Who seemed to like foreign guys... WIN!

So to sign off quickly - the Greek Islands are like paradise on Earth. Santorini is definitely the jewel in the crown - the sunset at Oia is unmissable. While I love travelling at this time of year - the weather is beautiful, it is cheap, and you are not climbing over tourists at every turn - I think if I had the chance to do it over, I would choose three or four weeks later. A little warmer but not crazy hot, the islands would be a little more 'up and running', maybe a bit more night-life, while still being cheap-ish and not tooooo many tourists. But hey, I'm not complaining, I had the time of my life! Oh, one final thing - this website has been extremely useful during my time here, so I thought I would pass it on. It contains all the ferry schedules, so if visiting Greece, favourite it! (Provided by the amazing Nina, my host in Athens).


  1. You and Fi have completely sold me. It all looks and sounds amazing :)

  2. Loved it! Loved all of it! Miss you matey! Wasn't it amazing. Still pinching myself!

  3. Hey Neal, I am glad that you have enjoyed Greek islands. They are one of the nicest spots in the world, at least for me.

    I see that you followed the route that we suggested and you visited Rodos also. Was it worth it? :)

    I cant see any photo from Askleipion. Have you seen it (near Kos town)?


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