Not quite island hopping in Greece

But almost.

Santorini was always going to be the main destination for our week in Greece. Despite there being no direct flights from Birmingham to Santorini or to Athens, I knew that as a nation of sailors there would always be a ferry to catch. I thought we may get to visit a couple of other island in The Cyclades, but that was not to be. Yet, the Blue Star Delos that sails at 7.30 am each day from Piraeus to Santorini stops at Paros, Naxos and Ios, so at least I got to see these.

Greek Time

Greek Time

To get to Santroini we first had to get to Piraeus on the overnight Amek Lines Kretti 2. It sounds like a long way round, and it was, but in the end the arrangements suited our needs to always be on the move. I last did this sailing in 1979 and we slept on deck on towels. This time we were assigned couchette seats on the top deck, and thought they would be adequate as they were bigger than seats on a plane, but that was not to be.

Everyone, including the police, watched tv, smoked and talked all night. Instead we dozed on uncomfortable chairs in the bar area, along with most of the other passengers. The experienced travellers knew the best seats and spread out early on so they got somewhere semi comfortable to sleep. We did however have very good value food from the cafe (with the company of the bearded Mykonos FC) and waiter service at the bar. If I did this again I would probably look at upgrading to better seats.

We had 24 hours in Piraeus and Athens and visited The Acroplis and had lunch in Plaka. I would highly recommend that you base yourself in Piraeus especially if you have, like we did, a 7.30 am sailing the next day. It is easy to get to Athens on the train, we got a 4 Euro all day transport ticket, and Piraeus had lots to offer in the way of coffee shops and bakeries, and cheap accommodation.

Our next ferry was the Blue Star Delos.

Despite an early start this was a lovely relaxing mini cruise to The Cyclades. If the weather is kind there is plenty of seating on deck. It also has kennels with an dog exercise deck, a cafe selling fast food and a bar area. We had traditional spinach pies for €2.40 each, tea for €1.20 and a latte for €3.70. It was crowded and you need to board early to get decent seats, although there is the option of upgrading to numbered seats in quieter areas.

The best bit for me was pulling into the ports of Paros, Naxos and Ios. Then finally Santorini. Mom told that the best way to approach Santorini is by sea. She was right.

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I wanted to get off at all of them. Hopefully next year I will. I love the mad frenzy of passenger embarking and disembarking, the chaos of getting vehicles on and off the ferries in such a short time.

As we visited each island the numbers dwindled on the boat. When we had left Piraeus the passengers were about 60% locals returning home for Easter and 40% tourists. Most were American or Chinese. By the time we got to Santorini about 75% of those disembarking were Chinese. Speaking to our hosts in Santorini, they told us that in spring most of their guests were from China and from Russia in the summer. Most other tourists we met were American or Australian.

I really cannot recall meeting or hearing any other British people other than at the airport, or on our flight, in the week we were there. Not at Knossos, the Acropolis or on Santorini.

Have the English abandoned Greece? Or have they lost their sense of adventure and only visit Greece on package holidays?

If so, that is a shame as they really do not know what you are missing out on. It has been a few years since I was last in Greece, and while I have loved everywhere else I have been to, Greece is still like coming home for me. And I will be back. Soon.

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Take twice as much money…. as plans often change

Our first night in Greece and hit gold with the hotel, booked via Booking.com. Exhausted after a four hour flight, landing at midnight, we really thought we would need a comfortable night as at the time we had no idea what our forward travel plans would be. We were pleasantly surprised to be put in to an only just finished fully refurbished room at Kastro Hotel.

Until we could see what ferries were running to Santorini we could not book ahead any further, and sadly we could only get one night here, when our plans to go to the Cyclades straight away were thwarted by the fact that there are no ferries there until the 17 April. We fly home at 1am on the 18th.

As the primary reason for this trip to Greece is to fulfil the wishes of my mom, which was to have her ashes scattered in Santorini, we knew we had to come up with a plan.

So far, everything about this trip had gone so well. The cost of the flights dropped by £80. We were first through passport control at Crete which has never happened ever. There were no queues at Birmingham airport check in or security. We had left before all the hold ups in traffic around the airport. My hand luggage was not searched and swabbed as it has been done on the last three times departing from a UKairport. And we score this hotel.20140411-195935.jpg

I knew there had to be a solution, as there was no way that the islands would be complete cut off from, and here is the lightbulb moment, from the mainland. Of course, Piraeus.

Long story, cut short, we are going to Santorini, via Athens. Which has had a huge impact on our budget. The upside, is we get to Athens and visit The Parthenon.

This trip is really turning into my 1979 holiday, re visited. More expensive of course, but totally worth it.

We have had to move hotel, not so lush but overlooking the sea and 10 minutes from the ferry terminal. We sail overnight on 13 April, to Piraeus, tourist class, just like I did in 1979. I have booked  one night in an hotel costing €30 and then we sail to Santorini on 14th, returning on the very first fast ferry to Heraklion on 17th at 8pm. I only hope it all goes to plan, as we have a plane to catch 5 hours later.

 

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You never forget your first moussaka

Mine was on the ferry from Piraeus to Crete. It was 1979, the end of my second year at uni, and I was travelling with Sara, Rob and Elli in a camper van though Greece. On a whim, or because it was the first ferry to sail, we decided to go to Crete.

The signs indicating the location of lifeboats were in French and English and the walls were decorated with views of the White Cliffs of Dover on this former English Channel ferry. Yet there was no doubt we were in Greece, surrounded, as we were, by extended Greek families with their belongings wrapped in colourful blankets, tied up like a sack. Old men smoked their strong cigarettes, older women with headscarves slept on their makeshift sacks and children played games on the deck. I didn’t see a goat but it wouldn’t have surprised me if I had.

We were travelling deck class. I was contentedly cocooned by all this hustle and bustle, the shouted conversations, the clatter of the backgammon games, the welcome gentle breeze after the heat of the day, the prospect of sleeping on deck under the stars. I didn’t think it could get any better. And then I found my moussaka.

We had descended into the chaotic deck class canteen, heaving with hungry travellers. Burly chefs guarded the food in giant catering tins, with ladles as weapons, to beat us off if we didn’t take it in turn. It was a scene reminiscent of an old school dining hall, hungry children queuing for food while dinner ladies kept us in line. Except in Greece there is no such thing as an orderly queue.

The moussaka was divided into huge portions. Meat sauce, rich with tomatoes and onions, interweaved the towers of aubergines and potatoes, held firmly together by a thick white sauce. A savoury layer cake, glistening in olive oil. I pushed my way to the front of the gesticulating crowd, caught the eye of one of the cooks, pointed at the moussaka and thrust a few thousand drachmas into his hand to seal the deal.

Moussaka. It’s as if all the food and flavours of Greece have collided in one dish. Giant red tomatoes, ripened in the sun, deep purple aubergines, lamb combined with cinnamon, fresh oregano, custardy béchamel sauce, made with Greek yoghurt and fresh eggs, left to cook slowly all day, then cooled so it could be cut into slabs. And this moussaka had been cooking long enough for all the spices, herbs, tomatoes and olive oil to meld together; the taste of Greece in one delicious mouthful. My senses were bombarded, and Alice in Wonderland like, the moussaka said, ‘Eat Me!’

I’d been in Greece for about two weeks and had got used to lukewarm Greek food. I had discovered salads bursting with flavour, sprinkled with salty feta cheese; so unlike the English limp lettuce Sunday tea salads. Yoghurt and honey for breakfast, enormous juicy melons and apricots, souvlaki, retsina and Fix beers.

I had enjoyed meals in taverns on the beach and high in the mountains. Food was good, plentiful and cheap. Yet this moment has stayed with me. I can still smell the aroma of herbs and spices, can still see the olive oil seeping out of the sauce, and recall the taste of my very first moussaka.Image