The Greek Islands and Athens

February 14th 2014, 6:17:00 pm

Leaving Turkey I took a ferry from Selçuk to Samos, the main gateway into the Greek Islands from Turkey. I'd planned on heading straight from there to Ikaria but the ferry to Ikaria didn't run the same day so I stopped on Samos for a day and had a look around. I found a cafe with wifi and looked up some cheap hotels, then made the long walk to one of the nicer looking ones which turned out was even cheaper than the prices I'd seen online because it was low season.

My room with a beautiful view looking out over Samos beach and into the Mediterranean. I was quite literally the only person in the whole hotel. They asked me what time I wanted to have breakfast the next day, so I made myself get up the next day at that time even though I didn't feel like it, and found they'd laid out a small buffet for me, it was very sweet of them. The staff there were lovely and seemed really grateful to have me staying with them.

The whole town of Samos felt eerily quiet. There was pretty much no one on streets and pretty much all the shops but restaurants were empty. It made a nice change after Turkey, feels like lazy Sunday every day, with nobody fighting to get my attention. At this point in the trip I'm very happy that things are quiet; I think that peak season in the islands would be horrible

While in Greece I ate a lot of Mediterranean salads, which consist of a huge proportion of raw tomatoes, which in the past I have never really liked. Any other form of tomato I'm fine with, but I've never been able to get past the texture and flavour of raw ones. I decided to try and push through that dislike and eat a salad every day until I either liked them or hated myself for doing it. It actually didn't take all that long to get to the point where I almost enjoy them, I think the olive oil and lots of great feta and the freshness of the tomatoes definitely helped. I've continued trying to eat any tomato that has ended up on my plate even after leaving Greece (I was wondering if it was just the Greek tomatoes I was liking) and it seems to have worked somewhat. I still wouldn't seek out raw tomatoes just yet, but I no longer feel like I need to eat around them which is great. I don't think there are any foods I don't eat because of the taste/texture anymore!

Out the window of my hotel I could see an abandoned old building over the other side of the bay so I ventured over and explored it a bit. Most of the walls (glass?) had been removed, and the place was mostly stripped out, but it didn't look like demolition was in any way in progress and it had a bit of an spooky feeling to it. The rooftop would have made an awesome site for spinning some fire at night!

The domestic ferries between the Greek Islands are gigantic! They're how I'd imagine a cruise ship would be like: multiple bars and snack cafes, seemingly endless corridors, etc. I wandered around for a while and find the first class area, which they let me into even though I only had a tight-arse ticket simply because the boat is so empty. Win!

The ferry is so large and stable that I don't need seasickness tablets for once, and can get some blogging work done. This shit takes up way more time and effort than I ever thought it would, but it'll pay off when I'm done and have a detailed record to look back at when I'm old and my memory is failing, and I like to think at least my mum enjoys reading them.

My next island was Ikaria, an island I'd heard about from another traveller who told me how they had some of the longest lifespans in the world because everyone was super laid back (I was told that shops would "close" but leave the doors open and unattended, so you could leave the money for your purchase on the counter if you needed something).

They're also famed for having naturally radioactive radon hot springs around the island. I went for a walk to Therma, a little town over the hill from where I was staying to have a look where they have some springs diverted into buildings for a more western style hot spring experience, but I decide it's not for me. The walk up over the hill is very scenic, passing a lot of beautiful cliffy terrain.

I ate dinner most nights at a nice little restaurant that was on the flat level between two of the many staircases that weave up the hills of the town. Everything I ate was amazingly delicious, very tender meats and great salads. There were also lots of very curious stray cats and kittens investigating around, one little kitten even tried to jump up on my table but slipped right back off again.

I ended up going to one of the more traditional radioactive hot springs where the water comes out of the ground right near the ocean at about 50-60ºC (ie. way too hot to be comfortable) but it quickly mixes with the sea water giving you a lovely gradient of temperatures to bath in.

The rocks are all stained a rusty brown colour form the radon near the hottest parts, and then out further as the water cools enough for things to grow the rocks are covered in green moss or algae. I lazed about in them for about half an hour, figuring with the life expectancy statistics for the island the radiation can't be _that_ bad for you

The next island I headed to was Syros, the island that the ferries to practically everywhere seem to pass through. My evening ferry was quite a bit slower than I expected and didn't arrive until 3am, and of course I had no accommodation sorted out in advance :O

It all worked out perfectly though, there were some guys at the ferry terminal asking if I needed a room, I asked them what their prices were and went with the cheapest one and ended up in a nice little place where I had the rooftop apartment with a kitchen and its own little private courtyard and beautiful views looking out ~270º around the island; up the hill to the cathedrals and out to the bay and the Mediterranean. There was even a little shady park across the road to hang out in and read or spin poi!

I really liked Syros, it felt a lot more like an island that people live on year round. There still weren't many tourists but the place didn't feel completely deserted. Food prices were a little more expensive, but the food itself was of very good quality.

I didn't actually do any touristy stuff to write about on Syros, I mostly just spent my time relaxing, reading and spinning poi and it was a great place for it.

Next I got a fast ferry from Syros to Mykonos, an island that I had high hopes for from others high recommendations. That fast ferry lived up to its name, pulling into the port and turning around it came in with such speed it looked like it was going to do a big fishtale into the dock or something.

I wandered around the ferry a bit, this one being the most crowded one I'd been on yet, exploring outside a bit and then found door leading into what turned out to be some sort of evacuation stairs. There were some staff in their on a break but they didn't seem to care that I was there. I found a fire door from that stairway to inside and then found myself in the much more spacious Business class section that you needed to present your ticket to get into if you came via the normal entrance. I kept a low profile and relaxed in spacious glory, not like those schmucks in economy :P Intentionally getting lost for the win!

Mykonos was actually a bit of a disappointment. The restaurants are all really overpriced, the end of shoulder season meant that there weren't many tourists around (which after a few weeks of not really meeting _anyone_ it gets pretty lonely and I'd decided maybe having _some_ tourists would be a good thing), and there didn't seem to be anywhere you could go and just hang out. There seemed to be no public spaces, parks or even benches, all the beaches are lined by restaurant that want to sell you overpriced drinks or are covered in sun lounges that you have to pay for the privilege of sitting on. It seems like somewhere you come to in the high season with a bunch of rich friends to get drunk and party every night, and then sloth around on overpriced sun lounges to nurse your hangover.

I actually ended up living off food from little gyros shops while I was here because I could get a gyros, a Greek salad and a drink there for less than just the salad at a real restaurant.

Towards the end of my time there even the weather turned ugly, most days not reaching 16ºC and being extremely windy; I liked to think of it as helpfully getting me prepared for England :P

I made a trip to Paradise Beach, a huge resort area which was almost completely devoid of human life and didn't really live up to its name at all. Back home it would just be called "generic dull beach without any surf and lots of ugly sun lounges"

Final stop in Greece was in the capital, Athens. I had low expectations for Athens because I'd had a few friends talk the place right down, but I actually really enjoyed it.

I stayed in a nice sociable hotel and went on a free walking tour on my first day and met a number of really nice people and saw many of the sights around Athens. We had a very charismatic guide, George, who claimed to be an archaeologist and taught us how to identify different column types and where fires had occurred. It was all good stuff and we covered a good number of the ruins around the city.

I met up again later with a pretty girl from the tour for some drinks and trivia, which we were appalling at. In trivia I generally rely on the other people in the team because I just don't seem to retain the sort of information that they ask questions about, but she was very much in the same boat so we ended up just making stuff up for a bunch of the questions. Good fun!

I went and explored the Acropolis and the Parthenon up on the hill, overlooking everything. The Parthenon was a bit of a zoo, with throngs of people, long slow queues to actually get in, and large tour groups everywhere; but the rest of the Acropolis was actually relatively uncrowded and very pleasant to just stop and appreciate it all.

I visited the Agora which has a very well preserved temple that is almost entirely still standing,

And a reconstruction of one of the long market buildings (using a lot of new materials) which was *huge*. 50 Columns, 4M tall give a very imposing effect. Very impressive to think these structures were there so far back in the past.

All up I quite enjoyed my time in Greece, especially Athens, but I cant help but wonder what the islands would have been like maybe just a few weeks earlier, and travelling with some friends. The islands don't really seem solo backpacker friendly, there's a distinct lack of hostels on them.