After four hours of sleep, we hustled down to our hotel lobby to find that they had kindly prepared a small meal for us, since we were leaving too early to enjoy the breakfast buffet. Thank you, Gentlemen! At 6:30am on the button, our cab pulled up and whisked us off to the port of Pireaus and the ferry terminal.
Some things I noticed about Athens during our dawn drive-through:
- The city just feels ancient. Even though the modern architecture is nothing spectacular and, at times, actually sort of ugly, there is something so ancient about the feel of Athens, everything seems stunningly beautiful.
- There is graffiti on every single surface. I kid you not, I have never seen so much graffiti in my life.
- Even at 7am, there are tons of people walking around, many of them obviously still club-hopping from the night before.
- Athens seems very haphazard in its design. Roads wind in every direction and it often feels as if you are going around in circles when you are not.
- People drive very fast in Athens.
- The stoplights and stop signs seem to be more of a suggestion than a hard and fast rule to stop, or even slow.
- Dogs roam about alone everywhere, singly and in packs.
- There are a LOT of motorcycles and scooters. As Eddie Izzard would say, “Ciao!”
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the modernity of Highspeed One caught me off-guard. The inside was very sleek and I instantly felt underdressed. A porter escorted us to our seats – left side, on the windows. After settling in, someone announced our departure over the loudspeaker in Greek, French, German and English. We didn’t even feel the boat leave the dock.
The sun started to come up as we eased out into the Agean Sea. After about 45 minutes, Sean and I began to wonder when the boat would pick up speed. It felt as though we were barely moving and there was absolutely no engine noise in the cabin. We decided to go out on the back deck and investigate the situation.
When we opened the door to the back deck, the wind nearly blew us over. We weren’t just moving, we were hauling ass! Our ship left a massive wake and the speed generated a wind so intense, we really couldn’t stay out there very long. Once back inside, we experienced only silence and calm. Neat.
We went back to our seats and Sean instantly fell asleep. Wound for sound, I planted myself by the window and watched as various rocks and islands came in and out of view. I kept thinking, “I’m in a boat on the Aegean Sea. Ho-lee shit.” Surreal.
After three hours, we pulled into our first port – Livadi, Serifos. I got my first good look at a Cycladic island and it surprised me! I knew the area was very arid, but I didn’t expect quite the rock and desert tundra tableaux before me.
The rock formations on the coast were magnificent. And the towns perched atop most of the hills and composed entirely of buildings in the traditional Cycladic architectural form – white rounded buildings, brightly colored accents – looked unreal against the brown, somewhat formidable-looking, landscape. Towns didn’t seem to have a shape. Many of them looked, at least to me, like whipped topping sort of sliding down a mound of cinnamon ice cream. But then, that could have just been hunger talking.
It took another hour and a half to get to Sifnos. As we came into the harbor of Kameres, the first thing I saw was a mile-long stretch of beach, bordered by 10 or so colorful tavernas. At the far end of the beach, huge rock outcroppings formed the rest of the coast. I couldn’t wait to start exploring those rocks.
After disembarking, we were met by another Fantasy Travel/Aegean Travel Thesaurus representative and hustled into a taxi for our quick journey to our accommodations in Kameres – the Alkyonis Villas.
A woman named Marie owned the Alkyonis Villas and she came hustling out of the office to greet us as our cab pulled to a stop. The white with green-trim complex sprawled down a small hill and was landscaped with hundreds of exotic flowers. The fences were overgrown with grape vines and Greek Jasmine, so the air burst with intoxicating fragrances. Marie took us to our room. She spoke English beautifully and we chatted about our trip to that point. She also told us about her uncle, who taught for many years at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I promised to look him up when we got home, which I still shall do, when I find the napkin I jotted his name onto.
Our villa, number 12, was a left turn off the pink flower bush near the end of the complex. Up a small flight of stairs, was a tiled front porch with three comfortable chairs and a small table. Inside, we had a small kitchen and living area with a separate bedroom and small bathroom. Another veranda opened off the bedroom. Marie showed us how things worked, where the a/c was, how to refill the hot water, etc… and then left back for the office.
I have a hope that those of you that find this travelogue will be thinking of a trip to Greece. I found a couple of these types of stories, including Barrett’s of course, before we left and much of what I read really helped plan the trip. Let me just say this. If you are the type of traveler who stays in high end hotels, needs many familiar comforts, has to have satellite TV so you can tune into US stations, wants to be in a foreign country but still have your Americanized hotel to return to, we aren’t the travelers for you. Alkyonis Villas is not for you.
Half of the villas at Alkyonis are actually apartments that house island residents year around, so our apartment reflected local living, which is EXACTLY what we wanted. It was clean as a whistle, with beautiful brown tile, white Cycladic stucco, dark green shutters and doors and the most friendly and relaxing atmosphere you could hope for. The TV was about 5 inches tall and tuned into 3 Greek stations. In fact, it was so much NOT a part of this place, it was sort of sitting on a couch cushion, like someone had just forgotten to pack it. There was no internet connection. There was no on-site spa. There was no super-duper, rain-forest showerhead and opulent Italian marble bathing suite. There was a handheld showerhead and a bathing stall with no shower curtain and a sign that said, “Please conserve water.” The sheets weren’t 3000-thread count Egyptian cotton and the bed wasn’t a super-Serta “You are King of the World” sleeper. Instead, the sheets were bright white, super crisp and clean, line-dried and scented with jasmine straight from the air. The mattresses were hard (all of our mattresses in Greece were hard) and sat atop a bed frame made from stone – a built-in that was part of the house. I loved it. Sean loved it. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll love it.
Anyway, it was pretty stuffy inside our apartment, so first things first, we opened everything up. A nice breeze was blowing and soon we had all the doors and shutters open – there were a lot of them. Each door and shutter had a neat fishhook mechanism to keep them from blowing closed, so we spent a few minutes figuring out how those worked. I have to say, we didn’t use our a/c even once while we were in Kameres. Every night, we went to bed with that beautiful island breeze blowing through our villa. Heaven.
After unpacking, I took a jaunt around the complex and snapped some pictures of the local flora and fauna. Then, we headed down to the beach, which was about a quarter of a mile down the hill. In fact, our hostess Marie and her sister were walking right ahead of us. It was 2:30pm and the entire town seemed to be streaming down to the beach.
Truth be told, I didn’t even bring a bathing suit top to Greece, because I knew that Europeans were far more relaxed about that sort of thing than Americans and planned to very much enjoy integrating into the culture. However, I did swim in a tank top that first day. Time to shed my American prudishness tomorrow, today I just wanted to do whatever was comfy.
We set up on the beach and headed for the water. The sea wasn’t Carribean warm, it actually had some chill to it, but once you got in, it was heavenly. As I said, the beach of Kameres is over a mile long and the water doesn’t go over 6 feet deep for at least half a mile out. The water is crystal clear and every shade of blue known to man. Beautiful. Sean and I had a ball.
Around 5pm, we went back to the villa. Showering was tricky, as you had to hold the showerhead when soaping or shampooing while trying not to squirt water all over the toilet, sink and floor. Finally, I decided to turn the tap off while lathering and turn it back on for rinsing – the better to conserve water anyway. I got everything in the bathroom wet, even though I was careful, but in that arid an environment, it was dry a half hour later. At any rate, showering wasn’t going to be part of the relaxation of the islands and that was fine by me. We had the sea for water relaxation, afterall.
Ok, here is one thing that is very different about the Greek Islands that seriously DID take some getting used to, even though Sean and I pride ourselves on our ability to adapt easily. The plumbing is very narrow and old, so nothing but, er, well, natural, fresh, biological waste products can be flushed. In all bathrooms, there is a special covered waste can right by the toilet. That is where your toilet tissue goes. It does NOT go down the toilet unless one likes the idea of the toilet overflowing onto one’s feet. This goes in houses, hotels, restaurants and bars. It’s everywhere.
There are some habits that are so ingrained, it is very difficult to change quickly. Putting toilet paper into the toilet after use is one of those very ingrained habits, at least for me. I had a hell of a time with this one, especially when I got up in the middle of the night, mostly asleep, to use the restroom. But, I only flushed a few bits of paper during our trip, so that’s not so bad. Anyway, something you just have to get used to there.
Another thing – the power issue. Ok, I’m not a complete dumbass and I’m married to a seasoned international traveler. So, we of course had the converters for our appliances. However, I didn’t realize that my curling iron and blow-dryer didn’t have the same power requirements. I considered plugging one of them in, but Sean told me that either they wouldn’t run or they would burst into flames, so I just decided to do the best I could sans hair accoutrements. I was on vacation, so to hell with it.
We relaxed a bit, watched the sun set over the bay and then ambled on down to the heart of town for dinner. The port town of Kameres is beautiful and I am so glad we decided to stay there. It is very small, but has energy, probably because it gets an infusion of new life every time the ferry comes in. The main street connects directly from the dock and goes through town and then on through the mountains to the most populace town in Serifos, Appalonia, about a 20 minute bus ride away. The right side of main street is lined with tavernas, almost all of which have beach seating. The bay is beyond. The left side goes up, up, up into the hills and is a warren of shops and residences connected by steep staircases and paths.
We decided to eat at a taverna on the beach, which came highly recommended in the Barrett guide (much of which we’d printed out and had with us in a manilla folder). The front entrance takes you right through the kitchen where the chef, if asked, will show you what he’s prepared for the evening. Everything looked wonderful, but the chef was busy, so we didn’t bug him.
We sat down and poured over the book-sized menu, which thankfully had english translation. A woman arrived with our place settings and informed us that she was a little nervous because her uncle, the owner, was not there yet and he cooked most of the food. We said we saw many things in the kitchen we’d love, so no worries.
She brought us a half litre of the house red wine and some revithia keftedes (fried chick-pea balls) to start. Amazingly good! Her uncle showed up as we were eating, so we ordered dinner. Unfortunately, everything we pointed to, they didn’t have. Finally, we said, “What is good tonight? Bring us that!” She did and it was all spectacular. Sean had stuffed zucchini. We both hate zucchini, but she completely sold him on it and, as he likes to say, “With food? I’ll try anything once.” It turned out that we both love Greek stuffed zuchini. There was very little zuchini meat left and it was filled with potato, veggie and spiced ground meat. Mmmmm. I had spit-grilled chicken. We shared a greek salad, which was the best greek salad I’ve ever had.
As we ate, we watched the sea and one by one, my muscles just relaxed. By the time we left, we were both set to a completely different speed — Chicago 78rpm, Sifnos 30rpm.
Amble. Stroll arm in arm. Stop to look out at the sea. Smooch a little. Jump out of the way of a scooter. Wave cheerily to the man on the scooter, who waves cheerily back. “Yasas!” – “Yasas!” Amble. Stroll. Smooch. Gaze. Villa. Breeze. Crisp sheets. Crickets. Soft lap of the waves. Full belly. Good wine. Greece. Good. Sifnos. Good. Zzzzzz…