I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monday, September 10, 2007 I arrive on the relaxing island of Naxos, where I belatedly remember that I don't relax

K's alarm went off in time for her to head out to her 6:15 cab. We wished each other a pleasant rest of the journey, and then said goodbye for another four and a half months. She is scheduled to come home to DC (and across the hall from me) at the end of January and, as I have frequently reminded her, she had better do so!

I got up soon after she left and was out of the room by about 6:40 am. I had an 8:00 ferry to Naxos and I was getting nervous about finding my way through Piraeas. I was taking Blue Star on the way back, but on the way there I couldn't quite figure out the name of my line. Whatever it was, it was obviously a lesser line and I feared the boat would be tucked away somewhere out of sight. On the way out the door I asked the desk clerk if he knew what line it was--the ticket information was in Greek which I can transliterate into English but not actually translate--but he seemed as baffled as me. He said he thought maybe Nel line, but wasn't sure. We hadn't been given a receipt the night before but thank goodness the morning clerk didn't question when I said we'd already paid, another thing I had been nervous about.

It's easy to get to Piraeas by metro, though getting into the metro is not quite as easy. When we arrived at the Sygrou-Fix stop from the airport we had been pleasantly surprised that there were escalators most of the way up. It wasn't until we return to the metro station two days later to go to the Archaeological Museum that we realized the escalators only go up. I could see an elevator across the street, and figured I'd use it in the morning. I bought some little chocolate filled cookies (Gemiste) for .80E from a cart outside to make change for the metro and to be my breakfast. When I got closer and looked for a way to cross the street to get to the elevator there appeared to be no crossing for miles so I just sucked it up and carried my suitcase down 15 flights of stairs (ok, I think it was only 3), bought my ticket, validated, got on the train.

The trains were efficient, not much waiting at Sygrou-Fix or my transfer station and I got to Piraeas about 7:25. As I feared, the signage to the Port was not great. It is directly outside the Metro station, but I still would have appreciated some giant arrows. I followed the crowd to a big outdoor escalator, figuring if nothing else I could stop at the top and survey the area. I followed the crowd down the escalator to the right and--miracle!--at the bottom of the escalator a woman was handing a map of the port to everyone who stepped off! Unfortunately, the map didn't indicate which lines sail from which berths. I watched the flashing signboard (Greek and English) until my ship was listed. Turns out you really don't need to know the name of your line as the ship's name is what's listed, and the ship's name was prominent and easy to identify on the ticket.

I headed over to E7 and there was the ship! I was a little disappointed to see it had no outdoor deck. Outside, a woman was selling big rings of bread topped with sesame seeds, a traditional Greek breakfast item. I bought one for .80E and walked on board. There is luggage stowal on the entry level, which is a garage, so you don't have to haul it upstairs. The line I was on was indeed Nel. My assigned seat was in the middle next to a man who kindly got up to let me in. The boat was almost empty and I kept waiting for it to fill up. It never did. There were literally hundreds of empty seats and for some reason the travel agent had booked me into a middle seat next to one of the few other passengers! Odd. I got up and moved to a window. A little while after we were underway the crew came around with baseball hats for everyone. Again, odd, but amusing. I read the guidebook copies I'd made for Naxos and dozed.

The boat stopped at Paros before getting to Naxos and I thought maybe I'd be able to get out and have lunch. Not so much! The stop lasted under five minutes, I think. After Paros a crew member came around cleaning up, and showed me that there were decks of cards in the seat pocket, so I spent the rest of the way playing solitaire. The rest of the way turned out to be quite short--we landed in Naxos about 12:15. I guess I was on a highspeed boat! I had been annoyed that I booked onto the 8:00 ferry because I got to Piraeas before the 7:35 Blue Star to Naxos sailed, but we beat the Blue Star so I made the right choice after all. My ticket was 25E; my return ticket by Blue Star was 29E, so I really don't know how pricing works. You'd think the slow ferry would be cheaper, but I assume it had to do with time and day of the week.

At Naxos I was prepared for the short stop. I was on the lower deck, suitcase in hand and ready to bolt as they lowered the gate. I came out onto the island. Beautiful! Perfect weather too, warm but not hot with a little breeze. The Portara is right there off to the left when you come off the boat. What a perfect landmark for a Greek island! I knew from looking at maps that the islands were close together, but I didn't realize that you can see them from one another with the naked eye. That would make living on an island feel a little less lonely, I think.

There were taxis outside, but I knew my hotel, the Hotel Galini/Sofia Latinas, couldn't be that far away and I thought maybe I'd find a sign for it. No luck so I got in a cab. The cab route is long and windy and I am thinking there's no way I could have gotten myself to the hotel. There was no meter in the cab and he charged me 6E, which was probably too much but oh well. I learned that the cab had to take a roundabout path because of one ways and blocked streets and it is actually a reasonably short walk along the harbor.

To walk to Hotel Galini/Sofia Latina, come off the boat, walk down the pier to the harbor, and turn right (away from the Portara). Walk along the water always (DON'T TURN ANYWHERE), rather than going up to the main drag. Eventually the road will turn into a wide flagstone drive. You'll pass the Naxian Sphinx (pictured) on your left. Keep going while the road winds around. After the bend there will be a driveway and the tiny church of St. George on your left. You can see the hotel behind the church. Make a left and go up the driveway and you're there.

After being dropped by the cab I walked into the hotel. They tell me to have a seat and ask if I'd like something to drink. I'm confused. The reception area is also the breakfast area and there was still some food out, so I thought maybe the hotel also ran a cafe and they thought I was there for the cafe. I accepted some water and then finally said that I had a reservation. They laughed and said they knew. They explained they were expecting only one single that day so it had to be me. They gave me a free tourist map of the city and the island (a map!) and pointed out the free internet computer in the corner. Yay! Internet in Greece is slow, by the way. One of the younger family members told me about an all-day bus tour of the island. I listened to the explanation politely but I was there to relax! I had no intention of taking an all-day bus tour on one of my two precious full days on the island.

After I had my water they said that they had given away their last single and would be putting me in a triple, and brought me to my room. That was fine, I didn't care either way. I did end up in one of the few rooms without a balcony and/or sea view, though, so that was a bit of a bummer but not enough to dampen my spirits or anything. The room was cute; I loved the ceramic light fixture and was highly amused by the bridalesque decoration over the modest twin beds. I had paid a deposit of one night's charge in advance on my credit card, so they knew who I was and how to find me if I tried to skip out, but I never did officially check in or even so much as tell them my name! I think the "don't worry, be happy" island attitude is the same everywhere.

As I put down my bags in the room I was so happy and grinning like an absolute fool. I was on a beautiful island on a beautiful day! What a lucky moment in life! I decided to explore the town a little before sitting on the beach. I stopped off in the lobby to email K, who was unfortunately having the opposite experience I was. Her hotel had stuck her in the lobby for two hours while they scrambled to find a room for her, even though she had confirmed her reservations with them by email only two days previously. At least the lobby had wireless internet so she could email people while she waited!

The town is cute as I walk along the main street. Lots of souvenirs, lots and lots of high end (or at least medium end) jewelry stores, and of course many cafes. I walk up to the Portara, and find there is a post I can put my camera on for a timer self-portrait. Since I couldn't frame the shot the composition is kind of hilarious, in which I dwarf the Portara behind me. It is, in fact, about 6 m (18 feet) tall. The Portara was to be part of a temple to Apollo or Dionysius (scholars debate) and was erected around 500 BC. War broke out and it was never completed. It was built on an islet, but the Naxians have put up a causeway that goes there; no rowboat involved. In fact, the hike up the hill to the Portara seems much too easy for such a profound sight!

I made another loop of the town looking for food, and found a bakery selling spanakopita, about 2E to go. I ate it on the way back to the hotel, where I changed into my swimsuit. I walked the town again. I had forgotten about the fatal flaw in my plan--I don't relax. These two full days could turn out to be a problem. Beach. It's sand and very calm. The water is perfectly clear and a little colder than I'd like. Walk. Beach. Walk. In the first four hours on the island I had walked the town four times. I wanted a book but the used bookstore was on siesta. It was getting ridiculous. I was devising routes to avoid the hotel so they wouldn't see me pacing back and forth and think I was neurotic. I realized I absolutely had to do something the next day so I went to one of the travel agencies and booked the all day bus tour (25E) I had mentally scoffed at mere hours before.

Finally I resorted to my break-glass-in-case-of-emergency: my cheapness. I bought an ice cream at a beachfront cafe for 4E. The chocolate was good but the strawberry was waxy. Having spent my 4E there, I managed to stick my butt in the cafe's beach chair for 1 1/2 hours. I appear to be at the family beach. Everyone is old or has children. Oh well, I didn't expect an island romance anyway but I admit the sun and sand and water and island in general is making me feel a little, ahem, "romantic." I stare at some men (hot dads?) playing soccer from behind my giant sunglasses.

I left the beach. Walked the town. The used bookstore was open so I got two books, 6E each which was more than their original cover prices, of course. One of the souvenir shops sold some books but they were all unbearable bodice rippers. Don't get me wrong, I love chick lit. I don't need a really great plot. But I cannot abide bad writing. Most of the books in the used bookstore are of the bodice ripper variety as well, but I find one by an author I like, Jennifer Weiner's "Goodnight Nobody," and then take a chance on a Brit Chick Lit called "Swallowing Grandma" by Kate Long. It was these or Tom Wolfe, and I'm not sure I want to do Tom Wolfe at the beach.

I realized the sun was going down so I ran back to the hotel to grab my camera and hustled to the Portara, taking sunset pics along the way. I got some great ones of the Sphinx.

I stopped to do a series of sailboats. My dad loves sailing.

I made it to the Portara, where quite a crowd had gathered, just in time to see the last sliver of sun slip under the horizon. It was an awesome moment.

I headed back to the hotel to shower. It had a hair dryer so I figured what the hell and dried my hair and put on full makeup. I had carted the makeup with me and so far mostly just used lipstick, with a little mascara at night. I had dinner at I Kali Karthia (H Kαλι Kαpδια), which they conveniently translate for you, "The Good Heart." Their signboard with the vegetarian plate advertisement had caught my eye earlier in the day.

The vegetarian plate had mixed vegetables (eggplant and squash), green beans, oven potatoes, yiyandes (giant beans), and a tomato gemiste (stuffed). It was the first green beans I'd had on the trip, and green beans were one of the things I had been looking forward to in Greece after having some really good ones at Lebanese Taverna before I left. The yiyandes were pretty good; they tasted of cinnamon, which was unusual but made them hard to eat after a while. I enjoyed the stuffed tomato much more than I had Albatross's. The filling was more like risotto than minute rice. The oven potatoes were almost as good as Zeus's! Potatoes are one of Naxos' main crops.

Everything on the plate was stewed and very well done with lots of oil. I hadn't had any fresh food all day (sesame ring, cookies, spanakopita, and ice cream had been my other meals of the day) so I vowed to have a salad the next day. The owner kindly offered me a half carafe (250 ml) of rose, which was nice. I had wanted to try the rose because it was supposed to be good in Greece. It was fine, but the taste was more like red and white mixed together than a coherent wine.

There is plenty to see while I have my leisurely Greek meal (no self-respecting Greek would think of getting up from the table in under an hour and a half, but none of them seem to eat alone). A roaming accordion player with a strong voice appears. I am not sure how he makes his money as he walks all around, singing and playing. The Greeks at the next table are singing along and make a request. After he finishes he walks from table to table collecting coins, but he appears satisfied after visiting a few tables and doesn't come to me even though I have dug out some change and have it sitting visible on the table. The whole town makes a passaggiata of the waterfront in the evening, it seems, and the scene is fun to watch. A few yappy lapdogs get in a snarling fight. There is a European family sitting near me, maybe German, with a little boy about 10 and a girl who looks 13. I reevalute my guess at her age when she lights up a post-prandial cigarette!

Asking for the bill in Greek gets me an offer for more wine (which was at the home, it turned out) but I decline. The bill is a ridiculous 6.5E. I head back to the hotel and watch American television shows I never watch at home (I don't have cable and don't watch much TV), Cold Case and Nip/Tuck, with Greek subtitles. I try to pick out a few words in the Greek commercials. Staying up late watching TV is fun. I should do it more often.

You can see all my pictures from Naxos and all the photos from this trip to Greece if you'd like.

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