Tuesday, 13 October 2015

It's all Greek to me: Naxos, Koufounissia, Amorgos and Athens

Welcome and yia-su (that's Greek for hello) to an installment of my travel blog where Greece is the word.

It turns out late September is an excellent time of year to visit Greece. The busy July to August tourist season has ended, so rooms and quadbikes (and other rentable things) are cheaper, it's still sunny and warm in the mid to high twenties centigrade and the islands are much quieter.

But, you may ask, was everything in total disarray after the financial problems and recent influx of refugees? No, not really. The Cyclades islands, which is the group of islands Naxos, Koufounissia and Amorgos belong to, are fine as long as they have tourists to bring in money during the summer months. Which they do because they are all fantastic places to visit.

Athens looked a bit worn around the edges because they've had to cut so many public services, but was still functioning just fine. So don't let any negative news coverage put you off visiting. I never had any problems withdrawing money from cash machines and the Greeks are their usual friendly, hospitable selves.

Oddly for for me, considering my aversion to early starts, I saw two sunrises on this trip. Not out of choice, mind, but out of a need to catch a couple of early ferries to and from the islands. Sure the sunrises were pretty, but give me a sunset any day. It's a more civilised time of day and you can watch it with a beer. Technically you could watch a sunrise with a beer but that seems like a slippery slope. 

The Cyclades

The slow pace of life on the islands was perfect for a relaxed holiday, the beaches were sandy and the waters turquoise. Some great food too, including octopus, calamari, moussaka and enormous Greek salads with a slab of feta cheese and full of fresh tomatoes that tasted like nothing you get in UK supermarkets 

With the islands being quieter, I didn't need to book any accommodation during the trip, apart from the two nights in Athens at the start and end. I just arrived on the ferry and there would be a gaggle of small, elderly Greek women holding placards with the names of their hotels and pictures, asking me if I needed a room. And I managed to get some pretty nice places for €20-25 a night. Big rooftop apartment on Naxos, idyllic beach-side room on Koufounissia and large room overlooking the bay on Amorgos. 

The trip to Amorgos also managed to put my never being seasick powers to the test with a very choppy ferry ride. Huge waves slapping into the side of the small ferry, covering us all with sea spray and making quite a few people look slightly ill.  

The three islands I visited all had their own distinct personality, as do most of the Greek islands, but I think my favourite was the smallest, Koufounissia. You could walk from one end to the other in about an hour and by taking a walk around the coast you discover beautiful beach after beautiful beach. As well as little coves and rocky outcrops.

Some of the coves are almost hidden from view. Almost but not quite, as one Italian couple demonstrated when I nearly disturbed what can be politely described as the girlfriend carrying out an act of male relief. Luckily, I diverted in time to only see a bobbing male Italian arse and they didn't see me. 

But how did I know they were Italian? Because when I went for dinner they came in and sat on the next table. They didn't know what I knew, but I knew.   


I rounded off the trip with a day and a half in Athens, checking out all the ancient wonders it has to offer. Which is a lot, so I didn't see them all, but did go past the Theatre of Dionysus, up the Acropolis, wander round the Parthenon, through the Ancient Agora, spend a few hours in the Acropolis museum and amble over to the Temple of Zeus. 

The Acropolis museum wasn't too polite about old Lord Elgin and his marble stealing antics in 1801 and why would they be? He used his position of influence as a diplomat to make a rather undiplomatic getaway with some ancient statues of great cultural significance to the Greek people. 

If you find yourself in Athens, make sure you have walk up Mount Lycabettus, which is higher up than the Acropolis and means you can get panoramic photos of Athens that include the Parthenon. This is starting to sound like proper travel advice now so I'd better end there and point you towards the marvelous photos below. 


Dimitra's Temple on Naxos.

A little white church atop a bloody great mountain on Naxos.

The view from the cave of Zeus. Which was about a third of the way up Mount Zeus. There was the option to climb the whole thing but the cave was a good stopping off point. Just me and the occasional mountain goat.

My ride for the day on Naxos.

Rear view of the Church of Droisani.

A typical smaller Greek Orthodox church on the edge of the town square in Naxos.
"You know what I really need is a hat that casually advertises my love of cocaine" said NOBODY EVER.

The Portara by the harbour is Naxos' most famous landmark and is a mere 2,500 years old. It was the entrance to an unfinished temple.

The Naxos equivalent of Tooting Bec lido I suppose. A few steps lead down to clear waters sheltered from the sea by rocks. In the middle right of the picture you can just about see the head of an old Greek man who was having a long swim and belting out a few traditional sounding Greek songs as he did so.

Some octopus, just hanging out.


View from my room on Koufounnissia by the port and the beach. 

I think this was meant to be a mini-museum of tools used on the island over the years. The tools weren't on a particular theme - there was a plough, a sewing machine, some irons. Just a mish mash of old stuff. 

Beachy shot: oh look how clear the water was bla bla bla, isn't it lovely etc

You can see a lot of lines and colours in the rocky outcrop on the other side of the water, which I liked so I took a photo of it and hope you like it too. 

Sunset fishing in Koufounnissia. 

These windmills were scattered all over the islands, some in better condition than others.

"Oooh look at that artfully shot fishing net with the sea in the background and the soft evening light." That's what you're thinking right now.


Each of the islands has a main town (or Hora) and this is that of Amorgos with all its whitewashed houses.

Another one of them windmills I was talking about earlier with a bunch of others in the background.

Monastery of Hozoviotissa on Amorgos. Built into the cliff edge in the 11th century. Fairly impressive.

Cats lazing about like cats do in the shade of the Monastery of Hozoviotissa.

Striking entrance to the Monastery with the long name. Once you get in, they have a strict trousers for men and long skirts for women policy. Women HAVE to wear long skirts too, they can't wear trousers instead. Which seems a bit ridiculous but I guess they make the rules.

Very cool grey sand beach on Amorgos, just around the corner from the monastery.

When I got to Paradise Beach on Amorgos, there was no one else around so I decided to build my own castle in Paradise. Note the drawbridge over the moat to the castle. Proper detail, that.

Vivid pinky red sunset on Amorgos.

Mountain-top shot of the sunset. Both Naxos and Amorgos have very mountainous interiors which are great fun to drive around and provide some amazing views.

Sunrise as I left Amorgos for Athens on the Blue Star Delos ferry.


Ancient ruins in the foreground, can't remember what the church in the middle ground was, and then the Parthenon sits stop the Acropolis in the background.

Parthenon illuminated at night. Photo taken from Mount Lycabettus, overlooking the whole city.

Theatre of Dionysus on the south entrance to the Acropolis. 

This photo demonstrates why people love 'selfies' so much. Because if you ask a passer-by to take your photo, it could end up looking like this. Eyes closed, cut off at the waist. I'm sure the guy had an SLR camera, so I thought he'd manage something better. I was wrong.

As you'd expect, the Parthenon is a bit of a tourist hotspot and was a bit of a change for me after seven days of meandering about half-empty islands 
Slightly better shot of yours truly in front of the Parthenon. Lady who took this photo didn't have a flashy camera but a much better eye for a photo.

The Temple of Zeus, taken from the Acropolis.

A couple of striking Athenian buildings.

I thought they were 'armless but then they got completely legless and lost their heads. At the Stoa of Attalos.

The Temple of Hephaestus. Much smaller than the Parthenon but far more intact and less crowded.

At the Temple of Zeus with the Parthenon visible in the background.

Graffiti in Athens suggesting that the Greeks can laugh about their economic situation.