Tag Archives: greek islands

Paros

Getting here was a 50 minute ferry ride from Mykonos (which was delayed multiple times). The ferry itself was great, a speedy catamaran with comfortable seats.

A side note here is that virtually every ferry that we have booked has had numerous changes (of either ship or time). Because of this, the original seat allocation may as well be thrown in the bin before you even start. They will find you a couple of spare seats and sit you down. This is fine if there are just 2 of you, but becomes a nightmare for large groups who want to sit together.

Paros became famous for its white marble called ‘Parian marble’. This is a fine-grained semi translucent pure-white and entirely flawless marble and was mainly quarried here during the classical era (500-336BC).

This marble was used in both architecture and sculpture. Some of the masterpieces of ancient Greek sculpture were made with this pure white, translucent material. Notably these include (L-R): The statues of Hermes by Praxiteles, Venus de Milo (i.e. Aphrodite of Milos), Nike [Winged Victory] of Samothrace, and the Caryatids, (the pillars holding up the patio of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis).

As soon as we arrived on Paros, I knew that I would love this place. It had all of the beauty of Mykonos (without the huge prices and plastic people) and Syros (without the stairs). We settled into our hotel and went for a late afternoon stroll, which turned into a few beers watching the sunset. And followed onto a dinner on the waterfront promenade.

Paros is one of the bigger of the Cycladic islands and it offers the same narrow streets, bougainvillea covered buildings, seaside promenades, cafes, restaurants and beaches as most of the other more famous islands of the region.

Parikia is the capital town and main port of Paros, as well as the centre of commercial and cultural life (and our home for the next few days).

There are no big resorts here. Your only option is staying at a smaller family-owned type hotel. We somehow managed to get the one that takes tour buses of 18-25 year olds doing the Greek islands tour. This meant that every 2 days a new busload of around 50  noisy millennials would turn up. On average about 30 of that 50 were Aussie girls. The early pool infestation was loud and noisy in the afternoons, but they all headed out to the promenade for sunset and partied into the evening. Our next real interaction was the next morning when we heard the moaning as they dealt with their hangovers.

Given the size of the island, the next day we chose to hire a car and see all the extra bits that were tough to reach. This was new for us as usually we just wander around or hire motorcycles or scooters. Add to this it was a left hand drive, driving on the right, mad-ass Greek drivers, a 1 litre Peugeot with no power, no ability to read Greek and no real idea where we were going. So that was us – and off we went.

Our first major stop was the town of Lefkes where we wandered the small narrow streets until we found ourselves at the main church of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), built in 1830. We did stop at a tiny (any guesses?) blue and white church along the way.

From here we found ourselves at a local winery where Jill proceeded to sample the wares. Given that I was driving and I had enough going on I chose not to partake. But the wines were nice and the setting was very nice indeed.

We saw the church of Agios Ioannis (Saint John) Detis (built in the 17th century). It was very nice, but when in Greece the sight of a whitewashed church with a blue domed roof is a dime a dozen and you pass one every 10 minutes or so on the road. A few more stops saw us checking in at Lageri Beach, Santa Maria Beach and driving through millionaires row (on the other side of the island) where there are some truly stunning villas (obviously holiday homes for the rich and famous). The most striking thing that we saw was the quality of the stonework that was in place all around the island. Masonry in Greece is not a dying art and is alive and well.

Just across the way from Paros is the island of Antiparos. This had me imagining some evil twin scenario where one had turned and had become evil. In fact, it is one of those Greek islands that had managed to stay off the radar. I say had because several years ago the actor Tom Hanks bought a block of land and built a villa. Since then, he and a range of other “A-listers” have been regularly visiting. According to locals, he has done a lot of good (improving hospitals etc) but the prices have gone up 400% since he arrived. So now many of the Antiparos locals live on Paros and catch the ferry over to run their businesses.

After a half day of driving (only about 120km), we had circumnavigated the island, including some off-roading (in our 1 litre monster) to the choice photo spots. And we had seen all the bits there was to see. Long story short, this place is amazing.

The next day we hopped on the local the bus and headed to the town of Naousa. This is the more popular town about 9km up the road. Well we soon worked out where all the vacuous people had gone to. This is a really pretty tourist town whose streets are awash with Instagrammers all posing for their shots. You could see why though, the streets were pristine and it was set up for the tourists. Oh, and there were ducks.

One of the more amusing sights was when two groups of Instagrammers met and everyone needed shots of the same location. Oh, the Mexican standoff that ensued. The other thing that I have learned on this trip is the VERY different demands that are placed on boyfriends in 2023. No longer is being a loving and supportive partner enough, now you must have done a photography course and be patient enough to take endless photos of your girlfriend’s back while she peers over her own shoulder back towards you.

On the tourism front, there is a small Venetian Castle that was built in the 15th century perched on the end of the old port and the blue-domed chapel of St. Nikolas. You can walk across a tiny causeway (about 60cm wide) to the castle, but must navigate the crashing waves and vicious winds in doing so.

From here we headed back to Parikia and figured that we had better check out the tourist spots where we were staying as all we had really done was enjoy the food, cafes, restaurants, and the promenade. So we saw the Monastery of Panagia Ekatontapiliani (the Virgin Mary of the Hundred Doors), the Pamegiston Taksiarxon (another blue-domed, whitewashed church), another windmill, and the (very unimpressive) Frankish castle (built in 1260 by the Venetians).

OK, so I think that this is our favourite of the Greek Islands so far. It is very scenic, well priced, relatively flat (so that you don’t have to kill yourself going up and down stairs) and has a nice local feel to it while still catering well to the tourists. If you want the super pretty and Instagram world head up the road to Naousa, for the more relaxed version, stay in Parikia, and if you want the private retreat, rent a villa.

Syros

The Greek archipelago has nearly 2,000 islands of varying sizes and accessibility.

Leaving Athens we hopped a ferry to the Aegean Island of Syros (about 150km SW of Athens). This will be the first of many island-hopping adventures in Greece. The Greek islands have been on Jill’s Bucket list for a long time (most particularly Mykonos and Santorini) but while we are here we will be seeing a bunch of the others.

The first of which is Syros.

Let’s start with the ferries. What an absolute delight. The first one we got on was, a 1900 passenger and car ferry taking us from the Athens port of Piraeus.  The boat was doing a milk run to almost all of the islands but as we were the first stop it was pretty nice. We were in cattle class and did not spring for business but we still had large roomy seats, plenty of space, luggage rooms, cafe’s and restaurants, what more could you want or need. By all accounts there were even cabins downstairs for those doing the long haul trips to the further away islands, but we didn’t see them.

Lets not be silly here, we have all seen the photos of the Greek Islands and the images are amazing. And sadly, they actually look this way. Syros is certainly not as pretty as some of the others that regularly get featured, but it is still stunning.

Syros Island used to be one of the most significant islands in cycladic civilisation (early Bronze age). We landed off the ferry in the island’s capital Ermoupolis (named after God Hermes). Ermoupolis was the first commercial and industrial centre of Greece (in the 1800’s) mainly due to its location and deep water port.

 When booking, Jill got us our own little house on the top op the hill in an area known as – Ano Syros. This is the medieval settlement of Syros and offered some stunning views over the town, ocean and the port. The official spiel says that it is a classical cycladic medieval settlement that is densely built with narrow roads, circular order and a radial street plan. I will attest to the narrow streets but would seriously question any sort of order or plan.

The little house Jill got us involved kicking out some little old lady from her home for a few days. This is the nature of the locals cashing in on the tourist dollar I guess. After getting off the ferry we hopped a cab to the top of the hill where we me George and Angelika (the lady we were ousting). We then hiked up and down the narrow streets (mostly up and down stairs) lugging our big bags for about 700m until we got to Angelika’s house.

Angelika was small, but her house was built for a hobbit. It was a 2 storey tiny house. Downstairs was a kitchen and toilet/shower while upstairs had a bedroom and another small room with no particular purpose. The door to downstairs was a stable type door that reached up to my nipples. So to enter I needed to bend virtually fully at the waist, not just ducking.

The bedroom was tiny and the staircase between the floors was so small that neither Jill nor I could manage them. On the way down we could take the first two stairs but then needed to sit on the step and slide our bums from stair to stair as we were both too tall to traverse them effectively. This was fine unless you wanted to use the toilet during the evening. The corner of the toilet featured a huge rock that was obviously too hard to chisel out when building the house, so they just left it there. The downstairs ceiling had some lovely ancient logs that added a ton of character.

The Church of Saint George is the christian church built in the top of the hill of Ano Syros. It was originally built in 1208 but had been destroyed and rebuilt three times since.

Ano Syros was lovely but it did involve stairs, lots and lots of stairs. Every trip out of our (tiny) house was an adventure, involving a ton of stairs, a more than decent hike, and it was even worse trying to get in and out with our big bags. But up on the hill there was the odd cafe/bar/restaurant with just amazing views.

Of particular note was an eclectic little place that was about as bohemian as you could get. The food was sensational, cheap and the atmosphere was buzzing. You could barely breathe from the amount of smoke that filled the place (more than the fair share was added by the chefs as they cooked). And you were constantly harassed throughout your meal by gangs of marauding cats (at least 5 that inhabited the restaurant during opening hours).

The next day we hiked from our house back out to the road and got on the (free) bus to take us back down to the port of Ermoupolis and spent most of the day wandering around town. This is only a few km from our place and was at the bottom of the hill. It is a regular(ish) port for cruise ships so the waterfront is packed with cafes, restaurants and tourist shops.

The other side of town holds the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas (the patron saint of seafarers, is also the patron saint of Ermoupoli). Construction began in 1848 and took 22 years to complete. The church is known as Agios Nikolaos “the rich,” to distinguish it from “Agios Nikolaos of the poor” another church on Syros.

Because of the siesta that is taken in Greece we were unable ot take the bus back up to Ano Syros unless we were willing to wait until 6:45pm (we were dropped off at around 10:45am). So we did our bits and caught a taxi up the hill. This is something that we ended up having to do several times and our fare (for the identical trip) ranged from 4 to 8 euro.

On our last full day in Syros my looks got me confused once again. This has been a regular occurrence as we have travelled the world, especially once I get a bit of a tan. In Egypt they thought I was Italian and in Italy they thought I was Egyptian. In south and central america most people just assumed I was Latino and spoke Spanish to me. It even got to the point in India where people were speaking Hindi to me thinking I was local.

Well in Syros, the local politician greeted me whilst I was having a coffee at a local cafe. He handed me his promotional material and launched into a full spiel in Greek. Once I set him straight, he took his stuff back and headed to the next table. A short while later we popped into the supermarket to get some milk and the shop keeper launched into a full conversation with me while I stared blankly.

On our last evening we went to one of the little restaurants on the hill (the one with the best view) for our final Syros meal. We ordered the large platter of small things. This was like an Italian antipasto platter but with a distinctly Greet twist. Washed down with a carafe of wine and a beer we had our most expensive meal in Greece so far.

Having seen Syros and having looked at the tourist photos of our next few ports of call, I am growing a little concerned that the variety of the next few posts may be a little light on. They all seem quite similar. Stunning views, narrow streets, tons of stairs, oceans and seaside townships. Anyway, bear with us.