I’ve just embarked upon this year’s solo Greek Island Hopping trip – or as my family are calling it Grandma Stephanie’s midlife crisis holiday. It’s true – I will be 60 this year and my plan was to travel in September with my family and make a big family holiday of it. Organising my family is like herding eels. Family commitments and busy working lives meant that it just wasn’t going to happen so I saw a cheap flight and booked it. One major factor that my family can’t join me on this trip is that my beautiful, talented eldest granddaughter has made it to Junior Wimbledon this year so it is with some sadness that I won’t be there to see her play so I departed on this trip with mixed feelings.
The hope is that this 6 week trip will take me to Samos, Agathonisi, Ikaria, Fourni, Arki/Marathi, Lipsi. Leros, Kalymnos/Pserimos and a last minute addition – Syros then home via Athens.
I’ve had the idea of this trip since last year’s two month trip around Crete and the Dodecanese when I’d hoped to make it to Arki and Marathi but just ran out of time. So I’m coming right back for them this year but from another direction! This 6 week trip started yesterday with a flight from Manchester to Samos via Dusseldorf. It’s interesting to fly into Dusseldorf and from the air it looks a mixture of industrial and rural.
I’m so used to being able to catch a direct flight from Manchester to a whole range of gateway islands but unfortunately there haven’t been any direct flights from Manchester to Samos for a number of years.
After a few hours wait at Dusseldorf, I’m on my way to Samos – the transfer was seamless.
From Samos Airport it’s a short taxi ride to Pythagorio – about 4 kilometres and 10€. I’m staying at Hotel Dolphin right in the port. It’s basic accommodation and has a café bar on the harbour which seems full of life. The journey here was a really long day – starting at 4am in the morning and I’m about ready to drop. I do summon up the energy to have a little walk around the town and up to the kastro, collecting a door knocker photo or two for my collection as I go.
Because of sheer exhaustion my heart isn’t in it and I return to Hotel Dolphin. I can just about muster the energy to eat a chocolate waffle without falling face first into it!
I call it quits and go for an early night. Even though my room is on a quiet side street, there is the faint muffle of background music coming from the café bars. Well until about 10pm that was, when the quiet music turned into what sounded like a full on party with a live music performance that made the balcony doors vibrate. My head was telling me to get up and go and explore but my body was telling me to play dead! I tried putting headphones in but all that did was replace one kind of noise with another. This went on until about 4am in the morning after which I did manage to get a few hours’ sleep. I found out later that there had been a festival in the port but what kind of festival I’m not sure. I’ve never known a Greek music festival to go on so long. Or maybe it didn’t and I was just sleep deprived and delirious – who knows?
I attempt another quick mooch around the town as I need to buy my ferry tickets and a hat. I think it’s fair to say that when you arrive in Greece it takes some time to acclimatise and switch off from work. Pythagorio is popular and it’s busy. There were points where I found myself channelling my inner Villanelle. Let’s put it this way – a few people have come to a sticky end (in my imagination!). Don’t mess with a grumpy granny!
I need breakfast so head back to Hotel Dolphin for their Dolphin Special. As I sit on the harbour front I notice Captain Andreas’s boat. Almost 10 years to the day my husband and I did a day trip on this boat (or a former relative) to the tiny neighbouring island of Samipoula where a fantastic BBQ was put on for us. How time flies.
After another quick walk around the port it is time to prepare to leave Samos.
My first destination island is Agathonisi. It is very windy today – the ropes on the yachts in the harbour were being played like violins, whistling up a high pitched whine. The wind makes me a little nervous. I had the choice of getting the Dodekanisos Express (faster but very bouncy in windy weather) or the Nissos Kalymnos (slower but a bit more stable). I chose the one that I have more of an affinity with – the slower and more stable Nis K!
Because I suffer from emetophobia very badly, taking a boat where people may be ill fills me with dread. I don’t get seasick myself but I’ve been in some awful situations where I’ve been in a small enclosed boat in rough seas with people who are being ill. It totally freaks me out.
I track the Niss Kalymnos’s arrival on the Marine Traffic app. I can see her on the horizon and before long she’s entering the port albeit a little late due to the wind.
Windfinder tells me the wind speed is 21-22 knots so that doesn’t sound too bad and actually, the journey over is very enjoyable with just a little bit of gentle rolling. My phobia had made me build it up to be much worse than it really was.
As we approach Agathonisi, we are presented with its back. The island looks very barren and is covered in low growing scrub and waves chop at its ankles. We circle the island all the way around to the other side where the narrow but deep bay slowly reveals itself.
Just me, a couple of Greeks and some soldiers returning to camp disembark (which is always a good sign). This makes it very easy for Eleni from Mary’s Rooms to spot me and she warmly welcomes me and walks me to Mary’s Rooms pointing out a taverna and the minimarket to me – and that is about it! I think I’m going to love it here! It is quiet – so quiet that all I can hear over the wind on the waves are the goats and roosters up on the hill.
Once past the mini market, we walk up and over a small bluff and here we arrive. Mary’s Rooms is a traditional pension that has a beautiful shaded pergola on the front and from which you walk right out onto the beach. Nothing has been ‘boutiquified’ here and that gives it an air of authenticity and not something that has been contrived for the tourists. My balcony gives me a side sea view all the way to the nearby port.
Once unpacked (always a relief to be able to do when island hopping) I head down to the first taverna called Taverna George close to the port. I ask the lady who is sitting outside when they are open. She tells me whenever I like but the sun is still up and the best time to come is 7.30 once the sun has gone behind the hill. I tell her I’ll be back. At 7.30 I return – the only person here. The sun is just in the process of dipping behind the hill and the temperature drops significantly. There is still a strong breeze blowing and the seagulls take the opportunity to ride the thermals, swooping and calling in unison.
The menu is limited but just perfect – all of the Greek staples are on there and it doesn’t take long to choose – my first real Greek meal of the trip is always once to be relished. Tzatziki, tomato salad and roasted chicken washed down with some white wine.
There is a real intimate feel to this little port. Neighbours shout to each other from their homes or stop and exchange news. The elderly lady who waves and shout’s to George I’m told is 92!
After the hectic journey to get here I can now breathe and unwind.