I slept really well at Apartment Tina’s. The beds are very comfortable and that’s coming from a Princess who could spot a pea under multiple mattresses. I had a little breakfast and chilled in the garden until it was time to go. There is a new face working on reception today. Well not new exactly because he recognised me and I recognised him. It was Christos who had driven me to the airport last time I was here. He was surprised when I told him that I remembered that he had worked for Aegean Airlines at one time. I also remembered that he had studied in the UK. What I didn’t know until today is that he used to teach salsa dancing in Coventry! As I arrive at the airport he tells me that next time I stay he will give me a salsa lesson. Well that’s an offer that I can’t refuse!
Anyway – onto the next part of the trip. I’ve wanted to visit Greece in winter for a long time. Last year I was in Greece until early November and in the past I’ve been here as early as April – but nothing in between. I had hoped to be there for Christmas but that didn’t happen. This is as close as it will get.
I must admit that looking at my itinerary, it doesn’t make much logistical sense. I suspect that some of my transfers are going to be a bit frenetic to say the least. However, I have two bucket list items on this trip that I’ll be able to satisfy and that is good enough for me!
I also can’t honestly say how or when these destinations appeared on my wish list because there isn’t a real, written down list. I sometimes read something or see a video or photograph that interests me and there it goes – up onto one of the dusty old shelves in my brain where it will sit and ferment until it’s ripe enough to bring out.
I don’t usually book holidays for myself too far in advance. My family life can be a little crazy and I never quite know what will pop up at any point during the year. Once I have an idea in my head though, I usually just go for it. I’ll book some flights and then think more about the detail later. Actually there are more elements of this trip firmed up than most. That’s because I expect it to be busy at some of my chosen destinations and didn’t want to be left without accommodation.
Skyros has been on that dusty shelf for a long time. When I was in the Sporades many years ago, Skyros was just that little bit out of the way to visit. The thing with the Sporades is that they are just too – Sporadic. I’d read an article about the island and was instantly taken by a story about the Skryian ponies. The article also mentioned Apokries or the Carnival that take place in the lead up to Clean Monday. I was so intrigued by the very unique ways the Skyriots celebrate carnival in the form of the Goat festival that it immediately went onto this mental list. Now here I am heading off for my flight.
Athens airport was busy and the short flight was full – mostly Greeks returning home for the festivities with just the odd tourist like me. The flight took us over Southern Evia and I couldn’t help but notice the small islands that run along its coastline. I can always tell it’s Evia by the strings of wind turbines that run through the landscape. I can never resist playing spot the island from my window seat. I had to look some of them up after the event. Stouronisi I read has plans to turn it into a luxury resort. Oh dear.
Before I know it I am in the small terminal building at the end of the runway. It took all of 5 minutes for everyone to retrieve their luggage from the carousel. My next challenge was to find a taxi. Most people had arranged taxis before hand – obviously being ‘in the know’. I really didn’t want to get stranded in the middle of nowhere so I asked a taxi driver if he would come back for me after dropping off a young couple. He insisted that I share the taxi which was perfect.
It is clear when you come into land on Skyros that it operates within or on the edge of a military airbase. On the exit we pass through a gate manned by soldiers. The taxi drivers are obliged to show a pass when entering and leaving the airport grounds. Overhead, at least one fighter jet is on manoeuvres. I can hear it but I can’t see it! There are several jets parked up on the base ready to spring into action when necessary. This airbase is one of the most important in the Aegean after Lesvos.
When considering where to stay on Skyros I had a choice of staying up in Chora where most of the carnival events take place or down by the beach. I chose Eleana’s Apartments down in Molos overlooking the beach. As the taxi begins the approach to Molos, the Chora and Kastro comes into view and my mouth literally falls open in awe. It looks like some kind of magical fairy kingdom with its whitewashed cuboid buildings tumbling down the slopes. That is going to be some trek up to Chora. I think that I should have gone into training beforehand!
Once at Eleana’s Apartments I welcomed in by Helen and her mother. The room is compact but newly refurbished and perfect for my 5 nights here. Down below is Votsalo Taverna run by Helen’s brother Giannis. That will be very handy. There is a shared terrace with views over to Chora and the sea and also a little shared kitchenette in the corridor.
After unpacking I decide to head to Chora. Helen had told me it will take about 30 inutes to walk but knowing that it is all uphill I was a little dubious. I give it a go anyway. I follow Google maps which takes me through the maze of streets until I am on the main road. There is a sign pointing up to Brooke Square and Kastro so I follow. Jesus I had no idea how tough this climb was going to be. There are around 200 steps which in parts is just a sloping path. I have to stop several (many) times along the way to catch my breath. Every time I reached a corner there would be another set of steps. Swear words were said! I knew when I woke up this morning that I was coming down with a lurgy and it isn’t helping me conquer this ascent.
The views over Molos alone are a good excuse to stop and take a photo when inside my heart is ready to burst out of my chest. Finally I make it to the top and I touch the wall of the church nearby to give thanks. An odd thing for an Athiest I know but well – I’m just fickle! On the edge of Brooke Square is the statue of poet and Philhellene, the handsome Rupert Brooke. During World War 1 Brooke whilst on service with the Royal Navy was heading towards the Dardanelles when he was taken ill. At the age of 28 he died of septicemia on a hospital ship just off the coast of Skyros where he was later buried. The septicemia was due to an infection stemming from a mosquito bite. Brookes was known for his wartime sonnets the most famous of which was The Soldier.
Just beyond the square are some steps leading up into Chora. The sign says to the Kastro so I assume that this is the direction that I need to go. Everything is earily quiet. A lot of the houses are locked up and there is nobody about. I know that Chora’s like this are designed to confuse marauding pirates but this is a really complicated Chora in which to get your bearings. Whilst the Kastro is in sight I can see the direction that I’m going in – otherwise there’s no chance. There aren’t any shops or taverna’s so I think that I am definitely in the wrong place. By now the sun is preparing to set. I don’t want to get stuck on the steps in the dark so decide to call it quits and head back to Molos. The only goat related thing I see today is droppings on the steps on the way down.
By now I’m feeling pretty grotty. I have a scratchy sore throat and a bit of a temperature. I don’t know whether it’s an airplane thing (despite wearing a mask during both flights or a now I’ve switched off from work my body decides to give up thing. I’ll have to plough through it! I have a quick bite to eat at Gianni’s taverna and get an early night. I have 5 nights here and there is plenty of time to see goat dancers!