Leaving Xanthi and Arrival on Samothrace

Rightyhooo then – a quick photo-dump of some of the images of Xanthi that I haven’t yet had a chance to include in the previous posts. Here are photos of the former home of composer  Manos Hadjidakis, the old town hall, the Church of St Vlasios, Muzaffer Bey Mansion – and more.

Xanthi has been a very interesting town to visit. Four days wasn’t enough to explore everything but it has at least given me a flavour of what the town and surrounding area has to offer. I would love to come back one day.

It’s time to move on and I’m very excited about my next destination. This one has been on my bucket list for a long time so I’m thrilled to be visiting at last. Samothrace is a little off the beaten track but very easy to access from Xanthi, Kavala and even Thessalonika where there is a direct bus to Alexandroupolis – about an hour away from Xanthi.

This trip to Greece should have taken place a month earlier but because of the air traffic control fiasco, my flight was cancelled. In one respect this was fortuitous because in August the Evros region and Alexandroupolis in particular, had been subject to catastrophic wildfires. Whilst following the Evros news channel closely, I watched in horror as elderly patients from Alexandroupolis Hospital were evacuated just as the flames lapped at the hillside beyond. The good old ship Adamantios Korais was called back into the port to provide support as a makeshift hospital. If an inanimate object like a ship can achieve hero status then Adam K is up there with the best of them.

In the aftermath of the fire, the devastation has certainly left its mark. Halfway between Xanthi and Alexandroupolis as the bus continues along the old trading route of Via Egnatia, the views through the window shocked me. The once lush and thriving hillside now lies barren, covered in blackened remnants of what used to be a flourishing forest. The sight of trees reduced to mere black sticks jutting out from the ground is a reminder of nature’s vulnerability in the face of such disasters. There are several crossing points where the ferocious fire leapt across the road and continued down towards the coast. I was touched to see an elderly lady on the other side of the bus quietly weeping as she gazed at the sight around her.

The bus finally arrives at the station in the centre of the main town. The Adamantios Korais departs at 1500 which gives me plenty of time to take a slow amble to the port.

Alexandroupolis is a large port and rather industrial-looking. It is a bit of a trek from the port entrance to the boat, past the customs office, several warehouses and a marina. The Adamantios Korais is already in port and looking resplendent in its orange and white livery. Goods are being loaded but not passengers. Noa cafe and the Yacht Club are located on one of the harbour arms so this is a good place to while away the time until it is time to board.

That chocolate cake was rather indulgent! Now it’s time to board – no more than twenty of us are travelling today – all Greeks barr me and a German hiker. Up on the deck there is a good view of the city. I will stay in Alexandroupolis when I leave Samothrace so I scan the town to assess the best location to stay. Sitting on the horizon line almost within touching distance is Samothrace wearing a halo of clouds.

It wasn’t until we set sail that I could see the fire-ravaged landscape behind Alexandroupolis. It is frightening to see how close the fire came to the city and the extent of the damage.

Although Samothrace looks close the journey takes 1 hour and 50 minutes. There is something quite mysterious about this island that I can’t put my finger on. I think that this will be one of the most unique Greek islands that I’ve ever visited.

We sail along the Western side of the island under the shadow of Mount Saos which holds the title of the highest mountain in the Aegean. The locals call the mountain Fenghari which means ‘moon’. Local legend says that if you stand on the peak of the mountain under a full moon and make a wish, it will come true.

Before the ship approaches the harbour, we pass a circular watch tower on the shoreline. Soon after I catch a fleeting glimpse of Chora peaking out between two crags. As fast as the village shows itself, it disappears again. Approaching the port of Kamariotissa, the landscape becomes agricultural. Freshly harvested wheat fields reflect a golden light, a stark contrast to the dark hillsides that surrounds them.

No matter how much I read about a place before I visit, it always looks completely different to how I imagined it. But I’m here with an open mind and without any pre-conceptions. The island will reveal itself to me at its own pace.

Whilst deciding where to stay in Samothrace I was in a bit of a quandry. I knew there was a limited bus service and I also had no intention of hiring a car – especially on such a mountainous island. I did toy with the idea of staying in Chora but I didn’t fancy the idea of being stranded up in a village with limited transport links. Therefore, it made sense to stay in the port town of Kamariotissa.

There is always an element of risk when choosing where to stay. I don’t usually spend a lot of time weighing up the options and as a budget traveller, cost is always a consideration especially on extended trips such as this. On this occasion, I have decided to stay at Aiolos Rooms. What isn’t always clear on a map is whether it is located up a hill or not which in this case it is. I was pretty pooped by the time I’d dragged my case the fifteen minutes to the property. To make up for that I received an exceptionally warm welcome from my hosts Mr Giannis and his wife Mrs Stratoula.

My hosts live in a small house set in a huge garden with an orchard, an outdoor kitchen and a bread oven. Next to their house is the accommodation, a block of 4 rooms with a shared terrace and below that a large shaded seating area. The room is simple but spotlessly clean with a basic bathroom and a kitchenette with a fridge and a kettle. Mr Giannis tells me that tomorrow he will be taking Stratoula to Alexandroupolis for an operation on her leg and they will be back in a few days. Later he brings me a plate of fruit from his orchard He also recommends Taverna Sta Kala Kathoumena at the bottom of the hill as a good place to eat.

I do eat at Sta Kala Kathoumena later that evening. It is a traditional taverna where the prices are very good indeed. It’s the first time that I’ve seen a Greek salad under 10€ for several years and a glass of wine is 2.5€! In addition to the complimentary dessert, and the company of a one-eyed cat, the hospitality from the women that work there was fantastic. I think that this may become my local!

Until tomorrow!

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