Farewell Antiparos – Hello Folegandros!

It is always sad leaving an island as is definitely the case today.  However, this feeling is offset in the knowledge that we are heading off to a brand new island – one that neither Peter or I have visited before.

When we awake we throw our last few bits into our suitcases.  I decide to shower first but out of the corner of my eye I can see a huge cockroach scuttling around the edge of the shower tray.  I leap back into the bedroom and onto the bed whilst Peter gives chase to the little (huge) blighter.  It runs under the bed, out from under the bed and under the chest of drawers.  It then makes a run for my suitcase and take the opportunity to leap between the open zips and squeeze down the side of my clothes.  Peter flicks it out with a Guide to Antiparos and it runs under the wardrobe.  After levering the wardrobe out from the wall Peter manages to corner it inside a plastic cup and dispose of it outside on the street.

Just as I was hoping to ease myself into the day gently!

Despite this little episode, Villa Harmonia was a nice place to stay, basic and clean and quiet and OK for 35 euros per night.

The high speed ferry to Folegandros – The Aqua Spirit, is due to leave Paros at 11.50am so we are catching the 9.00am boat straight to Parikia.  I much prefer it when you can get a boat in the morning so the agony of leaving isn’t prolonged.  We had the leaving trial run yesterday – now let’s get on with it.

The boat is much busier today as yesterday was the last day of the festival and many of the Greek visitors will be returning to mainland Greece.

I’m sure I’ll be back to Antiparos for a fourth time – maybe more.  We barely ventured further than the town of Antiparos except to visit the cave – this has been quite a lazy first four days.  I would love to have visited the little island of Despotiko again and also walked to the Northern most point of the island to watch the sunset.  Definitely next time!

Farewell Antiparos – I’ve loved seeing you again!

When we arrive at Parikia we still have a bit of time before the the high speed ferry arrives.  I sit in a cafe opposite the port cattle pens with the luggage whilst Peter goes to explore another church.

When he returns we go to queue in cattle pens.  It’s due to leave in 15 minutes but the turnaround time on the high speed ferries is much faster than the larger ferries.  It must be running late because the Blue Star Paros arrives – and then leaves.  A Sea Jet also arrives followed by the Blue Star Delos – another long lost friend. 

The Aqua Spirit has missed its slot on the quay and Peter hears from the back of the queue that passengers for the high speed ferry have to walk over to the quay on the other side of the car park. Absolute confusion ensues.  We just follow the policeman who’d updated the people at the back of the queue.  Within minutes the Aqua Spirit appears in sight.

Boarding is quick and we decide to go up onto the top deck.  I’m looking forward to this journey and especially to see old friends like Naxos – even if it is from the deck of the ship.  But for now, farewell Paros!

There is a fantastic breeze up on the deck, the sky is blue and we can see for miles.  Blue Star Paros passes us on the way to Naxos – just because you’re on a ‘high speed ferry’ doesn’t mean you’re on the fastest ship!

The first port of call is Naxos – again this is another island that I haven’t visited for nearly 20 years so I’m excited to see it again.  As we approach the island, it’s most famous landmark comes into view – the marble Portera standing proud on the little islet of Palatia.  One of the ‘must do’s’ whilst visiting Naxos is to take an early evening stroll across the narrow causeway to the Portera and watch the glorious sunset.

Perched above Naxos town sits the Venetian kastro.  According to allgreektravel.com:

“The Venetian Castle (Kastro) was built by Marco Sanudo after the fourth crusade.

He was part of the family of Enrico Dandolo, doge of Venice and participator of the crusade.
Venice was the conqueror and Maro Sanudo founded, after occupying, the duchy of the Cyclades with its capital in Naxos (1207).
The Kastro was built on dense constructions of the Middle Ages. The “Barozzi” House is located at the southwestern gate of the Kastro and is still in property of the family. The Barozzis were one of the 7 families who founded Venice and were barons on Santorini between 1207-1335. One of the houses of “Della Rokka”, the old family “Del la Roche”, great dukes of Athens and Attica, has a nice shop “Antico Venetico” selling old dishes, furniture and textiles in the backroom, reminding the rule of the dukes. Actually, it is more or less a museum and has 4 columns of classical temples. Della Rokkas still own one of the eldest pharmacies of the Cyclades (end of 19th century) in Naxos town.”

I remember the kastro was so atmospheric at night.  Naxos also has beautiful long sandy beaches – some of the best in the Greek islands. The strongest memory of my stay on Naxos all those years ago is of a trip to Mount Zeus.  The plan was to find the cave where the god Zeus is said to have been born.  We took a bus up to the village of Filoti – even though it was hot and sunny down in the town, it was pouring with rain up in this small mountain village.  Before setting off on a the trek up the mountain I popped into a local cafe to use the facilities.  I had never seen such a revolting toilet in all my life!  Anyway, several other groups had planned to also trek up to the cave.  The Germans went one way, the Italians another. There wasn’t any signage and after trekking up the mountain and then traipsing across several fields with only the Guide to Island Hopping for company we realised we were lost.  We stopped a farmer to ask the way to the cave communicating mainly by flailing our arms like idiots.  He beat a hasty retreat.

After hours of walking around in circles we decided to call it a day – we never did find the cave.  It was a nice little adventure all the same.

Passengers have now disembarked or boarded and the ferry is now heading for Ios.  A short time after we are approached by a gentleman who tells us he is from the University of Skavangar and he is conducting a survey on travel in Greece.  He asks us if we will take part in the survey, which we agree to.  I takes five minutes to complete the survey and as I return it to him I tell him that if he ever needs an assistant for future studies around the Greek islands that I would make myself available!  If only!

It is a glorious day, quite hot but the wind blowing across the deck of the ferry keeps it the temperature down.  Before long we arrive at Ios.  What I read about Ios is that it’s a party island and has amazing beaches.  As we pull into the pretty little port it’s hard to imagine this reputation.  Two hills sit behind the port – one large and one small.  I count five whitewashed churches perched along the ridge of the smaller hill.  A larger church sits to the right of the port overlooking the bay. And don’t think I didn’t notice the massive whitewashed villa perched on top of the cliff!

We have one last stop at Sikinos before arriving at Folegandros.

Using the GPS facility on Skitch we track our position and see that we are, at last approaching Folegandros.  I think this is the most exciting part of sea travel.  There is absolutely nothing like the feeling of anticipation as you arrive at a new island.    Standing on the car deck waiting for the back to come down as the new island slowly reveals itself.

We disembark and waiting on the left hand side of the port is a local bus – everyone seems to head straight for the bus.  We however, approach the small group of people holding photographs of rooms.  We know we want to stay in the chora  as we have heard that it is one of the prettiest in the Greek islands.  We have a budget of about 30 euros per night and a young man says he has just the place for us.  We pile our bags into the small minibus and head up the hill to Evgenia Rooms.

The hillside is covered with splintered slate from which purple thyme bursts forth.  The shattered green coloured slate looks as though it could slide down the hillside at any time.  I notice deep ditches at the base of the hillside and assume this is to capture stray rocks – or maybe divert rainfall from the mountains to prevent flooding.

It is a short journey up to the chora – only a few kilometres and we find Evgenia on the main street into the chora.  The young man tells us that the bus stop is 1 minute away next to the town hall, but after today it will be 1 minute in the other direction by the school.  He introduces us to his mother Evgenia and says that we can have a room for 30 euros or a studio for 35.  We opt for just a room.  As well as taking us up to the chora he will also pick us up and take us back to the port – we just need to let Evgenia know what day we are leaving the island.

The room is lovely, absolutely spotless, quite spacious and an immaculate bathroom.  Some little extras that we really appreciated was a large plastic bowl in the bathroom for washing clothes and a drying stand on the balcony.  We didn’t have anywhere to hang washing on Antiparos so had only washed small bits of clothing as we went along.   We stand and admire the gardens surrounding Hotel Polikandia across the road from us.  It has been landscaped with tall palms and potted plants which provide a backdrop to the pool and waterfall.  Fuschia pink Bougainvillea drapes itself over the little whitewashed apartments.

First things first, we unpack and shower, chucking all of our dirty clothes into the bathroom.  I wash the clothes in the large bowl and Peter rinses and squeezes.  It isn’t long before the drying frame is completely full.

Now it’s time to introduce our friend Pimms to the balcony!

I”m desperate to explore the chora after everything I have read about it.  Just  two minutes walk from Evegnia and next to the town hall is the most wonderful viewing point with fantastic views over the sea to Paros and Naxos.  Set into the cliffside, medieval stockade type houses hang precariously over the bay below.  This is part of the ancient kastro.

Looming above us, positioned almost directly above Evegnia is the Panagia church.  A whitewashed stone path zigzags its way up the hillside to the foot of the church – about a kilometre in total.  The view from up there must be spectacular so we make a mental note to put this on our itinerary.

The Church of Panagia

To get our bearings we note that the town hall is where the bus stops and is practically the entrance to Chora. A little further in is the main square.

We continue to walk further into the chora, expectations high – and we aren’t disappointed.  The chora consists of a series of little squares shaded by mature plane trees, little tavernas each identified by the patterns on their table clothes of the colour of the painted furniture.  My first impression is that it is very ’boutique’ but nonetheless very pretty and atmospheric – think Mykonos and Santorini but less busy.  Each square has its own picturesque whitewashed church providing a focal point.  The green slate is set into the street in traditional Cycladic style.  Folegandros chora really is picture perfect!

On one of the church walls we see a poster advertising the Folegandros Chora Races 2013.  We see this takes place tonight.  Runners from all over the world are invited to take part in one of three categories – the Folegandros Extreme Chora Race which starts at the port, goes up to the Chora and then around the Angali Bend which is described as hard going with a 10 degree incline in stages, then back to the Chora –   12 kilometres in total.  The second category is the 4.2 kilometre Marathon Light and starts at the Angali Bend and winds down the slopes to the Chora.  The final category is the Team Competition where groups of three from the same family or community can take part in either of the races and fastest times are combined to determine the winning team.

We continue walking from square to square and spot a couple of tavernas that take our fancy for dinner tonight.  Just on the other side of the square is another fantastic viewing point that overlooks deeply set terraces.  This view takes you over to Ano Meria, the only other settlement on the island.  From here we can see runners zig zagging down the hillsides – the races have begun!  We spot runners at different points across the way – this must be the Angali Bend.  This is a perfect evening for running.  The sun is beginning to drop and there is a glorious breeze pushing in from the sea.

We think this is a good spot to watch the sunset and it isn’t long before the sun begins to drop behind Ano Meria.  The terraces disappear into the darkness.  The sunset, the silence – the feeling that all is well in the world!

We walk back into one of the squares and decide to eat in Restaurant Chic.  Peter has goat in lemon sauce and I have lamb with almonds which is followed by apple pie and buscotina all washed down with lots of dry white wine.  During the meal we see small groups of people including families with children that have taken part in the Folegandros Chora Race – still in shorts and vest and wearing medals around their necks gathering around big tables in restaurants across the square to eat.

After the meal we walk through the squares and down pretty alleyways where we find beautifully designed art and crafts shops.  We also come across tiny little cafe’s that you may mistake for a little house during the day but seem to transform themselves into chic little bars in the evening.

As we walk back to Evgenia we can just see the top of Panagia Church lit up on the hillside, glowing like a beacon in the dark and in the foreground we can just make out an old windmill.  In front of us we see houses scattered on the hills overlooking the chora, sparkling like white jewels in the night.

Back on the balcony of our room we can see that Hotel Polikandia by night, really comes into its (Disney) own!

Peter talks about Egypt and the demonstrations that are expected over the next few days in Cairo.  His brother Michael has taken his mum to Cairo for medical treatment – our thoughts are with them.

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