Today was cloudy and cool, good for a half travel, half explore day. We took the Blue Star Delos from Piraeus to the town of Naxos (aka Chora) which is on the island of Naxos. It takes about six hours.
First, the Delos. It's large, 2400 passengers. It's in good shape and has several food sources and espresso stands. Lots of places to sit though we are off season so I can imagine it can get crowded in summer. We stayed outdoors, on the back deck, to look at passing ships and islands. The only annoyance was cigarette smoke. I will soon find almost everyone in Greece smokes.
Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades. It's said to be the greenest, too, though in comparison to BC it's a desert. Naxos Town, the largest town on the island, makes a good first impression. The waterfront is pretty and chock-a-block sidewalk cafes separated from cars. After checking in to our hotel we ate dinner then walked to the massive marble doorway called the Portara, entrance to an unfinished Temple to Apollo. A nice view of the town from there.
Morning arrived with the sound of rain but it wasn't rain, it was popping from the electrical transformer next to the hotel, the comfortable and reasonably-priced Anassa suites. Later the hotel's proprietor assured us it was normal, something about the evening humidity.
After a cappuccino Paul and I walked to the old town, old being relative as everything is old. Our goal was a cafe known for views but we could not find it. We visited the archaeological museum. instead, a small collection of art and every-day objects dating from 5300 BC to the 5th century AD. Quick and cheap (2). Uninspired with minimal texts, but cheap and quick.
Next we walked to St George beach, south of town, to watch windsurfers riding the crystal-clear water. Really, the water here is transparent like glass.
My advice should you visit Greece: don't drink ouzo on an empty stomach. Just don't ask me how I know.
Today we swam in the Mediterranean, traveled back in time to 530 BC, and got a taste of driving like a Greek.
First, we walked to Avis where their friendly young rep spent a good half hour sharing her thoughts on the best ruins, the most charming hill towns, and the most photogenic drives.
Next, I drove our droptop Fiat Cinquecento a few km south to Plaka, one of the many beaches that circle Naxos island. I'd post a pic but you can use your imagination: it's a long stretch of sand, lapped by crystal-clear water, and dotted with the occasional person, some sans clothing.
From the beach we headed inland to check out the Dimitra temple. Driving on Naxos I soon discovered takes full concentration. Roads are narrow: they range from paved with two lanes to paved with one lane to dirt with one lane. More than once I had to pull over to let an opposing car pass, once I had to back up to let a pair of cars get by as the space between buildings was barely a car wide, and once I got stuck between buildings and had to back about a block as even with the mirrors collapsed the Fiat - not a wide car mind you, this is the Mini-sized 500 - couldn't squeeze any further. (At this point my claustrophobia kicked in and I briefly thought I'd have to escape through the car's sunroof.) The motorcyclist who got stuck behind me had a lot to say about this but I can only imagine what he said as it was all in Greek.
Finally, we arrived at the temple. Built around 530 BC and dedicated to the goddess Dimitra, the ruins are easy to miss as the text on the road sign has faded away. Fortunately the one-lane road, which is hemmed in by stone walls, ends just past the path to the temple. Unfortunately we found none of the signage readable, it has almost all faded away, with only a few legible words. A bit indicative of Greece's state I'm afraid.
The day started with a Seinfeld reference and ended with a hike to the highest point on the island of Naxos.
We woke to see the cruise ship MV Astoria anchored offshore and unloading passengers via tenders. The Astoria, it turns out, has had seven owners and ten names since it entered service in 1948 as the MS Stockholm, though I don't know whether this is unusual for a ship of this vintage. What is interesting is that, sailing under the name Stockholm, it collided with the Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket Massachusetts in 1956, resulting in the sinking of the Andrea Doria and the loss of 46 of its 1,660 passengers. Both crews shared in the blame.
If you are a Seinfeld fan you'll recall that George Costanza lost an apartment to a survivor of the sinking. While George's tales of woe drew more sympathy than the survivor's experience, a bribe from the latter won the apartment.
Now to the serious business of being a tourist. Most of our day was spent hiking to the top of Mt Zas (or Mt Zeus) , the highest point in the Cyclades at about 1000 m. The views are far reaching all the way up to the peak: we could see inland Naxos, the neighboring island of Paros, as well as the Aegean sea and several of the other Cycladic islands.
We spent our last full day on Naxos touring the center and north sides of the island. The narrow, winding, vertigo-inducing roads took us to the mountainside towns of Moni and Apirathos and the seaside town of Apolonas.
Something you'll find on Naxos is an abundance of small chapels. They are everywhere, on hillsides, tucked into valleys, and even perched on seemingly- inaccessible hilltops. They are always white in colour so they stand out against the background (though white combined with bright blue trim is a common colour for buildings on the island).
A less common sight is a kouros, which is an ancient, free-standing sculpture, usually of a nude male youth. There are three on Naxos, the largest being the 10 meter long kouros just outside the town of Apolonas. It has been dated as being from the 6th or 7th century BC. It lies on its back near an old marble quarry. This being Naxos, little has been done to promote access: there is no parking lot and no explanatory signage. It's just lying there, a few steps off the road. In the photo Paul is standing next to the statue to give a sense of its size.
I'll miss Naxos as it's a very charming town, not too big and not too small, and it's a port so there is always change: the light, the boats, the people. The people we've met, from the Avis lady - what a sweetheart! - to the hotel proprietor, to the little old lady we talked to on the far side of the island, everyone has been friendly and welcoming. I've also learned a bit about the struggles they are dealing with, the economic stresses and the doctor shortage, yet they are carrying on, working hard, and putting their best face forward. I think anyone who says Greeks are lazy has never been to Greece. Avtio, Naxos.
Mt Zeus, on Naxos, isn't quite as I imagined. Zeus was ancient Greece's king of the gods, as well as the god of the sub-specialties sky and thunder, so a mountain called Mt Zeus makes me think it should contain a hilltop fortress encircled by thunder and lightening. Well the real Mt Zeus, aka Mt Zas, turned out to be nothing like that, no scary bits at all, just a steady hike with panoramic views all the way to the top. And while an elevation of 1,000 m doesn't sound impressive, it is the highest point on Naxos as well as the neighboring islands.
The Mt Zas trail head is about an hour's drive from Naxos town via a twisty, narrow road. The road passes white chapels and through picturesque villages. The trail starts next to a chapel which is not particularly notable since Naxos is heavily peppered with chapels: on hilltops, on cliff-sides, by the road, in valleys, accompanying trails. And every chapel is the same colour scheme, bright white with a dash of deep blue. It's a chapel-palooza.
The hike is over and so we're in the nearby town of Filoti for coffee, after which we walk around the town. We encounter this square a couple blocks off the road up narrow marble walkways and stairs. There are lots of stairs in Greece.
The most common pavement material in Greece seems to be marble. It's beautiful, light in color, it reflects the light at night giving a town a glow, and it really glistens in the rain. But you quickly learn marble is slippery esp when wet.
From Filoti we drove the hour back to Naxos, left our car in a free city lot, then walked a few blocks to the hotel.