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June 2nd 2008
Published: June 6th 2008
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Athens to Naxos


I’ve put in the last view from the hotel in Kalambaka looking up from the hotel at Meteora and St Stephens in the afternoon light. The girls had been drinking and said they saw in the shadows of the stone forest an African elephant head looking down on the town.

After getting our gear and returning to the Jason Inn, we went upstairs for drinks on the top deck which had a fantastic clear view of the Parthenon about 1 km away. Later that evening after we had dinner, Di returned when the lights were turned on and got a good shot of the floodlit Pathenon.
Up at 5.00am and we waiting to get into the restaurant hopeful that we could get an early breakfast so we could get away by 6.10, but the restaurant only opened at 6.00 and we had just 10 minutes to grab a snackfrom probably the greatest and largest breakfast spread we'd seen.

The taxi arrived early so we left and flashed through the streets to Piraeus where the banks of ferries were moored to take passengers to all of the Greek Islands. Our ferry was the Naxos express that was one of the twin hulled high-speed cats made in Tasmania.

We boarded, dropped of the luggage in the Naxos pile on the side of the car ferry entrance, and found a table on the top deck. Carmen ran out of maps 5 minutes off land and none of the islands was recorded. She did tell us, however, that we were cruising at 42km/hr.

The ferry left at 7.30 and we arrived in Paros about 12.00 then headed north around Paros to Naxos and we disembarked about 1.00 pm. There was a little bus waiting to pick us up and take us through the narrow back streets to the AΛKYONH hotel.

Here we booked in and settled into three lovely rooms overlooking the pool, the bar, the restaurant and the beach.

The place is run by a German woman and is full of Germans. The staff are friendly and we had a quick lunch of enormous proportions and went for a walk along the beach over a boardwalk to the town, past themotorbike and quad bike rental centre of the island to the town square. From there, we walked uphill to the Catholic Church and around the extremely narrow passages between the houses- so narrow in fact that even motorbikes are not allowed. In many places the houses jut over the roadways forming tunnels so family houses can be joined together - so it's more like a honeycomb maze.

There were restaurants snuggled into tiny squares and on top of buildings with tables decked in bright tablecloths. We walked through to the ancient castle, which was similarly constructed to the Paros castle. The wall was made of any old building pieces that were on the site so there are window lintels arches and wheels cemented to form the walls.

In the shade of the houses overhanging the street were fruit and vegie stalls with a wonderful and colourful display of bright large tomatoes, zucchini, lemons, apricots and other brightly coloured fruits.

Jan found a material shop with finely woven table pieces and the girls rummaged through the shop.

We found a restaurant overlooking the harbour, had coffees, and watched the ferries come in.

Slowly wandered back home, bought olives, nuts and wine, passed the small cemetery that glistened iridescent white with marble, back to the hotel for drinks snacks on our private balcony and dinner in the restaurant.

The next day we had a leisurely breakfast and then a slow walk around the point up to town. Helen was looking for the Nissaki restaurant, which we found next to the Glaros Hotel, which had the fastest Internet service. Downloaded the diary and photos in 30 minutes but discovered I’d done that into the Santorini section so had to do it again.

The restaurants extend over the sand onto the beach so we sat under the large umbrellas on the beach at theNassaki for lunch.The sea was deep blue at a distance but the tidal surge had left the foreshore here a little muddy and weedy. Food was excellent and we then wandered around the point to the town centre.

Di organized for a photographic tour of the island with a local English photographer who had lived thirty years on the island would take us to out of the way places. This was organized for the next day at 9.30 returning at 4.30pm.

We slowly wandered about the winding intestinal streets of the town past the houses, shops, museums, churches, restaurants galore serving food and wine and where old men sat and spoke of all that things that old men speak of, the wide world over.

The streets were paved in marble and stone carefully pointed in whitewash. The houses and buildings were not all clinically whitewashed; some were still the old ancient stone with doors that must herald from Venetian times. The town had a warm friendly feeling, not one of a tourist driven town, although there were many tourist shops, but more a people’s town. Restaurants had the mandatory octopus hanging over wire outside - some with a fine muslin cover, others naked to the elements.

On the way home I walked through the small cemetery near the town square. The oldest graves dated from 1887. Some were cream coloured and decorated with cross bones and all had an amphora in relief on the gravestone. Several ran to six family members who died over 40 years. The latest one in May 2008 was polished flashing white. There were photos of the deceased and all had crosses and occupied large areas, so now there was no room between the graves and in some areas the gravestones and slabswere touching- all at different angles. Some of the later ones had painted pictures of the deceased - one had a young son on a motorbike, and the imagery was a little reminiscent of the Guatemalan graves that portray a story of your life - engineers had a road landscape over the grave, pilots had planes.

We had dinner in the Alkyoni restaurant overlooking the sea and the sunset. It had been a windy day and the wind surfers came flying into the beach in late in the afternoon to the sports shop next door to the hotel.

We walked to the town and meet Stuart (the Photographer and guide) at the photo shop. Besides us, he had a two Japanese ladies whose spoke a smattering of English and excellent German. It turned out that they were mother and daughter who had spent 7 years in Düsseldorf in Germany some 40 years ago. Stuart was married to a German woman and so spoke excellent German, so we had a smattering of Greek, English and German in the presentation.

We headed up into the mountains and Stuart said that he has seen photos of the town taken in 1930’s in which none of the existing houses surrounding the castle existed. Naxos in the 20’s had a population of 20,000 most of whom lived inland in the farming areas and few people lived on the coast. Historically pirates raided the coastal towns hence the reluctance to build by the coast.

We first went to an ancient ruin of a 600 year old small three-storied Venetian home. Adjacent to the house was a small catholic chapel and a small Greek orthodox church with a common wall; obviously build before the feuding of the religions.

The back door was a barn door tied with electrical wire on the top and completely broken on the bottom. It opened to the kitchen and then to a large lounge room with an old wooden table and a steep and broken staircase that lead to bedrooms upstairs. There were few windows and what may have been the front door has no stairs and was some 20 ft above the ground. Under the house were cellars but you couldn’t get in.

Below the home, an aqueduct brought in water to fill two deep “swimming pools” which are used for farming. Old stables were over grown and old ruins now overgrown by ancient fig trees.

The small family chapels were clean and candles and lamps were alight indicating they were still in use. Below the chapel the paths were traveled, so someone was walking in.

Everywhere across the island landscape there are churches- on hillside, the tops of hills, in villages and by large houses. Stuart said that every church has a patron saint whose icon is generally hung on the right of the priest’s entrance. The intricacy of the painting and the crosses demonstratesd, the enormous reverence of the people for their church. On Naxos, in fact, we saw a C6th Byzantine church nestled in the valley below us which gives you an idea of the heritage of the Christian church on these islands.

We went to a small village to wander about and there was another Venetian Castle. It appears a Venetian pirate arrive set himself up as the Duke of Naxos and ruled Naxos for a couple of hundred years. The Venetian house was still occupied but Stuart said he had not seen the family for over three years. The windows were small and the old slits for firing arrows were still there in the walls. A new loo was added and that extended over the road.In the window of the loo was a beautiful fringed,woven tapestry.(See photo) As we walked the streets an elderly Greek brought out a few plums for us. There were carob trees and figs, cherries, apricots, oranges, lemons and almonds crowded into the small gardens by the houses.

Before heading back to the car we had morning coffee in a small restaurant that overlooked the valley between two towns. The area was covered by a wisteria that had a straight trunk about 150 mm in diameter that split at the top of the pergola into controlled branches latticed out to cover almost the entire terrace.

We wended our way across the high ridges of the island, which are essentially marble mountains. Naxos is one of the largest islands and is a major supplier of fruits and vegetables to Athens and we’d guess marble. The mountains here are 1000m high in the north of the island reducing in height in the wild south. There are few roads in the south other than along the coast. The roads around the mountains are narrow and on the high ridges it give you great vistas across the island and to the sea.

High in a mountaintop they were cutting blocks of marble and it made the mountain look like an Egyptian monument. Stuart said that Paros marble was reputed to be the best but Naxos was a close second. Michelangelo used Paros marble to carve David.
At Skado we could see both coasts of Naxos, and then, as we drove down to Atsipapl, we could see the islands off Naxos floating in the sky. The weather conditions of summer haze created amazing optical illusions of the blending of sea and sky so it created surrealistic images of the islands floating in deep space. We passed a monstrous Greek Church-Monastery that dominated the ridgeline to a small village surrounded by ancient dry stonewalls that extended across the hillsides. There was the ubiquitous chapel, pristine white with a blue top, with a small domed room; no windows, whitewashed and a beautifully decorated alter surrounded with icons. To the left of the alter, was a large sand tray for candles an offering box and stacks of candles.

The dry stone walls created small yards of barren rock and we wondered was there originally soil in these yards in the ancient past? Fruit trees grew well, their roots finding water a rich soil below the rocky surface.

We stopped at the marble factory near the marble quarry and wandered around inside. There are no health and safety requirements here. A large marble block was in a tray and was being cut into toast slices by a band saw. A lad was cutting tiles with a circular saw and it was as if he was sawing blocks of ice. Another lad was polishing a solid marble basin, which Stuart said are made to order. Another was cutting large tiles about 1.5 meters long and .75 meters wide that were stacked on pallets. Outside the covered work area was stacked dozens of pallets of marble of all different sizes and colours. Some were broken pieces presumable for paths. Overhead a massive gantry 28 meters wide and 30 ft high rolled up and down. This allowed them to shift the massive marble blocks and load the finished products onto the trucks.

Having been to the cemetery I can imagine a lot of the marble ends up in graveyards all over the country.

We paused at an emery mine, which was mined extensively on the island and was used to polish the marble. Unfortunately for the industry they discovered a synthetic material, which meant the end of the industry other than some specialy used for NASA who still use the stone, which is reputed to be the second hardest stone to diamond.

We finally ended up in a small town. The parking lot is the schoolyard and can only be used after the children go home from school at 1:30 to 2:00 for the day.
We walked down the small paths between the houses to a restaurant in a small multilevel courtyard between the houses. There were a few lucky people who had walk into the town but generally this is now an out of the way place. This was initially the main town for the emery miners and housed some 2,000 people in it heyday but no more with most of the houses empty and occupied by the Greek families who have left. During the August holidays they all return and party.

The meal was whatever the family eats that day. It commenced with a pea and potato salad followed by a Greek salad, goat and rice finishing off with pickled walnuts and glace cherries. The wallnut was picked green before the shell had formed and was boiled in sugar and cloves and made like glaced fruit. The cherries were too sweet. In the restaurant as decoration they had some emery stones, which were heavy. We will have to find out what compound it is and what NASA is still using it for?

In the square beside the church was an enormous plain tree that covered the entire square with seats around the tree and around the buildings surrounding the square.

We wandered across country passed the C6th Byzantine church and on to Filote, which was one of the large towns. Here they make Kitrone a local citrus liquor made from the leaves of a special lemon tree with large leaves. The Greek government controls the supply of grain spirits and sells to the manufacturers the wheat alcohol, which they blend in copper distilleries with water and sugar to produce three types of Kitrone. The green, which Stuart calls mouthwash is sweeter, the white which is like an elegant and lighter contreau and a yellow which is like a light grand Marnier.

I thought the white was the best so bought a small bottle for a cool drink over ice.

There was a shop selling tablecloths and the owner wove a lot of the stuff in the shop. All of it was well priced for hand crafted weaving. On the loom was a fine cotton tablecloth that will take forever to complete. In the town was a bar and the gentlemen were making long line traces with small hooks that they clipped into the cut edges of a bucket. Each bucket was marked with 300 traces.

We stopped several times along the way and Stuart picked thyme, oregano, and other herbs. He said the spring flowers are almost over but we could still see the yellows and purple and red poppies sprinkled in the grasses and along the roads.

We saw old Billy-Goat-Gruff standing in an ancient olive tree purveying his world.

Finally arrived home at about 6.00 pm. This was a great trip giving us an insight into the rural and personal life of the villagers of Naxos.

Walked up the beach and had dinner at the Sports shop where the sailing board are hired.

We downloaded photos and scribbled the diary.

The following morning had a late breakfast and Di and Helen sun baked on the back veranda so peacefully that the skinks in the garden walked all over Di’s feet.

Everyone then walked up to town for buying lunch markings and returned about 12.00.
We had lunch then coffee in the lounge. Di got onto the blogg site, Bus arrived and to the port via the small roads through the town square. The minivan couldn’t get past another car where a person had double parked his car to unload. We had to wait for him to return and drive off, as the street was so narrow. Waited at the ferry stop and met Peter and Sharon Smart, a couple from Whangahere (spelling?) who know Jim and Jean Currie, Andrew’s parents.

The fast cat arrived. This was a hydrofoil. We were bustled on board, seated in aircraft type chairs and they were offffffff. It was very smooth and the hydrofoil cruises at 55-56 km hr and is just 2 hours to Santorini, passing close to Ios on the way.

So to the next adventure on Santorini. Watch out for the next exciting episode!

Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


The window of the extended loo on the Venetian house that extended over the roadThe window of the extended loo on the Venetian house that extended over the road
The window of the extended loo on the Venetian house that extended over the road

From the wood work I think the extension was done 100 years ago!

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