This blog aims to give a personal and totally biased view of the Greek islands I have visited. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the islands. Two aspects of Greek islands that I love are seeing goats wandering around and the dawn chorus of cockerels crowing. Accordingly, each island I have stayed on will have a Cockerel Count and Goatiness rating.
Unless otherwise stated, all images are my copyright and may not be reproduced or copied. Should you wish to purchase a license for commercial use of my images please follow the link to my stock photography blog where you will find details of my agents. Comments are welcomed but reviewed before publication. Enjoy your visit. Regards, David.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Agistri 2016 (Saronic Gulf):

The domed church of Agioi Anargyroi on Agistri
As mentioned in my previous  post about Athens a city break there also affords the opportunity to make day trips to a number of islands. Whilst there in May 2016 I was in no doubt where I would go - back to the little island of Agistri (Angistri) which lies less than an hour away from Piraeus port via high speed hydrofoil (slightly longer by ferry). As I wrote in my earlier post about Agistri this island has the distinction of being the very first Greek island I ever visited (back in 2002). An experience that has led to a life long love of the small islands of Greece.

Boarding the Hellenic Seaways hydrofoil Flying Dolphin XX1X I was full of anticipation about what changes (if any) I would find on Agistri after fourteen years. The first, and pretty much only change, was that the hydrofoil docked at a new marina area at Milos whereas last time it came into Skala -the main village on the island. For those that didn't want to walk the fifteen minutes or so to Skala the hydrofoil was met by the local bus (handily labelled Local Bus). I certainly wasn't going to miss the chance of the short seafront walk to Skala and set out on foot.

Arriving at Skala it all seemed pretty familiar but smaller than I had remembered. Now as this was primarily a
The former home of German artist Gerti Brauner on Agistri
photographic expedition (I wasn't taking photographs in a serious way the back in 2002) it was a bit disappointing to find a sea mist hanging in the air.  I struggled with the light all day but, all the same, managed to get a set of images good enough to upload to my various agents.

After exploring Skala and enjoying a snack on the beach I decided to head up along the coast road through a dense covering of pine trees. This was one of my favourite walks last time and as a bonus I had the nostalgia of passing the apartments where I had stayed. Returning from this walk I then diverted uphill to Metochi which has commanding views down to Skala and onto Aegina island just a short distance away. I was interested to see a plaque on a whitewashed house marking the former home of the late German artist Gerti Brauner. I must admit that I haven't been able to find out much about her on the internet other than a website of her work set up by her family and, inevitably, some stock photographs taken by photographers like me who felt this was something that needed to be photographed.

Flying Dolphin XX1X arrives at Milos on Agistri
Back down to Skala and it was time for a late lunch of cheese balls with chips complimented nicely by a couple of Mythos beers -all at a charming taverna overlooking the beach. This pleasant scene was ended by the sudden thought that I might be about to miss my last hydrofoil home to Piraeus. Because Aegina is so close you can hear the hydrofoils power up and then watch them make the ten minute crossing to Milos. Though my watch said I had an hour until my transport home I have had a previous bad experience with my
watch strangely losing an hour (see my post on Lipsi). Even checking the time on my phone didn't really reassure me that all was well (maybe that was wrong as well?). I needn't have worried as arriving at Milos after a speedy walk I found that the hydrofoil I had seen was the rival service to Hellenic which runs an hour earlier. This did provide a lesson though as I had only taken enough cash for the day and no cards so if I had had to stay on Agistri overnight I would have had no means of paying for it! That said, I know Greek hospitality well enough to be sure that someone would have helped me out.

The final part of my day trip was spent photographing the boats in the Milos marina in the, by now improved, afternoon light before boarding the Dolphin home.

It was good to see Agistri again, nothing much had changed and it was rewarding to see where my Greek island adventures had all begun. Regards, David.

Athens 2016:

The Acropolis of Athens - full of history
Smart readers of this blog will have already realised that Athens is neither small nor an island. Nevertheless it deserves a place here because of its pivotal role as a key departure point for ferry and cruise ships to the many islands of Greece.

As a lover of small un-touristy islands I resisted the City of Athens for a long time -thinking that it would all be too un island like for me to enjoy. Strange really because I enjoyed living and working in London for many years and have had regular great trips to Paris in my time so it's not as if I dislike cities in general. Against that background I realised last year that there really was no reason to ignore the Capital of Greece any longer. I also factored in that, as a gateway to so many islands, I might be able to combine a city break with an island day trip.

So in May 2016 I found myself booking a last minute hotel/flight package to Athens. Last minute as in booked on Sunday and travelled on Tuesday! I'd be lying if I said I hadn't previously done some extensive research on this trip. Possible hotels, transport to and from the airport, ferry schedules to various islands had all been looked at. What I settled on was the Faros1 hotel conveniently situated by Piraeus port but, equally, not too far from central Athens.

I'd decided that the X96 express bus was going to be the best solution for getting to and from the airport as
Adamantios Korais - non stop nautical action at Piraeus
this goes right to the heart of Piraeus (other buses are available for different destinations in Athens). You'll find the ticket kiosk for the bus handily situated outside the doors of the arrivals area. Should this be closed for any reason you can always pay when boarding the bus. At the time of writing the fare is currently a modest six euros (each way). After boarding the bus don't forget to validate your ticket by inserting it into one of the little machines you'll find throughout the long, two sectioned bus. Travel time to Piraeus will vary depending on traffic but expect between 60 -90 minutes. My big concern was that, unfamiliar with Athens, I wouldn't have a clue when it was my stop to get off. However, on boarding I soon saw that the bus has screens displaying a graphic of its current location and the name of the next stops (in both Greek and English) so this wasn't the problem I thought it might be.

The hotel proved to be barely a five minute walk to the harbour front and I spent a happy few days watching and photographing all the comings and goings of numerous vessels. All the various shipping lines have offices along the harbour front with timetables and fares detailed so this is a good place to book an island trip. My hotel actually had an in house travel agency which I used to book a trip to Agistri island (a post on that will follow later) but you could just pitch up to the harbour front if you wanted.

Panagia Tinou - listing badly at Piraeus
One of the more interesting boats to photograph in the harbour was the ferry boat Panagia Tinou. This wasn't going anywhere, however, as having taken on water it was listing badly to one side. At one point the list had been more pronounced and my picture shows the "after" result of stabilising things. Some internet research threw up the interesting information that I knew this ferry from the past. In a previous life it had been the Folkestone to Boulogne ferry Hengist which famously became beached near Folkestone during the Great Storm of 1987 in the UK. Photographs and film of the unlucky vessel featured heavily in the British media at the time. Now here it was, 29 years later, again not doing so well.

Of course, no first visit to Athens would be complete without seeing the legendary Acropolis. I must admit that initially I had my doubts about this -mainly because of many people insisting that I just had to go while in Athens. I was concerned that it would be overrun with tourists and perhaps be something of an anti climax in reality. Common sense prevailed however and I did go. From Piraeus it was just a 30 minute or so ride on the metro to get there. Yes, there were plenty of tourists but not so many as to spoil the experience and the sense of history I felt in this spectacular hill top location standing high over the city was unmissable. It truly deserves its place as one of the top tourist attractions in the World.

So my first (but certainly not my last) visit to Athens was a mix of ancient history, fascinating busy port, cheese pies, and a trip out to the islands. Of course, my main holidays will continue to be to small tranquil islands but vibrant Athens is certainly a great city break and one that I can really recommend. Regards, David.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Nisyros 2015 (Dodecanese)

A line of Octopus at Mandraki on Nisyros island
Whilst staying on the island of Halki for the third time in June 2015 (see previous post) I decided that, as previously, I would take a day trip to Nisyros island to experience yet again the chance to walk in a still active volcano crater.

The only current way to do this (as far as I know) is to take the Dodekanisos Seaways fast catamaran Dodekanisos Express which makes a twice weekly round trip from Rhodes to Kos with stops at  Halki, Tilos and Nisyros on the way. Just get your tickets in advance from one of the agents on the harbour front such as Zifos Travel (agents for Olympic Holidays). You could book online yourself I suppose providing you had access to a printer to print out your tickets. At just over 40 euros I was a bit surprised at the price - I'm sure it was a lot less last time - but do look out for special offers that Dodek Seaways run from time to time.
Old stone tower on Nisyros

From past experience the ferry will probaly leave Halki around 10 (so not too early a start) and be back around 5 (just in time for a glass of Retsina/Mythos).

This really is a great trip as the catamaran is fast and powerful, cutting through the Aegean in no time. Best of all you can travel up on deck in the fresh air. Either at the stern where there is seating or for a real adrenalin rush head up to the bows of the craft to feel the rush of wind and sometimes sea spray hitting you in the face. Don't forget to take any hats off or they'll be gone in an instant! The first leg of the journey takes you to Livadia harbour on Tilos and is around 45 minutes. Unless it is misty you'll probaly still be able to see Halki far in the distance. After a very quick turn around the Express sets off again for the 40 minutes or so to Mandraki harbour on Nisyros.

I was glad to find nothing had changed at Mandraki and sure enough there was the familiar stand selling coach tickets for the volcano trip (at 8 euros these seemed a bit cheaper than I remembered). Chances are the trip won't depart right away and you will have some time to explore the town first -just be sure to return to the harbour on time. This gave me a chance to wander round the familiar streets taking lots of photographs. This is where I struck (photographers) gold when I spotted a whole row of Octopus hung up to dry on a line outside a taverna. I say gold because, though just about every guide to Greece seems to have an image of Octopus on a line, I had never come across this before -not on any of the Greek islands I have visited. Not a chance I was going to miss then!

Stefanos volcano crater on Nisyros island
Octopus and THAT stone tower thing (lighthouse/fort whatever) duly photographed it was back to the harbour to board the coach to the volcano. This is quite a ride as the coach climbs up the steep and narrow road and you get some great views. If you don't like heights you might want to sit on the other side of the coach. After a half hour or so we arrived at the volcano. Now here was something new to me. They've set up a ticket booth to buy tickets to visit the crater. Previously there was nothing there (apart from a cafe) and I realised that might explain why the coach trip was cheaper. Nothing drastic -around 2 or 3 euro but remember to have enough cash on you for this. I don't blame them at all - it's another way of getting some income into the Greek economy and is a pittance to pay for such a great experience.

Moon like surface of  the volcano crater on Nisyros

Some of the coach trips come equipped with a guide who will tell you all about the volcano. This trip didn't have one (perhaps that's the real reason for a price difference?) so I was just free to get on exploring at will. Ignore the signs warning you that you enter the crater at your own risk (another new addition!) and make your way down the (fairly) steep path to the crater surface. The surface was just as exciting as I had remembered, a barren alien like environment (indeed this was the "moon" location in the James Bond film Moonraker). Hot under foot and a powerful smell of sulphur wafting round you. Dotted around you will see yellow splodges of sulphur crystals and small blasts of hot steam will emerge from the ground. In the centre of the crater were deep fissures (fumaroles) full of gently bubbling hot mud.

Dodekanisos Express powers into Mandraki on Nisyros
In a second concession to health and safety a wire on stakes had now been placed around these. Really, there's nobody going to stop you going in and having a closer look (maybe a guide might?) but, anyway I'm British and respected that "fence"! Expect to get around 45 minutes or so to explore and photograph before heading back to the coach. Note you should only enter the signposted crater (Stefanos). There are a couple of other smaller craters near by which I was previously told are not safe to enter.

And so, after my third brilliant volcano experience it was time to head back to Mandraki and await the Express making its return run to Rhodes. Don't worry about missing this - the coach driver will be well aware of what time it leaves and get you there in plenty of time.

Having now done this three times I can say that it really is an unmissable experience and one that should tried if you are in this part of Greece. If you are on Rhodes, Halki or Tilos you can use my route via the Dodekanisos Express. If on Kos, I am sure there will be trips from there to Nisyros.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Halki 2015 (Dodecanese):

Prevelis ferry docked at Emborio
June 2015 saw me making my third trip to the beautiful little Dodecanese island of Halki. A full five years after my last visit in 2010 (review here:Halki ) I decided it was time to return and see if anything had changed there -for good or bad.

This was a holiday that nearly didn't get off the ground (literally). For many years now I have been in the habit of staying at an airport hotel (Gatwick Hilton to be exact) for the simple reason that this eliminates the stress of getting to the airport on the day with all the potential transport delays that can occur (and, trust me, I know all about that). With an 9.00am flight and check in from 7.00am all I had to do was a leisurely five minute walk to the desk. The problem was I didn't hear my alarm and woke up at 8.15. A mad dash ensued without even time for a coffee. Thankfully, an airport employee got on his radio and they agreed to get me on the plane (they even re-opened the check in desk just for me). The deal was, though, that I was going but they couldn't guarantee my luggage was. Instead of a four hour flight full of happy anticipation I had a miserable few hours working out scenarios of what to do if my case didn't arrive. To say I was delighted when my case was one of the first few out is something of an understatement. Now my holiday could begin!

On board the Nissos Halki ferry from the port of Kamiros Skala we drew ever closer until that final moment
Stone sculpture on Ftenagia beach
of swinging into Emborio harbour on Halki. There it all was -the bell tower (tallest in the Dodecanese), the harbour front, and above all the clock tower still showing the time as twenty past four as it has done for so many years now. It really felt like coming home to me as it was all so charming and so familiar. I've already posted about my accommodation at the Dorothea Studios which had a magnificent view right over the harbour -it really exceeded my already high expectations from the brochure pictures. Needless to say my first priority was an outing to one of the three small supermarkets to stock up on essential items like Retsina where I was pleased to find the generous sized 1.5ltr bottles available. Sitting on my balcony with a glass of the piney stuff and looking over the harbour was about as good as it gets and continued to be for my two weeks there.

One of my favourite short (about 40 minutes) road walks on Halki is the one to Kania beach. Take the main road out of Emborio towards Pondamos beach and then the road to the right just past the school. This climbs steeply taking you past some strange industrial looking vehicles. I've since found out (thanks to the excellent Halki Visiting forum) that these are emergency electricity generators. Brought to the island, parked up and then never used -and never will be looking at them now. Less industrial, you also pass a field containing loads of wooden beehives all painted in the blue and white of the Greek flag. Now Kania was, in 2005 and 2010 a lovely deserted cove where your only company was likely to be a lizard or two. Not anymore! There are now sunbeds, umbrellas and a taverna and a handy bus service bringing Rhodes daytrippers up from Emborio in their hordes. It's not for me to be churlish -everyone has to make a living and I'm sure many more people now get to enjoy Kania as a result (and the taverna is said to be very good). It's just not for me anymore, sadly. But I still enjoyed the walk there and back even if I didn't venture onto the beach itself.

View of Emborio from the Dorothea Studios
Also on the Kania walk you will pass the new de-salination plant which converts seawater to fresh. This means that you will no longer see the several times a week visit of the water tanker boat from Rhodes. I rather missed that as well but on the plus side didn't find the water stop running in my studio like on previous visits.

No visit to Halki is complete without a walk up to the medieval Crusader Knights castle. Passing Pondamos beach just keep going as the road (Tarpon Springs Boulevard) climbs up from Emborio to the (nearly) deserted old village of Horio. In the old days it then involved some scrambling up a sort of path to the castle but in 2015 this was all changing with EU funded restoration work going on. The path up is now much easier and clearer. I found myself in what was clearly a building site with cement mixers and other equipment dotted around. The chapel was in the process (nearly complete I think) of being rebuilt but, sadly, couldn't get inside to take a look. Health and safety also get a look in with a new wall at the cliff side of the castle and proper covering over the very deep well. Back in 2005 you had the choice of plunging down the cliffs if you put a foot wrong or disappearing into the uncovered well. Think I preferred that but as it was very much a work in progress I'll reserve judgement.

New for me this time was a walk to Giali beach. Reach this by entering Horio village and taking a long
Renovation at the castle on Halki
winding dirt track downwards for about 40 minutes (longer coming back up!). Somebody has a house just above Giali and had chosen to position three less than friendly dogs either side of the track. Just tread a precision path between them and you'll be fine. This is quite a wild rocky cove and beach with pounding waves that I certainly wouldn't venture into but made for some interesting photographs.

Also new this trip was a walk up to the plateau high above Emborio. Just follow the road on from Horio. When I say "Just" be aware that it gets much steeper and harder going and I considered turning back a few times especially when turning yet another bend and seeing the road still going steeply upwards. However, finally reaching the plateau I was rewarded by another charming little chapel and the remains of an old stone windmill and best of all goats. Lots of goats -as I found out whilst passing a stone enclosure and snapped a twig. Cue startled animals bolting out from the enclosure while I stepped back in a hurry. That's as far as I went on this trip but the walk back down gives fantastic views down into the valley and down to Emborio in the distance.

Tarpon Springs Boulevard down to Emborio
As with my previous two visits I took a day trip aboard the speedy catamaran ferry Dodekanisos Express to Nisyros where, for the third time, I was able to walk in the still active volcano crater. I'll post about that in more detail in due course.

So there were some changes. Kania transformed beyond recognition. The castle being renovated. The ANEK Lines "big" ferry from Piraeus to Rhodes is now Prevelis and not the Ierapetra L (but still created just as much excitement on each visit). And other things were just the same as they always have been. The chickens were still clucking around in the road by the town cemetery. Pondamos beach has a lot more sunbeds but still the lovely excellent taverna. Costas is still a great place to enjoy a cold Mythos and toasted cheese sandwich while watching the world go by. Above all the peace, charm and tranquillity of a small Greek island (except for the ferry arrivals and the daytrippers -but they come then they go again). Halki is, without doubt, one of my favourite Greek islands and one to which I intend to return many times in the future.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

How to add a Slideshow on Blogger.Com:

This post was originally on my photography blog but, hopefully, will interest readers here who wish to add a Slideshow feature to their own blogs on the Blogger.Com platform:

Sharp eyed readers will have noticed a new feature on this site. A slideshow at the top right featuring a random sequence of images that I have posted on here over the years. You could, of course, just scroll through multiple pages of posts to see the images -but how much more simple is it to just have them displayed in one place? Hover over the bottom of the Slideshow box and you will find control buttons to pause/resume the show and arrow buttons to manually move backwards or forwards -one image at a time.

So now you want one for your own blog, right? Well, it is really easy to do but required a lot of Googling about on my part to find the answer to the various questions as to how to get the thing to actually work :) This post will give you the information you should need -providing your blog is hosted on the platform. I'm sure other platforms have similar abilities but I cannot help with those.

For clarity -what I am aiming to do here is enable a slideshow of just images that I have published on this blog (there are other options to have a slideshow from your Flickr etc albums -but that is not covered here).

Start by clicking on Design on your Blogger dashboard then on Layout (on the left hand side). You will now have a template showing the various current elements of your blog -Blog Posts/About Me/Links etc. What you need is an unused box that says Add A Gadget. If there isn't one where you wish your slideshow to appear you can move an existing element to a different position by deleting then re-adding elsewhere or just using Drag and Drop to reposition an empty box (depends on the technology you are using).

You now have an empty Add A Gadget box in the correct position. Just click on the Add A Gadget words to get a pop up box showing all the various elements you can add. Scroll down and click on Slideshow by Blogger. Now the fun part. First give your Slideshow a title (just type into the top box). Next choose your image source for the Slideshow. The default one shown is Picasa Web Album. Great you will think -that's where the images on my blog are stored so that's perfect. Wrong -you will just get other peoples (public) images from across the whole of Picasa. That might actually suit some and you can fine tune it by choosing a keyword like Sunsets -so you will get a nice slideshow of other peoples Sunsets!

To get your own images use the drop down menu on Image Source and choose the Other option. A new box will appear saying Feed URL (essentially the internet address from where you want your images to come from). Here I tried putting in the web address of this blog -but that didn't work at all. What you need is the web address (URL) of the RSS feed of the appropriate Picasa album. Keeping up?

The easiest way (for me) was just to click on New Post and then the Add Image link. This gives you options to source an image by  either uploading or from your existing Picasa album. Choose the latter and then, in my case, the sub-album entitled My Small Greek Islands. On the right you will see a link for the RSS feed for this album. Click this and the address you now see in the address bar at the top is the one you need to copy and paste for your slideshow source.

So, go back and paste this in the Feed URL box and you should start to see a preview of your slideshow appear at the bottom of the pop up box. Success! Now there are just two more boxes to complete. Choose a speed for your slideshow Slow/Medium/Fast and Randomise images (presumably if you do not tick the latter it will just display your images in the same sequence every time).

Finally (!) just click Save at the bottom of the pop up box and then Save Arrangement on your full Layout page. Now go to View Blog to start enjoying your new feature. One thing I did find was that it displayed perfectly on Google Chrome but on IE9 it just kept saying "loading" where my slideshow should be. Worse, my views counter had also vanished from view. More Googling later and I found the solution was to click the Compatability box in the address bar at the top (the little oblong box on the right with a zigzag line through it). Because IE9 is getting old as a system you just need to click this to make the slideshow work perfectly -and my views counter came back as well.

This probaly all sounds way more complicated than it actually is but with the steps listed above you could probaly have your slideshow added and running within a couple of minutes. Enjoy! Regards, David.