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.