My apologies to residents of Piraeus but it is not the most attractive city in Greece – constructed almost entirely from limestone and clay as a reminder of the Athenians fifty year love affair with concrete and cement. In the words of Mike Gatting (talking about Pakistan), this is not a place that you would even send your mother-in-law and we were pleased when the ferry slipped its moorings and headed out to sea precisely on time and our personal chill tanks started to fill with credit!
We were travelling economy class of course but this is the best place to be – sharing the open top deck with grey haired hippies with pony tails revisiting the 1960s, back-packers wearing creased clothes who haven’t washed for a fortnight, sun-seekers, thrill-seekers and nostalgia-seekers, bench-hogging sleep-snatchers, aging grey-beards in open toed sandals and sun kissed show-offs strutting their stuff. This is good company thankfully missing the football shirts, lycra and stag and hen parties who have all flown directly to Mykonos and Zakynthos!
As the Blue Star left the port the engines throbbed reassuringly and black diesel smoke leaked from the exhausts; on the bridge and down below I imagined a frenzy of activity by the crew but on top it was lazy, languid and laid back. The ferry joined a line of boats leaving the port, rather like the start of a marathon race with dozens of competing ships looking for the best channels and tides.
It was hot and humid but after a few minutes large clouds began to build, the skies darkened and the sun disappeared as the ferry followed the coastline of the Greek mainland before slipping between the islands of Kea and Kithnos and into the Cycladic ring. We couldn’t see the islands to the north and south because it was hazy and dull but after a couple of hours the clouds began to break and the sun spilled through casting orange pools on the shiny blue surface of the water as the Rayleigh scattering effect began the daily process of turning the sky from blue to red.
It was just at this time that Kim lamented that in all of our ferry boat journeys in Greece we had never seen dolphins and then by a stunning coincidence, within only a few seconds, and I swear that this is true, we suddenly saw dolphins!
About a hundred metres from the boat dorsal fins began to slice through the surf and then several of them were leaping into the air and some swam obligingly close to the boat below us. As word began to spread more people came to our side of the ferry and I worried about weight distribution and whether the boat might topple over but after a few minutes the show was over and everyone began to drift back to their seats. We stayed on dolphin look out duty for a few more minutes but no more appeared.
As the sun disappeared the journey began to drag and the dampness that accompanied the darkness forced us inside for the last hour and we were glad when we arrived in Paroikia at ten o’clock and joined the pushing, jostling crowd and left the Blue Star. As usual the quayside was full of apartment owners trying to sell their rooms in a sort of chaotic scramble that makes a French bus queue look well organised but we were met as promised by our transportation to the nearby Hotel Dilion on the edge of the town and we carved our way through the turmoil.
It turned out to be acceptable but not breathtaking and we simply left our bags and strolled to the sea front to find somewhere for a late meal. We were away from the town centre and found a good looking place busy with local people, which is always a good sign, so we joined them and enjoyed a fine meal and some impromptu entertainment as diners on the next table frequently interrupted their meal to break out into traditional dance. It was late and gradually the tavern started to empty as people paid their bills and left and it was some time after midnight when we made our way back to the hotel looking forward to a good sleep after a very long day.