“The flavour of the place is pleasant and alert, as you gaze over the rail (of the ferry) you may have a Byronic twinge of nostalgia and decide that one day you might return to settle among those mazy streets and silent dusty squares.” – Lawrence Durrell
We had to set the alarm today because there was an early ferry at half past nine so we woke, packed and went downstairs to be the first on the breakfast terrace. After several cups of tea and an above average continental breakfast we paid up, said goodbye and rejecting the offer of transport walked to the port. Turning down the lift was something we quickly regretted because the pavement was uneven, our bags were heavy and even though it was early it was already quite hot.
Soon after we arrived at what is euphemistically described as the departure gate our boat, the Anek Lines, Artemis, arrived on time and we made our way with the handful of fellow passengers to the top deck in the sunshine and as soon as everyone was on board it set off and slipped out of port. The Artemis, named after the Greek Goddess of the wilderness, the hunt, wild animals and fertility (so quite a spread of responsibility), is a slow ship with a reassuring rhythmic throb of a reliable old engine and we sat in the middle of the boat and took comfort from that.
At first the Artemis closely followed the rugged coastline of Paros punctuated every now and again with white Cycladic churches and little fishing villages and then past the picturesque port of Naoussa on the north-west of the island and soon after that the island of Naxos started to reveal itself. Just a hazy outline at first but getting sharper with more detail as we got closer in the way that a water colour painter might start with the first blurred colour wash and then progressively fill in the detail.
The Artemis called in at Naxos and exchanged some old passengers for new ones and then set off sedately south down the narrow channel that separates Naxos from Paros and ahead of us we could make out the island of Ios. Around the south of Naxos the coastline became more inhospitable with jutting peaks and deep rocky gorges and this made me realise that these are actually the bits of the land that the sea doesn’t want so it leaves them above the surface and a short while later we entered the islands to the west of Naxos called the Little Cyclades.
Artemis called first at Iraklia where in the small port the sunlight was dancing like dainty fairies on the corrugated surface of the gently rippling water and then after we left a few minutes later we were in Schinoussa which looked like an island that time had forgotten! Out of Schinoussa a Cycladic wind came from nowhere, the seas started to sway and build into frothy meringue peaks and the salt spray reached all the way up to the upper deck forcing people inside. Not us though. We kept our steadfast resolve and remained up top.
Sometimes Greek ferry journeys feel very functional, a case of just leaving one place to get somewhere else but this was not one of those journeys, this was much more like a pleasant five and a half hour Aegean cruise, sitting in the sun, watching the islands slip by one by one with a book in one hand and a can of Mythos in the other.
The ferry continued its journey along the west coast of Amorgos, an island shaped like a seahorse and rising like a wall of stone from the sea almost in a no-man’s land between the Cyclades and the Dodecanese, dry, brown, arid and hot and after forty minutes we arrived in the northern port of Egiali where we were met by the owners of the Hotel Filoxenia who unnecessarily transported us by mini bus the one hundred metres or so to our room, which was lovely and facing west was sure of a good sunset later.
We were hungry so had a late lunch and after that took a walk around a half asleep town then bought some wine and spent the rest of the afternoon on the generous balcony of our room. As we prepared to go out for the evening a carillon of goats passed through the grounds with their neck bells clanging and chiming and although I tried to remember I don’t think I have ever stayed in a place before where wild goats roam freely.
After capturing the pictures of a glorious sunset in the harbour we walked into the town for evening meal. There was a lot of choice but one in particular seemed popular so we decided that that was where we would dine. There were no spare places and people were standing around in a predatory sort of way waiting for a table opportunity and elbowing their way to empty chairs as they became vacant and somewhere in all this we ghosted in like Martin Peters (England, World Cup, 1966) and jumped the queue. After a short misunderstanding about the evening special menu we sorted out our choices and had a first class meal at the end of an excellent day.