28 September 2008

A Day in Paradise

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Today I swam in the Aegean Sea.  I could stop here and you would know what the highlight of my day was, but there is so much more to tell!  

Our ship docked at Greek's party island, Mykonos, sometime in the night.  Our group did not have a grand plan for the day – I had looked into some private tours for us, but the one that was offered us seemed to be too much to pay for too little – so everyone was in charge of finding our own fun here.  Rex and I took it easy in the morning, and it was almost noon before we took a shuttle bus from the ship to Chora, the city closest to the port.  As we were riding in, we passed a few rental car companies, and on the spur of the moment, decided to see what kind of deal we could get.  We found an Avis shop just at the top of the stairs on the main road, and when we learned we could have a car until 8 PM for only 53 Euros, we sealed the deal.  Soon we were tucked away in our tiny Fiat Panda, in search of real Greek food and a beach.

Our little Fiat was a five speed and all the street names and street signs were in Greek, so it took both of us paying good attention to get us where we wanted to be.  Mykonos is not a large island – its population is around 10,000 people, and it has only a few main villages – in addition to Chora on the west coast, there are Ornos and Platys Gialos on the southwest coast, Kalafatis on the southeast coast, Ano Mera near the center of the island, Fanari on the northwest coast, and Ag Stefanos and Tourlos on the west coast north of Chora.  It is only about 10 km from Chora to Kalafati, so we didn't think we could get too lost.  As usual, searching for food quickly became our first order of business, at least right after getting out of town without incident or accident!  Rex really wanted to see some of the famous party beaches (clothing optional, of course), especially Paradise and/or Super P, so we started following signs to them in hopes of coming across a taverna along the way.  Mykonos is mostly made of granite, and there is little fresh water here – desalination and bottled water are a big deal.  The countryside was very rocky, dotted with small white houses in typical Greek island postcard fashion.  We passed almost as many small, white, red-roofed churches as we did homes, which led us to believe they were family churches or chapels, which we later learned they are.  We saw several homes under construction, which was pretty neat.  They consisted of vertical and horizontal concrete girders and beams that were reinforced with rebar and arranged to form small cubes.  The sides of the homes were then bricked in, plastered, and painted white.  We noticed lots of solar-powered hot water tanks on the ceilings of the homes, and most of these houses had flat roofs, while the churches had arched barrel roofs.

We came to a quaint little building advertising crepes, pizza, spaghetti, and hamburgers, so we pulled in for lunch on the patio.  There was a man sweeping up who led us to believe he was open for business, even though no one else was there.  Once inside though, it turned out he didn't open until 6:30 - we were out of luck.  He told us just to turn right and keep going and we would find something, so we did. We came to a fork in the road, with signs pointing left for Paradise, Super P, and lots of eateries.  The sign pointing right just had one place on it – Restaurant Nicolas – so I told Rex to head that way.  Just around the bend we almost ran into a small complex consisting of an inn and a patio restaurant that opened onto a small beach.  Perfect!  And even better, it was open!  Rex parked the car (you just kind of make up your own parking places here) and we were greeted by a pretty young woman named Katerina.  She showed us three refrigerator cases of food (appetizers, cooked main courses, and meats and seafood that could be grilled) and told us we could choose from these or order from the menu.  We took a seat outside and looked over the menu, and then chose to order some of the goodies she had shown us.  Rex ordered 'rubbit' (rabbit) in tomato sauce and I opted for stuffed tomatoes and peppers.  Then I went inside to pick out some first courses – cold potatoes with onions, capers, parsley, and olive oil; black-eyed peas (!) with parsley, olive oil, peppers, and spices; and a teeny portion of macaroni and cheese, which turned out to be a huge square of macaroni, topped with meat sauce, more macaroni, bechemal sauce, and cheese. YUM!  Add a huge plate of grilled bread slathered with olive oil and two small carafes of wine and we were good to go!  We ate and ate until it was all gone, and then Katerina brought out some dessert for us (on the house, I guess since we enjoyed our meal with such gusto and cleaned our plates!).  The dessert looked like snickerdoodle dough and it was almost as tasty!  I'm not sure how to spell what it was called – chava maybe? - but Katerina told me it was semolina, sugar, and cinnamon – in other words, snickerdoodle dough!  It was yummy, too!

Since we were stuffed and had been drinking, we asked if we could linger on the beach.  Katerina told us that Aia Anna Paraga beach was a free public beach, showed us where to change into our swimsuits and where to find beach chairs, and there were plenty of open thatched umbrellas waiting for us.

I popped in my iPod and dozed while listening to music, and Rex got in the water and then rested, too.  Soon I was hot enough get in the water – or so I thought.  It was CHILLY!!!  I got in about up to my waist, and a young man on the beach was teasing me and telling me how warm it was - about 68 degrees – brrr!!  The water was crystal clear – I could see straight to the bottom (covered with smooth round rocks) and it was strange to see all the fish that you know are in there but usually don't see.  Rex's mom would not have liked that part!!  Finally I gave up and just dove in!  It was great!  I kept my eyes open before I remembered I was in salt water, but it didn't matter.  Although even Rex had no trouble floating, the water did not seem all that salty.  I swam out a few yards and was soon in way over my head, but it was still clear enough to see the bottom.  It was heavenly!  We just floated out there for a while and then came back to sit in the sun and dry off.  The sand on the beach was light brown and very coarse and gritty, and there were no seashells to be found.  The sand brushed right off our feet once they were dry – wish our beaches were like that!

About 4:30, we finally roused ourselves, changed back into our clothes, and went in search of more Mykonos.  Our next stop was Super Paradise, beach to the rich, famous, young, glamorous, and skinny crowd.  Not our kind of place on SO many levels!  But we can say we've been there and seen it, topless women and all! We passed on Super P – seen one trendy Mykonos beach, seen them all – and took off for Lake Marathi and Panormos Bay on the north side of the island (Paradise is on the south side).  In fifteen minutes, we were on the shore of the bay.  This is a big, beautiful bay with hardly any development to it – there was one tiny village – Ikaros Village, down at the bottom of the dirt road that went from the highway at the top of the hill down to the shore.  We passed a few lovely homes with pools and terraces, but that's about it.  From here, we went through the village of Ano Mera, home to the Moni Panagias Tourlianis, which was built in the 6th century.  It has a big bell tower and icons painted by people from the Cretan School, but the big draw is its beautiful wooden iconostasis which was carved in Florence in the late 1700's.  We passed the monastery but did not stop in.  I forgot to mention that Mykonos is also the windmill island, and one of the old, white, conical windmills with its thatched roof was in Ano Mera.  

We continued on through Ano Mera, the only village in the interior of the island, passed a few fenced in areas with cows and horses in them, and then we passed a herd of sheep, and soon we were in Kalifatis, which is the wind surfing headquarters of Mykonos.  It was soon evident why – there was a stiff breeze blowing over here  I'm just confused about why most of the windmills are on the west side of the island instead of over here!  We drove past a little surf shop and a yellow 'surfer crossing' traffic sign on our way to a lovely beach that was almost deserted, except for the tour bus full of cruisers who were swarming all over the area.  We saw Sheila and Eleanor and spoke to them for a little while, then we turned around and went to explore a small fishing village.  We parked in an open area at the base of a rocky hill, behind and between a fishing marina and a small taverna, and were shocked to see some wild turkeys and some other birds – maybe guinea hens? - grazing on the path up the hill.  On the opposite hill were about a half dozen mountain goats, so we decided to walk up the turkey hill and check out the view, which was gorgeous! 

There were lots of cairns atop this hill, and German couple that we had passed on the road a few minutes ago was up there having a little picnic.  We had a great view of the Aegean and some kind of navy ship a little ways offshore, and we could tell it would not be long before sunset, so we didn't linger too long.

On the way back to town, we passed a high school and “Go Kart Plaza” and we had our European gassing up experience, which was full service.  We paid 7.50 Euro for our gallon (maybe!) of gasoline – YIKES!  We got behind a slow moving bus but managed to find our way back to the Avis place with no trouble.  We got the car turned in and hustled down to the “Little Venice” section of Chora in search of dinner by sunset on the sea.  The narrow sidewalks were lined with shops and filled with crowds of people – just like Venice, except that all of the buildings were painted white with mostly blue trim, and it didn't seem nearly as old as Venice.  It may have been, but it was so much lighter and cosmopolitan feeling.  Shops selling jewelry, clothing, and souvenirs abounded, with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs mixed in.  Music was blaring from many doorways, and right along the coast the sidewalk widened with restaurants to our left and their seating areas right on the waterfront.  The sunset was beautiful over the water, where about five cruise ships were anchored.  No wonder there were so many people in town!  We walked all the way to the end of 'restaurant row' up to a row of about five windmills, then went back in search of a good place to eat.  We ended up at Little Venice Taverna, where we sat right on next to the water and had a delicious seafood dinner.  Rex had a whole sea bass, which was light and yummy, and I had six big juicy shrimp.  We had rice and french fries (a common combination over here) and shared a wonderful big Greek salad.  The table next to us (and I really mean NEXT to us – like almost at our table!) was occupied with a couple of young Asian women that we had seen earlier in the afternoon.  They were about our kids' ages – one was 25, the other 23, and they were from Japan and Taiwan.  The live in Qatar, now, and were on a short holiday from their job as flight attendants for Qatar airlines.  We enjoyed talking to them over dinner, and then we skipped dessert (!) and decided to get back to the ship before curfew.  It was about 8:30 when we left the restaurant and we were back on board before nine.  The rest of our gang was at dinner on board, so we sent them a message that we were back, safe and sound.  No shows for us tonight – we'd already had a full day of fun!

Still floating,


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