Samos Island, Greece
On Wednesday I reluctantly got on a ferry heading for Greece leaving my new love … Turkey behind. (You know the great line from the movie When Harry Met Sally when Sally says … “he can’t be in love with her, he just met her.She’s supposed to be his transitional person.” Well… sorry Greece, but you are my transitional (rebound) country.) Anyway, a very quick 1 ½ hour ferry ride later and I was on Samos Island in the main town called what else … Samos Town (on the north east coast of the island). I was met at the ferry by the Budget folks, picked up my little white Jeep Samuri convertible and was soon headed off to Ireon on the south side of the island.
The funny thing was when the lady handed over the keys of the jeep to me she motioned to the road in front of me and said just follow it and you will find Ireon. Well in theory that would be correct, but the island has these quirky little signs that point in one direction, but really mean another direction. (For example one sign points up (I guess meaning straight ahead), but as you follow the road it splits into two directions… uh which way now. In addition, you have to really watch the signs otherwise you end up veering off on a side road that often seems to merge into the main road.
Anyway, after a couple of “I think I screwed up and should have gone straight instead of veer to the left” detours, I arrived at my lovely colonial looking waterfront hotel in Ireon (the aptly named Sunrise Hotel because… yep the view over the water is of the sunrise every morning). I was given a room on the second floor with a balcony view to the Aegean and once I deposited my luggage and changed I headed out for some lunch.
Now, the town of Ireon is very small (I could probably run from one end to the other in under two minutes (and I assure you there are people who can walk faster than I can run), and for some reason it seems to have more tavernas (waterfront restaurants) than people. There are obviously larger towns on the island, but I wanted a nice small hotel on the water and there were really very few choices. (Most were larger cookie cutter hotels). It turned out that the hotel and the location were perfect. I found a lovely little restaurant built over the the water, ordered the grilled octopus and tomato and cucumber salad with (what else) a glass of ouzo and enjoyed the view. Talk about relaxing. The sound of the water lapping at the restaurant and the shore, the little fishing boats bouncing on the water and the clear blue sky made me want to find a hammock and just go to sleep.
After lunch (which was fantastic and perhaps the best grilled octopus ever) I wandered around the little town to get my bearings. Minutes later (I’m not kidding when I say this place was small), I found my self back at the hotel on my deck with me feet propped up listening to tunes on my iPod. Yep. Heaven. I did absolutely nothing for the rest of the day. (Unfortunately, if you are reading this entry in my blog, it will be far less action packed than prior entries; I really did not do a helluva lot of anything for four days on Samos.)
Next day I decided it was laundry time so I found a laundromat in the adjacent town of Pythagorio (my hotel did not have laundry service), left my laundry with the woman who told me to come back in 2 hours and wandered the streets of Pythagorio. I ended up on the waterfront and ran into a young woman who was signing people up for a cruise on Captain Antonis Tryfon’s sailing boat the next day to Krevelis Bay, up the coast of the island. The cruise was from 10:30 to 5:30, with about four hours in the bay to swim and lounge around and lunch was provided. Fine by me. Thirty euros later I filled my Friday with a cruise.
I spent the next couple hours hanging out in a Taverna drinking fresh squeezed orange juice and eating a lovely bowl of Greek yoghurt and honey topped with bits of fresh apples, pears and pomegranates. I finally mustered the energy to pick up my laundry and zip back to Ireon. By now I was loving my little jeep and the open air so I decided I would take the afternoon and explore the west end of the island.
I looked at the map and realized that the road essentially ends in my town, Ireon, and that the only way to reach the north end was to head inland and to a town called Pirgos and then head left on the road to the coast. As I drove inland, the landscape changed from rocky, sandy lowlands to small pine trees and mountainous. I reach Pirgos within 40 minutes (this place really is tiny… I thought it would take me at least an hour. Once I reached Pirgos, I hit a Y in the road. One direction listed a city that was not on my map and the other listed a town named Mili, which on the map was just north of Ireon. OK. It must be the other town. So off I drove figuring it was not a very large island. In other words, there was no way I could get lost. I drove on a very narrow road (the standard on the island) through a myriad of little towns, past honey stands, olive groves and glorious views of the ocean. After about an hour I reached the coast, but had no idea where I was. I parked the car and got out and asked a young woman in a shop. “Kalispera (good afternoon in Greek) can you tell me what town I am in?” The gal looked at me like I had lost my mind, but responded Karlovasi. Uh oh. I had somehow crossed the entire island driving from the south to the opposite side on the northwest coast. No idea how that happened, but oh well. I grabbed a bottle of water and headed back to the car.
I looked at the map and realized that I could follow the coastal road all the way back to Samos Town and then cut across the island back to Ireon. So off I set and it turned out to be be a magnificent drive. The road literally hugged the ocean with sharp turns and gorgeous views. I passed beach towns and lots of beach bars (and if I hadn’t been driving I would have stopped). An hour and half later I found myself back in Ireon. (Yep a really small island).
I decided to get cleaned up and head to Pythagorio for dinner. I had read about a pretty cool little taverna that overlooked the harbor called Dolichi. It was apparently down a back alley and a little hard to find (it was) but served authentic Greek food with authentic Greek music. Turned into a fantastic night. The food was very good, the views with the moon gleaming on the Pythagorio harbor wonderful, but the highlight was the music. The fellow who played the bazooka and sang Greek folk songs, Yannis Loulourgas, was absolutely amazing. (As I watched him play I could only think about how much Carter Gravett from Carbon Leaf, would love to meet this guy. His fingers moved up and down the strings so quickly it was remarkable to watch.) The guy had been playing the bazooka since he was a child. He and his wife own the restaurant and also own a shop in Pythagorio featuring his hand made musical instruments. After dinner I hung around and drank a couple glasses of ouzo and OJ (quite tasty) and listened to him play. It was very hard to leave (although the drunk Britsh guy was kept bugging me made it a little easier).
Next morning I was up early and headed back to Pythagorio (it is only a 10 minute drive from my hotel) for the boat cruise. It turned out there were only 12 others on the boat (which holds 30) as it is the end of the tourist season here so there was lots of room to move (or lounge) around. Sophia (the gal who signed me up the day before) turned out to be a real hoot. She is from Sweden so brings in a the tourists from her home country. (I later found out that SAS flies nonstop flights to Samos, which is another reason there were Swedes everywhere.) Anyway, there were 12 Swedes and me on the boat trip. The weather was perfect, the Aegean Sea was very calm and the coastline was beautiful. We spent about an hour and a half riding to Kervelis Bay.
When we reached the Bay, we found out we were the only ones there. I grabbed one of the air mattresses offered by Sophia and jumped into the water. Yikes! A little chilly at first, but not bad once I got in. The Bay turned to be very shallow and easy to walk around or walk to shore. I ended up just floating around the bay for about an hour. It was lovely.
We had lunch back on the boat (Greek salad, stuffed grape leaves, bread and olive oil, meatballs and cheese) and then I napped in the shade. (Yes I am VERY relaxed right now…) We started back for Pythagorio about 4:00 and were docked and back on shore around 5:30. It was a wonderful way to spend a Friday. In fact, I was so full from the lunch and so tired, I ended up falling asleep and did not wake up until 9. I went downstairs to the bar, had a draft beer (in a frozen glass, which appears to be the norm here on Samos and really enhances the taste of the beer IMHO) and called it a night.
Sophia has suggested a great hike for me to the waterfalls at Potami (on the northwest side of the island near where I had driven on Thursday) so Saturday I planned to drive to Potami for the hike. On the way I took a short detour to see the Greek ruins and archeological site of Heraion. The site was built to honor the god Hera and was constructed in approximately 450 B.C. At one time it consisted of 155 columns, but now there was only one sad, lonely part of a column remaining. The only impressive part of the temple was the fact that a number of the bases still existed so it was possible to visualize the incredible size of the temple and its former glory. I wandered around the mostly unkept grounds and looked at an area where bits and pieces of broken monuments had been set out. The only remarkable relics in this lot were 3 marble columns and a piece of a column. I left the site thinking that the site sorely lacked funding, which explained the sad state of the archeological dig.
Anyway, I jumped back into the jeep and sped off to Potami. I retraced the road I drove two days earlier this time marveling at the scenery from the opposite direction. Somehow, this time around the island, the trip seemed much shorter. I was now used to driving on the narrow roads and the custom of moving to the shoulder to let the islanders speed past at rocket speed. Not so bad once you become accustomed to it.
I reached the end of the beaches area and decided to make a detour for a 5 km trip up into the hills to the town of Manolates, which Sophia had also mentioned to me. Talk about a hairpin drive. The very narrow road had multiple switchbacks, but I finally reached the little town, parked my car and wandered around. Lots of shops and tiny, little alleys. I decided to take a seat at a little Taverna and have some fruit and fresh squeezed orange juice. Yum. (The fruit turned out to be watermelon and just as sweet and juicy as anything I have every had. OK, maybe the location and my relaxed state was enhancing the taste. I think it was the first time I really sat and tasted watermelon, though, rather than just eating it.)
After my snack I got back on the road and drove back down the hill. All I could think of as I drove down the hill was … please don’t let my brakes fail. In fact, I kept the car in neutral the whole way down and coasted that is how step the road was. Once back on the main road, I quickly reached Potami. I located the sign for the waterfalls, parked the car by the beach and put on my hiking shoes. I followed the signs and quickly found myself far removed from the beach area and in the middle of a tree canopied stone path paralleling a stream. There were a few people around, but for the most part it was pretty quiet (although I did see a bunch of beach folks who were seriously underdressed for the hike… bikinis and flip flops, as they would discover, weren’t entirely suitable for the terrain.
So up and down the rocks and over the stream on wooden bridges I walked. It was gorgeous and peaceful. As I hiked further into the hillside, the stream changed from a trickle to a wider, faster flowing stream. I finally reached the first waterfall and it was beautiful. (This was not the high waterfalls I was used to seeing in the Cascade and Olympic mountains in Washington state, but nevertheless beautiful.) I found the second waterfall and realized the third waterfall required me to put on my flip flops and wade through the water to the pool and waterfall. At first I thought the pool was fairly shallow, but I soon found myself hip deep (good thing I was wearing my quick dry hiking skort). The waterfall and the sun trickling through the trees was really a beautiful slice of nature. Fabulous hike.
I ended the hike by climbing several stories up on a series of ladders to the top of the hillside where I had lunch at the restaurant at the top. The view was spectacular, but the food so so. The hike back down the ladders was much more difficult than the hike up, but I made it safely down. I took my time hiking out of the forest, but still reached the road far too quickly. Absolutely brilliant way to spend the day.
I stopped in Samos Town for a quick walk around, determined it was mostly geared towards tourists and took my leave (except I stopped and bought some baklava…. not as good as Pervin’s in Turkey, but still pretty tasty.) I reached Ireon around 7, stopped for some dinner at a Taverna and called it a night. It had been a very relaxing 4 days, but it was time to head to Athens.