Monday, 18 November 2013

nesh in Naxos

Our ferry ride through the southern Cyclades islands takes us to Naxos, the largest of them all. On the boat we meet a couple of young Australians who have been travelling from Morocco, across Europe, and are on their way home via Nepal and Thailand.  They are going to another island for some beach time "because we're Coasties".  They seem to have booked everything in advance, including a 10 day trek in Nepal.  They tell us of a website where they got a good deal in Athens ending up at a 4-star hotel.  Great. Smashing. Super.  I'm thinking about this as we roll out of the town in search of a camping spot.  The day has an autumnal feel about it as the sun hangs low and casts a soft light across the fields.  We pitch our tent on the edge of one, at the end of the airport runway, cook our tea and snuggle up in our sleeping bags.  Who needs a 4-star hotel?

Hora old town
Just before sunrise we are treated to a light show in the tent.  Great flashes light up every few seconds.  The thunder rumbles soon afterwards and the heavens open.  Big fat raindrops splatter the tent.  We try to ignore the lightning and sleep a bit more.  But then the wind gets up.  Our tent is very waterproof, but it's a tunnel.  This means you have to pitch it into the wind.  Well. last night there was no wind to speak of, but this morning, in the storm, we find we are side on to the wind.  And we both need the toilet.  To add to our woes, the field we are pitched in is sandy, and finally the pegs can't hold the tent anymore.  I'm not sure I can hold on much longer either. Three pegs ping out. It is still raining but at least the thunder and lightning has finally passed over.  We quickly repeg the tent and decide to pack up. I go off to dig a hole and refill it. It feels odd to be wearing waterproofs again.  And on it rains.  (A day or two later a friend writes and tells us that he's looking forward to reading about our travels once we leave Europe.  He finds the photos of Mediterranean sea and landscapes all a bit Conde Naste. I know what he means - large parts of Europe are picture-perfect.  But gin and tonics on the yacht at sunset hasn't been our experience of it either.  I'll be thinking of Conde Naste now, everytime I dig my morning hole and hunker down over it.)
Cycladic laundry

We are incredibly blessed with good weather.  Today it rains almost continuously.  We can only recall New Year's Day being this lousy so far this year.  We cycle back to Hora, the main town where we arrived yesterday, eat breakfast in the shelter of an empty shop, and then head to a cafe on the seafront by the port.  Get on the internet and check the weather forecast: more rain and storms, then check out that booking website the Aussies told us about.  Sure enough, there's a few cheap places in Hora.  We mark them on the map and go and look.  There's only one where we can raise anyone, having no mobile phone.  Vassily tells us he's the "Big Boy".  He organises bookings, makes breakfast, drives the car, manages everything.  We haggle for a room with a kitchenette and get a good price.  It turns out to be a good move - the weather stays foul for a couple more days.  Then it turns cold.  This isn't a 4-star hotel but it feels like luxury.  We are not cycle-touring, we have unspokenly decided. Maybe we are going soft. 

too much football as a young lad weakens the knees

One morning, when the clouds are not so low, we set off on a day-ride up into the hills.  We want to find the kouroi abandoned on the hillside.  Naxos marble was renowned in classical Greek times and quarried in the hills here for years.  Often rough cuts of statues were made out of blocks in situ before then being transported to their destination for finishing off.  Two kouroi, statues of young men over 5 metres in height, didn't get off the hillside before they broke, so we have come to see them where they still lie. Showers come and go, but the ride is fine and the land is green and fertile - a real surprise to us.  The kouroi are located close to each other and happen to lie in the same position.  There's a bit of blurb about them at the site.  Apparently the quarrymen who cut them were much derided and ridiculed.  So they gave up cutting marble and took to writing poetry set to music.  It didn't really work out for them until a wise old man suggested they name their group after one of the local insects.  And lo! overnight they became a popular hit across all of Greek civilisation.  And all went well for them until fame, fortune, drugs and drink led to them falling out and disbanding.  And no more was ever heard from The Caterpillars.

the disappearing hills of marble

We continue uphill and around the hilltops that are still being quarried today for their marble.  The hills appear to be diminishing from the top down.  We loop back around and head back to Hora through some very attractive valleys.  En route we come to a small church that hasn't had a coat of whitewash for some time.  It might be because this one was built in the 4th century, with add-ons in the 7th and 12th centuries.  An odd old lady is looking after things on the door.  Inside there are the usual icons, and some very faded frescoes.  One side chapel is full of old spare furniture, a few teacups, a mop and bucket.  Remarkable.

Hora is quiet but pleasant.  We wander the warren of streets in the old town on the hill.  Across a causeway are the ruins of a small temple to Apollo.  A northerly wind blows across the seafront. We try to make use of the wifi in our room to plan ahead, check ferry routes and timetables, look at the journey across Turkey.  And then we have an "Oh bugger!" moment.  Somewhere we had read that tourists can stay in Greece for 90 days without a visa.  We arrived here at the beginning of September and are planning to meet our travelling American friend Jeff in Lesvos, on the 10th December.  That means we will have overstayed our 90 days.  But we can't remember if our passports were swiped when we arrived in Greece from Albania.  Land borders all seem to merge into one.  Sometimes they take our passport and swipe it, sometimes they take a look and wave us through.  Oh bugger.

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