(I’m typing this on one of the flights home, from Istanbul to SFO, and I can already tell I’m in prime danger of rambling high faluting language, more so even than normal. You have been warned. Ha).
Guys! We did such a good job picking places to go. It was so overwhelming, with over 100 islands to choose from. But we decided to spend our final island stop on Paros. AND, this time for four nights (previously it was just 3 nights each location) which really allowed us to sink into maximum relaxation. The ferry system here is surprisingly efficient, especially when it often looks like a stampede of chaos. Also, they are super punctual about departure schedule, which is antithetical to all the “Greek Time” anecdotes. Hordes of visitors and luggage are driven down the small Rocky cliff roads and dumped at the Port. There, a variety of different LARGE ferries arrive and depart, with minimal announcements. Everyone stands around, a little uncertain, and a lot hot/sweaty, then suddenly a boat lands, the deck lowers, arriving guests are shoved off the boat and those of us departing rush up the deck, dump our luggage in a big pile to the side, and then scramble upstairs to try to grab a good seat (hopefully near a window with a small table). The sail to Paros was lovely, and once we landed, things were immediately different than Santorini. The crowds are smaller, and the island towns abut the ocean, rather than being atop giant volcanic cliffs. So it’s a more traditional ocean view, with accompanying wind and smells and sounds. We found our shuttle driver and took the short 20 minute drive to seaside town of Naousa. (Befuddlingly sometimes spelled Naoussa on official street signs, but sometimes only one ‘s’)
Frigging charming. Our hotel welcomed us with a bottle of wine, Martha gave us a map where she circled all her favorite beaches, and we also all stared longingly at the first swimming pool of our trip. I took a quick post-travel shower and we walked into town. It’s another pedestrian only village, with these amazing Giraffe-spot-patterned stone walkways, and white washed buildings. (I’m sure it’s not officially designed after Giraffe markings, but it always reminded me of that and made me smile). Twisting alleys, and flower pots and gorgeous flowering vines providing charm and color. And some of the friendliest street cats ever. More in number than in Santorini, and also much more interactive. If you so much as made eye contact, many would wander over to demand pets and attention. *smile*
Also, many of the winding alleys will open up to a gorgeous view of the harbor and the Sea. Majority of restaurants are just outdoor tables and chairs, many with amazing views of the water all around us. And offering all kinds of super fresh seafood. Including the octopus they have out drying in the salty sea air. (although those mostly seemed to attract wasps, which made it less appetizing of an option).
After wandering through town, we found ourselves at Mediterraneo, one of the many cute patio table restaurants with harbor view. Happily this place offered a few options beyond just seafood (as some of our group aren’t fans and reasonably didn’t want to eat chicken souvlaki for 100% of their meals). Turned out to be a GREAT spot for people watching, too. There was some type of event with chairs happening a block away (we’d guessed maybe a wedding, but when we went to investigate, it was an outdoor historical presentation at the museum, complete with sideshow, but it was all in Greek). One of the reasons I’d thought wedding was the lot right next to restaurant (between the presentation and us) was being set up for an event. I quite enjoyed watching the crew string overhead twinkle lights, as well as hoist a giant lighting rig up to second floor balcony. I sent a photo to my sound engineer/event pal, and her quick text response “needs sand bags” was on point, as it wasn’t weighted/secured at all.
Dinner was nice. The mussels were so fresh and full of garlic, and my shrimp (giant prawns in size) were super sweet and fresh, too. And we learned that fried croquettes is a common Parian (I feel this word should be Parosian, but it’s not. The adjective for things of Paros is Parian.) dish, so we enjoyed the zucchini balls with tzatziki. The table next to us was full of several Greek families with several small children. Watching their antics (being kids, running around screaming, getting into fights, squealing with delight, climbing all over the wood pallets) was great fun. And my heart was lost to the small boy (maybe 5 or 6) who lovingly cradled his xylophone, taking it with him, setting it down so gently, bonking it carefully with the small hammer, then hugging it to his chest again. I also tried the local Parian beer, 56 Isles. They’ve only been brewing/bottling it for a few years, but it’s right clever of them, and they put thought into the bottle design/label with an eye towards the tourist market, I’m sure. And it worked. The bottle is a lovely dark blue glass, with a nice light blue label. It makes for a pretty Instagram picture for sure, and a great label to peel off and stick in one’s journal. *smile*
We were also treated to a phenomenal sunset over the harbor. And then a very pleasant walk back in the twilight. The only slight bummer is that it’s all up hill on the way back to the hotel. A fact I regretted at the end of each day. But you’re also climbing the hill towards the gorgeous Greek orthodox church, which is lit beautifully by spotlights at night, so it’s a nice visual “goal.” And the climb isn’t really super strenuous, just steadily up up up.
Also, at the top of the hill, we saw at least two dozen street cats lounging around in an 8 foot radius. It was wild and little strange/spooky. Why have they all gathered here? What is their mission?!? As soon as went near to take a photo, over half of them got up and trotted over, rubbing against our legs, seeking affection that we were happy to give. (what’s a little risk of fleas among friends?). Then off to bed with no morning alarms and no schedule. Huzzah!
Oh!!! We also saw several of the moth hummingbirds and it is the freakiest thing ever. So so tiny!! And with wings that are a bit more moth than bird, but definitely bird body and head. And super tiny, flitting between all the flowering vines. Woah! Too small and too fast to photograph, but do a Google image search. Wild.
Our first full day in Paros was a lazy morning, made even easier because our hotel included a rather decent breakfast spread, including some of the freshest breads and pastries, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and fruit, and some European style cold cuts. Yum. So I guess we did have to set the alarm for 9:30am because breakfast only went until 10am. After feeding, we put on our swim suits and hit the pool for relaxing and discussing what we wanted to do. Decided THIS was the island where we might brave renting a car. Liv and Aimee had gotten their international licenses before we left. What hadn’t been thought about was the relative scarcity of automatic transmissions in the rest of the world. Which meant Liv was our only driver who knew manual and had the license. Although it’d been several years since she’s driven stick. But she did so so good!! While waiting for the hotel and car rental place to make arrangements, we had two lazy hours poolside. Well, the others were poolside. I was pool-in. Wearing my long sleeve rash guard, of course, sunscreen on my face, and still mostly hiding in the corner of pool under the shade tree. It was lovely. I spent the first twenty minutes just back floating around. Then I wanted to read (foolishly, I only packed my kindle, which isn’t water friendly. But the Santorini airbnb had a sharing library shelf, so I’d picked up an Italian Art thief mystery paperback to be my water book). And I decided to try a thing I’ve never done before. It was a little awkward and not sure I’ll do it again, but I was quite proud it worked. Because my back floating was going so well, I decided to try reading in the pool while back floating. Turns out my arms are a vital part of that stability, and a few times I’d find myself floated into the deep end when I had to turn the page (always the most dangerous part) with fears of going under and trying to hold the book aloft. But it worked and was more fun than it should’ve been. And after half hour, I went to side of pool and read standing in the pool, like a slightly more normal person.
Now it’s 2pm and we have the car. Time for adventure. We pack small beach bags and head out to Kolymbithres Beach. It was frigging lovely. The water so amazingly crystal clear. Great carved boulders and interesting landscape. So great to swim and float around, and lovely to read under the shade umbrella on the beach, too. Very active beach, full of all types of groups having fun. But a very friendly supportive and laid back scene (not an Instagram selfie, judgy scene!). The whole beach watched/got invested when a couple arrived with their Labrador, and the woman jumped off dock to go swimming. Poor dog was running up and down the dock, between the man and her, whining in concern. But when the man and dog jumped in, it seemed to be better for the dog. Although he did keep having to swim back and forth between his two people, and I was slightly worried he’d get too tired. Sweet pup. And a very sweet beach spot for the late afternoon.
I named our bright red Skoda Calliope, because something Grecian felt appropriate, and the muse of song and eloquence seemed a great choice. and Callie proved a great little trooper, taking us all over. And Liv was fantastic as our driver/captain.
The next day we decided to use our car to drive around the whole Island. Aimee and I most looking forward to visiting Lefkes, which is pitched as this artisan village in the mountains, selling things you won’t find elsewhere in Greece. The drive was an adventure. Especially when Aimee’s GPS had us suddenly taking what turned into a small one lane dirt road winding through the hills, with a Cliffside beside it, and no turn around or shoulder to speak of. Clearly we’d gone so far off the beaten path, we weren’t sure where we were. This thing was basically a glorified goat path, and none of us felt our small Skoda was up to it. I checked my GPS and while it said this road would technically get us there, our destination was also reachable by the main paved road, and we’d missed a turn somehow. So Liv bravely found a spot where we could safely get turned around (barely, lots of maneuvering required) and climb back down this dirt path towards civilization. Huzzah!! Then when we arrived and found parking (Lefke is pedestrian only, although locals are allowed to drive through), we began our hot hike through town. Some serious elevation changes, as it’s all built on hills. While the buildings were lovely, we weren’t encountering any type of shop, or really even other people. We worried maybe there isn’t anything open on Sundays? We made our way to the big church, where we found a large French tour group, so maybe things ARE open on Sundays? Although the two cafe in front of the church were closed/empty. Again, these churches are gorgeous inside, and so many chandeliers!! And now it’s approaching noon, and super hot, and we don’t quite know where to go. We hike through more streets, occasionally seeing other tourists, but no shops or vendors of any kind. Then, a sign for jewelry. Hooray.
And here we met the nicest man. Originally from Ireland, although he’s spent the last 32 yr in Greece. He’d always thought he’d go back to get his pension (& better health care) at this point in his life, but he acknowledged his pals back home have lived 3 decades of life without him, and he just couldn’t see facing the cold dreary climate without an established social circle. And he really does love his life here, even if it is with less safety nets. He and his partner run two shops in town, with their cute little rainbow flag decal in the corner. When we first walked in, I had my usual “hello, how are you?” exchange of Greek greetings. Then when we inevitably got beyond the few phrases I knew, he was quite impressed with my pronunciation. (I heard this from two more folks on the trip. I guess I correctly mimic the “how are you doing” intonation quite well. It’s when I’m trying a few other phrases that I get the expected blank looks. The internet had told me that Greek, being a tonal language, is tough for English speakers. And reminded me that Greeks aren’t being difficult/snooty when they don’t understand you. They legitimately don’t know what you’re saying if your tone is off). In any case, this guy says, “Man, I totally thought you spoke Greek there. It’s very good.” *pride* (although not too much pride. As there were some phrases my podcast tried to teach me that I wouldn’t even attempt. I cannot roll my R’s to save my life). So we chatted about learning Greek. “It’s a bloody awful language, isn’t it? All those tenses!! I’ve been here three decades, and I’ll speak Greek to the locals but they all respond in English.” Except for one older shopkeeper woman who he clearly adores who would have full Greek conversation with him. He asked if we were Canadian. No, American, from Seattle. “Oh good. From the civilized part of America at least. It seems the coasts are okay, but that part in the middle is just full of savages, isn’t it? Just brutal, the new reports we’re getting.” We had to agree and talked some more about politics and food and life. He was this great oasis, after wandering too hot with no stores, to find a cute little shop (with a small fan for a breeze) and a charming shopkeep. Nice.
He was also able to give us advice of how to find some more shops. Which we happily did. Although still, it wasn’t very many, and they weren’t stocked with noticeably unique or crafted items. Some local jewelry, but mostly the same stuff we’ve seen everywhere. Still, a fun enough outing. So we still wonder if most of the artisan shops don’t open on Sundays? Or if we just didn’t walk the right streets? Then a mid-day stop for a drink. The others ordered milk shakes which came with sprinkles around the rim, and the grumpiest service ever. I got a mango granita (I do love me a slushie!!). Then it was time for more beach!!
Drove out of the mountains (hills, really. Crete is the only island with mountains that actually get snow, ya know?) to Golden Beach, where we got to watch lots of kite surfers, including several beginners. And more swimming and floating in the crystal clear waters. This beach had some gentle waves (& more intense wind), which are always great fun to float/bob along. Then Liv and I cowered/relaxed with our books under the shade umbrella while Alix and Aimee worked on their tans. It was great for about an hour, until the wind starting sand blasting us and made holding our books difficult, even!!
Then off to explore Parikia, the main town on the island. We went to the Church of 100 Doors, and it was gorgeous. And meant we had to do some research online after to discover what everything meant. Typical 17th century outside church, but when you walk in, there’s this much older gorgeous stone building, with amazing old stone decorations. And the same glimmering icons, etc. And Liv noticed some live basil plants around, inside the church (as offerings?) at the base of some of the saintly pictures. Google tells us about this Paros tradition “in memory of ninth-century nun Osia Theokisti, who lived alone on the island for 35 years after escaping from pirates, surviving on wild basil and holy water” Wild, and rather sweet way to honor local Saint. In the floor of the church, near the center, are two large clear plexiglass spaces, under which we can see two large pillars/columns. Again, our friend Google let us know that this space used to be a temple to Aphrodite (that’s the pillars). Then there were some early early Christian baptisms/worship here. We’re talking 4th century, claimed to have been done by Emporer Constantine’s mom; at least done in her honor. Looking into the “hundred doors” thing was a bit stranger. There are all kinds of legends and stories, many of which have been debunked. But apparently there are only 99 doors. The 100th door is hidden and will reappear when Constantinople is once again under their control. This may be a long time coming, as They Might Be Giants reminded all of us decades ago, it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople.
The shopping in town was great. Wide selection, and I found a pair of earrings I love. But there was no price on this set, although the similar smaller chain earrings did have a price. We’d also been chatting a bit with this shop worker, she was very sweet. “Are you from Paros?” “No, I am from Kalamata. Do you know it?” “Well, I know your olives. They are quite famous.” She seemed bemused (although Liv maintains she was charmed). In any case, after Aimee got a great pair of earrings and Alix a ring, I approached her about my earrings. “There’s no price on these. This smaller pair is marked €49 so would you take €60?” (I really liked them but wasn’t sure I could justify spending beyond that). “Oh, I am not sure. Let me call my boss.” After an extended phone conversation, in which I’m pretty sure I’ll be walking away from this without a sale, she ends the call and announces, “I can sell them to you for €52.” Sold! In my head I’m laughing to myself, never had a bargaining situation end with the seller offering a price lower than my offer before. Then, after she’s boxed them and everything, the phone rings. My heart sinks a little. I’m sure this is the boss calling back to change the price. And when the woman starts opening the box, I’m sure of it. But she explains her boss has asked her to take a few photos, as this is the last one of this kind. Phew!! So that’s how I ended up with new earrings!
Noting that sunset was around 7:30pm the previous night, and Liv would reasonably rather not drive after dark, we head for dinner. Super cute Mana Mana where I had some amazing falafel and hummus. We enjoyed watching a very fat (possibly pregnant) cat waddle down the street. And then jump onto our bench and curl herself up between Liv and the pillow. There she sat, purring away, the entire meal. We’d thought there might be food stealing (at least begging) when our plates arrived, but nope. Kittie just wanted some company. The waiter told us she does this all the time and we can shoo her away, if we don’t like it. But we DID like it. Then a hurried rush to the car and a twilight drive back to our smaller seaport town, about 20 min away.
Oh! One of our meals in Nausuo was at a delightful pasta place. After dinner, they provided us with four free shots of Raki (the Cretan spirits that Aimee and Alix found way too strong but we were continually gifted in Crete). As he was putting it on the table, he sniffed the shot glasses and said, “oh no. This is the wrong one. It’s strong! You know Raki?” So then he calls the bartender to also bring us four shots of this pine flavored liquor that was sickly sweet and not as pleasant. And this is how Tracy ended up doing two shots of Raki and the one of the gross pine stuff. They also gave us four free chocolate mousse desserts. Alix, for whom food texture is a big thing, didn’t love it. “Yuck. It’s like phlegm.” to which I replied, “It’s pronounced ‘Flan’.” And I’m still pretty damn proud of that terrible joke. No offense to fans of flan, but that custard texture is unpleasant to me, too. But I thought the chocolate mousse was great. Although I had just done several shots of free liquor.
Our last full day in town was, once again, started without an itinerary. Huzzah. And the only alarm was the one to make sure we didn’t miss breakfast. We only had the rental car until 2pm, so we’re trying to decide what to do. Did we want to try yet another beach? It was decided to head into Parikia for some more shopping and a quick lunch. Shopping and exploring was great fun, and suddenly it was 12:30 (& restaurants are not hurried affairs in Greece). So we grabbed a quick gyro pita at the Port. It was tasty, and the first one I’d had that wasn’t the chicken souvlaki, so I was quite surprised to learn the gyro meat was pork!! Not the beef and lamb mixture I’m used to. Interesting, and tasty. I gambled with my canned beverage, choosing the “non carbonated orange” hoping it would be juice. But it was more like flat orange soda (gross!) with maybe a hint of Sunny D fake orange flavor mixed in (double gross!). Aw well. Should’ve just grabbed the Pepsi can with Messi on it. 🙂
We made it back to town at 1:50pm, but chiding ourselves for worrying so much at the “due by 2pm” timeframe, as this is Greek time. Only, holy cow, that’s the car rental guy standing in the hotel lobby. Ha! I guess it’s a good thing we’re rule followers. Then some more swimming pool time!
That evening, into Naoussa for our last night. High winds again, making for rough seas, even in our harbor. Several of the seaside tables/restaurants were not open, as a wave would splash up every few minutes. And the ubiquitous boat tour operators all had “closed due to weather” signs. Very dramatic to watch the waves, and the sunset was, once again, lovely. Discussing dinner options, highly rated Yemeni was determined to be more money than we wanted to spend. And it was now after 8:30, so getting a table would be harder. Town was hopping busy, especially for a Monday night. So we decided to eat at the quirky Greek place across the street from our hotel. As it’s outside of town, prices are great. And they always had a good sized crowd, and live music on the weekend. It had been lovely on Sun night, writing postcards on our deck that overlooked the restaurant, hearing their live music, while Alix and Aimee squeezed into the one person jacuzzi. Ha.
While shopping, Alix mentioned that this corner cocktail bar was always a lively scene every time we went past. I did some TripAdvisor research and found it was highly rated, too. AND happy hour went until 9pm (it was 8:30). So we grabbed a nice bench with comfy pillows and ordered fancy €7 drinks. Very nice way to continue our unwinding. Then we ambled back out of town, for the final time, taking the route past the school so I could see if my favorite street cat was still out. And she was, so I got to give her some good bye head scratches.
And off we went to the quirky little restaurant, with the handwritten sign, informing “cash only. banks are vampires.” Menu is smaller but there’s some decent variety. Except when we try to order, we’re informed that the kitchen is basically out of Everything. “It was too busy for a Monday night” he tells us. So it’s basically more pita sandwiches. Liv wanted the zucchini balls again, but he explains, “oh no. We only have three of them left, and an order is Four.” then he went to the kitchen to check on something else (yep, they were also out of the dish that Alix wanted). I asked if they couldn’t at least serve the three zucchini at a reduced price. He seemed baffled by that but said he would ask. Liv said, if they can’t do the zucchini, she’d take the Greek salad. Well, you guessed it, she ended up with both. Ha. But I was glad of it, as the zucchini was quite tasty, and very different from the ones we’d had earlier. Those had been in balls, these in flat patties, with very different spices. Both tasty, and fun to have tried both. But in general, this was a meal more about the personality of the place rather than the quality of the Food. It was fine, but nothing very memorable. Price point was super friendly, though. If only we hadn’t been surrounded by tables chain smoking, we mightve lingered longer.
And that was Paros. Dang, I love that my entry for the days when we arguably did the least, I’ve written so much. Mostly written on my phone as I paced the airplane aisle, or lurked in a corner of airplane. After managing about four hours sleep, I needed to stand for at least an hour or two. This 13 hr flight is no joke. And it’s kept me entertained on this flight, so that part is great, hope the reading of it is also entertaining.