Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Paros, part 2 and on to Santorini

One minute I'm basking in the Greek sun, the next I'm back in NJ in the muggy rain. Expulsion from Eden can't have been any worse than this. Truth be told, I was ready to come home - or at least ready to have my workshop, bed, and cats close to hand again. Could all three have been transported to a lovely Cycladic house on Paros, I would've been very happy to stay.

The second half of our stay on Paros was in Naoussa a formerly sleepy fishing village which has now turned into an upscale resort town. There are still piles of nets on the docks but a Greek friend said he thought they were "for the tourists," not the fish. The center of town is chock-a-block with restaurants, cafes, souvlakerias, and clubs. At night it's like a carnival, with colored lights strung in the trees, vendors standing at carts or walking through the crowds, and music coming from every direction. This young entrepreneur was selling roasted corn and the ubiquitous balloons on sticks. SpongeBob Square Pants and his friend Patrick were very popular.

We stayed at the Stelia Mare Hotel, which is about a 15 minute walk from the center of town. Coming from the Pension Sofia we were stunned by the scale and relative luxury of the place. Our executive suite was maybe four times the size of our room at the Sofia and came complete with a kitchen larger than most NYC apartment kitchens, a living room/dining room area, large balcony, and truly spacious bathroom. The breakfast buffet was exhaustive: cheese and spinach pies, croissants, two types of fresh bread, Greek yogurt, honey, melon, cereals, local cream cheese, fresh tomatoes, boiled eggs, scrambled or fried eggs, bacon or sausage, hash browns, and Greek cookies. Unfortunately, the coffee was awful and even paying for a cappuccino didn't improve matters much. The people who work there are professional and charming. Still, our hearts belonged to the Pension Sofia, which gave us a lovely home at a quarter of the price of our executive suite.

Thankfully, Paros and Santorini are in the same group of islands, so we didn't have to troop back to Piraeus to get to our next island stop. I truly loved our time in Paros - it has the perfect mix of good beaches, good food, good shopping, and gorgeous scenery. Nevertheless, the highlight of our trip was Santorini.

Approaching the island by ferry you see sheer cliffs striped in black, red, and white, topped with white towns that drip over the cliff edges like icing. The ferry lands at Athinios port, which is a sliver of a town clinging to the base of the cliffs. It's a dusty, noisy strip of shops, with tour buses, vans, cars, and motorbikes weaving in and out of the crowds of suitcase-rolling tourists. It looks like something out of the Star Wars frontier scenes.

The first night we stayed in a small hotel in Firostefani, a suburb of Fira, the main town on the island of Thira, which is the largest of the group of islands that make up Santorini. The hotel, which, like all the others we stayed in, I had found on the internet, was not good. Even if we hadn't just come from the lap of luxury it wouldn't have been good. To be fair, the room was very large and it faced the caldera, meaning the view was stunning. It even had a living room/dining room area and a kitchen - but everything was shabby and dingy. The furniture looked vaguely early American, like it had been purchased from the Sears catalogue circa 1965. There were no lamps, only wall or ceiling mounted spotlights with bare bulbs. The bathroom was small and had the kind of shower that consists of a drain in the floor and a shower head on the wall. We decided to make the best of it and went off to dinner in Fira, where we had a fabulous meal at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the caldera and overlooked by a neighboring church.

Getting to and from the restaurant was a bit of a trial. We walked (30 minutes each way), by choice on the way there and of necessity on the way home. Getting a cab in town is impossible and we had no idea how to find a bus. Also, the streets that look so nice and straight on the map are actually winding paths that detour around corners and dead-end into shops, which is to say, we got lost. A few times. The center of Fira is a souk with roofed arcades that open into miniature squares, but the stores are much more high-end than anything we'd seen up to that point. It was crammed with people in snaking lines like the sidewalks in Provincetown at high season. By the time we finally got home we were exhausted and didn't much care whether the room smelled slightly of insecticide or not - which it did.

Next time, we find paradise in Oia.

1 comment:

Bunny Pesky said...

Hooray! Tru has returned to the blogosphere! Too bad you had to return to New Jersey, though....