Our first ferry arrived at 10:00 p.m. on the island of Syros, in the port of Ermoupolis, which is also the largest town on the island. Other than a couple of floodlit churches and a waterfront restaurant or two, all of the town appeared to be in bed as we disembarked. Fortunately, a local hotel owner was at the quay waiting for newcomers, and he took us up a few winding, stairstepped streets to a nice hotel with an immaculate room with a blacony for half of the price of the disaster of a room we had in Athens.
Still somewhat jetlagged, we slept late the next morning, then went out for a walking tour of the town. Since it was the commercial and governmental center for the Cyclades island group, Ermoupolis has an upscale residential area and some palatial government buildings in addition to the small domed churches and whitewashed houses that are the architectural staples of the Greek Islands. In the afternoon, we hopped on a bus and visited a couple of the villages on the other side of the island. We spent a little time at the beach and climbed around on some of the rocky coastline.
Most of the following day was spent on a ferry from Syros to Amorgos which is on the eastern edge of the Cyclades island group. Abi suffered from motion sickness a good portion of the day, but managed to get in a couple of naps. We spent the remainder of the day walking the coastline near Katapola, the port town where our hotel was.
We got up early the next morning and took the first bus to Hora (the ancient seat of government for each of the islands is called "Hora") and, but for the fact that my head is shaved, the wind at Hora was foreceful enough to have ripped it out by the roots--aerodynamic hairdos have their perks. Hora is set atop a backbone of mountains that run the length of Amorgos, with an ancient forst clinging to a rocky outcropping in the center of the village. The Greek culture may have been very advanced, but it did not develop (or at least show any familiarity with) the grid system of city planning--I've had more direct routes from Pint A to Point B on a rollercoaster. At least the rabbit warren of streets and alleys in Hora provided a little windbreaker during our tour.
We then walked around a set of ruined windmills on a ridgeline to the east of Hora, then descended to the eastern coastline to visit Hozoviotissia Monastery. The monastery is four stories high, one room in width, and built into the side of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean. Painted all white, it is a stunning contrast to the rocky surroundings. Abi did not have a long skirt with her to satisfy the dress code to tour the inside, but luckily an Italian lady had packed a sarong to put on over her shorts for just that reason and she let Abi use it when she finished the tour.
We returned to Katapola in time for lunch, then I rented a scooter and toured the northern end of the island while Abi took a nap. This was when I first saw the turquoise and azure waters that the Greek islands are known for and it was breathtaking. Abi joined me on the scooter for the last part of the afternoon where we spent awhile on a secluded beach, then toured the southern part of the island, which wasn't as hilly as the other areas I had explored earlier in the day. Our ferry wasn't set to depart until early the next evening, so we lazed around our hotel throughout the next morning, then spent the afternoon at a beach within walking distance from Katapola.
Our next stop in the Cyclades was the tiny island of Koufonisia (which I have seen spelled at least four different ways), you could probably walk the entire perimeter of the island in about two hours. It is known for its secluded, beautiful beaches, rugges coastline, and not being on the itinerary of any large package tour operators that are known to dump hundreds of people off a cruise ship for an afternoon outing. We arrived in the evening and got a late start the next day, as we were up until 3 a.m. watching movies that had not been dubbed into Greek (the dubbed shows play earlier in the evening).
We hit the beaches of Koufonisia around noon and were a little surprised at our first exposure to hordes of nude sunbathers, snorkelers, picnickers and even paddleball players. Mind you, this was not a nude beach--there were plenty of other people in varying degrees of dress--but probably half of the people there weren't keeping any secrets. By the end of the afternoon the shock of it wore off, and it seemed like a practical way to cut back on laundry.
The eastern side of the island featured one rocky inlet after another with crystaline waters, many of them terminating in a little pebbled beach sheltered from the wind just big enough for a couple of people. We had a nice dinner that evening served outside, with little cats prowling between the tables begging for scraps. We felt like we'd seen what Koufonisia had to offer (except for a new day's worth of Europeans arriving to get naked at the beach), so we took a ferry to Naxos the next morning.
We had intended to be in Naxos long enough to change ferries to Santorini, but a sampling of the postcards in the port persuaded us to tour the island for the day and go to Santorini the following day instead. Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades and very mountainous, so using a scooter was out of the question. I think we got a pretty decent overview of the island in one day--there are beach/resort areas along the western coast, rocky cliffs high above the sea along the north, and beautiful whitewashed villages clinging to the mountainsides in the center of the island. Our room had a kitchen, so we fixed dinner for ourselves that evening.
The next morning we returned the car and did a walking tour of Hora, with its walled city center (or kastro), which was a maze of churches, tiny homes and shops. We caught the ferry to Santorini about noon (which will be the subject of our next entry).