The Island Odyssey


I took the 1730 ferry from Rafina.

Only one terminal at the end of little quay – not the confusing port I expected. It was a full-size ferry – not the smaller nippier craft I had envisaged. Finding the bus-stop to get there was trickier and involved asking lots of questions. Luckily, I did this before visiting the archaeological museum as most of these out of town buses are spread about vague areas of the city without useful signage to make the process predictable.

On the boat, I got chatting with a Greek islander. He spoke like a very well-educated upper class Englishman which he attributed to spending some years in London. He waxed lyrical about Greek philosophers when he saw I was reading Plato’s Symposium before bemoaning how little today’s schoolchildren are taught about their wise ancestors. He was more evasive about less abstract matters and I learned nothing personal about him other than a mumbled reference he made to working in finance. He expressed an interest in my careers as a journalist and therapist while expressing doubts about both. He described himself as self-actualised, but only after we parted did I reflect how negative he was about everything

I neglected to do any real research on the practicalities of staying in Mykonos.
This proved to be a mistake.

As I disembarked at the new port at around 2230, I rather expected to be in the centre of the action. First impressions suggested I was just out of the action and this was why everyone from the ferry was now stepping into a car. Obviously, I decided to walk. Given the choice between following a sign towards the old port and a place I had never heard of – I chose the latter, which involved walking up a very long hill on the hard shoulder while HGVs trundled past threateningly. Two jolly-sounding English girls walked behind me which gave me the impression I was following an acceptable path to somewhere. They soon disappeared.

At the top of the hill, I found a kebab shop where I ate well and drank a large beer. It was one of those times that a large beer is exactly what you need. I asked the staff about hotels and they spoke amongst each other in what sounded like pessimistic voices. I spoke more Greek than they spoke English. I understood that they thought I was Italian, but didn’t have enough Greek to explain I wasn’t. In a mixture of Italian and Greek, they pointed me in the direction of where some hotels lay.

This proved to be a mistake.

Evidence of hotels did exist, but they were very much closed for the season that – it transpired – began in about a week’s time. Google Maps placed me somewhere in the middle of the Aegean Sea. I continued to walk into what proved to be the largely deserted heartland of the island.

This proved to be a mistake.

I walked around four miles. My two bags helpfully balanced the load. Twinkling lights in the far distance beckoned me onwards like Sirens shining torches to lead me further astray. Each illuminated a sleeping village or the kind of homestead that didn’t welcome visitors at 1.30 in the morning. Several gardens housed large aggressive dogs seeking company.

I began to think about sleeping in a ditch. I even inspected one, but changed my mind. I turned back as it was clear that this was not hotel country. Eventually I settled on a derelict house that I had passed earlier constructed solely of concrete floors and roofs. The walls were not yet an afterthought. I mounted to the second floor of the building on the shaky premise that wild dogs don’t attack people upstairs. This gave me an opportunity to watch the stars and feel like I wasn’t too old to experience adventures. Also, how my adventures usually involve some degree of suffering.

At around 0330, I decided to retrace my steps. It was too romantic to sleep.
When I had returned to the Crossroads of Doom, close to the kebab shop, I elected to take the opposite direction to what I had been advised four hours earlier. After about 10 minutes, the bay enclosing the old port appeared beneath me.

Now that I was in the right place, the fact about it still being the close season became more demonstrably obvious. I spent the next four hours walking up every single street in a very hilly bay of many streets. The lights were on but there was nobody home.  

At one stage, two fishermen discovered me at the seafront writing my diary by torchlight. The elder seemed scared when I asked him in correct Greek whether he spoke English. His strapping young companion was less intimidated and gave me complicated directions to navigate the labyrinth of streets of the old port towards the one open hotel on the island.

Appetites Unbound

Around 7am, I found an open boutique hotel. I didn’t think I would fit in and the nice well-groomed young man apologised for the rooms costing a minimum of 120 Euros. More usefully, he told me the hotel across the road charged half that ‘if I didn’t mind waiting an hour till they opened.’ This didn’t even register as an inconvenience.

While waiting outside, I asked several departing guests if it really was a hotel to discount the possibility if it being a mirage. Eventually, I was let in and I complied fully with their invitation to eat a large breakfast. Sometime later, I was shown into my luxurious quarters within which I lounged expansively for most of the day while planning a fitting dinner.

Later, down in the small, chic and photogenic port, I ate a slow-roast lamb shank. The waiting staff were genuinely charming, which is always nice when you’re travelling alone. But their brandy still cost 30 Euros a shot. I settled for an ouzo. They didn’t love me enough to give me a free one. I thought that was tradition.

Nonetheless, it felt like a triumphant day after its disastrous start. I successfully changed my return ferry to Athens and found another hotel – still way beyond my comfort needs, but costing only 35 Euros. This would allow me to take a day-trip to nearby Delos. The manager, Maria, was charming and offered me a cream cake as it was her birthday. I said I would collect it later as I was off for my supper. She never offered it again despite my persistently hanging around reception without an obvious objective. I later found out my bathtub was a Jacuzzi. I used it every night regardless of my cleaning needs.

I asked Maria’s assistant if breakfast was included. She said ‘No!’ As if I was mad. This balanced out the Jacuzzi bonus.

Eating otherwise followed a good-bad pattern. One afternoon, I lunched at a gyros house. This was to avoid paying the 20 Euros it had cost the previous day for some fried cod and a fruit juice. I paid 17 Euros instead for some vile sausages and two portions of chips. I only asked for one. The waitress was too tired of life to offer me the coffee we had earlier discussed. Eventually she accepted my money when I went to find her.

One evening, I sought out a local restaurant where I had a (still) frozen moussaka. When I pointed this out, the waitress looked mortified, which helped a bit, and was moved to ask someone to finish cooking it. The menu’s most impressive feature was the selection of baguettes – one for each of the 12 Olympians.

On my final morning, I found the baker’s open and feasted on fine pastries and coffee for a sprinkling of change. I had belatedly hit the jackpot. After enjoying these in the pleasant morning sun, I popped back in to tell the friendly staff their wares were kostimo! Kostimo has no meaning. It is a mix of nostimo, which means ‘delicious’, and kalos, which means ‘good’ so would make quite a good word in the right circumstances. They smiled and said goodbye.

Otherwise, my best eating memory was a creation involving honey, cream, pistachios and filo pastry called Galaktoboureko. It's a mouthful in every sense and the kind of dessert that makes you laugh with pleasure - though it's best to swallow first.

The surprisingly readable Symposium follows a discussion about love between a group of prominent Athenians. Socrates gets the best lines and like most ancient Greek thinking the discourse seems strangely modern aside from the odd absence of any mention of women. While the goddess of love is Aphrodite, she is considered a better class of woman for not having a mother.

My favourite line was ‘one could hear a girl playing a flute’. My girlfriend plays the flute. Perhaps if I had a flute-playing boyfriend I could tell the difference. Another quote to remember: ‘it isn’t easy for a man in my condition to sum up your extraordinary character in a smooth and orderly sequence.’ Quite hard to say without slurring when in one’s cups.

I am also reading an abridged version of The Greek Myths by Robert Graves. I was pleased to know that during his Tenth Labour, Heracles wandered down the whole coast of Italy before realising he had taken a wrong turning. I could do that.

On my last day, I took the boat to Delos, once home to the navy of the Greek city states and supposed birthplace of the God Apollo. It was an appropriate setting to celebrate Ancient Greece with its rugged hills, scattered ruins, and seductive blue waters. I climbed up to the shrine of Apollo where I was caught short. For my blasphemy, I lost complete sight of the path I had struggled up and was forced to climb down the rocky sides where I was briefly engaged in a stand-off with a family of goats.

I was the only tourist to trail around the island museum. The one employee followed me around like a very bad spy as if worried I was going to run off with one of the larger than life marble statues that towered over me. I asked her to show me where the museum was on its model of the very small deserted island. She said she had no idea where we were, before adding: ‘eets my first day’. After I snapped several photographs without my flash, she asked me not to use my flash. Only on a deserted island can you get this kind of personal attention.

The return journey to Athens passed efficiently without incident. A bus from Rafina whisked me back to the city centre without a moment’s delay and a room in my allegedly full hotel materialised for my convenience.