The Edge of Heaven

The Seven Seas
20th October 2015

 

I couldn't believe the view out of our window this morning. Absolutely nothing.

We were completely enveloped beneath a thick blanket of fog. We couldn't even see further than the end of our patio.

This wasn't the weather conditions Julie wanted to see before heading out to sea.

I tried to reassure her. "It will have lifted by the time we catch the boat" I said more in hope than any real meterological understanding.

We had woken up quite early but had no plans for this morning. Our breakfast wasn't booked until 10am and then a taxi had been reserved for 11:30am to take us to the port in Athinios.

It was too cold to sit outside so we spent the morning inside, popping our heads out the window every now and again to check on the fog. An hour or so later and it looked like it was here to stay but of course eventually it did lift. In fact there was a moment when the caldera had cleared but the fog was still rolling in over the edge.

It was quite a dramatic scene like the dry ice of a stage performance.

Despite being cold and damp, we even had to get towels to dry the chairs before we could sit on them, we ate our breakfast outside.

We sighed a lot, both wishing we could have stayed here a few more days. Santorini had exceeded our expectations but we had to move on. Athens was calling.

We checked-out paying in cash which surprised them. I don't think many people pay in cash these days.

Our taxi arrived on time. The journey to the port didn't take long, about tweny minutes as we drove through Thira towards Pyrgos, the highest point on the island, then turned right at the village of Athinios and over the edge down a long and winding road to a small ferry terminal.

The taxi driver dropped us off at begining of the dock where a row of cafes began.

We were unsure of where to go but all the waiters knew exactly where we should sit and wait for the boat. "Come here and have a coffee" one said.

Another one stood there with his menu and just smiled at us, trying to lure us with his charm.

"Where do we catch the boat?" I asked him and he was happy to point towards the ferry terminal at the far end of the port.

It must be difficult for these restaurants to attract customers being the furthest away from the where the boat docks.

We walked over to the shelter that gave shade to those who were waiting for the boat to come in. There was hardly anyone there. We were over an hour early. There were a few benches to sit down inside the shelter but instead we wandered about having a good look around.

At the front of the shelter was the island's welcome sign. It said "Wellcome to Santorini" which was an easy spelling mistake to make. I couldn't begin to spell "welcome" in Greek so I had no right to stand in judgement and laugh at the signwriters. Although it didn't stop me.

The absence of a Greek language sign was a bit odd though.

As time passed more and more people arrived, a blend of island hopping youngsters and middle-aged couples of which we were now firmly members.

We noticed that the more elderly couples chose to sit outside the resaurant directly opposite the ferry terminal.

"What a sensible idea" said Julie so we joined the old fuddy duddies at Cafe Kaloyeros.

Not one to turn down an opportunity to eat I ordered a vegetable sandwich. It didn't go into any detail about which vegetables but it was safe to assume that it wasn't going to be turnip or cabbage.

As expected a panini filled with the mediteranean's favourites, roasted peppers, red onion and mushrooms arrived with the bonus of a slice of cheese and the odd addition of some cucumber.

Every now and again large boats would enter the caldera. With each one we wondered if it was our ferry to Athens but they all turned out to be cruise ships.

Then at about 1pm when we were suppose to leave this tiny boat sailed across the caldera towards us. We were both surprised at how small it was.

"It can't be, can it?" asked a visibly shocked Julie "we're going to sail all the way to Athens in that?"

Sure enough the SeaJet catamaran docked at the ferry terminal and it's passengers disembarked. We paid our cafe bill and made our way to the gates. Somehow without pushing nor shoving we managed to find ourselves near the front of the queue.

The stewards were taking their job very seriously following protocol before opening the gates to let us all rush through.

It wasn't so much a stampede but there was a surge as everyone was eager to climb onboard. There wasn't any real need for urgency as all the seats we already allocated.

We left our suitcase in a hold and went in search of seats. It felt much larger on the inside with rows upon rows of airline style seats. There was even a fully stocked bar at our disposal.

After some confusion we found 24A & 24B and were glad to see they were by the window.

They weren't the cleanest to look out of but at least we could enjoy the view as we sailed the three hundred kilometres to Piraeus, the port that serves Athens.

Twenty minutes late we eventually set off.

Before we had even left the protected waters of the caldera Julie had been to the bar for some refreshments. Our Golden Ticket today was brought to us courtesy of David, Julie's brother, with another £10 donation to the Macmillan charity.

Once we left the shelter of Santorini behind and entered open waters the motion of the ocean gently rocked the boat. It was a nice calm day, fine weather for a sea crossing.

We were never far away from another island. Our course first took us between Ios and Sikinos. The latter we refer to as Barry & Katerina's island (who we met in Kefalonia) as they have a house there.

We didn't stop at either of them, they weren't on this route.

Our first stop was the island of Naxos. We turned into the harbour where up on a hill overlooking the old town Ithere was an odd structure.

Known as the Portara it was an ancient marble doorway to nowhere. It's the only remaning part of a temple built 2500 years ago. At eight metres tall the temple into which it once entered must have been enormous.

A few people got off here and a few got on as we continued North from Naxos. The sea began to get a little choppy from here.

Julie wasn't enjoying the journey one bit. Reading the emergency Abandon Ship notices didn't help.

She busied herself on her phone, playing games and following our progress on Google maps.

We could see that the next island on our course was Mykonos and it wasn't long before we could see it out of the window on the port side.

It had taken us over two hours to get this far which meant we were only halfway to Athens. A fact that was another kick to Julie's suffering sea legs.

We turned into the pretty old port at Mykonos Town also known as Chora. It was a very popular stop. Many people got off and what felt like much more came on.

We were docked here for quite a while which gave me the time to step outside. Obviously when you're cutting through the waves at 30 knots they don't allow you to stand outside so it was nice to get some fresh air.

At the edge of the town there were a row of windmills. Mykonos has only sixteen in total and seven of them were here all lined up in a row.

Back inside we settled down for the next two hours of steaming full speed towards Athens.

We soon hit some bad weather, the skies darkened, the winds picked up and the rain battered against our window. Julie held her head in her hands. "I think I prefer flying" she said.

I must admit you do feel vulnerable out on the open sea in a little boat.

Thankfully the bad weather didn't stick around long and as we came near the end of our journey the skies cleared, the sea calmed and the sun set beautifully.

We reached the port of Piraeus at around 6:30pm about an hour later than scheduled.

It took a while to disembark but with out feet finally and firmly set on dry land Julie let out a little sigh of relief.

Our next mode of transport was to be the Athens metro. There weren't any signs for the station so we followed the steady flow of people all heading in the same direction out of the port. The streets of Piraeus were busy and walking down the pavements wheeling a suitcase wasn't easy. It was getting darker by the minute.

We were relieved when following the crowd worked and we eventually found the large Metro Terminal.

A crowd had gathered around all the ticket machines. I don't have much patience for things like that. Then the quick witted Julie spotted a real person sat behind the glass of the ticket booth without anyone waiting in line so we headed straight to him. €1.20 each for a single into Athens and without wasting anymore time we walked to the only train at the station. There wasn't an underground line here, we were going overground.

The train waiting at platform one was fit to burst, standing room only, or so we thought until we fortunately came across the only spare seats in the whole train.

We settled down and began to count the stops along the green line. Our stop was the seventh but somewhere between the third and the fifth we got distacted and we lost count.

Luckily I noticed a station called Thissio which I recognised as the one just before our stop, so as we pulled into Monastriaki we were all ready to get off.

This station was actually underground and even had an bonafide archaelogical site right in the middle of it.

We popped out into Monastiraki Square where we caught our first glimpse of the famous temple on the hill, the iconic Acropolis, It hovered high above us on the right. I was so excitied.

It had been a lifelong ambition of mine to see it. Despite my obvious delight we didn't loiter too long. We were weary after our long journey and eager to get to our hotel.

As we crossed the square we were interupted by this cheerful black guy who offered me his fist to bump and a friendship bracelet in exchange for a donation towards funding his reggae band which spread "one love, peace and good vibes" through their music.

I turned him down gently.

Our hotel was a short distance from the square up street a called Athinas, just after a hardware store and the falafel palace. It felt good to finally arrive. Hotel Attalos was a bit of a step down in standard from our Santorini hotel but it ticked a few boxes.

At €120 per night for room only it wasn't cheap for a 2 star hotel but it's location was near the area called Plaka where I wanted to stay and it had a rooftop terrace with view of the Acropolis, which was the deal clincher.

However we weren't expecting the rather crude elevator.

To begin with the guy at reception told us to "hold the no.5 button". I'm sure it was just subtle translation error and he meant "press the No.5 button" but Julie wasn't taking any chances and took him at his word. She held her finger on the number five button all the way up to the 5th floor. She didn't want to be left stranded just because she let go of the button.

Then there was the small matter of a sign inside the elevator bringing our attention to the fact there wasn't an internal door. Not that we needed telling. We could see the bare walls shoot past as we went up the floors.

We stepped into our really basic triple room. (It was the only room they had available when I came to book.)

In its defence despite looking very dated, by that I mean very tired and old, it was clean. We also had a little balcony.

"Don't stand on it" Julie blurted out worried that it was an equally sub-standard 2 star balcony and would collapse the very moment I stepped on it.

Of course it was perfectly safe but there wasn't much in the way of a view. The way hotel was facing Monastriaki and the Acropolis were far to the right.

 

The hotel's best feature however was its rooftop terrace which as soon as we had refreshed ourselves we went to have a look.

It was only a further two floors from our room so we didn't have to use the open doored elevator.

The moment we stepped outside we were rewarded with the best view in town. It was just incredible. The whole Acropolis was illuminated, the rocky hill, the temple, it all looked like nothing else on earth.

I often wondered why it never made it onto the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World short list.

However, I suppose it was originally complied by and for the Greek tourist as places to see on your travels and when something is so local you don't seem to appreciate it as much.

After half an hour we felt really hungry all of a sudden. We walked down the steps, all five floors, to the reception and asked the guy behind the desk for some recommendations for somewhere cheap and cheerful. He suggested we try Thanasis.

I had heared of it. We always use tripadvisor to research the area and Thanasis Kebab came highly rated. I knew exactly where to find it, just off Monastiraki Square, down a cafe-lined pedestrianised street called Mitropoleos.

 

What we didn't realise was practically the entire street was owned by the same restaurant. Once we worked that out we stopped ignoring the beckoning waiters and sat at the nearest table.

Thanasis is famous for its souvlaki, skewered meat kebabs so I knew my choice would be limited.

It became even more restricted when the waiter informed me that they had run out of Gigantes, the giant beans dish, and of the stuffed tomatoes, another meat-free option.

I was reduced to ordering tzaziki with some fries.

 

Julie went for the pork souvlaki which was chargrilled pieces of skewered meat served on a warm pitta with a side salad and some fries. It wasn't a kebab as we knew it. They're called gyros in Greece.

When my food arrived they had also given me a warm pitta "on the house" as they said, to mop up the delicious thick tzaziki. It was delicious. I went at it like I hadn't seen food for a month. I was licking the bowl clean inside a minute.

It was certainly the cheap and cheerful option. The bill came to €21 including our drinks.

We left Thanasis, returning back to Monastriaki Square and walking beyond the metro station.

 

On the left, outside ruins of a library built by Hadrian the Roman Emperor who conquered Britain, there was a row of street vendors.

We stopped at one selling a vast selection of nuts. Julie pointed out some honey coated crushed peanut coated with sesame seeds. "They look nice. You'd like them" she said.

They came already bagged. Some nuts were only €1 a bag but the ones we wanted were the premiuim variety and priced €1.50. I emptied my pockets of all the loose change and embarrasingly could only muster €1.30.

"It's OK" the nut seller kindly said, and took the money.

 

Munching away on our nuts we turned right here down a side street filled with many bars and cafes. I knew that down here somewhere was a Hard Rock Cafe but to be honest we've grown out of them. Given the choice we prefer to keep it local rather than corporate. 

We came across a bar called Circus which looked inviting illuminated by the warm glow of candlelight.

Continuing with the "keep it local" I ordered a beer called Nissos which I hadn't heard of before and Julie was equally adventurous going for a Greek wine by the name of Mosxifilero.

They were both quality beverages. We had Julie's sister to thank for todays' "drinking pass".

Accompanying the drinks were some complimentary canapes. Giving away free food seemed to be a common theme. In the age of sites such as Tripadvisor it's a good ploy to get positive reviews and increase your presence on the internet.

 

It was a lively street with lots of people milling about. There was also several street performers plying their artistry. As if our bar Circus had arranged the entertainment, this man on stilts juggling balls of fire came down the street, ably assisted by an over-acting clown.   

She did the important part of collecting the donations. 

There was also this busker with a feeble orange mohican belting out an awful sound. Afterwards he came around to collect some money and struck up a conversation. When he asked us where we were from he took umbridge to Julie's reply of "you won't know where it is". He launched into this five minute monologue of how big and clever he was but only proved the opposite. 

We left the circus behind and returned to our hotel. It was just turning 11pm and the falafel house next door was just closing, which I made a mental note for tomorrow. (I do like a falafel or two)  

 

Filled with a little Dutch courage we used the doorless elevator rather than the stairs to get us to the fifth floor.

After our long day travelling we were surprisingly not that tired. We decided to keep on going up to the rooftop where we spent an hour gazing at the spectacular Parthenon up on the floodlit Acropolis hill .

It was a beautiful sight and a rather pleasant end to the day. 

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