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Island hopping

We take the ferry back to Rhodes where we are relieved to find our car is awaiting our return in one piece.  The ferry is of course late by an hour.  In true back-pack style we walk from the ferry around to the old town, refusing the touts from taxis.  Christos meets us at the hotel and shows us into a very nice room. Even though we won’t be staying long, all of about 7 hours, its a little bit of luxury.

The shower in the morning was one of the best we’ve had.  Shower quality is another benchmark in our daily lives.  You might check out a room for cleanliness and test the comfort of a mattress, but it’s not until the first person turns that shower on when you know how pleasant your stay will be.  We’ve had showers that barely dribble; water temperatures that leave your teeth chattering; showers where you wait 20min for the hot water to arrive; and showers that are simply an attachment on the bathroom wall, hence you drown the whole room (don’t take the towel in).  Most are a simple hand-held, where you expect to be able to hook it up above you, except they forget the hook.  It’s a balancing act with a hose to shampoo your hair!

Having retrieved our car, our plan is to island hop the car back to the mainland.  Our island choices are somewhat dictated by the car ferry routes and timetables. The routes seem to run within the island groups, through the Dodecanese and then the Northern Eastern Aegean Islands.  We are aiming to land on the mainland at Kavala on June 13th.

Symi
Dodeckanisos Seaways: 1.5hrs Rhodes to Symi
Population: 2,800

We find ourselves in the picture-perfect port town of Gialos. Between 9:30 and 4:30 the port is swarming with day trippers from Rhodes. The restaurants and boutique shops work at a frenzied pace to extract as many euros from their captive audience.  As the last ferry leaves, you can feel the island pulse slow; those remaining have more time to spare and spend.

Symi is known for being a destination of the rich and famous and celebrity spotting is a past time.  I think we are out of season, though anyone who knows me, knows I would struggle to tell the difference between Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts.  George Clooney I might pick out.  The money bobbing in the harbour is quiet staggering. Boys with their toys, suffering from “mine’s bigger than yours” syndrome.  There are luxury yachts – nothing smaller than 60ft and motor cruisers that resemble mini cruise liners.

Our time in Symi is spent people watching; from our balcony we can watch the goings on all day. The fishermen returning with their morning catch, cleaning, filleting and selling on the dock.  Boats for the locals, no matter what age, are the main form of transport, along with Vespas, even the dog gets a lift!

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Kos
Dodeckanisos Seaways: 1.5hrs Symi to Kos
Population: 20,000

The ferry that pulls up at Symi is the same boat that we had taken from Marmaris to Rhodes.  We recognise the deck hand who had guided the car on; he spoke very good english and had been very helpful.  As we are disembarking at Kos, we discover he grew up in Moonee Ponds until his family moved back to Greece when he was 15.

We are on a catamaran, which has a lower and upper deck. The lower is just above the water line; it feels the bumps and movement of the boat in the swell much more than the upper deck, where you can also escape outside for fresh air.  Do not sit below if you get sea sick, or are claustrophobic.  There are a lot of weak stomachs on the boat today!  I thank my Dad, who taught me to overcome getting queasy when we went through Sydney heads – keep your eye on the horizon.  Still works Dad!

Every island is so different; the look, the atmosphere, the attitude.  That’s what makes island hopping all the more fun.  All are friendly; we have yet to find an unfriendly Greek!  We stop in Kos Town and walk through the 3rd-century-BC ruins, they are becoming over grown with grass and weeds, but still impressive.  Other than that, we didn’t find much about the town very appealing, just more of the same tourist shops!

On the south west of the island is Kefalos Bay.  We are surprised to find many of the resorts closed, swimming pools empty.  It’s a beautiful day and 25º, yet the ‘season’ hasn’t started and apparently doesn’t until the end of June.  The lack of vacationers no doubt adds to the sleepy feeling of the seaside resort, but the abandoned Club Med looking down over the bay does not bode well.  The local restaurateur tells us about poor decisions, lazy officials and the political corruption that threatens the future success of the island.

The Kordistos hotel rates well on trip adviser; “don’t expect 5 star; it’s 3 at best, but a great location on the beach and with a pool.”  For €40 a night that sounds like us.  It’s beach time again.  We sample a couple of beaches around Kefalos, and whilst the water is always lovely and clear, the one disappointment was the amount of rubbish both on the beach and in the water.

We enjoyed our time in Kos, but it’s probably the first island we wouldn’t bother to go back to.

Leros
Dodeckanisos Seakways: 2hrs Kos to Leros
Population: 10,000

Our deck hand greets us once again, I’m getting pretty good at putting the car on ferries now!

Even on approach, the quaint port Agia Marina, exudes charisma – this already feels like an island we will enjoy.  Our research directed us to head for the seaside village of Pandeli to seek out a place to stay.  It’s a small bay, stone beach, a marina full of fishing boats, with a handful of tavernas and a few places to stay.  We did our homework on prices through bookings.com, before arriving.  Generally, we find that contacting the accommodation directly, or turning up, is cheaper.  surprisingly, both hotels we check out offer a higher price.  Not feeling like they are playing by the rules, we decline to give either our business for now.  After a bite to eat – sumptuous grilled squid, we decide to explore further afield.

Leros is tiny, we can drive around the whole island in about an hour.  We are back at the Marina. It is the heart of the island and its charm is more appealing than anything we have seen.  Having a car gives us options – if we want to go to a beach we can drive.  We’ve learnt that being in amongst the islands day to day life, is more interesting than staying in an empty seaside resort.

We start wandering the cobblestone streets in search of somewhere to stay.  We don’t see the usual advertising and are beginning to think we might have to revert back to plan B.  We ask the owner of the local pizza shop, if he knew of anywhere to stay.   He makes a phone call and tells us to wait 10min.  We have no idea what we are in for, or for how much?

A man arrives on his scooter and directs us back down the road to a stone building built on the waters edge, literally; the water is lapping the walls.  He has asked for €15 a night and directs us upstairs to show us the room.  I am almost sold just on the location and the sound of the ocean.  However, at €15, how bad is it going to be?  It’s basic, but clean; two single beds, (which is the norm). I sit on one and it feels comfortable.  The bathroom is one where the whole room becomes the shower, just close the door and turn the hose on!  And a view worth much more than €15.   We take it!

Leros is a blustery island and beach weather did not present itself the entire stay.  In planning our next destination, the women in the ferry office was very helpful and her ferry knowledge provides us with an alternative route.  We could get directly from Leros to Samos, rather than two hops via Patmos.  The departure times were good and it also saved us a reasonable amount of money.  The slow ferry to Samos was also a more reliable choice, since the choppy seas had forced the catamaran to be cancelled on the days following our arrival.

We had no problem filling in our days, watching the fresh catch being sold in the street, as we sipped our coffee from the local bakery and do what most greek men seem to do all day; sit around, smoke and chat (less the smoking). This port seems to have more bars per capita than any other island, many of them with modern and trendy decor; contrasting with the old architecture and more of a contradiction to the aged population.  You can only assume there is an influx of young people for the summer.  There is free wifi at each bar, cafe, or taverna, which also gives me an opportunity to catch-up on the blog; as of this posting I will be up-to-date!

We got some morning exercise walking up to the 16th century fort that once protected the island, it provides a panoramic view of Leros.  Along the hilltop ridge is a row of old windmills, they contrast against the modern blades now spinning on an opposite hill.  Leros has a mystical charm and the longer we stay, the more we enjoy it.  Our last night we dine at Milos Seafood Restaurant and shared a couple of dishes, the dish of the night being the Octopus Carpaccio.

Leros is a place we would go back to.

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Samos – on our way!
ANEK: 6hr Leros to Samos
Population: 35,000