Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Greek Isles: Ferries Galore - Fairies Explore

When you set out on your Blue Star Ferry – the style doesn’t match the view. These incredible islands with bright, white-washed homes contrasted against the deep, magnificent blue sea likely make for some of the most beautiful scenes in the world. It’s surprising that ferries are not more comfortable – yet when you see these islands you realize, you don’t need luxury to provide luxuriousness. Here nature provides. After spending time in Thessoloniki and Athens (my previous blog), I set out to sea!

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Santorini


An eruption over 3600 years
ago caused this beautiful
exposed rock
Santorini (or Thira to the locals) comprises the most incredible, dramatic views that I have ever seen. Some theorize that this is the site of the famed ancient city of Atlantis that fell into the sea. The island imploded due to a powerful volcanic eruption 3600 years ago, destroying the Minoan Civilization. The explosion exposed beautiful colored rock and this contrast between blue sea, red rock and white-washed homes makes Santorini the most beautiful place in the world.

View from our beautiful "cave" hotel
Thus, the best place in the world to view Sunset:  Franco’s Café in Pyrgos, Santorini (if you’re just a couple) or out at the northern tip of the island at Oia (Ee-ya) – if you don't mind a crowd. You can also head down the cliff (though you have to watch your step, instead of the view, along the donkey-poo lined path). Eat at the restaurant to the far left for some exquisite grilled squid or octopus as the sky turns purple. During the daytime, come for a swim or take a ferry to take in views from the other side of the caldera or the volcano.

I urge you not to do this trip alone – you've got to bring that special someone or best friends. And if you're lucky (like one in our group of 5) you might even run off with a local in one of the abandoned cave-dwellings along the cliff. Also, you can bring that special someone to "make-out" under the moonlight tucked away on the roof of the old castle.

Rhodes

Temple at Lindos, Rhodes
Former home of the Colossus of Rhodes – one of the tallest structures and wonders of the ancient world –  before an earthquake sent it tumbling in 226 BC, this relatively flat but architecturally beautiful island holds many historical treasures. It's combination of the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, Mosque, and the Temple at Lindos, along with (of course) uncountable sandy beaches makes it an important stop. Rent an apartment or find a room inside the medieval city – where else must you cross a moat to get home from the clubs (if lackluster) at night. There is one gay bar, but I never really found anyone inside.

Thasos

Final swimming hole on our last day in Thasos
In the north, this unique island provides a nice contrast; unlike the sometimes flat & often treeless greek isles, mountains and forest cover it nearly entirely – with an abrupt end at (still) gorgeous (yet more rocky) beaches. Having a car is definitely required – and rewarded with incredible roadway viewpoints across lush green slopes, down into that deep blue. My friend Matt has family on the island, including a great-grandmother who told tales of pirates robbing her home. We found a young, (perhaps too) excited (and typically sex-starved) gay on Paradise beach. Social media win!

Next I left my US friends and thus fabulous company at so many amazing Greek meals. From the nearby city of Kavala, I set sail to Ikaria. But not before I enjoyed the cute beach town and a cute Greek art student, who invited me to drinks with his girlfriends.


Ikaria

Flag atop Kavala Castle
Twenty-four hours and four island port-calls (Limnos, Lesbos, Chios, & Samos) later, I arrived on this isle "where people forget to die." Recent media coverage here has centered on its apparent healing properties. Dozens of centenarians live on the island - and a man given just a few months to live in the US returned here, and out-lived all his doctors! Who doesn't want to find that fountain of youth – thus I decided to visit this magical place.

Italian family RV
 driving the Isles for August
I arrived in trashy-touristy Agios Kirykos and found a room nearby in Therma, named for its radioactive hot springs, which I enjoyed in the morning. Later, I met a french woman who took me to the natural hot spot (a short drive west of Agios) where I bathed for free! She explained the traditional Paniyiri – Greek festivals occurring in each town on the island, with rhythmic music played with drums and violin (see this year's schedule, the biggest one is Aug 15th). Thus, I set out to hitchhike across the island – that's just how it's done (read about my previous & first hitchhike in Taiwan). However, it was a little nerve-wracking to do at night. Still, I went up to a (quiet) crossroads and stood, probably for half an hour, with no luck. Then suddenly, an RV appeared and a smiling woman in the passenger seat motioned for me to join them! Of course, I was traveling with my huge bag too (abandoned in many a spot on this quiet island - without trouble). I packed into this Italian family's summer home – and off we set, over the mountain to reach the festival on the other side.

Opps - i'm dirty! He won't
take a picture with me...
Always one to criticize frenetic, quirky Italians – especially Romans – I'll never do it again. This friendly family of 5, including a daughter and two young sons, took me into their home for over 2 hours as we flew mercilessly (remember, Italian driver) through forests and mountain peaks in their motor home. Somehow the kids slept as we knocked branches and articles flew around the back cabin. I just sat at the table, in awe at my luck (and current situation) – and stared at my GPS (vaguely being able to help with navigation). We talked some, but it was too loud – days later I would run into them near a beach, where I accepted a dinner invitation. For now, we made it to the event, and I took my bags – who knew if we would find each other again.

Amazing circle, group dances!
With a huge roller suitcase, I arrived at the party and quickly tucked it away. Still red-faced with mineral-rich clay (they told me to) spread all over my body at the hot springs – and scruffy without the ability to charge my razor – I slowly found friends and easily joined in the dance, although the steps proved difficult.

Food included loads of salad, sumptuous goat and of course wine and beer. I didn't realize I would spend the whole night (and the next one!) dancing at these parties. In the morning, as the sun rose, I hitched a ride back down to the beach - where I found a shady spot and slept the day away next to Greek hipsters who camped there all summer! As the evening arrived again, I made friends and hitched another ride up the mountain for the next party – this one on a Saturday lasted until 11am the next day! Though repetitive, the music becomes a magnet and the dances in a circle both spiritual and magical. No, I couldn't really find gays – except maybe a few who refused to accept or address it – but I met a friendly Greek who runs Styx Mediterranean Grill back in NYC.

Watch the second official GAYography video detailing my experience at the Ikaria Paniyiri!

Finally, I spent my last night at a pension in Armenistis, down the mountain from where I was partying - and used social media to find a friendly guy there who became a friend. He invited me to a traditional dance presentation where (of course) one of the (duh! gay) dancers I met at the first paniyiri party (he again refused to acknowledge me). Also, hitchhiking to the ferry, I met a Greek guy and his beautiful, friendly Brazilian wife – I missed the ferry that day, but my bag stayed down at the dock, where I collected it the next day to head off to Mykonos – after an extra sunset at rocky, beautiful and (like most secluded Greek beaches) clothing optional Nas Beach (don't forget to hike back to the waterfall behind).

Mykonos


Santorini - town of Fira
Delaying a bit on Ikaria (I was making up this trip as I went) I spent the least amount of time here at Greek gay central. I hope that we gays can choose another island to take over – there are plenty. This gay Med-mecca has turned into glitzy-trashy tourist-land, with pricey $200 a night (basic) hotels and so many extra tourists there is no room to be gay. Gays have Jackie O' (and next door at Babylon) and crazy beach parties (late August is XLSIOR) - but otherwise it's just shopping and (mostly bad) "traditional greek" restaurants. But it's true, to easily find any large amount of gays – and greek gays (translation: gods) – you must come here.

And sure I'll admit, I enjoyed a cuddle with the most attractive guy I met on my entire trip - and woke up in a shared room surrounded by the hottest guys ever! Scruffy, chiseled guys jabbering away in Greek... what a great last island. Still, my time dancing away my nights on Ikaria will always be my favorite memory of Greece – or maybe the beauty and incredible geological history of Santorini – or even just imagining living in the castles at Rhodes. You can’t hope to know all the Greek Islands – even in a lifetime – but seeing them all would be a worthwhile goal! For me, I hope to do Corfu and Crete next time.

Departure:  Athens to Patras to Venice (to Milan to Lisbon!)

View of St. Marco Square in Venice upon my arrival from Patras
I decided the easiest, cheapest way to see my Russian friends in Lisbon was via an EasyJet flight from Milan - and the most interesting way to Milan would be via the Patras-to-Venice 30 hour ferry (and subsequent train to Milan)! Thus, arriving from Mykonos back in Athens, I picked up a few things I had left behind and hurried onto the most valuable (yet cheapest) trip yet. Perhaps the most beautiful drive in the Med is the Athens to Patras road along the Gulf of Corinth. Sadly, upon arrival in Patras, there were no more tickets to Venice left - I would wait a day. As the sun set, I searched for wifi and used Grindr to find a home for the night. Success (though not that kind) – once again my bags stayed (under a stairwell) at the port as I slept – and i re-joined them the next day after making a (disappointed) new friend. After a long journey across the Ionian and Adriatic seas, I arrived in picture-perfect Venice, a sea-arrival well worth the wait!


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