After a final day of what can only be referred to as slothenly delight in Tripolis, John & I departed for Athens, Pireaus, and our ferry to Ios. We went all the way to the airport to try to change his tickets (this is a big undertaking I assure you) only to discover the flights were full, or at least the woman at the Alitalia counter had 5 minutes until the end of her shift and was trying to get rid of us. So John was unable to change his flights and less than two weeks were left on the clock. We got on the overnight ferry to Ios and the adventure began.
We arrived before the sun in Ios, though it was close behind. I'd called ahead to Francesco's, a hostel I'd heard lots of good things about, and they were supposed to have a van waiting for us. They didn't. A guy from another hotel was there and friends with them so he took us. But we got to the hostel and the reception was closed. Since the other guy was so nice to us, and the price was about the same - 12 euro (plus we had our own room instead of a dorm and also a swimming pool). So we walked the direction we thought it was. Which led us past a woman insisting we not walk there and that it was a different direction, which then led us up to the top of the landmark hill of Ios. It was a little early for such a hike, but it gave us a great view of the town not to mention the sunrise, and also allowed us to spot the place we were looking for - Sunrise Hotel.
We met Julio and his sister Pamela from Mexico there again, we'd met them in the van from the harbour earlier, and John & I spent some time by the pool before I took off with them to Milopotas beach on their ATV. John just wanted a day by the pool so that worked out well. The beach was quiet, but there was a cool campsite (Far Out) where I would probably stay next time with lots of activities, and anyway it was quite a nice beach. We hit the town that night after some time in the hotel bar, which was quite cheap and a good time. Ios is definitely the party island it's reputed to be. There were a couple girls that John & I had to make efforts to extricate ourselves from, not as easy as it sounds, but there were no high speed chases involved. This time.
The next day I rented an ATV to explore the island and took John along for the ride. It was wholly underpowered (do NOT rent 50cc's for more than one person, ever) and took too long to get anywhere, but we made it somehow to Agios Nikolaus beach and did get to see a bit more of the island. Then we went to Harmony and had some Chimis (Clayton still makes the best ones) though we didn't really use the hammocks that make the place famous. We did, however, begin what would become a rather lively tournament of Backgammon (Tavli in Greek) that would carry through the islands and back to the mainland. I'm proud to say I won Ios. We went out again that night with a bunch of guys we met and had a great time once again.
We took the afternoon ferry to Santorini, spending the time up until then at the hotel pool. Sid, a guy we'd met the night prior, was there and we met a bunch of other people, but because I didn't give them my cell number with the Greek country code in front of it (30) we didn't cross paths with them again. Getting into the harbour, we were looking for Hostel Anna but unable to find it, however, the room renters were so hungry for full rooms that we were able to bargain them down to BELOW the cost for a bed in the hostel. For 6 Euro a night we had a private room with a pool and let me say, it was pretty sweet. We rented a car for 30 Euro and pretty much covered the entire island in our 2 night-3 day stay. We drove to Oia and had dinner and were heading to Fira when I realized I had again forgotten my glasses on the restaurant table. We turned around and got them but by then we decided to go to the room - we'd done more than enough partying in Ios and could use a break.
The next day we went to the famed black beach of Perissa and then went wine tasting at Boutari in Megalohori. We drove up to Pirgos on the mountain, which was covered in cloud at the top, and then went to Fira for dinner. John also picked up a backgammon set, and had a beer in a hammock overlooking the caldera (finally I got to have beer in a hammock!). We were going to go out in Fira, but it seemed largely dead and also old, though we knew it was still early. We thought we'd head down to Perissa and maybe find a better nightlife, but there was not much to be seen there either. We sat at a place called the Beach Bar and had another beer, but left shortly after to begin the battle for Santorini. John, it turns out, is very lucky on the old dice, and managed to come out on top despite my superior tactics. So we each had an island a piece. We left for Crete the next day, but we took a cruise in the morning to the volcanic centre of Santorini and the so called hot springs there, and also stopped at the red sand beach. All very nice, I was glad we were able to squeeze that in.
The hydrofoil got us to Irakleio, Crete in record time, and we took a cab to a nearby rental agency that was still open, and got a cheap car for our five days in Crete. 25 Euro, though I would at times lament its desperate lack of power. I had called my cousin Maria to see when it would be convenient for us to drop in, and she said tomorrow, so we went west first. We drove to Stalida and were unable to find a room, and doubled back to Hersonnisos still unable to find a hostel or room or place to stay. I should mention that by the time this was happening, it was around midnight, and we were tired having had a long day already. Eventually, we drove back to Irakleio and tried unsuccessfully for a LONG time to find the hostel listed - it turned out the road was under construction and was not an easy find even if it hadn't been. But, by the time we found it, reception was closed. It was 2 AM. In fact, everywhere was closed or full and both John & I were getting tired and cranky. So, we pulled the car into a place that looked decent enough to park, reclined the seats, and spent the night in our Renault. So the car, doubling as a hotel, was a great deal after all, if not the most comfortable sleep I've ever had.
After an hour in the Minoan ruins of Knossos, we spent the next day on the beach at Hersonnisos, a fun beach with lots of water sports (I tried the flying wing and it was great!) and young people. One of the better beaches we went to. Then we went up to visit Maria and Ari in Mohos and she had already included us in dinner plans. It had been about 8 years since I'd seen her, so it was good to catch up. They also insisted that we stay with them, after a terrific batch of Greek ribs, and we happily albeit reluctantly gave in. Ari, John and I went to town for a bit and sat in the caffeneio, and Maria & I watched the Ring 2 and played a little tavli, in which she taught me a few new things sure to aid me in claiming Crete for myself in our backgammon tournament. It really was a great day and I'm so happy we were able to spend some time with them.
The next morning we had to get underway, and we drove down to see Stathi and Irini, who were exactly as I remember them. It's funny how you don't realize sometimes how much you missed someone until you see them again. Such warm people. Eventually, though, we had to say goodbye, and took off for Hania. Somewhere en route we stopped at a small town to check out a fountain and had some rabbit for dinner. We got a room for three nights at 10 Euros and booked a hiking excursion to Samaria gorge (the longest gorge in Europe) leaving at 6 AM the next morning. So I grabbed a glass of wine to help me fall asleep and so ended another day in Crete. I also started listening to Good To Great, an audio book Dan gave me about what separates truly iconic and excellent companies from just good ones, and I found it to be really interesting. The author, Jim Collins, makes some of the worst analogies ever, often times even admitting to the stupidity of the analogy after having spent ten minutes making it, but this serves as entertainment between points of enlightenment, and it was definitely a worthwhile listen. We also played a little backgammon, at the end of which the score was 4-2 in favour of me.
5 AM came all to early but it always does. We got on the bus to Samaria and hiked the 13km rather quickly. We were supposed to meet at the Kri Kri cafe at the other end of the gorge at 4:30 and we were there by 12:30. Which took its toll on our knees and John's ankle, but it was beautiful and I'd do it again in a second. It begins with a rather steep descent and then a walk along the creek at the bottom of the gorge and also along a dried up riverbed that probably is just roaring in the spring. We had a nice salad and some greens, also yogurt and honey, and waited. Then we tired of waiting and went to the beach to wait. Finally, we left, ferried over to another town, and took the bus back to Hania. Our tour guide, Siba, was really cool and came back and chatted with us for a while. We found out she was going to the same beach that we were the next day, Elafonisos, and we exchanged numbers and decided to meet there.
As always, we took the slow, scenic route to the beach but made it there eventually, met up with Siba, and hung out. The beach really is as beautiful as it is purported to be, surrounded by reefs, with lots of little ponds and narrow sand bars connecting many separate and distinct beaches and little bits of pink sand washing up in the surf. Siba's tour left at three, but we joked that she'd see a yellow blur anyway and we'd beat her back to town. We stayed until five, but sure enough, driving back the proper way (she told us the road to take) we did pass her bus. We were going to meet her that night, but she wasn't feeling great, so we decided instead to go travelling with her the next day on her day off. John & I grabbed some seafood for his (and maybe my) last night on an island, he had swordfish and I had squid. We walked around the old Venetian quarter for a while and checked a club or two but there wasn't much going on. Again, a little more backgammon in which I won two more games, bringing it up to 6-2 and then John completely came back, at one point skunking me by rolling an impossible double-five after calculating that that was the only roll that would get him to have a piece on my lonely home row piece, and wound up victorious in Crete. It was a tough loss to swallow.
The time sure flew. Our last day on Crete we picked up Siba at her place, drove to Kourna lake, spent some time there, and then went to Rethymno where she showed us around and just hung out. We had a nice dinner, graciously bought by Johnny boy (though it wasn't really fair because I had my money out first!), strolled around the old town, and had to say goodbye to Siba who took the bus back to Hania as we drove to Irakleio to catch our ferry. She was a lot of fun and a great girl to hang around with, both John & I felt lucky to have met her.
And so my travels with John ended. The ferry was nice and had enough empty seats that both John & I were able to sprawl out across four of them and sleep soundly. We did a lot of shopping the next day near Syntagma and Monastiraki, and now I have a new pair of jeans, a couple shirts, and some new cologne that I bought on the street for 5 Euro (Armani's Night). We went out the last night, after, of course, some more backgammon in which I managed to skunk him and won myself the mainland 3-2, bringing our total properties to be tied. Then he & I walked to his bus, said goodbye, and I can only assume/hope he is now on a plane headed for Canada and probably fast asleep. Tomorrow, I have a christening to attend here in Athens and I'll probably spend a little more time with the family in Tripolis, and then it's time to look for a job. Judging by my initial inquiries, it looks like it'll be quite a feat to actually find one. Wish me luck!