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The Mermaid of Poros, Greece

Poros 2006, A week in June in Greece

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~ First Day ~ Second Day ~ Third Day ~ Fourth Day ~
~ Fifth Day ~ Sixth Day ~ Seventh Day ~ Eighth Day~
~ Attractions ~ Tavernas ~ Other Businesses ~ Links ~
~ Saga Hotel, Poros ~


Day One : Wednesday May 30th 2006 -
"The Flight of the Old Dog"

(Apologies to Dale Brown, USAF ret'd)

  • Car drive to Glasgow Airport
  • Globespan Flight to Athens Airport
  • Taxi to Piraeus
  • Flying Dolphin to Poros
  • Settling in at the Saga Hotel
  • The Mermaid of Poros
  • The Rota Taverna

View of Poros from the Kanali seafront
Flying Dolphin in Piraeus Harbour

From Scotland to Greece...

Jenny and myself left Crocketford 2:35 a.m. at 3 degrees Centigrade with Jo (our daughter) and little Euan asleep in his car seat. Feeling very sleep-logged (got up at 12:45) and nervous about first airliner trip since 1969 and first time out of UK since 1978. Got to Glasgow Airport at about 4:45 after an uncertainty with the turning from the M73 onto M8 (dealt with it, map in one hand, Euan's bottle in other) and were dropped outside the terminal. Jo drove off and had a magical mystery tour of the Airport car parks until she found the well-hidden slip road up onto the M8.

Check-in with Globespan flight-deask was remarkably fast. We had baggage allowances of 20 Kilos each, but the total weight was less than 29 Kilos. This was because Jen packed our summer clothes and I kept to a handful of leisure items and one elderly paperback - 'Flight of the Old Dog' by Dan Brown, as being appropriate for self at age 53. Afterwards trekked through various corridors towards Gate 28 and found ourselves by a coffee bar and some toilets. Also a queue. Greatly refreshed, out to queue, which lengthened behind us. Into a queue concertina beside two security gates - one was faulty and being worked on. Worried about my digital camera and would I lose my biros - had to put my jacket and belt with the camera-pouch into a box to be scanned, but got through without even fallen trousers.

Reached departure lounge at 5:55, but not boarding for a while, so bought Jen a book ('Wicked' by Jilly Cooper) and went to Café Nero for tea for me, cappucino for Jen. Back to Gate 28 and through with Jen first. More corridors and finally into 'elephant's trunk' to plane and went to wrong seats, checked tickets, saw it was a different number, back to right ones (11A and 11B) without disturbing anybody. Found I was in window seat overlooking front portside wing and rumbling engine, with in front of me a pocket holding safety info on lifejackets and escapes from crashed aircraft. Also an inflight refreshments menu & duty free detail and a barf bag. Watched and listened to cabin staff modelling lifejackets and indicating emergency exits; wondered if staff in cabarets looked as bored as they did, for it was the only in-flight entertainment provided. Finally, a big tractor pushed the plane away from the terminal building, the pilot revved the engines and turned us onto the taxiway.

Jen has flown to Puertaventura and Menorca, but she still is afraid of takeoff and landing, so we held hands throughout. I was too interested to be scared, for it was like a simulator I was once in, with the added advantage of reality. My window seat gave me an excellent view of the wing-slats, flaps and ailerons, changes in engine-pitch and volume giving a good idea of the thrust levels. Seat 11A was definitely noisy, but that big red-painted engine dragged us down the runway and up and away, Glasgow and south west Scotland spread like a map below, but with increasing obscurity from cloud, as we went up to 33,000 feet and something over 400 miles per hour. I got a good look at the northern part of the Southern Uplands, then that was almost it except for cloudscapes. Brief gaps at one point let me see the Tyne and Wear coastline and later the Suffolk coast, but thereafter it was like flying a couple of miles above an icecap. The pilot gave us the occasional idea of our position over the cabin PA system. No in-flight movie, to Jen's dismay, and the trolleys only came round three times. A sadly boring flight across the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Croatia and maybe Macedonia (Former Yugoslav Republic of...).

Mid-flight, I used the aircraft toilets, a curious chemical system with reasonable hand-wash facilities. Somebody not as fortunate as myself was sadly unwell in the toilets at the other end of the airliner, so an efficient and long-suffering young lady had to go in and clean up. Janitorial duties at 33,000 feet must grant her a place in Tony Robinson's 'Worst Jobs' - cabin duty is not as glamorous as it's made out to be. Neither is clear air turbulence, which we ran into somewhere between the Alps and mid-Adriatic - the aircraft heaved a bit and one had to be firm with one's stomach. A little later and I was able to look down on some mountain scenery and lakes - but it could have been in Italy or in Croatia. The engines rumbled along steadily and there was a faint film of frost on the leading edge of the wing and on the cabin windows. The temperature and air pressure outside the aircraft must have been low, but Death was kept a couple of inches away by aviation technology. The only snag was that we felt both hungry and thirsty, so I went to the cabin staff at the back of the aircraft and bought something for Jenny in pounds sterling - water and a sandwich pack.

The descent over Greece was more interesting; I think we were above Euboia (Evvoia) at one point, before the pilot turned and descended towards Athens. Remember noting that it was very dry, vegetation sparse, until I saw it was Mediterranean olive groves and vineyards. Sunlight intense, sea a brilliant blue-green, ships visible by their wakes, Jenny strapped in and holding my hand again as the pilot throttled back and we descended towards Greece and Athens Airport (Elefherios Venizelios, OK ? Call it EZ) landing with scarce a bump at 13:10 local time (11:10 Glasgow time). Jenny saw a sign and it read IKEA - wondered whether there had been a mistake, but the weather said otherwise. Boredom over but the ordeal had only begun as we left the airliner with our bits.

Greek immigration was a smiling man looking at our passports, but the real slog was the trip to Baggage Claim. We faced about a dozen horizontal conveyor belts (travelators ?) and two escalators before reaching Baggage Claim and worrying if our stuff had arrived there or elsewhere. To my embarrassment, Jen found the baggage before I did, then I humped the bag whilst she towed the wheeled suitcase.

The Taxi to Piraeus... And 30 Degrees Centigrade !

'George' and Taxi at Piraeus ferry port
'George' and Taxi at Piraeus ferry port
X96 at Piraeus Docks Gate E8
X96 at Piraeus Docks Gate E8
Shrine of St Nectarion, Athens
Shrine of St Nectarion, Athens

The Saga Hotel in Poros had arranged for taxi and ferry passage to Poros, but first we had to find a taxi-driver waving a sign 'Richard Edkins - Saga Hotel'. Easier said than done in that huge concourse, so I looked, then Jen looked, then I saw a sign for a meeting point. Off along almost the full length of the concourse to the said point, where a man was holding 'Richard Edkins - Sanga'. Solidly built, dark curly hair, 'George' came with me to get Jen and the luggage, insisted on carrying the lot, took us the long way back to the meeting point then out through the doors to the taxi-rank. Off, then, through the traffic on the Greek equivalent of an urban motorway, the driver with his radio mike in one hand and driving with the other on the 'wrong' side of the road. Jen was not happy with this mode of progress, but I reckoned that 'George' knew the art of Greek road survival. A torrent of Greek from the radio, as we passed buildings with signs in a mixture of Greek script and Roman script, into Athens and through its vile traffic snarls to Piraeus. The other main thought was that a lot of private, business and official buildings display the Greek flag or some combination of its blue and white colours.

We had checked that our Orange mobiles allowed roaming within Greece and tried to call friends waiting for us at Piraeus. No joy on either mobile, although mine had gone to GS Telestret and Jen's logged onto something different. Finally our handset-juggling driver rang his mobile, got our friends and established that we were to meet at the ferry docks at Piraeus. OK so far. We found the car hot despite air-conditioning, hotter still when we finally went through an entry gate and onto the dockside at about 3:20 p.m. Temperature in Crocketford had been a chilly 3 degrees C, but at Piraeus docks it was above 30 degrees C.

Frances and Dennis MacCallum are business colleagues and friends who have retired, largely to their apartment in Poros. They had suggested we come over and had smoothed the way like natural couriers. The extent of their kindness was amazing and frankly they would make excellent couriers and guides for anybody's visit to Athens, Poros and other parts of the Peloponnese in Greece. Myself and Jenny were to learn a lot from them - so much so, that our holiday's experiences started immediately, rather than waiting a day or to whilst we found our feet. Jenny and Frances - being women - understand certain critical matters about travel, such as the right clothes and the correct sun-screen to use. In pre-journey e-mails I was instructed :-

Frances's first action was to take us to exit E8 from Piraeus ferry terminal and to show us the X96 bus we would be returning to the airport on. I took pictures as a reminder, then followed her with the baggage and her Athens shopping to a small café, where she and Dennis saw to it that we ate something and drank as much as we could take.

From the café we went on a brief tour of the adjacent area and learnt that the Greek sun in mid-afternoon is fierce. Greeks take the siesta seriously, so many shops shut between 2 and 5 p.m. then re-open to about 10 p.m. Albanian souvenir vendors need to be fended off - 'Ochri' is the effective word to deflect them. Smoking ads for high-tar brands like Marlboro are everywhere but cafes and tavernas have non-smoking areas. Religion and manners are important; at a shrine under the huge but shut Church of St. Nektarion I made a friend by asking permission to take some pictures. Unlike Italy, the Greeks make sure their public transport runs on time and particularly the ferries.

The Flying Dolphin to Poros :

The Flying Dolphin hydrofoil ferries of Hellenic Seaways are very fast and cover the fifty kilometres to Poros from Piraeus in about an hour. The ferry was red and blue, like many of the smaller Hellenic Seaways ships, almost completely enclosed, with the interior about as cramped as an airliner and with similar toilets. A drawback about seating on the Dolphins and other ferries is that the Greeks have absolutely no respect for seating numbers on tickets; Dennis and Frances saw to it that we were seated, but warned us for the future.

There was a small refreshments kiosk that dispensed chilled water free - a blessing that Frances saw to. Whilst there were two small areas where passengers could look out, I found the drawback was that sea spray turned almost instantly to brine, so I had to go to the toilets just to get the brine off. A bit chastened, I returned to my seat, to find that it was nearly as boring as the flight out. The change came when we passed the islands midway across the Saronic Gulf, for thereafter things got more interesting. The approach to Methana and Kalavria was enough for me to get the camera out and be diligently digital. The snag was that then and later, the brine on the windows made photography rather difficult. There is an attractive lighthouse with decorative fortifications on the southwest corner of Kalavria, the main island of Poros, but the picture I took of it was one of the worst. However, we passed Russian Bay, Love Bay, Neorio and at length were approaching Poros island itself, with the Clock Tower a welcoming sight above the town. Some anxious moments recovering the bags (lodged at the back) were followed by a walk down the gangway and we set foot on Poros at last.

Settling in at the Saga Hotel :

First impressions were of hot sun, mopeds, taxis, a line of tavernas and shops under sun awnings and a lot of Greeks dressed for the weather - which I was not. I resolved before we got into the taxi that I would change as soon as I could after getting to the hotel. Jenny and myself were still a bit punch-drunk, so the ride to the Hotel was a bit of a stunner of buildings, Greeks, sunlight and trees that looked like palms. We crossed a small bridge across a canal - the Kanali - next to the Naval Academy, turned left onto the Neorio road, then right up by a sign for the Saga Hotel, left again into a road that seemed almost as narrow as an alley, then into a wider bit and right again to halt in front of the Saga Hotel. More sun, but a magnificent garden of flowering bushes and trees, with the hotel above it like a beauty amongst flowers and Zefi waiting for us on the steps by the bar. I was out with the camera in seconds, for even the dust in Poros is photogenic. Jen was in despair, but Zefi was laughing and so were Frances and Dennis. I got a Greek greeting (both cheeks) from Zefi, then she took us into the Hotel to Studio 15.

Lighthouse at western point of Kalavria, Poros Harbour
Lighthouse at western point of Kalavria, Poros Harbour
Flying Dolphin 18 at Poros
Flying Dolphin 18 at Poros
Saga Hotel front
Front of the Saga Hotel

The studio has French Windows and sliding shutters, opening onto a balcony overlooking the pool and the flower garden. To the left was another garden, with an amazing display of orange and lemon trees bearing ripe fruit - totally unlike our windswept and rainswept garden in Scotland. Jenny was utterly smitten in an instant. Beyond the garden was a view across the harbour to Poros town. Below in the pool were Zefi's son Yorgi and a couple of the children staying at the hotel, enjoying the cool of the water and their inflatable shark and alligator. When they went, down came swallows to waterscoop drinks from the pool, a display of flight and natural skill we found impressive and rather fun. I never managed to get a really good picture of those swallows drinking and hunting insects.

The studio was well-equipped where it mattered. The shower is solar-powered, the toilet is efficient and the washbasin was in good order. The draining board had the sink at one end (which we used) and a two hotplate at the other (which we never used). There was also a small fridge with bottled water and lemon tea. The air-conditioning took getting used to - it only works when the windows and shutters are all shut and latched; Zefi explained to me they fitted this to prevent lazy people from leaving the air-conditioning running with the French windows open. The other point was the door key, which was an electronic lock worked by a card like a private car park's barrier. You unlock the door with the key card in a scanner in the hall, then put the key card into a scanner inside the room to activate the power to the air-conditioning.

We both needed to shower after the flight and journey - our first solar powered shower - changing into summer clothes. It was over thirty five years since I had worn shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. Admittedly, the shorts were knee-length, but Jenny had managed to make me buy them, so one up to Jenny. The other essentials were sun block and my two belt pouches, one for the camera, the other for chequecards, money and so on. The belt pouch was a £4.40 purchase from Matalan, an excellent substitute for my jacket. It had a zip-pocket for my Euro notes and was far safer than keeping money and wallet in a back pocket.

A few words about safety. Frances had told me that people in Poros are honest, so although the studio rooms have hotel safes, they are rarely used. Zefi charges for the keys, but that is all. Poros is very safe for holidaymakers, particularly women and children. This is because everybody on the island knows everyone else, so nobody is going to rob a cousin's client. Greek Orthodox teaching stresses the importance of hospitality and charity, so to help and protect another person is to benefit oneself. A guest is a member of the family, unless his or her behaviour is shameful. Frances has told us that she has no worries about walking back home to Askeli from Poros town at 3 a.m., women and children being completely safe on Poros.

Down to the poolside bar - very civilised, very comfortable, even at six p.m., with new faces to see and new drinks (chilled orange, lemon tea) courtesy of Dennis and Frances. They saw me jotting notes for this diary and suggested that I write a blog, which I reluctantly agreed to. The diary had been purely for entertainment, but a blog has to have something new every day; that is why this blog has developed the way that it did.

View from Studio 15, Saga Hotel
View from Studio 15, Saga Hotel
Pool from balcony
Pool from balcony
Saga Hotel entrance hall
Saga Hotel reception

The Mermaid of Poros :

Led by Dennis and Frances, Jenny and myself walked into Poros, discovering that Poros at 6 p.m. and after is its most civilised time in summer. Jenny was delighted to find ducks swimming in the little Kanali canal that divides Poros island (Sphaeria) from Kalavria. Further on, we passed the Naval Academy with impressive notices forbidding photography, although Frances depressed my expectations by saying the place was just a school.

All sensible Greeks shut up shop in the heat of the day and siesta, but from 6 till 10 the shops were open. Alsos Taverna was the first we encountered, just beyond the Academy. Alsos has an eating area under cover by the harbour side, with across the road a takeaway. Dennis and Frances recommended the pork and vegetable wraps (like a taco) as good value for an evening meal. But we were encouraged to keep on walking, admiring the sunset that shone gold on the sea. This seems too poetic, but You Have Been Warned That Even the Dust of Poros Is Photogenic.

The first sight I had of George Xenoulis's sculpture of the Mermaid of Poros was one of the most dramatic. She was silhouetted against the sunset and seemed to be dancing on the fountain she is set in. I think that the frames I took then are perhaps the most beautiful location photographs that I took in Poros. Then and now, I am amazed that no shop I saw in the whole town offered any souvenirs or postcards of the mermaid.

Methana - 'The Sleeping Woman' at sunset
Methana - 'The Sleeping Woman' at sunset
Mer
The Mermaid of Poros
Ranks of the Poros 'Motos'
Ranks of Poros 'Motos'.

The Rota Taverna - Introduction to Greek Pan-Fried Cuisine :

Onwards, hungry but delighted, past Taverna after Taverna, each offering a moment as good as the rest, until finally we reached Hero's Square (the War Memorial) and the Rota Taverna. What we had there was to make it a memorable night, an excellent zenith to an astonishing day.

The Rota offers a range of Greek restaurant food with good starters and main courses. I and Jenny had never before eaten Greek food, but we were assured by the amused Dennis and Frances that we would find it simple and very edible. As with all else so far, they were very right. I kept to water or juice (alcohol dislikes me) but Jen and our two friends had a carafe of the local rosé wine to share.

Rota Taverna, Heroes' Square, Poros
Rota Taverna, Heroes' Square, Poros
Seafood Platter for Two at the Rota Taverna
Seafood Platter for Two at the Rota Taverna
Jenny, Dennis and Frances at the Rota
Jenny, Dennis and Frances at the Rota

Jenny and myself, innocents abroad, ordered a simple 23 Euro pan-fried seafood platter for two with side salad. This was preceded by the starter (Meze), a series of five delicious dips and stuffed vine leaves, all very more-ish and a light meal on their own. I succumbed, getting Dennis and Frances to help us, but we could not finish it. Dennis and Frances followed with a tasty vegetarian dish, whilst we awaited our seafood platter. It was an enormous dish with enough on for four, so we pleaded with Dennis and Frances to share it. Our very first introduction to squid (fine), octopus (good, but Jenny didn't try it), mussels (Jenny liked them, I found them insipid), swordfish (Jenny liked it, I found it over-rated), prawns (a bit fiddly) plus two local fish that we both enjoyed very much.

Poros is full of semi-feral cats - Frances and Dennis have two that adopt them when in Poros, but go elsewhere when they're in Britain. The Rota had several unexpected guests who discovered me. Now, I have a cat, Peppi, who by then had been two nights in the Kylelea Cattery at Corsock, so I was feeling guilty. Three town cats adopted me for as long as they could cadge scraps. The first scraps eaten, a little paw came and tapped me on the knee asking for more. They finished as many scraps as I dared give to them, then sadly went elsewhere.

Well fed and content, Dennis and Frances took us up through the alleys of the Town, past the fish-market (closed) and past the town jail (open for business). We saw the bars of the cells through the door, wished a surprised Greek policeman a good night, then went back to the Saga Hotel in good spirits and to bed at an early 11 p.m.

The night was our first experience of sleeping in an air-conditioned room in twin beds. The sheet on its own was enough, but Jen wanted a blanket for comfort and after the first night I followed her example. We slept very well, which was not surprising given we had been up almost twenty two hours.

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© 2006 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.