Subject: Our trip to the Cyclades 2001 - Part 1 - Getting to Santorini (Long)
England to Piraeus After many months of planning, and the excitement mounting, 'C' day finally arrived. 'C' standing for Cyclades of course. Unfortunately I had to work until early afternoon so Vic was entrusted with the final preparations. You know; bathroom stuff, the final garments from the dryer, the first aid kit. He didn't do too badly but the first aid kit was still sitting there expectantly when we returned this week.

Our first task was to pick up the rest of the party from the Midlands. This consisted of our daughter, Kate and Aunty Pat. It was thought that Harold wasn't really up to this type of travelling and so Pat was taking his place as the guinea pig pensioner. Her reactions to her first trip to Greece and how she coped with the late nights, early mornings and lugging her luggage around on buses will be fully recorded.

The journey down to Luton Airport was fast and uneventful. We arrived early (we won't risk travelling down through the Birmingham area during the rush hour), and ate at a very reasonably priced pub in Luton. After parking the car in the pre-booked pink car park we took the free link- bus to the terminal. The new terminal is finished now and, although the departure lounge is very basic, once you get flight side it is a very pleasant place to wait.

There was no delay in take off,10.55pm, and yet again I thank Easyjet for the generous leg room. Arthritic knees really suffer on some charter flights. With no silly, unnecessary meals on offer and no duty free trolleys being paraded up and down the aisle it was easy to get a few hours rest. Our only complaint was that there was some thoughtless chatter from the cabin crew at the back of the plane. Kate always carries ear plugs so perhaps that is a tip to remember.  Arriving in Athens we were astonished at the new Athens airport. The difference was unbelievable.

Once we had retrieved our luggage from the carousel we set off for the bus stop outside. We had chosen small back packs as cabin luggage containing shorts and sun hat, sun lotion, a book and a pack of cards. The fleeces we had worn for the English part of the journey were still needed as the sun had not yet come up. Our cases were the wheely type with wheels right in the corners so they wouldn't tip up. We were really lucky as the bus for Piraeus was ready to go out. We just had time to hoist our luggage on board and then we were off.  As we had boarded at the last minute it was a case of strap hanging all the way, although Pat managed to edge her bum onto a small piece of seat. Still, the excitement and adrenalin kept us going for the journey to the port. At that time of the morning there was little traffic and it was a fast journey. We were in Piraeus in an hour and then all we had to do was find the ticket office. So far so good. Ticket offices in Piraeus can't be missed. As soon as you alight from the bus your ears are assaulted with the shouts of various ticket agency staff who are insisting that they have the best offers, lowest fares and most varied time tables. in actual fact they are all exactly the same and you must use your own judgment in choosing which office seems the best. 

Vic did just this. He ignored the first office, next to an alley containing the local port police by the way, and went into the agency with the longest queue. After a few minutes of perusing the time tables chalked on the walls, and getting absolutely no help from the chap behind the counter, he returned to us. His view was that the Blue Star Ithaki, the pride of the fleet and the only ferry I wanted to travel on to Santorini was not running.      Meanwhile Pat was staring around her with total bemusement. She was convinced that all the shouting and chaos around her meant that the local population was about to start a civil war. Kate and I explained that for Greeks this was a normal morning and that they were not about to kill each other. In fact they would probably be drinking Ouzos together that evening. She was also convinced that we would not be getting the ferry that we had told her about. I soon put her right on that. Vic's pessimism and reluctance to use any form of the Greek language in case he makes a fool of himself are renowned. We would get the ferry. It sounded as if the Weaver family were heading for civil war too, but again that was quite normal.

So It was my turn. I walked up to the least busy of the offices, smiled at the lady outside and with a Kalimera to the fellow in the office perused the boards. At first it looked as though Vic was right but I then realised that no Blue Star ferries were shown at all so my suspicions were justified. We would only be told about the ferries that these people made the most commission on. Using my very little Greek to the man behind the counter didn't get me far but my smile at the lady outside had been effective. She rescued me, ascertained that I would not take any other ferry and bade me wait a few minutes. Two or three minutes after a phone call from her a messenger turned up with four tickets for the Blue Star Ithaki, due to leave at 7.30am.

We were directed around the side of the ticket office, told to go down the alley and that is where we would find the ferry. This seemed very strange as this was taking us away from the sea and the ferries. However this is when we noticed the port police office and Pat was reassured by this that we were not being sent to be mugged or worse. It was getting light as we passed the Blue Star ticket office (this is where we should have gone for our tickets in the first place) and we were soon boarding the large, impressive blue and white painted ferry.

Our fears of having to carry heavy cases up to the decks were proved to be unfounded. We were told where to put our cases, having no worries about them still being there seven hours later, this was Greece. The promised escalator, however (see Frewin Poffley's Greek Island Hopping) was not working and we didn't see it working at any time during our travels.

We had each taken with us a foam camping mat. They fold flat or roll and weigh hardly anything. These we took up to the decks with us, expecting the usual basic seating in the lounge and on deck. We were very pleasantly surprised. Having boarded rather early we had the choice of seats and took a comfortable corner unit with a useful table. There was a lovely view of the Aegean from the window. Our comfort was later spoilt by a chain smoking couple sitting very close to us but this is normal in Greece and doesn't seem to be about to change. We couldn't help but notice that most passengers were Greek, there were very few English speaking people on board. Perhaps they had all been persuaded to board the rather elderly ferries on offer at the ticket agencies. This boat cost no more then they (just under 6000drx to Santorini) but the difference in comfort was enormous. During a very pleasant journey we were able to buy sandwiches and drinks etc at reasonable prices from the cafe bar, although we were served by a young lady who needed lessons in courteousness. We were to meet her again on another journey on this boat and she was no better. Even amongst the Greeks there can be an attitude problem!

Before embarking on her adventure Pat had warned us that she had had a serious problem with mal-de-mere when crossing the English channel. Luckily she had no such problems on any of the ferries during our trip. Not even later on the rather staid and very rolly Express Skopelitis (more later).

The sun decks were a little crowded but we were always able to get a seat when we needed a dose of sunshine. It was very hot for this time of year and we had to acclimatize slowly. The fascination of seeing and trying to identify the islands we were passing kept us busy for most of the trip, although at one point Kate rolled out her mat and slept for an hour. In fact we all had short naps during the journey and felt better for it.

Eventually our first port of call was announced. This was Paros and we all made a beeline for the best vantage view to monitor the comings and goings. I am always fascinated by ferry stops and never tire of watching the various people and vehicles who are leaving and joining the boat. There is always the same noise and commotion and apparent chaos but it is amazing how quickly those boats are turned around, and I have never seen anyone hurt in the rush or left behind in the confusion.

We were not intending to spend any time on Paros during the next couple of weeks so we wanted to see as much of the port as possible on this stop. This was our first sight of a typical Cyclades island that we had read so much about. The white buildings and rather barren hills were very different from anywhere else we had been.  Our next destination was the island of Naxos and I was rather more impressed by what I saw here. As we were coming back to spend a few nights later I was glad that we had chosen this island and very interested in the beaches we saw as we made our way down to Santorini.

At long last we approached the island of the volcano. What used to be the round island before the eruption 3500 years ago that took out the middle and left us with the famous island of Santorini.

We will post more as we write them. You can catch them - with pictures on our website at http://www.weaversuk.com

Vic and Carol Warrington UK