Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More Boats, More Swimming

I woke up this morning with panda eyes.  My Oakley Jawbones are wonderful sunglasses but they are close fitting wraps.  And yesterday I really did catch the sun.  Much laughter at my expense when people saw my red face with pale rings around my eyes.

Anyway, today was the last of the organised trips.  A day out on Captain Vasilys (that is REALLY unlikely to be spelt properly, but hey ho) Barbeque Cruise.  A somewhat different boat trip to yesterdays trip with Captain Jack.   

We startd with a coach trip to the south of the island.  Getting old hands at this, there was no running for coaches, no getting confused or anything of comedy value I'm afraid.  Simply a coach down to the harbour at the bottom of the island.  There we got on a rather attractive and nice sized boat.  We found ourselves a table and a seat and watched as the boat departed.

For a boat trip that lasted basically a whole day we didn't really get all that far.  We covered a lot of distance but it all seemed to be back and forth, to and fro.  The captain didn't seem able to make up his mind about where he was going.  But this was somewhat mitigated by the fact that whenever he dropped anchor then there was an opportunity for swimming.  Nothing as sedate as lowering yourself in, you were expected to jump off the side of the boat.  This took a certain amount of nerve and the first time of trying Junior was somewhat hesitant.  She soon got into her stride though.  And it wasn't long before she had progressed from jumping to diving  Without wanting to sound like too proud a parent, there were comments about this young girl diving in.

On one such stop I swam away further from the boat.  All of a sudden below me I saw a cluster of fish.  Wondering what they were doing, I stopped to watch.  And, to my surprise, realised that they were centred around an octopus.  Fascinated I watched on.  The octopus would move on and then lift a rock.  If a fish was feeling brave enough then it would dart in trying to grab whatever it could from under the octopuses nose (or beak).  Every so often the octopus would get fed up with this and wave a few tentacles at the fish, driving them a short distance off.  But as soon as it went back to hunting then the fish would gather around again.  This fits into the category of things I wanted to do, ie see an octopus in the wild (this is not counting the two I saw in Menorca when I was snorkeling, to my shock I was confronted by two octopi {I think that's the correct plural} heading right for my face.  It was like a scene out of Monty Python with the killer rabbit being replaced by killer octopus.  But when my heart had started beating again it something didn't seem right, and looking up over the surface of the water it dawned on me that these were dead octopi attached to a fishing line being dragged by a scuba diver returning to shore), and I returned to the boat with a big smile.

We also had a chance for fishing from the boat as well.  We didn't catch anything, possibly because Juniors patience wasn't strong or long enough so we kept pulling the line up too quickly.  But we did get a few nibbles.

I have forgotten to mention that I had found the joys of Metaxa by this point.  Metaxa 5 star is the Greek brandy, a bit sweeter than the french stuff but still very nice.  And I fancied one as a night cap this evening back at the hotel.  I went to the bar, but the two barmen were missing.  The bar at the hotel seems to operate a strange sytem which involves two relatively professional barmen and an occassional blonde (not her being blonde that was occassional, but her presence at the bar).  The occassional blonde lived up to all the rumours about blondes and was generally fairly vague about what she should be doing.  The night before she hadn't known what Metaxa was but one of the guys was there to help her.  Tonight she knew what Metaxa was and what glass to serve it in (proving that short term memory wasn't a problem) but was less clear about volume.  Now in all the time there I never saw an official "measure", it was always, at best, guesswork.  But guesswork with someone as vague as she was, was a dangerous thing.  She poured.  And poured.  And poured.  And poured some more.  In the end my large brandy glass was over two thirds full. I returned to my table with a full glass and a large smile!  And a very good nightcap. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Aye Aye Captain

We settle in the boat, the two girls on the back seat, myself and the captain at the front. He edges out from the harbour and then floors the throttle. The boat surges forward and spray goes everywhere. I look behind to see Junior with a big grin. Speed, the way to her heart.
The captain soon indicates that I can take over at the helm. I wasn't expecting this but who am I to say no. The hat has to come off though as standing up my head is above the windshield and we are going too fast for my hat to stay on. I rapidly realisethat the reason I have been allowed to rake the controls is less for my enjoyment and more so our captain can light a massive cigar! But he's a nice guy and we get talking. First off, how did he come to be here? Turns out that he is from Belgium and before moving here he was a bodyguard at the Egyptian Embassy. And also for the Australian Embassy. Strange for a bodyguard to have amscuba diving centre so where did he learn to dive. Well that would be when he was in the Belgian version of the commandos. I rapidly decide I'm not going to tell him not to smoke anymore. And Jacque soon becomes, in our minds, Captain Jack.

We get to talking about dolphins as we are hoping to see them again. There is a possibility but we don't raise our hopes too high. But this sets him off on one of many stories. He is no green warrior but he does care about the world around us. And he recounts a trip shortly after he moved here. He had two Norwegians on the boat for a trip similar to the one we are on. Suddenly he heard a couple of bangs. Unlike most people Captain Jack decides to investigate. He finds two fisherman shooting at columns with rifles (that's the fishermen who have the rifles not the dolphins). Unlike most people who, faced by rifles, would keep their distance, instead Captain Jack sees red. He heads his boat straight for theirs, pulls alongside, jumps into their boat, grabs the rifle and then huts them with the rifle butt a few times before breaking the rifle in half then calmly getting back into his boat and setting back off. One can only begin to imagine the faces of the two Norwegians at this point!

Captain Jack is very good about making sure we put on the suncream and have regular drinks, and points out the sights as we go along.  On the return trip he stops the boat in a small cove and lets us go for a swim and a snorkel.  Junior has some flippers that he has provided, and we all have a bit of a swim around.  After a while he calls us back and we get back on board (not the most elegant of sights in my case but none-the-less!).  However we only go about two minutes and two coves more before he stops again.  This time it's all rather deeper.  But nearby is a 2000 year old village under the sea, approximately 10 metres under to be exact.  Captan Jack suggests we all swim over there and we set off.  The water is deep and the waves are big.  Initially Junior is holding on to my hand tightly so I'm trying to swim with one hand.  We go over some rocks, the waves taking us up over them and then back down so that they are just under my chest.  We get passed those and swim towards the deeped waters.  Now you remember a few sentences ago I said that Junior had flippers.  These meant that she could swim quite fast.  And soon, instead of trailing behind me squeezing my hand to death, she is in front of me and almost pulling me along.  Then she's only holding one finger.  Then that's it, she's off after Captain Jack and I am left behind.

Captain Jack stops. We gather around him, treading water.  Next thing he's diving down.  With the masks we can watch him disappearing into the depths.  Once down there, at the bottom, he's searching around.  I'm amazed how far he has gone and how long he stays down there.  And when he comes back, in his hands he's holding the base of a vase and the handle of a jug.  From 2000 years ago.  A momentary glimpse of history.

We head back to the boat again.  I'm struggling to keep up with Junior who seems to have decided that Captain Jack is the better bet.  Suddenly he's off again though, diving down.  And this time he returns with sea urchin shells that he gives to Junior, warning her that they are delicate and suggesting that we spray them with hair spray to maintain their colour and strengthen them.

Finally we are back at Skala Prinos.  Time to get out of the boat and wade back to shore.  Almost out the shoreline and J gets her foot stuck in the mud. She promptly falls over when trying to get her foot out. Junior and I cannot help but laugh. Which was completely the wrong response and we are both very very sorry that we laughed! {but between you and me, it was funny!}

A trip that was supposed to be three hours long has been four hours but Captain Jack doesn't charge anything more.  And he gets one of his team to drive us back to the hotel rather than us having to get the bus.  Plus he arranges to pick us up for the SCUBA in two days time.


Another Day, Another Bus

Another day, and this time we have a private boat trip organised.  We enjoy going out on boats, and the travel agents only had one, so we had made enquiries about where else we could go.  If this one worked out well then it was going to lead to even more excitement as the company we were going with, CAT, also did SCUBA diving and we fancied giving that a go.

First thing is getting there though.  This means getting a local bus.  An added bit of adventure.  Luckily after the fun a few days ago, we know knew where the bus stop was!  We waited and, about ten minutes late, the bus arrived.  in fact the bus had been about ten minutes late the other day as well so we weren't worried, jsut decided that this was the time that they ran to.  Late is normal.  We managed to get on and pay.  The bus conductor who came to get our money was very nice and clearly took his job seriously.  It was his job to ensure people got off at the correct stop.  Which lead to great jolliness throughout the bus when he and one passenger disagreed about where they should get off.  Much arguing and much stopping and starting of the bus, accompanied by a lot of arm waving.  And the rest of us laughing.

No such drama for us however and we managed to get to Skala Prinos.  Now to find the dive centre.  A look around but nothing obvious.  Head off southwards but quickly come to the edge of the village so head back to where I had spotted a tour organiser.  Call in and ask.  Some confusion as the lady behind the desk only speaks Greek.  We can't make ourselves understood but soon her colleague gets off the phone.  Turns out that we are all of one minute away but we headed the wrong way.  Back out we go.  We fnd the centre but we are still 20 minutes early so we sit in the neighbouring cafe, have coffee and the worlds biggest doughnut before wandering back. 

The owner is one of those people who exudes confidence and everyone is friendly.  So much so that I find myslef booking the scuba experience for two days time.  We then try on wet suits and other kit while we wait as this will speed up the process on Saturday.  Junior looks fantastic in her wetsuit.  Sadly can't say quite the same thing about myself.  Functionality over style. 

That done we wade out to the boat with our captain for the day.

Half Way

Wednesday arrives and marks half way through the holiday.  No sunburn by this stage is a good thing and I can start to reduce how much suncream I am putting on.  Need to get this tan showing for returning home.  It's to be another quiet day, and the last quiet day of the holiday.  We spend some time around the pool, reading, relaxing.  Junior is about to play with her friend for an hour or two then they are off out.  Junior looks ratehr disappointed with the realisation that she has her parents for company.  We play for a while, then it's time to think about lunch.  We decide a little exploration is in order.

We head off southwards walking along the beach.  We don't know what we will find but fully expect to find a taverna or two.  It's amazing how the shoreline changes, and how quickly.  Suddenly there's masses of seaweed.  Then the water is clear again but rocky, and loads of sea urchins.  Then sandy again.  All this within a 20 minute walk.  We pass a taverna but it doesn't grab our attention.  Next ahead of us we see a hotel and we will have to walk through their grounds.  This seems unlikely to be a problem, it's all fairly relaxed here.  But oh no, what's this?  We're going to get arrested for stalking if we aren't careful.  Because sitting around the pool is Juniors friend and her family.  We remember that they said they had found a hotel with a nice pool - and it is, crystal clear water rather than the murky attempt at our hotel.  This must be where they had found.  Junior want's to stop for lunch here - no surprises there then.  But the adults of the expeditionary party want to find a taverna not a hotel.  So onwards we trek with a slightly despondent Junior. 

Then we come across another taverna, right on the sea front.  It looks just what we were after.  So we settle ourselves down for another nice, and inexpensive meal.  Junior doesn't enjoy hers so much, partly because she doesn't seem to like Greek food as much as Spanish food, and partly because she wants to be with her friend.

After lunch we wander back to our hotel and the rest of the day is spent around the pool and the beach.  More reading, more relaxing.  Ice cream milk shakes, beer, cherry juice.  Ah, life is hard.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Follow The Yellow Umbrella

While it isn't actually quite that bad, as the day progresses we decide that we really aren't the right people for a guided tour.  We are taken to some interesting places - a lovely church in a mountain village (which, rather strangely, has the original banner of Richard the Lionheart from the Crusades), some ruins, a monastery - but we don't get long enough to explore as we would like to.

Lunch is in another mountain village.  A special dish of chicken and pork.  While we are there we see the only rain of the holiday.  Well, the other two saw, I experienced.  We were at a table under a roof but with no walls.  I was right up against the edge so the very heavy rain managed to get my right side soaked.  Once the rain stopped then I dried off quickly as it was still a hot day.  Being a mountain village the restuarant was on a slope.  This meant that we were sitting level with the rooves of the houses next to us.  It was fun to watch the cats walking over the rooves next to us and stopping in case anyone wanted to throw them a piece of chicken.

Finally we are back to the hotel.  Junior is happy because all day she has been wanting to play with her friend.  And they are there, playing around the pool.  We leave them to it and chat to the other parents (having got the obligatory beer from the bar).  As we are chatting the children go down to the beach and sit on some of the loungers.  Something catches the corner of my eye.  I look again.  Yes, definitely.  "Dolphins" I shout and everyone rushes down to the sea to watch these beautiful creatures swim passed.  Dolphins silhouetted in a sunset, a wonderful way to end the day.

Catching Moments

Having to get up before 0800 hrs when on holiday seems wrong. But today we are booked on the "Simply Thassos" trip, a coach tour taking us to some of the most notable spots on the island.

We are supposed to get the bus at 0900 hrs but exactly where to get it is slightly vague. Out of the hotel, turn left, turn right and on to the main road. We get to the likely spot, which is also the bus stop (identified by a small pole with a bit of blue metal on the top). We wait. No-one else joins us which is a bit of a concern. A local is waiting for a bus but that's it. Now we're five minutes late and still no sign. We are starting to get worried. Ah, what's this coming. It stops but it's the local bus. Behind it though is a coach. Which stops at a different bus stop. Wonderful. It's just gone nine in the morning and I'm already hot and looking forward to air conditioning. We go to the front of the coach and start to get on. What's this though? Yes this is a coach tour around the island but it isn't OUR coach trip. As we are talking to the tour guide, or trying to get through the language barrier, we notice another coach stopped further up the road, probably about 400 feet away. And people getting on waving little strips of paper that look suspiciously like the one in our hands. Oh no. RUN. Its hot, it's dusty, and I have a rucksack on my back. This is not good. Junior gets there first and manages to stop them from closing the doors. We catch up. We try getting on but more problems. This isn't the right piece of paper. This isn't our bus. No, of course it isn't, because our bus has just pulled up back where we started but on the opposite side of the road. RUN.

We get to the bus. The tour guide doesn't look too happy, and neither does anyone else on the tour. I don't think we have made friends. We settle in a seat and wait to see how the day will unfold.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Orientation Day

We've got only seven days to get the balance right. While Junior would undoubtedly be happy spending the entire holiday by the pool, I need to get out. Yes I have my Kindle and I will be happy reading, but I also need to be doing things. I've never been good at just sitting. So some days will be relaxing and some will be activity.

The first day will default into relaxing. We haven't had the briefing meeting to let us know what is going on, so we have a morning in wonderful sun. Junior plays in the pool. Every so often we venture as far as the sea with the snorkels. And cold beer seems a necessity in the heat. One trip in to the sea and we are collecting pretty shells. Junior sees one of interest and grabs it. A second later there is a scream and the shell is hurled far far away. Curious. I find a similar shell and take a look. Hermit crabs. Excellent. Haven't seen these before in the wild! 

Midday and we get the briefing. Possibly the most frustrating part of the entire holiday is being told about a local village market that had been held this morning so we missed it. As a keen photographer, and with Junior a budding photographer (as long as she remembers that one or other of her parents are carrying her camera), this is somewhat annoying. Ah well, to make up for it lunch is another local taverna, more fish and some retsina. It's worth pointing out that in this taverna the menu is in Greek, the waiter only speaks Greek and all the other diners are Greek - a big big family as far as we can work out - not a McDonalds in sight. This is perfect. We are somewhat at a loss as to how to order. In fact, there is a fair bit of confusion as to how MUCH to order and what will come with each dish. To the extent that the poor waiter comes back and indicates that we should drop a dish or two as we have over ordered. We readily agree. And proceed to have a lovely lunch.

Then it's back to the hotel - all of a two minute walk - while commenting on the olive trees with their curiously twisted trunks.

More playing in the pool by Junior. But she has also spotted someone of her age who could be a good playmate for the week. Too shy to go and say hello, I am roped in to assist. Now, if you know me then you will realise that this isn't a strong suit. Ah ha, time to enlist the hermit crabs. We go into the sea and stand close to the potential friend and her mother. I find a hermit crab then comment loudly enough to be overheard. We give the crabs names (Herbie the Hermit Crab, Herbie the Hermit Crab Two, Herbie the Hermit Crab Three, Herbie the Hermit Crab Four - you get the picture), comment on their size etc, all in the hope of attracting attention. Much to my surprise, rather than getting me arrested, it works and we are able to chat a bit. The two girls start to play together. Good job done by daddy I feel.

The afternoon passes pleasantly and then back to the hotel room to freshen up. That evening back on the decking them we spot Juniors new friend on the beach with her parents and sister. Junior is desperate to go and play with her but still too shy. In a step beyond the call of duty (in my opinion) I go down trying to think what I can talk about. Luckily there seems to be a thunder storm on the mainland and we can see the lightening over the mountains.  So this seems a good ice breaker, I can comment on the lightening and how fantastic it looks from the beach.  For a moment it looks as though Junior isn't going to avail herself of my generous sacrifice but then she joins in and they all start playing. The problem being that I am now stuck talking for the next hour or so while J is sat by herself on the decking. However this turns out to be the beginning of a good friendship not only for Junior but for us as well.

They head off to bed but we stay up.  Back on the decking, another beer in hand.  Enjoying a lovely warm evening.  The other two are fine as I'm attracting all the mossies.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the wind gets up.  For ten minutes we can't play UNO because the cards keep getting blown away.  And then it all dies down again.  And time for us to head to bed.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Arrival

3 hours or so later and touch down. Not the biggest airport in the world. In fact if there are two planes at Kavala then it's busy, and that's including the Greek air force. Instantly hit by the heat. It's OK for the other two as they are in shorts. But I have to travel in the DVT stockings so I have trousers on. Maybe I should have packed shorts in the hand luggage.

Greeted by the rep who tells us how wonderful our hotel is. Excuse me for being cynical but she's hardly likely to say it's horrible. We get on the coach and watch our bags being loaded on a rather dilapidated lorry. We are taken to the local port where we have to get the ferry to the island. I am about 500 feet from a cache but between me and it is an expanse of water. We try walking around but there just isn't time (this was to be a recurring theme which lead to a bit of ill so this is the only time I will mention the failure to get a cache during this holiday). Getting on the ferry is an interesting exercise in itself, avoiding the cars that are loading at the same time. We quickly find the bar and decide to try a local beer, Mythos, which certainly goes down well in the heat. Then out on deck to enjoy the 30 minute crossing, to revel in the sun, and to watch Thassos get ever closer. And I am pleased to say, to spot the luggage lorry as well.

Another short trip by coach and we are dropped at the hotel. We get a ground floor room, clean and tidy, right next to the pool. The other side of the pool is an area of decking, then the beach, and finally the sea. From our room to the sea is probably 300 feet at most. Perfect. The rest of the day is spent enjoying the pool and the sea, along with another beer or two.

In the evening we walk along the beach a short distance to a taverna for a lovely meal full of tsatsiki and fresh sea food.

The only thing that is a slight culture shock is the discovery that you aren't allowed to put paper down the toilet. No paper at all. That's right, even THAT paper. Bins take on a whole new meaning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Our Way

The brief to the travel agent had been a simple one - "we loved Menorca, we hated Tenerife, we want local tavernas and no McDonalds, so what can you find for us".  After a lot of searching and going around in circles they came up with the little known island of Thassos.  This island is small, relatively untouched by tourism, and only accessible by ferry from the mainland.  Sounded good, but wanting to fly from Birmingham we only had the option of going for 7 or 14 days, not the 10 originally planned.  After the rather painful experience of Tenerife we didn't want to risk a fortnight, so 7 days it was.  And we were booked.

Flying from Birmingham is a relatively nice experience.  I say relatively because no airport is exactly fun, but compared to Heathrow or {shudder} Stanstead it is at least bearably painless.  Speed is of the essence, and the smaller numbers mean the queues do not get excessive.  The drawback is that flights seem to be incredibly early!  This meant getting up at around 0330hrs.  Junior did try to convince us to let her sleep in her clothes but we veto'd that one.  However, the excitement took over and getting up wasn't difficult, then in the car with nice quiet roads.  Straight into car park 1, which is all of a one minute walk from departures.  Through check in, all the time looking around to see who might be our companions for the week.  A couple of children around Juniors age, no-one that fits into that "avoid at all costs" bracket.  All looking OK.  Soon loaded onto the plane (sorry, that should be boarded, but loaded seems a lot more applicable).  And take off towards hot and sunny climes.

Monday, August 08, 2011