My latest adventure started when my friend, Global Gypsy, and I started discussing the possibility of going on a watercolour painting course on the mainland. Somehow Greece had escaped me in the 60s (a truly wonderful time to have travelled). But I was busy then carving out a theatrical career. My agent would have had a fit if I had suddenly disappeared to Greece like Shirley Valentine and so (maybe) would have my husband at the time!
We decided to do the course and then it seemed a bit silly to go to Greece without seeing more of it. So after the painting in the Peloponnese and driving back to Athens, via the Corinth canal, we have been travelling.
It has been five weeks now and I am adoring it. So far we have travelled by plane, ferry, bus and car. I am hoping very much to add mule to that but so far haven’t seen one that I feel could bear my weight, poor skinny things!
First I must tell you about a delightful island called Tilos in the Dodecanese. You can only travel there by ferry either from Kos or Rhodes. Either way it’s a flight, an overnight stay in Kos or Rhodes and a two hour ferry journey. You need to want to get there! Tilos has a population of only around 750 people. This is my fourth visit and I am still totally beguiled by this unspoilt, clean, sunny and charming island.
As the ferry bears down towards Tilos’s very small quay, it suddenly swings round with extraordinary precision. The hold doors are lowered and the travellers pour out. The entire in and out is over and done with in five minutes. When I say travellers, there are usually about 20 tourists, a few locals, the post and parcels, and fruit and vegetables in large packs, perhaps one car and anything else that someone might have ordered from Amazon -yes Amazon gets there!
It is the Tilos tradition to meet guests, so every ferry is welcomed by Tilosians who wait at the little taverna opposite the quay. This is particularly useful as you have a drink before you meet the ferry and then of course it’s straight back to the taverna! If you are using AirBnB or staying at a guest house, your host will be waiting for you to accompany you back to your digs! Mostly your host will wheel your case along the beach front of Livadia to your accommodation.
In the middle of the tiny town of Livadia is a square shaded by trees. Well more of a triangle really. Trust the Greeks to be different. Since I have been visiting for several years, I am greeted as if I were family – two big kisses on either cheek! Whether they remember me or not I don’t care … it makes one feel wanted.
Everyone knows everyone in Tilos and everyone is related in one way or another. There are, I am told, five main families. Most of the dogs have the same father and the cats – well God help them – they obviously have numerous fathers, despite feverish endeavours to neuter them by well meaning folk. Fortunately that’s as far as family planning goes on this delightful island!
If you are of a certain age like myself (shall we say pensionable?) and haven’t seen a lot of eye candy recently, Greek men – both young and old -are very attractive. Well they certainly think they are! And they know how to flirt, an art of which I am most interested. When I went to have lunch at my favourite beachside restaurant, the elderly owner threw his arms around me, kissing me and murmuring “You are such a lovely lady” as I pulled away from his strong hairy arms and solid tummy. I thought how silly that I should have enjoyed the long clinch – after all, his wife was in the kitchen!
The postman in Tilos has a novel way of delivering the mail. His dog sits in the basket of his motorbike on top of the letters to stop them flying away …. and instead of using a hooter the dog barks.
There is only one bus driver on the island and he is the uncle of my manicurist and the brother of the barman in the square – I could go on but you might get lost in this myriad of interrelated family! The bus driver has a very shiny new state of the art (newly bought by the EU) bus which careers its way across the island, taking in the hairpin bends as he desperately tries to keep to the timetable! Fifteen minutes late is about average. But it all depends on whether the driver has to stop for goats or another car, or to fill up with petrol, as he did when I was on the bus, or he needs to have a chat to someone on the way!
This driver is devastatingly handsome – an absolute Adonis. Honestly this man is soooooo good looking he should be frozen in stone on a Doric pillar! Last year his wife gave birth to triplet boys, so he has to work very very hard (20 hours a day) to keep them in a style to which they hope to be accustomed and, I suspect, so that he doesn’t have to be at home too much! Needs must, he now also drives the mini van which runs all evening until 2 am shuttling people to the abandoned village where there is a nightclub. Such a good idea to have a noisy nightclub in an abandoned village! He also waits at table at a hilltop restaurant! I must say as a driver he is excellent but as a waiter he is terrible! The plates of food are slammed onto the table with all the concentration of a rugby player scoring a try.
I am dwelling far to much on the men of this island but, as your resident Travel Granny, I just thought you might enjoy sharing my observations!
So what do you do in Tilos? A good question. You can hike, there are wonderful trails with magnificent vistas. You can scramble down to hidden beaches and bathe in the nude – the sea is warm and beautifully clean. On the front of Livadia, the restaurants and bars lay out beach beds and for the price of a drink at their establishment, you can lie all day and soak up the sun. You gaze at the yachts which come in and out of the harbour. Because the bottom of the sea is stony, you can see incredibly clearly, so snorkelling is a favourite, especially as there are no nasty currents or big waves.
I had a bit of a mishap with an earring, one of a favourite pair. One little pearl critter fell to the bottom of the sea… about six foot down. I could see it twinkling at me, enticing me to dive down Poseidon-style and bring it back to the surface. Could I do it? Could I heck! The sea is so salty and buoyant it was really hard to get that far down! Every time I tried to grab it it went deeper between the pebbles. Finally after a gargantuan yoga style breath, I reached the little devil and I’m happy to say I still have two earrings!
So what else did we do? Well we dined each night at a different restaurant. The one thing I have learnt about Greek food is that every chef has his own twist with basically the same dishes. What the Greeks do with vegetables is nothing short of amazing. They have a cheese and weed pie, a peasant dish which is delicious. Zucchini burgers, tomatoes stuffed with the most surprising and colourful ingredients and my favourite – thinly sliced potato and courgette baked in a pot with cheese. Cretan cooking is supposed to be the best, but more of that when I get there.
We stayed a week in Tilos. I love the island and all its idiosyncrasies, but we needed to push on to see more. We left on the Tuesday ferry. All our friends came to see us off at the quay. We had two hours journey and then, with the usual Greek chaos, arrived in Rhodes to catch a larger rust bucket (the ship is the oldest in the fleet ) to take us overnight to Crete.
I’ll be back with the next episode of our odyssey soon!
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