Saturday, November 25, 2006

Samos - an unspoilt Greek island


A couple of years ago or so, I wandered into a travel agent, plonked two hundred and fifty quid on the desk, and said 'find me a hideaway for a week'.
'Can do you Samos' she said
'Where's that?' I asked.
'Greece I think' came back the reply
'That'll do' said I, and off I went!

The Captain of the Airbus informed us that the landing procedure in Samos was somewhat unorthodox. He was to perform a low altitude approach involving a zigzag between two mountains! We were not to be alarmed - this was quite normal!

There was no one in the next seat so I had to make do with gripping my own hand for comfort whilst reading the same page of my book over and over again in which could have been a prelude to my shortest holiday ever.

However, after being violently tipped first to left and then to right we landed at a tiny airport, where we were ushered into a tiny terminal, and my tiny case of essentials was first to arrive on a tiny carousel.

So far so good. Last time I went to a Greek island my luggage decided to take a holiday of it's own in Athens!

Usually when you emerge from an aircraft at some exotic location you are greeted by a rush of hot air. Now I know it was late summer, but I didn't expect a howling gale and lashing rain.

The assembled band of Thomas Cook fun seekers(6 to be precise) where herded into an awaiting coach. I had just made myself comfy when it was announced that I would be the first disembark, and look - we're there already!

I registered at my modest apartment,wandered out on to my little balcony, and lo and behold, there was my Airbus not a hundred metres away across a strip of grass!

The brochure warned me of 'some aircraft noise' but I didn't expect the in-room entertainment to be courtesy of Boeing!

Straight to the bar! There I met George who was to become my best friend in the whole world - at least for the next 7 days. We were both 'bar tenders' so we had something in common straight away! A few ouzos later and it was as if we'd known each other all our lives.

It was still early so George pointed me in the direction of Pythagoria - the nearest place of interest and a highly recommended watering hole. I wished I'd packed a jumper. I wander past endless sights of historical interest and eventually arrive at a picture postcard harbour dotted with restaurants and bars, strung like a pearl necklace around a crescent of fishing boats. Identical menus, identical prices, identical charm. A couple of excellent Mythos beers later I ventured back to my apartment calling in along the way at a mini market to purchase essential supplies - beer, cheese, beer, eggs, beer, bread, beer, tomatoes, beer, crackers, beer, ouzo and some beer. The brad was stale, the eggs cracked the crackers tasteless, but the beer most satisfactory.

Feeling hungry, there was nothing else for it. I staggered across the road looking the wrong way and almost being run down by a high speed donkey and cart, and sat myself down in a most agreeable restaurant called the Illios. Feta in a pot was followed by a perfectly grilled grey mullet all washed down with a carafe of local red wine. All for less than a tenner. This was going to be fun!

I returned to the apartment block's outside bar where I shivered in the sub - British temperature and advised George on getting the best yield from his keg of imported Amstel. Couple of ouzos later I retired to sleep the sleep of a baby. Bliss.

Day two started cloudy. Later it became very cloudy. I took my time getting up, then took myself to the obligatory meeting at the posh hotel over the road where an over -enthusiastic holiday rep gushed about Samos, gave us a very personal insight into her private life, then gave us the sales pitch about the trips on offer from which she earned her commission .Usual package holiday format. This is the place - these are the trips - have a glass of watered down ouzo - give us your money - goodbye. Anyway, I succumbed. 'Island tour please - do you take plastic?'

Others booked everything, tours to Turkey included. Turkey is separated from Samos by 850 metres of sea. It is possible to swim it (although I think I might have a little difficulty!). Those who attempt it however, run the risk of being scooped from the briny by the Turkish coastguard who, it seems, do not have much of a sense of adventure. Apparently the previous week , a British tour guide inadvertently fell asleep on her lilo and drifted into Turkish waters. They returned to Samos and unceremoniously frog-marched up the beach to the amusement of a tghrong of sun-worshippers!

I decided to pop into a little beach bar that I had noticed on my foray into town the previous evening. There I met the owner , Leftiros , who was to become my second best friend in the whole world. He runs the Pegusus Bar in the Summer, and returns to Athens at the end of the season to enjoy the fruits of his labours. A Greek salad and a litre of local wine all for less than a four quid! Result! Back at my room I fell asleep and when I awoke it was evening. Must go in search of George, so I wandered in the direction of the bar. With oodles of ouzo at a couple of bob a glass it's very easy to become a babbling baboon and still have change from a fiver!

Saturday, and the north wind was howling. So loud it almost drowned the roar of jet engines passing my balcony. But I'm on holiday so what do I care! Off I went to see Leftiros at the Pegusus for an early lunch. A bowl of excellent stew, and a flagon of red wine. In the force ten gale I hung on to the book I was attempting to read, when suddenly my glass of red vino launched itself into the air and deposited it's contents all over my pristine white polo shirt and my autographed copy of This is Your Life (an excellent read by the way). Hey-ho! Never mind. Decided to go and see George.

In Samos, and probably in the rest of Greece for all I know,there are wild cats everywhere. They look like domestic cats. Ginger, white, black, pink ( only kidding) . I wondered why there seemed to be more kittens than cats, and Leftiros told me that the adults are culled to keep down the population . Wherever and wherever you eat you eat your meals, you are joined by kittens. They have no fear of jumping on your table, staring at your food and masking you feel guilty! In no time at all they are joined on your table by birds who think nothing of pecking at your bread! Now in the normal order of things I would have thought that the cats would be licking their lips at the prospect of a juicy sparrow rather than competing for a bit of my steaming bowl of moussaka!

Bet you'd never heard of Samos before. I certainly hadn't. It seems however that they had one famous resident in times gone by. No less than Percy Pythagorus himself!

Tempting though it was just continue lounging around, I decided that as I'd paid for a charabanc trip around the island, I ought take it. It was to take six hours! First stop, an amazing tunnel which was cut by hand through the middle of a mountain in order to carry water from one side of Samos to the other. Seems two gangs of diggers set out from either side and met in the middle just one metre adrift! And to think, the channel tunnel moles , with all their computer technology and sophisticated equipment almost missed each other completely!But the Samos tunnel was dug in 6BC. I was still only metres from my apartment,and surrounded by a palace, a stadium, a pottery, a gymnasium, a bath house, Hellenistic villas, Roman mosaic floors and sanctuaries all dating from the time of Aphrodites, Artimus and Demeter as well as the nymphs of the Geometric period ( at least, that's what it said in my tour leaflet!).

Anyway, back on the coach and off we went to a 12th century monastery. The wall icons and paintings were truly breathtaking. I've seen temples, mosques and cathedrals all over the world, but this place defied description. The local religion is Greek Orthodox - very similar in many ways to Roman Catholic. However to demonstrate that they are different there are no statues in places of worship, only two dimensional images. For the same reason the have no musical instruments, just 'hummers' who provide a backing track so to speak.

So, the wheels on the bus went round and round and eventually we reached my first disappointment . The stop was billed as a visit to a herb plantation and a traditional pottery with a wine tasting thrown in. It turned out to be a herb shop, a pottery shop and a sample of sickly sweet wine from a three litre wine box.

Never mind, lunch was next. One and a half hours in a dismal cafe! I must say though that the coach ride to get there was truly amazing and the twisting mountain roads with their sheer drops were absolutely spectacular. Thank goodness because the disappointments just kept coming. The next stop was, well, I don't know what it was supposed to be. It was a shed selling coffee! There was supposed to be a viewpoint, but none of us succeeded in finding it! As well as the aforementioned coffee, the shed also sold tacky souvenirs, and by now it had dawned on all but the most gullible amongst us that these stops where designed to boost the tour guides earnings by means of commission. Anyway, off we trooped to a pretty little fishing village for some 'free time'. Then back on the coach to be deposited at our various hotels. There was only one thing for it - where's George.

Monday dawns and suddenly it's hot. Very hot. 30 degrees hot. Take easy I thought. A few hours by the pool, lunch with Leftiros, snooze on the bed, finish book four then retire to the bar. What a life!

Suddenly time was rushing by. Just a few days left. Samos, like most of the other Greek island, closes for the Winter. The Swiss went home. Then the Scandinavians. Thursday we Brits were off. Needless to say, the Germans stay 'til Saturday. All the hotels were to close,except those with conference facilities' and all of the restaurants. Apparently the indigenous population of some 40,000 souls simply hibernate! Winters can be very hard there. The previous year it had rained for 96 consecutive days.

Wednesday was officially the last day of the season. There was supposed to be a farewell bar-b-cue at my apartment hotel, but it was cancelled due to lack of interest. I was interested, but no-one else it seemed to be.
The next day I would be the last to leave the Evelin Hotel. Others would have made tracks home. No Germans stayed there.

Thursday arrived and I had to check out of my room early even though my transport bus wasn't arriving until the evening. In the morning, the bar was to be cleared up and the booze stashed away. George said that it wasn't worth keeping the open bottles, so I gallantly offered to help him empty them! At lunchtime I exchanged kisses with Maria the receptionist, and George - a particularly tender one from him which made me think that perhaps there was something I hadn't quite realised about him.I enjoyed lunch at the Pegasus with Leftiros - stuffed vine leaves. I wandered along the beach. The day before, it had been crowded with people, laughing, drinking and having a jolly good time. Today it was different. The sun-worshippers gone, the bars closed, and the hotels suddenly boarded up.

I felt like an intruder in a silent paradise.


  1. How come there are no pictures? Why did every one leave? Was winter coming? I liked the review but it left me with questions like, do the people of Samos do a lot of drinking? I suppose so.

  2. I have heard of Samos. I friend of mine worked on Cypress and even married a greek man. I love the white Greek houses. Did they have them there as well. Nice story of windy, (ouzo) wet Samos. Have fun in Mallorca. You most visit the other side were the castle is were writer George Sand stayed. Get well informed because Mallorca is georgous if you go out off the tourist places. (I knew somebody there as well)

  3. I think you should have stayed clear of George and his tender kisses lol. The trip sounds beautiful however the extra tour I think you could have done without that is just my opinion. We want pics. I hope your having fun in Spain.



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