The day We Went to Antikythira

“ Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to …. Antikythira ? ”
No, it doesn’t have the same ring about it, but we had a lovely time anyway.  Watch the original  by Fiddler’s Dram (‘The Day we went to Bangor’) on You-Tube, and a slightly more risque version by Jasper Carrot (‘Day trip to Blackpool’.)

Ferry at Kissamos

Ferry at Kissamos

Even those of us fortunate enough to live here in Paleochora need a holiday, so it was decided to take a day-trip to Antikythira, a small island c.35 km off the NW tip of Crete, and around a two hour ferry journey from Kastelli-Kissamos (just over 1 hours drive from Paleochora).  The rather complex schedule of Lane Sea Lines dictates that only on Wednesdays (in summer) can you take the boat to Antikythira and return the same day.

Leaving Kissamos

Leaving Kissamos

Leaving Kissamos at 7.30am, it docks there at 9.45am, continuing on to Kythira and Gytheio, returning by the same route to collect you at 8.45pm, and reaching Kastelli at 11pm. Which gave us eleven hours ashore, ample time to explore the small island, which measures just 10.5 km x 3.5 km, with an area of 22 sq.km.

We booked tickets with Maria at Selino Travel (incredibly, just 20 euros return, and free for my mountain bike) and, because of the early start, stayed overnight at the Elena Beach Hotel, just five minutes from Kissamos port (highly recommended, they even made us coffee at 6.30am.)

Dawn broke as we sailed out of Kissamos Bay, alongside the Gramvousa peninsula, with retrospective views later to the two islands of Imeri and Agria Gramvousa.  Soon Antikythira appeared on the distant horizon, and on schedule, disembarked eight passengers at the port of Potamos – two islanders returning home, and six of us “day-trippers.”

Coming in...

Coming in…

We thought it advisable to find somewhere for an evening meal before the journey home, so we  headed for a taverna overlooking the bay.  This, the only one as it transpired, was also the Post Office, a (very limited) mini-market, and Tourist Information Centre ; someone, possibly the island’s mayor, disappeared, soon returning with detailed maps describing several places we must visit during our brief stay.

akythera

We “booked” a meal for around 7.30pm, then split up, Jane and Michelle setting off one way, Judy and Ulrike another, Dick, a keen ornithologist, heading for the island’s bird observatory (which sadly was closed), and me attempting to pedal south to the lighthouse at Apolytaras on the southern point of the island.

The lighthouse

The lighthouse

Antikythira is best-known for the shipwreck, discovered by sponge divers from Symi in 1900, at a depth of c.50m . Thought to have been Roman, and foundered off the NE coast in the 1st century BC, it contained a wealth of artifacts, many brought to the surface by the French underwater explorer Jaques Cousteau in 1976.  Among them was the “Antikythira Mechanism”, possibly the first-ever ‘computer’, now in the Athens archaeological museum.  Read about its fascinating history elsewhere.

An undulating surfaced road runs south to Galaniana, where is the church of Agios Myronas, the island’s patron saint.  Annually on August 17th, the resident population of 45 increases to c.1000 with visitors, and islanders returning home for the “feast day.”  I rode on, along a rough track to where it ended, then took a stony path towards the lighthouse, now in view ; but with a kilometre to go, and a descent of 150m  – and a similar distance/ascent back –  I gave up.  Next visit……

Ag. Myronas

Ag. Myronas

Instead, I cycled back north, past the heliport and through Charchaliana, left the bike and walked down to the small beach/cove at Kamarela, below spectacular sea cliffs with rock arches.

Kamarela

Kamarela

It was mid afternoon and hot, even in October, and I needed a swim – but not here, too rocky and dangerous.  So from one side of the island to the other, over to Xiropotamos beach, probably once the port of the now ruined Kastro (or Castle), a walled Hellenistic city dating back to the 4th century BC.  Covering c. 3 sq.km, much of the polygonal encircling wall remains intact, and, cooled and refreshed by the swim, my 30-minute exploration was absorbing.

Xiropotamos

Xiropotamos

From here back to Potamos, and the taverna, was a short easy walk around the headland, but for me a steep climb (push!) back up to the “main” road, and a fast descent to the harbour.  We all re-assembled with stories to tell, and enjoyed a far more leisurely meal than anticipated ; the taverna owner announced – “boat is coming, maybe one hour late.”

Anti-Kitty-Ra

Anti-Kitty-Ra

And it was, but it came, and it glided into Kissamos just on midnight.  If you get chance, take a day-trip to Antikythira  – and …….  “ have a lovely time …. ”

Footnote :   So enjoyable was our day on Antikythira that by the time you read this we will havespent a longer holiday on the larger island of Kythira  –  watch this space !

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To Vasilaki and Beyond

To misquote the famous lines (on marriage) from ‘Punch’ magazine :
“Advice to those about to go walking in August …… don’t. ”

First, a salutary story. In mid-June this year, a group of French walkers took the boat to Elafonisi, and around 11.15am set off along the E4 path towards Paleochora. By early afternoon temperatures had reached over 40c (104f) in the shade, and on this route there is virtually none, and no water either, unless you can locate the spring above Agios Ioannis church (which this year may well be dry.) When they reached the cantina at Krios beach c. 4.30pm, several were suffering from heat exhaustion and severe dehydration, one so seriously he had to be taken by ambulance to Paleochora, and from there air-lifted by helicopter to Chania hospital, where fortunately he made a full recovery.

Walking in August is of course quite feasible with an early start. The 6.15am KTEL bus to Omalos gives access not only to Samaria, but also to the Figou and Agia Irini gorges, above them the high-level E4 path to Koustoyerako, and lower down, the Kambanos gorge and Kamaria valley, although all these would result in a hot afternoon in Agia Roumeli or Sougia, albeit in shade and sea whilst waiting for the ferry back to Paleochora.

The early morning (7.30am) bus to Chania will drop you off at Spaniakos, Vlithias, Plemeniana,
Kandanos, Floria, Mesavlia and Kakopetros for walks described in the “Explore” series, returning on one of the buses leaving Chania at 10.45am or 12.45pm, (or an earlier one at 8.45am.)

Alternatively, here’s a short walk close to Paleochora, best enjoyed in the late afternoon or evening as the day begins to cool down. Drive, or take a taxi, to the turning for Vasilaki, just 3km NW from Paleochora on the road to Voutas.

Vasilaki sign

The track along to the few houses of Vasilaki gives good views into the valley of Tsaliana below, and north to the high mountains either side of Sarakina (see ‘Explore’ September 2015).

Vasilaki grapes

Vasilaki grapes

This is rural Crete, albeit only a (long) stone’s throw from popular tourist beaches, and you will pass sheep, goats, chickens and barking (but safe) dogs as you leave the “village”, through a gate, and into open country.

Vasilaki

Vasilaki

Below left is the blue-roofed Agios Georgios church, but save this for the way back and hope to catch the sunset. The track winds around the hillside, passing animal enclosures, then climbing to a threshing circle and an adjacent (ruined) building ; nearby terracing indicates that cereal crops were grown here, and the area once housed a greater community.

Above Vasilaki

Above Vasilaki

Turn right here, to reach the original Ag. Georgios church, long since abandoned.

Ag Giorgos (old)

Ag Giorgos (old)

Just above, the track crosses the ridge, at 400m, giving wide views across the lower Kakodikianos valley, where regular “Explore” readers and walkers can identify the paths around Spaniakos, Profitis Ilias church above Kadros, and the ruined Turkish fortress or “pirgos”.

Spaniakos hillside

Spaniakos hillside

You could return from here, but it would be a shame not to continue a further 500m, to where the track ends by an area of oleander bushes and an old plane tree, their presence indicating a water source. And here is a spring, a trickle flowing even during this hot dry summer, and much appreciated by the two dogs. Nearby is another ruined ‘church’ (we think Ag. Dimitrios), with a small shrine, built in gratitude for the gift of water emerging from the hillside.

Ag Dimitrios

Ag Dimitrios

Return to Vasilaki by the same route, with surprisingly different views, especially to the west in the late evening, if you happen to catch “the sundown splendid and serene.”

Ag Giorgos (new)

If you came by taxi, there’s a 3km walk home, with a wonderful panorama of Paleochora and Pachia Amos beach, and then finally down through Panorama itself into town.

Allow three hours for this walk, but remember that darkness falls very quickly here, turn back if in any doubt, and take a torch with you, just in case ….

 

 

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