My first trip to Greece in October 1981

Greek Diary

Friday Landed at Athens at 3 a.m. Extortionate taxi fare to hotel. Plagued by mosquitoes all night.

Set out next morning to see as many sites and sights as possible. Archaeological museum too big to see at one time. Must come back later. Acropolis - just like the photographs, only covered with scaffolding. Agora. I liked the Thesion especially. You could walk all over it, not like the Parthenon which was crawling with whistle blowing attendants. Greasy lukewarm moussaka for lunch. Kebabs for dinner. At least the grills are hot. Stocked up with pomegranates for tomorrow's trip.

Saturday Down by underground to the port of Piraeus. At 9 a.m. caught the Panagia Tinoy for Mykonos. Large ship. Few passengers. Five hours basking in the sun watching the islands pass by. Called at Syros and Tinos. Mykonos looks too good to be true. Brilliant white buildings under a blue sky. Even the pavements are whitewashed. Book into Hotel Delphines. Visit museum and much-photographed windmills. Precarious climb inside ruined windmill. Dinner at Spiros on the seafront. Tsatsiki, grilled pork and retsina.

Sunday 8.30 boat to Delos the birthplace of Apollo and sacred island of the ancient Greeks. An inspiring morning poking around the ruins. Midday boat (the only) back to Mykonos. Explore the town. Many intriguing alleys. Dinner at Spiros again.

Monday Boat booked for Paros. Huddle of would be passengers scan horizon for boat. A dinghy towing a smaller boat comes into view. "That's it, third class at the back," shouted one wag. "And there's the food," added another as a polythene sack of oats landed at our feet. No need to have worried, though, as a small modern boat soon arrived.

I was in Greece during the week preceding the elections. Each of the eight or so main parties took over a cafe in each town. And pop music and propaganda were broadcast all day. Paroika sea front was full of these cafes, all competing to be heard. An off putting introduction to an attractive island. Booked into the Hotel oasis near the Tourist office windmill, and bus departure point. Caught bus to Marpissa on opposite side of island. Climbed hill to Aghios Antonios, an old monastery. View from summit good.

Bus back to Paroika, many sharp bends. Island very dry. Must come back in spring. Dinner in open-air restaurant, Diogenes. Started with huge mixed hors d'oeuvres washed down with retsina.

Tuesday Attracted by name of Petalhoudes, the Valley of the Butterflies. Caught first bus at 6 a.m. Only two buses a day. Wrong time of day or year for butterflies. An attractive walk back to Paroika down mule paths. Wished I had brought a cup and rope as one of the guide books recommended. To poach water from the numerous wells. Late breakfast. Bus to Lefkes, in the centre of the island. "Only one cobbled road running east from Lefkes" says the guide book. I managed to find number two. And spent two happy hours roaming in an isolated valley. Back on my intended route. A very well preserved track, and bridge which I went down into a dry river bed to examine more closely. A Byzantine road, the main route across the island until the introduction of motor transport. Bus back to Paroika. Same restaurant as yesterday. Shops open 'til late so I browse.

Wednesday Undecided as to what to do. Due to fly back from Athens on Monday. Is there time to go down to Santorini? Yes! Quick visit to Naousa, a fishing port in the north of the island. Then on boat to Santorini. A tub of a boat, and overcrowded at the start. Then more passengers piled on at Naxos and Ios. Sat on floor of front deck exposed to the wind. And the huge waves which frequently broke over the bows. Passed a recent shipwreck. Looked suspiciously like the sister of our own boat. Pleased to see Santorini approach six hours later. The island is the remnant of an extinct volcano. The main town of Thira is built on the rim of the volcano. 600 odd steps up from the harbour. The only transport up the steps is donkey taxi. The boat landed at the new port of Athinios. Two buses waited. Hundreds of passengers and rucksacks clambered on board. Spectacular sunset as we wound up to Thira. Where would we all sleep? No need to have worried. Easily found a room for £3-00 a night. Kebabs, meatballs, salad and the local lava wine at Bobby's Taverna.

Thursday Breakfast on hotel terrace overlooking the sea. My room 100 steps below the reception desk. Bus to Akrotiri. Saw the impressive ruins of the Minoan site, buried by volcanic explosion in 1500BC. Bus to Oia in north of island. A small scale Thira. Few tourists. Walk doe 500ish steps to the harbour. Dipped my toes in the sea, the only refreshment available. Back up top I bought some prickly pears from the oldest inhabitant. He was very insistent that I should not touch the unpeeled fruit. Then he gave me a cloth to wipe my hands on. Ouch! It was full of prickles. Went round the maritime museum. A very odd place. I remember seeing a stuffed white satin anchor. Back to Thira. A beautiful sunset. Then another dinner at Bobby's. The season was nearly over and many places were closed.

Friday Bus to Kamari beach. Walk up mountain to site of old Thira. Missed the path and ended up crawling over loose lava. Hauled over wall onto the right path by a passing tourist. So hot. No refreshments. Not even a prickly pear. Set off for the next mountain, where there is a monastery, Profitis Elias. The highest point on the island. A military station, where photography prohibited. Monastery closed for a long lunch break. No food or drink on sale. Explore a church. Outside an open air shower. I try the tap. Not a mirage. I shower, fully dressed, and drink lots of water, not caring where it had come from. Passing soldiers are much amused. Back down a mule track to town of Pirgos built on a hill. Lots of nooks and crannies to explore. And a cafe. Saw bus leaving. Last one for hours. Resigned to long hot walk back to Thira. Taxi pulls up. Free lift to Thira? I jump in. Another beautiful sunset. And dinner, guess where?

Saturday Catch bus at some unearthly hour for port. These buses must have elastic walls. Equally crowded boat. Hardly any standing room. The day before the election and the islanders are heading home to Athens to vote. Twelve hours of crush in a windy boat. Best forgotten. In Athens a dinner of kebab.

Sunday Up early to see the changing of the guard at President's Palace. Then down to Plaka to see the flea market. Shops all closed and lots of puzzled tourists walking around. Shut for the elections. Look for breakfast. All cafes closed. Museums closed. At the Archaeological Museum I see a sign to the effect that open on Monday (the usual closing day). Take underground to northern suburb of Kiffissia. Not much to see. Most impressed by dolphins on cast iron lamp posts. Down to Acropolis. Site closed. See sunset. To Plaka. Find one restaurant, and that closed at 8 p.m. "We want to see election results."

Monday Breakfast in cafe of one of the department stores. To Archaeological Museum. Still closed. Get in to Benaki Museum. Very good. So much to see in a non-institutional atmosphere. To Olympeion and other sites I missed in first day. Souvenir hunt. Early dinner and stagger with luggage to Syntagma Square for Airport bus.