Paros 1981

I went to Paros on my first trip to Greece in 1981. Why did I choose Paros? I do not remember. I am sure I had heard of Mykonos before that trip. I probably went on to Paros, as it was the next island out from Mykonos. I then went on to Santorini as I had heard of that island too. Before that first trip, I had not done much in the way of homework on the Greek islands. It was not until I saw how large, noisy and grubby Athens was that I decided to make a quick escape to the islands. I now know that there are nicer parts of Athens.

Strangely, my memory of Paros in 1981 is of an island having more tourist shops than it does today. In 1996 Paros appeared to have gone a little upmarket, with less tat in the shops, tasteful crafts, rather than the wall to wall of gold shops that I was to find on Mykonos in 1996.

It was the week before election week. Each of the eight or so main parties (were there really that many parties then or do my notes mislead me?) took over a café in each town, and pop music and propaganda were broadcast all day. The 1993 election campaign was to seem much quieter; maybe the general noise level is louder now so that the election noise is less conspicuous. Parikia sea front was full of these cafés, all competing to be heard. An off putting introduction to an attractive island. I booked into the Hotel Oasis near the Tourist Office Windmill and bus departure point (both (not the windmill) have now moved. I caught a bus to Marpissa on the opposite side of the island, climbed the hill to Aghios Antonios, an old monastery with a good view from the summit, then bussed back to Parikia noticing many sharp bends on the road. I do not remember seeing any signs of tourism outside of Parikia town. The island was very dry in autumn, and I determined to come back one day in spring. Visitors in the spring and autumn to the dryer islands will notice the drying effect of the summer drought. A dry island in autumn can be green in spring. I had dinner in an open air restaurant, Diogenes, starting with a huge mixed hors d'oeuvres (so my note tells me, then not knowing the Greek word mezedes) washed down with retsina.

I was attracted by the name of Petaloudes, the valley of the Butterflies. A year or two I went to the valley of the butterflies in Rhodes. The butterfly season was over but a few lingering specimens were around. To me they looked more like moths than butterflies. I was sad to learn that tour guides clap their hands or otherwise make a loud noise to frighten the butterflies and make them fly for the tourists' delectations; the temporary delight for the tourist often kills the butterflies they have come to see. On Paros, I am not sure if I even found the valley of the butterflies, none were in residence and it was the wrong season! I caught the bus at six in the morning (there were only two a day, a familiar pattern I have found repeated on many other islands). Wrong time of year or day for butterflies. An attractive walk back to Parikia down mule paths. I wished I had brought a cup and rope as one of the guidebooks had recommended, to poach water from the numerous wells.

This is embarrassing. On my first trip to Greece, I had not even got to grips with all the pleasantries of everyday conversation. I was walking in the hills north of Parikia, coming back from the valley without the butterflies. An old Greek woman was coming the other way and said "kali mera". Now every Greek tourist should at least know that kali mera means good morning. Not me, I am afraid. With my mind on food, I thought it meant squid. Calamari. I looked at the poor old dear in the way one would if someone came up to you in the countryside and said "squid." Was she trying to sell squid? Was she inviting me to come and eat squid? I shrugged my shoulders and said no thank you. The old dear she looked puzzled, the way one would if you had said good morning, and received a shrug of the shoulders and a no thank you in return.

After a late breakfast, I caught a bus to Lefkes in the centre of the island, the island Chora during pirate days. I wanted to walk the Byzantine road I had read about, running towards the coast. Until improvements (so-called!) following the introduction of motor transport this was the main road across the island. "Only one cobbled road running east from Lefkes" said my guidebook. Well, I managed to find number two, and spent two happy hours roaming in an isolated valley. Back on my intended route I found a very well preserved track, and bridge which I went down into a dry river bed to examine more closely. Back in Parikia I found the shops open in the evening and browsed. I recall that it was in the evening that I noticed how touristy the shops were.

On the Wednesday, I was undecided what to do. My flight was from Athens on the following Monday. Was there time to go down to Santorini? Yes! I went on a quick visit to Naoussa and saw the little fishing harbour that retains much of its old charm, at least on a wet and windy day when there are few tourists about. Then I caught the bus back to Parikia, and caught a boat to Santorini. A tub of a boat (I believe she is still running but has changed her name several times to run away from the bad reputation she has!) overcrowded at the start, then more passengers crowded on at Naxos and Ios. I sat on the floor of the front deck exposed to the wind and the huge waves that frequently broke over the bows (the rest of the boat was full without even floor space to sit on). We passed a recent shipwreck, of a ship that looked suspiciously like the sister to our own boat. I was pleased to see Santorini approach six hours later.

Once on a ferry approaching Paros I was standing at the front of a ferry watching the Aegean sail by. Not all ferries have decks accessible to passengers at the front. If there is one, that is the place to be. My fellow passengers were likewise enjoying the view and the breath of refreshing sea breeze.

"Is there life on Paros?"

A metaphysical sort of question to ask, I thought. I am always amazed at the statistics of Greek islands. 169 inhabited islands. 2000 or 3000 uninhabited islands - when does a rock become an island. Statistics can be manipulated and some rocks are classed as islands when it is financially beneficial to do so. Paros is not only one of the islands that is very much inhabited - it is also in the top ten of the most visited islands.

I looked at the chap who had posed this metaphysical question. He did not look like a philosopher.

With his baseball cap on backwards and speakers clamped round his neck, and proliferation of tattoos, he looked the type of chap I would cross the street to avoid when I was on dry land. At sea, there was no easy way of avoiding unwanted advances.

A strange question, I thought. Of course there is life on Paros, many people live on Paros. As he stood waiting for an answer to his question, suddenly the drachma dropped. He was not asking about the population statistics on Paros. He was asking about 'Life' with a capital 'L'. Night Life. I remembered having seen one bar called the Polygon. Did it have a sign with a dead parrot, or is my imagination playing tricks? I had read about other aspects of nightlife on Paros so was able to reassure him, yes, there was Life on Paros.

I have stopped off in Paros on a few occasions since, including 1996 (see Antiparos for comments on a very wet day out in Paros!)