Serifos: a trip report

It is a funny thing that we have replaced weekends on long train journeys across the UK with long journeys on ferries for weekends away. It’s a nice shift and also wonderful to be able to have lots of different islands so close, but I do miss the reliability of a train service from A to B, taking a required amount of time. Ferries here can be frustrating, islands are close but yet SOOO FAR as they take quite a bit of figuring out when you can get there and crucially, get back. Syros isn’t on many of the same routes as the fast boats which connect the most popular islands like Santorini and as we wanted to do a couple of more trips before the end of summer (*wails*) we finally chose Serifos and then Donoussa for the following weekend.

I’ll admit my tardiness to writing these blog posts – life has a habit of getting in the way, even here when everything is stripped back to simplicity, work got a bit complicated and poured over into non-work time. I take full responsibility for letting this happen. Saying no and switching off is hard. But I’m happy to say my notebooks are stuffed with ideas and words, so not letting that go was a good priority.

On 27th August we had a late ferry booked for Serifos, taking the Artemis is always a gentle exercise in expectation management. It was 2 hours late in to Syros but we filled the time with a delicious pizza at Amvix opposite the ferry terminal. Arriving into Serifos post close to 11pm wasn’t so bad, the harbourside restaurants were full and lively, which given the serene aspects of the island this was a nice surprise. We stayed in the Medusa Apartments – really spacious and modern place near Livadaki beach with a wonderful view from our terrace.

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Serifos is quite haphazard and scrappy, I mean that in a genuinely affectionate way. The old town, Chora sits up on the hill and you can tell that development in Livadia, the port’s expansion into having more tourist facilities has been quite recent and unplanned – by this I don’t mean they are all shiny and new – they are just cobbled together nicely, in a way I find comforting and natural rather than imposing. On an evening this all comes alive with restaurants and tavernas  all along the front.

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There are few but not many older buildings, the town hall and high school in the middle. But the area is dominated by the newer low-rise accommodation blocks, like the one we stayed in have been built outwards on plots behind Livadakia beach. It’s compact and all walkable, and isn’t over developed at all. There is 3 or so decent supermarkets and a couple of bakeries – which I visited for croissants and pastries for breakfast.

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After breakfast on the terrace we decided to venture up to the Chora on the well marked path that connects Livadia. It was so windy, the Meltemi was at full gust and whipped around us as we walked up the 4.8k old cobbled path that starts at the back of Livadia. The climb was a bit gruelling, and we were warned by the man who ran our apartments who said most people got the bus up there and walked back down the path! Not one to follow convention we decided to walk there and back!

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It is a perfect example of a Chora settlement, perhaps not as picturesque as others I have visited – but did feel more historic and authentic. As you climb the path, you pass churches and monuments, as well as the old school house and  the folk museum (which was closed as it was a Monday) but they have a mini amphitheatre area out the back for performances and such. There are lots of varieties of architecture, ranging from very ornate venetian in style, like the beautiful Town Hall to many of the traditional single story whitewashed dwellings. The Kastro area at the top is well preserved 15th Century example of a medieval settlement – the views were incredible, right out to Sifnos and Kythnos. But the wind was howling through the streets and sounded very eerie even in the middle of the day.

The Chora does not appear to have any obvious places to stay, but looks like some of the houses have been renovated for tourists. It does have a few good restaurants and bars tucked away, where we sipped greek coffee and gorged ourselves on pancakes. Graeme enjoyed his first ever savoury crepe and I went sweet with the most nutella and banana ever stuffed into one pancake… all calories were needed for the journey downhill!

A few days on Serifos were restorative – after the day walking we rested on the beaches, swam in clear blue sea and sheltered from the ferocious wind. There is plenty to choose from across the compact island, all with soft pale sand and safe waters for swimming. 

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We sipped ‘happy hour’ gin and tonics at the people-watching heaven of the Yacht Club and enjoyed some great food in Livadia. One worth noting was Metallio (named after the mines which used to be the island’s main industry) – this place is tucked away from the harbour, in an older building with tables on a raised terrace. The menu is stripped back just a few dishes on offer for starter and mains, but well thought out local food with a more gastro feel. We managed to sneak in early without reservations (they are always full so we were lucky), enjoying a range of excellent meat dishes, liver and onions (yes, just like my grandma used to make), mini chicken souvlaki, veal steak,  local goat with aubergine mash and a really decent organic retsina. Highly recommended as something a step up from traditional taverna fare.

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Our last day saw the wind bring clouds over the island and some very rough seas for the return leg back to Syros – we spent the hour before getting on board the Artemis  necking travel sickness tablets and eating crackers!. Glad to say we survived this one – but it was nothing compared the the adventure the following week on the Express Skopelitis in beaufort scale 7 winds!

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It was a relief to back on dry land in Kini this week. It has been nice getting back to work and tidying up the garden, making plans and enjoying the time.  All the signs of change are coming into view; sun loungers are being piled up on the beach for next year and two of the seaside cafes have closed already. The busyness of summer is starting to be replaced with cooler temperatures and less people, not only have schools gone back in the UK but schools here went back yesterday too. I woke early this morning to see that dew had formed in the trees overnight, this level of damp humidity overnight meant that towels stayed wet on the line.

All these signs are pointing to Autumn and with that a change in the air…

 

The weekly shop and meeting goats

Life has started to form a routine here, not just work, but also the domesticity of living in a little house and doing all the regular things in a highly modern way (read: back to basics) So we don’t have a washing machine, a microwave, a heater or TV.  Life without TV is actually blissful given the current state of global news and politics– (don’t get me started on the election palaver). Although we obviously consume most of our news online, so we aren’t totally living in a bubble. But we agreed not to have Netflix or watch TV shows and stuff online. A good break from entertainment overload. Which is the best excuse to have a packed kindle reading list and various books to get through. (Please send recommendations!)

Our two ‘luxury’ purchases were a battery operated FM/AM radio to listen to local radio (6.99e– looks like it was made in the late 80s). I love Greek music, like Rembetiko and just having it in the background when cooking is my little piece of heaven. The second item was a cafetiere – such a common item back home actually took a while to track down here. Mainly because, the Greeks are fond of making their traditional ‘Ellinko Café’ in a briki (which is a small pan to boil the sandy fine coffee grounds in). But I was overjoyed when I finally found a ‘French Press’ in a cookshop as the lady described it. Here we are drinking fine coffee and scrubbing our clothes by hand.

Luckily Graeme loves washing so he has dutifully taken a lead on this. Hand washing takes exactly the same amount of time as using a washing machine, the only snag is that it is you that shoulders all the hard work. Equipment needed: 2 large buckets, a pair of washing up gloves, and hand detergent. We now have it down, which is exactly what happened to the washing line in the middle of hanging white sheets on…an almighty PING and the whole load went down. Everything had to be rinsed as they were covered in pine needles and dust! The rinsing and wringing is the real physical labour. Guns of steel in the making!

The other big differences here are felt in the buying food. Kini has a mini-market which gets bread delivered every morning and stocks the basics. In Ermoupoli, which is a short bus ride away, there are 3 big-ish supermarkets, one of them being a Lidl. None of them huge hypermarkets like Tesco. But they stock most things, but you do need to also go to the butcher shop (kreopoleio) and the greengrocer (manavis), as well as the bakery (forno). The real beauty is seeing how everyone shops around, and gets the best price, buying everything under one roof just isn’t possible here unless you ignore what everything costs! So when I get the bus in to do a ‘big shop’ it is at least 5 shops to get the basics and many ins and outs to get other stuff. Yesterday, after waving Graeme off on the Blue Star to Tinos, I hunted down blue tack (3 shops to find it) and a trip to the post office to get stamps, then butchers to get meat and then the greengrocer, with whom I had a hilarious Greek-lish conversation when he asked me whether I was here on holiday, he soon twigged he’s spoken to Graeme the week before. “Oh you must know the man with the moustache” i replied “Yep that’s Graeme, andros mou (my husband)”. “Ah send him my regards, he likes the football”. Then proceeded to ask if we had children and why not, “you make great babies”…yep, no subject out of bounds while buying red onions and a melon.

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We also have a close-ish AB Supermarket in walking distance from the house, it’s a hilly 35 minute walk there as its half way between Galissas and Kini. I am sure we get a few looks of humour at us walking there (you see it is rather weird for us not to have a car or moped, but hey, we are walkers and like it that way!). But what a walk it is! Once out of Kini, the road ascends high up the hill to Danakos and through pastures of farmland, passing green fields of cows, sheep and my favourite, goats. On a walk there on Monday morning to get milk and bread, we passed by a lady Goat-Herder walking her flock of 10 or so goats from one field to another. She just sat there peacefully serene in the morning haze. She waved and we waved back, a cheerful “Kalimera”. After a quick whizz-round the supermarket, and loading up our rucksacks with goodies we set off again. As we neared the turn down into the village, the lady was crossing the road with her goats, two kids bouncing around and not following her orders! We waved again and I said “mou resi katsiki” (I like goats). She beckoned us over and picked up one of the little ones so I could say hello. There I was stroking a baby goat on a Monday morning, life dream achieved! He was so cute and happy to see us. We passed a few words in Greek and then went on our merry way home to log-on and start work.

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I can honestly say the food shopping used to be such chore back home, but here you never know what you’ll run into and how it might just brighten up your day.

My love of goats. To be continued….