Cyclades

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Cyclades

Cyclades
Rocks in the sea

Andros and Santorin – the northern and southern outposts of the Cyclades – rise like small, wondrous mountains from the blue of the Greek Aegean.

Thomas Trobmann

01/24/1996

With three foghorn horns, the steamer circles the ledge that plunges vertically into the sea, first passing the lighthouse that rises from the cape rock, then the white dome of a small chapel below. Almost seamlessly, the sea, churned by the autumn winds, turns into an immaculate ink-blue water surface, now only rippled by a slight swell. In front of us lies a narrow bay cut deep into the island. At the end of this perfect natural harbor, the small town of Gavrio wakes up from its slumber – as always when a ship docks here on Andros, the northernmost Cycladic island in the Aegean Sea. In the first newspaper shop on the small harbor promenade we buy the standard ticket for island divers from »Toubi«. At a scale of 1: 65,000, not only us, but probably all enduro riders will catch your eye in view of the multitude of gravel roads winding through the mountainous island. We leave Gavrio straight away and head south, passing inviting sandy beaches and after a few kilometers we reach Batsi in its semicircular bay. The former fishing village is the only one of the four larger towns on Andros that has completely dedicated itself to tourism and is mostly visited by tourists from Great Britain. But now, a few days after the end of the high season, there is not much going on in Andros Chora, the main town of the island, which is spectacularly built on a high and narrow rock tongue out into the sea, life is raging. On the marble-paved main street, crowds of people promenade between tall, often palatial houses. In and in front of the kafenions, the numerous shops and stalls, you maintain a conversation, greet those passing by, you are greeted – and hardly anyone takes any notice of the few tourists who are still strolling through Chora. As small and compact as the place is, it is a sublime demonstration of the prosperity of its residents. Multi-storey villas, which we would have expected to be in a suburb of Athens, replace the typical Cycladic, blue-and-white cube house towns and indeed, many of these magnificent buildings are vacation homes of well-known shipping companies and give Andros Chora a unique flair in connection with its exposed cliff location. We spontaneously decide to stay and immediately find a quaint, inexpensive room in the sandy bay north of Andros Chora. Immediately afterwards we disappear into a small tavern, which is located on a long marble staircase that leads down to the sandy beach. There are squid in a mint sauce. From our box seat we stare into the blue. Long, longer and longer. The blue expanse of the Aegean has captured us. Calm down, glisten under the sun, promise. A good start to an island vacation. We walk along the main street of the village, which ends abruptly behind the city gate on a platform above the sea. The “unknown sailor” stands here, a nearly five-meter-high bronze statue that looks out over the sea with a watchful gaze. We climb on hands and feet over a steep arch made of flat stones, the remainder of a bridge from the 13th century, which leads over a narrow canal to an offshore island. A Venetian fortress once stood here, but the walls that are still being excavated are not very spectacular. We continue to climb to the remains of a vault. Below us the roaring surf, in front of us in the sea a lighthouse that stands on a mushroom-shaped, weathered boulder; the former access staircase has long been a victim of the waves. We sit on the ruins, feel the salty taste of the sea on our lips, listen for a long time to the loud clapping of the waves crashing against the rocks. Our first day trip through the interior of Andros turns into a brisk enduro hike. Many of the paths in the northern part of the island are unsurfaced and in some places even relatively demanding. We rush to Batsi on a good gravel road from Andros Chora via Apikia and Arnas. About two and a half kilometers north of the village, an unmarked road branches off, up to the Zoodochou Pighis monastery. Lemon groves, olive trees, figs and cypresses line the rough slope to the right and left. Off-road feeling. Over thick stones and loose gravel you go down to the bay of Ormos Vitaliou. The route between the monastery and the village of Gides is poorly shown on the map. And instead of this one gravel path, we discover two more paths that lead from the Zoodochou walls to the route that goes from Batsi to Ormos Vitaliou. Shit, downhill to the left behind the monastery, I have to admit that our “Heavy Metal” Enduro has amazing terrain qualities. Despite a full load, the bike is surprisingly easy over hill and dale, the powerful engine pulls us over the steepest passages even on loose ground – and rings loudly: “Regular unleaded”, unleaded normal fuel, super gasoline is on the Aegean islands are simply in short supply. After a lively drive along the steep wall of a lush river valley, we are suddenly amazed at a wonderful sight. Deep below us lies an enchanted bay, like a pirate hideout, embedded in the steep coast on the edge of which we are standing. Here we discover another slope that is not shown on any map. Still, we’ll try, at some point we’ll find our way back to Batsi. We plow through deep sand and over coarse gravel to the next bay. Conclusion: We cannot resist this beach, first sink the BMW into the fine gravel, then ourselves into the crystal clear and warm water. We are alone. The soft sound of the surf caressing the fine pebbles lulls us. Weighs us. A dream beach. The south of Andros is very different from the north, which is only traversed by beaten paths. Idyllic small villages and fertile, terraced fields and gardens in which conical cypress trees grow and Venetian dovecotes. The cultivated valleys are almost like a park landscape. Like something out of a Greek picture book, and just the journey from Andros Chora to Aipatia turns into a panorama trip: It starts with a wonderful view of the island’s capital, then the path follows the course of a deeply cut canyon and leads to the harbor town of Ormos Korthiou with great views down to the fact that we become a walking obstacle to traffic – not a serious problem in view of the density of cars, mopeds and donkeys of about one copy per ten minutes. On the other hand, there is heavy traffic on an island that couldn’t be more different: Santorini, probably the most famous and most visited island in Greece. No wonder, because Santorini truly corresponds to every Cycladic cliche. No wonder that one of the most popular photo motifs from the entire Aegean Sea also comes here: the view over the domed churches and the Thiras cube houses with the deep blue sea in the background, immortalized on thousands of postcards and in as many travel brochures. But anyone who has taken a boat into the ten-kilometer-wide volcanic crater in the late afternoon will believe the brochures and send the cards: Santorini is so beautiful. Today’s crescent-shaped island is only part of a crater. A huge volcanic explosion was the island that was then called Strongyle, the “round”, and left behind a huge crater filled with seawater, the caldera. But the volcano is still active. Over the past centuries, lava flows, earthquakes and seaquakes have constantly changed the shape and size of the Kaimenen – the burned, as the small islands in the caldera are called. The car ferry chugs slowly through the wide “crater lake” to the steep rocky coast of Santorini. At the top of the crater rim, the villages of Oia and Thira hang like swallow nests and glow in the light of the early evening sun. Pearls alike. Like every evening, countless “sunset watchers” stand on every protrusion of the wall, every step of the stairs and snap, film or enjoy the changing play of light that constantly conjures up new, fairytale moods on the deep blue sea. Everyone agrees: the sun couldn’t disappear behind the horizon in a more impressive way. We stroll through the enchanting Thira. Small alleys and steep stairs run parallel to the edge of the crater, stretching along nested, whitewashed houses. Again and again, the view falls on the foaming water in the crater lake, almost 300 meters below us. Only on the main street, the Agiou Mina, do we feel pressured by the stream of many guests, otherwise there is a wonderful calm over this place. The next day we stroll with the motorcycle on the streets and slopes that run along the north east coast. Then down to the south of the island to Cape Akrotiri. The way there leads first through bare, dry land, everything seems to be under a gray veil. Only a few white farmhouses shine in the midst of green gardens, and now and then a fig tree enlivens this monotony. But south of Elias, the highest mountain on Santorini, the picture changes: Thousands of vines are lined up close together, formed by strong winds, crouching flat on the ground. The dark red, fiery wine of Santorini, the island’s most important export good, grows in the nutrient-rich volcanic ash. For half an hour we stroll through a deeply furrowed pumice landscape on the Enduro, then we stand at the Cape of Akrotiri, the southwestern end of Santorini. A white pole stands above the lighthouse on the steep coast plunging vertically into the sea: In front of our eyes, the islands of Santorin, the opposite Thirasia and the two Kaimenen rocks in the middle of the crater lake come together to form a whole Little imagination can tell the former extent of the exploded crater. The nearby excavation site of Akrotiri, buried by the lava masses 3500 years ago, is disappointing. The excavator of this site, the archaeologist Spiridon Marinatos, believed to have found the fabulous Atlantis here on Santorini, but the assumption is more exciting than anything we can see. Listlessly, a guide shows us a previously uncovered residential area and two streets. We find that the antiquities reverently look like a building site. The ruins of ancient Thera are more worth seeing – if only because of their fantastic location between sky and sea. On a rock-paved serpentine road behind Kamari we reach the ancient place at the lookout point of the same name. An absolute highlight, in terms of driving, but also for our eyes: The ruins are located on a limestone cliff, the Messa Vouno, which protrudes 370 meters above the surf. We look down into the roar. Slowly, very slowly, our eyes wander to the horizon, over the increasingly calm sea. Balm for the souls. We sit on a stone next to the BMW for a long time, drink wine from a canteen and think about what it would be like to just stay here.

Info

Island jumping in the Greek Cyclades is one of the most enjoyable ways to travel by motorcycle. The small islands offer interesting and varied routes, especially for enduro riders

How to get there: If you don’t want to cross any war zones, it is best to take one of the daily ferry boats from Venice to Patras since 1995. The steamers of the Strintzis- / Minoan-Line start at 6 p.m., arrival in Patras is the next morning at 7 a.m. The cheapest passage in the off-season for one person costs around 150 marks, and another 45 marks are charged for the motorcycle.The Aegean ferries to Andros do not leave from Piraeus, but from the port town of Rafina, 30 kilometers east of Athens Low season only at eight in the morning. Driving time two hours, for two people and a motorcycle the author paid nine marks. Numerous shipping companies cruise from here through the islands of the Aegean Sea, information is available on site in the many travel agencies. From Andros to Santorini it usually takes seven hours via the Cycladic islands of Tinos, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos and Ios. Travel time: The best time to visit the Cyclades is the low season, either in spring or in autumn. However, the sea is then a bit rougher, the islands are almost deserted.Accommodation: It never gets easier than in off-season or post-season Greece: You look for one you like from the multitude of free private and guesthouse rooms, haggle little about the price and get it. In the early autumn of 1995, a neat apartment with a kitchen, TV and a view of the bay and Andros Chora had to be paid for around 20 marks. For a particularly nice room high up on the crater rim of Santorini (the best »Craterview« rooms are in the district of Firostefani) you have to shell out 40 marks for two people. The motorcycle: The BMW R 1100 GS usually only needs for Greek island hopping a fraction of their power. The result is low fuel consumption of less than six liters per 100 kilometers. Very practical because unleaded super is not yet available on some islands (for example Andros). If necessary, you can also use the Greek “Regular unleaded”, but the bell rings audibly in the large combustion chambers. Fuel is often in short supply on the islands, so it is advisable to arrive with a full tank and refuel at every opportunity. Despite a full load, the fat enduro was surprisingly easy to drive over gravel roads and through short sand passages, only in deep sand the limits of what is possible with the standard tires are quickly reached. Literature: Martin Velbinger’s alternative travel guide is still a classic among guides to Greece , published by Velbinger-Verlag, for 39.80 marks. A good hiking-scale map is available at every kiosk on the islands, namely that of Toubi, for 2.50 marks. The Freytag card is sufficient for planning at home and for a good overview & Berndt, Kyladen, 1: 150,000.

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