Tourist spiel ...written for a retirement blog
Not sure when I wrote it. Over 5 years ago.
Another hot day on a greek island. Another day of people watching down in a waterfront café. Freddo cappuccino and a sesame koulouri (bread ring) for breakfast. An ouzo and octopus as a midday aperitif before your lunch of stuffed tomatoes and peppers. Siesta, then a warm swim in the calm, clear blue waters of the Aegean and time for another ouzo. The beginning of a long warm evening on a terrace with a view of sailboats, white bougainvillea covered walls and the intoixicating scent of the night-flower which wafts along the alleyways. After the long summers day the cool night air brings you back to life. A gathering of friends, the righting of the wrongs of your world, the latest gossip, a cold beer with souvlaki and garlicky tzatziki, this is what retirement is supposed to be all about.
Sounds idyllic? It can be. Hot summer days go on and on during June, July and August. By September you're gasping for a little rain. But the climate is not like this all through the year. Greece can have a very cold winter. Last January we had snow on our island, the first time in ten years but it does happen. Winters do tend to be short though and we often sit out in the wintery sun to drink a glass of wine and watch the bustle of the harbor.
The Greek island where I live is just one hour out of Athens and its port Piraeus, a small island, permanent population around 4,000. It has quite a large expat community, largely Brits and those from other EU countries, Holland, France, Germany and Scandanavia.
The island has very little crime. You can still sleep with your windows open and my grandchildren safely wander the streets playing with their friends. Many of the greek islands are like this, especially those more isolated.
Poros is very close to the mainland and driving around by car is the easiest way to get here from Athens or its airport. We have water taxis which take us to and fro during the day to the little town of Galatas across the waters. The ticket is only one euro. The car ferry goes every half hour from early morning till night for around 5 euros for a car and driver.
On the island itself the main mode of transport is a scooter, quad bike or a bicycle which can be bought or hired. The main roads are easy to drive but the back streets were made for donkeys and mules and a small scooter or motorbike will take you to most places where a car cannot go.
With the car ferry we are not completely isolated. A hospital is one and a half hours away by road. In an emergency there is a 24 hour health centre just a short water taxi ride away. Specialists come in twice a week to the big new private medical facility.
The two cities of Argos and Nafplio are in easy reach for shopping, sightseeing, and endless ancient ruins. Forty five minutes away is the 4,000 year old theatre of Epidavros where in the summer you can attend classical greek tragedies and comedies, sitting on marble tiered seats still hot from the midday sun just as they did a few thousand years ago.
Athens is close by if you want more culture. Poros does have a summer festival which includes piano recitals under the august full moon, an open air cinema on a roof top in town where you can maybe catch a glimpse of the local priest hanging out the washing on his own terrace next door. Films are the latest ones in English with greek subtitles. There are evenings of greek dancing down in the main square and concerts in front of the floodlit Russian ruins.
The sheltered harbor is a popular place for flotillas of small yachts to spend a night and big luxury boats tie up near the middle of town where the guests are within walking distance of tavernas, cafes and bars.
There are a few organised beaches and small coves like Love Bay which has sun chairs arranged around its tiny pine shaded beach and a small canteen. On the hills above are the remains of the Temple to the sea god Poseidon. Nearby is a rustic family taverna where you can eat under the vines.
There is an animal welfare society which organizes curry evenings with quizzes and raffles and now and again a bazaar where you can buy cheap English paper backs and the usual knick knacks. Christmas bazaars in Athens are only a few hours away. Last year I stocked up on cheap detective stories which I am still reading now.
The island has a small, twice weekly, fruit and vegetable market. There is a large (for us) supermarket where you can buy all the essentials and sometimes luxuries like peanut butter. Every neighbourhood has its own little grocery shop for emergency needs. Food and drink are cheap. Wine can be bought from the plastic barrel of a local winemaker, around 3 euros for a one and a half litre plastic bottle of a very drinkable white or rose.
The eating places are called tavernas and range from typically greek to something more upscale which they call a bistro or a ristorante. There is something for every taste. Our favourite is a taverna right beside the sea. We can feed the fish from our table. Most of the dishes are still made by the family matriarch. The table cloths are paper, the wine is brought in a jug, the staff are friendly and all speak English.
The waterfront is lined with cafeterias and one of them is sure to become your daily hangout. From here you can watch the world pass by, the arrival of hydrofoils and water taxis and all for the price of an iced coffee or a cold beer.
Fresh fish can be bought daily (depending on the weather) from the fishing boats on the quay or at the fish and meat market near the main square.
The islanders live mainly from tourism so life is a lot slower in the winter. Picking olives or citrus fruit takes place over these cold months. You can buy fresh olive oil straight from the press.
If you're thinking of staying permanently then you must come and stay over the winter and see the other side of island life.
From here you can reach all the tourist areas in the mainland area called the Peloponese, ancient Olympia where the original Olympic games started, or visit the tiny villages built of stone clinging to the sides of mountains, Mesalonghi where Lord Byron fought with Greeks against the Ottoman Turks, or the 6 1/2 kilometer Corinth Canal. In mid winter the ski fields are only a couple of hours away.
The island of Hydra is half an hour away by hydrofoil. Painters and writers find inspiration here. Leonard Cohen had a house on the island. No motorbikes or cars are allowed. Bags and groceries are carried up the steep hill above the harbor by mule.
Nearer Athens is the cosmopolitan island of Aegina. Many Athenians have houses here and escape from the big city at weekends. You’ll find more in the way of exhibitions, theatre and culture and the impressive remains of the Temple of Aphaia.
Cons? That laid back 'avrio/maniana' when you need an emergency plumber or electrician. ID needed even for a simple bank transaction. Long lines at the bank and post office at the end of the month when everyone is getting their pensions and paying taxes. Trying to get your internet connected when you have no real house address.
To really experience any of the 200 inhabited greek islands you must come and visit, stay a while, talk to the local expats and hear their tales and personal pros and cons. But that is the same all over the world.