Paros, a real sense of community.
28 Oct 2010
|Within a few days of arriving, it “strikes me” that the island of Paros is saturated with a “real sense of community”. From the owner and guests staying at our apartments, to the friendly staff at the restaurants and cafes in every village we visit; the warmth and sincerity of this island is overwhelmingly refreshing.
We left Naxos early in the morning and caught the Blue Star ferry to Paros. Everything went smoothly. We dropped the “clapped out car” with Mike from Mikes Bikes at the Port and handed over the keys.
Pipina was running a few minutes late. She bursts out of the mini-van and greets us with a huge smile and wide-open arms. Pipina has a beautiful, cheeky grin and an enormous laugh.
“Sorry, sorry, I am late,” she apologises profusely as she helps us with the bags.
We have arrived at Paroikia, the main Port on the island of Paros. Paros is part of the Cyclades group of islands located west of Naxos and is separated by a channel about eight kilometres wide. In addition to tourism, the island is famous for it’s good quality marble. The apartment that we have booked is located less than two kilometres away on the other side of the cove, at Lividia Beach.
There is so much commotion surrounding us at the port. Weathered and wiry old men surround us busily flashing their hotel cards trying to win business from the hundreds of tourists that pile off the ferries. These touts come and go with each ferry arrival and are like ferocious lions fighting over food in the wild.
During that five-minute drive to the apartment, Pipina drove madly around the coastline pointing out several of the “must go too” restaurants owned by her friends.
As we roll our bags inside the apartment, all of the guests wave and say hello.
“Everyone is so friendly,” I note.
On one side of our apartment are an elderly Italian couple that say hello at the beginning and end of every day. He turns on his short wave radio in the morning to listen to the news. Then, over breakfast, they wave to us as we leave to go for an early morning swim. In the evening, just as we prepare pre-dinner drinks, she sets the table for their dinner. After dinner, we sit enjoying the view and all I can hear are the birds chirping and the Italian lady next door washing the dishes.
On the other side, a delightful Swedish couple speak to us every night through the bougainvillea tree. Each day, he asks if I have managed to access the Wi-Fi from the balcony or whether I had to go to reception. We never say more than a few words but we see them on the beach, wave to them in restaurants and bars and see them walking with their German style walking sticks each afternoon. We learn after a few days, that this is their fifth visit to these apartments. The woman is about to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. For that, they move upstairs to the luxurious suite.
We booked this apartment on the Internet a few nights before arriving. It had just moved from the high to low season rates and was cheap at thirty Euros a night. We have a good-sized balcony and a terrific view over the water towards the main town. It is clean, fresh and reasonably new.
We hit the beach in less than five minutes after a short walk down a steep roadway. Every morning before breakfast, we wander down and swim in the lanes that lay across the top of the water. We never discover who owns or maintains these lanes because other than one male Italian tourist, we are the only people who swim here. There are starfish and lots of sea urchins sleeping on the sandy seabed.
After swimming, we visit the local beach café, order a coffee and chat to the owner. Locals on the beach enjoy the early morning sun.
“Oh, you swim very good. Me, I swim like a puppy dog,” an old Greek woman cries out to me. She is bobbing in the water with her friend.
She waves again and repeats, “Oh, you swim so good. Me, look, I am like a little puppy dog.”
A group of ladies “bobbing” in the sea is so unusual. They are delightful and wave to us every morning.
After coffee and our morning chat with the café owner, we climb the steep road back to the apartment to prepare breakfast. As we approach, all of the neighbours wave and nod their approval of our early morning exercise. After a day or so, this friendly greeting grew on me and I find myself waving back and passionately greeting each day with them. Here is a community of tourists all staying at the same place, all speaking different languages and all so nice.
There is also the American who we meet in reception every morning. We all gather there to access the free Wi-Fi. Under normal circumstances, he could easily have been considered a pest but in this environment he is tolerated. Each morning we hear a story about “my airline is about to merge with another major US airline” or, “I have Bill Gates phone number on my mobile” or, “I just about own Apple” or, “I was a property developer and made lots of money” or, “I this or I that.” He owns an airline, is an airline pilot, a painter, an athlete and he flies helicopters. We listen to all of his stories and as Pipina patiently asks about his business interests, he answers every question in detail. During our stay we see him ride a scooter through town carrying an artists easel. We know he had decided to start painting again from the conversation that morning.
On our third day, we hire a FIAT Panda for thirty Euros to explore the island. Driving southeast and inland we hit the village of Lefkes, where Pipina’s grandfather was born and lived. It is a quaint village with well-maintained houses and a couple of restaurants. A few tourist and arty shops line the pathway that leads out of town to the old Roman Road. We walk in the heat downhill and find the Roman Road after about half an hour. Our earlier enthusiastic and ambitious intentions of walking several kilometres to the adjoining village died fairly quickly in the thirty-degree heat. We watch a group of Germans with their walking sticks, marching “head high” in perfect order, in perfect timing and in perfect step along the road. Instead of following this well organised group, we opt to head back to the top of the village and enjoy an ice cream in the sun.
We drive northeast to the seaside fishing village of Naoussa. This town is such a delight to discover. It is like a mini-Mykonos without the overcrowding and overdevelopment. The village enjoys the same seaside features as Mykonos but also has a great fishing port. There are small boats with fishermen mending their nets, tour boats and private yachts from all around the world quietly moored.
We wander around the harbour and the shops tucked quietly behind for a couple of hours. It is similar to Mykonos Town but nicer. Not as squashy, not as touristy and not as many tacky tourist shops. The Lonely Planet recommends a small family run restaurant, which we eventually find. We had the English name for the restaurant but all of the restaurant signs are in Greek bearing little or no resemblance to the English. We are just about to give up before stumbling upon this little gem well hidden away from the main Port. We fall victim of the menu, over order and feast on whitebait, octopus and squid.
Piso Livadi was the last village to visit with the hire car. It is located about half way down the east coast of the island, the opposite side to where we are staying. It is strikingly beautiful and original. As with Naxos, there are sections of this island that are underdeveloped. Once again there is a small port full of fishing boats and inviting restaurants that line the waters edge.
Returning the car was casual and laid back. It had been dropped off to our apartment and all we had to do was get back and leave the keys in a pot plant near reception.
For now, it is time for drinks on the balcony. The view across the water with the mountains as a backdrop is beautiful. The ferries blow their long deep horns announcing their arrival and cleverly reverse completing a 360-degree turn. It is so relaxing on the balcony that once settled, the idea heading to a smart restaurant in town seems too much of an effort. So we reverse the eating order of the day and have lunch in restaurants and dinner at home.
Time is passing so quickly. Paros is an island highly recommended to visit particularly after the high season has finished. It is a mini version of Mykonos without the big price tags for accommodation and food and is great for lounging on the beach all day, shopping, visiting neighbouring villages for lunch and has great restaurants and bars. This island is like a small country town where everyone smiles and engages in friendly conversation and above all, there is a real sense of community.