Thursday, December 27, 2012

Motor scooter ride to Cape Faraklo, Limnos

If there's only one place on Limnos that you should risk riding a motor scooter to, it's the unsigned, unmapped but spectacular volcanic location of Cape Faraklo. The area is also sometimes known as Falakros, meaning "bald", a name given to describe the large, barren hills of the area. Be aware though, the only way to reach the rugged coast of the northern parts of the island is by luck.

Your first challenge is to get through the village of Propouli, the last village before the roads turn to gravel. Propouli may be the smallest village of the island, but it has been cleverly designed to prevent visitors from leaving. The main square of the village is a lovely shaded area to sit and sip on frappes before heading back out into the sun to ride to Cape Faraklo. But it's not dragging yourself away from the frappes that's the hard part. Trying to ride out of the village without getting caught in a loop that takes you back to the square is nothing short of an embarrassing nightmare – the locals laughing at you every time you go past ... for the seventeenth time.

And this was just the beginning of our guessing-game adventure. Once you finally make your way out of Propouli, several gravel roads beckon you to veer off the main track with hopeful expectations that they will take you due north, only to branch off into several more gravel roads in every direction except north. Some will take you to Falakros, others won't. Your only real option at this point is to refer to eenie meenie mynie moe technology.

Glimpses of the ocean beyond the sand dunes are an encouraging sign and as long as you keep taking the tracks that lead to the sea, you just might reach the final golden fork in the road where the one and only landmark that will take you to Cape Faraklo lies. Lying on the ground in the dead grass is an old wooden sign that has fallen off its rusty post. The sign has "ηφαιστειακοί βράχοι" hand-painted on it, which is Greek for "volcanic rocks". This is the only indication available anywhere on these gravel roads that gives you hope you are heading in the right direction.

If you're four-wheel driving, this rocky adventure will be a lot of fun for you, but on a 50cc motor scooter fitted with bicycle tyres in searing 37-degree heat the destination really needs to be magnificent to make the ride bearable, let alone fun. And magnificent it was.

Much of the area is made up of rugged coastlines carved by wild, swirly surf crashing against the rocks. The rock surface is flat enough to walk along and, as long as you're not taken out by an unexpected tsunami-sized wave, you will eventually reach the beautiful geological marvel of the volcanic rock formations of the cape.

Evidence of an extinct volcano remains in the form of petrified lava around the coast of this magical area. Large bubble formations, lava rivers and a huge "wave" of solidified volcanic matter has been frozen in time in the most amazing colours and textures. I've never seen anything like it. Such a beautiful, naturally sculptured landscape of colour and movement that truly takes your breath away.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Venetian Castle of Limnos, "Castro"

It was another excruciatingly hot day in Limnos, and Tony and I were not in the best of moods, having just been kicked off the Anemos touring boat that morning.

I wish I could entertain you with a sordid story of us rolling around drunk at 8 o'clock in the morning and causing all sorts of havoc on the boat with behaviour that was simply not tolerated by the lovely owners of Anemos, Litsa and George. But I'm sorry to say that (on this day) no such debauchery was to be had.

It was just a double-booking with a Greek wedding party, and we, along with another 15 tourists, came off second best. These things happen in Greece. There's no need for the tourists to contribute to making chaos. The Greeks make their own chaos. But we love it.

Or should I rephrase – in hindsight we love it. At that moment of being told we all had to get off the boat, we didn't love it.

And we still didn't love it when we were sweltering with heat exhaustion dragging our feet up the rocky path to the spectacular site of Limnos' Venetian fortress, Castro. It was so hot I was creating mud in my sandals with the combination of sweat and dirt. It was so hot you could have fried eggs on Tony's head. It was so hot we had no hope whatsoever of climbing to the top of the Castro.

The photos here are not the most spectacular. On previous trips to Limnos the weather was more forgiving and there were no double-booked wedding parties to get us off side. In the past we have made it to the pinnacle of Castro several times where the views over Myrina are beautiful and far-reaching. You can read about our previous climbs and a bit about the history of Castro by clicking here and here.

You can also see a wobbly but fairly representative video I filmed last year of the view from the top of Castro by clicking here.

On this brain-sizzling day we turned back at the half-way point, just before our heads exploded. Upon our descent, to our delight we came across a small herd of young deer. Around 30 or 40 deer occupy the Castro mountain. It is believed that a pair of them were brought over from Rhodes as a gift to Limnos to rid the island of snakes.

We quietly approached them as they grazed on piles of dry grass left for them by the locals under the shade of some trees. They weren't phased by our presence and thankfully all of our spontaneous human combustion symptoms had subsided as there would have been one mighty explosion with all that hay.

The walk down Castro is both relieving after a strenuous climb, and rewarding with many photo opportunities. A gorgeous little white-washed church nestled amongst the rocks and overlooking Romaikos Yiallos beach is one of our favourite spots to sit and catch our breath. You will also come across Nefeli Cafe on the way down the hill, serving ice cold frappes and biscotti with panoramic panels of glass offering sweeping views over Myrina.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Galazio Limani Taverna, Moudros

Once the capital of Limnos, Moudros is now the second largest town on the island. The bay of Moudros is one of the largest natural harbours in the Aegean and is a picturesque place to sit at one of the two large tavernas and ponder the history of the First World War and the role Moudros played as a safe haven for injured soldiers during the Gallipoli campaign.

The tavernas of Moudros are also known as a safe haven for many families of cats. On this day we chose to eat at Galazio Limani Taverna, simply because there were more cats there that afternoon.

The traditional use of bright blue paint on Greek islands is said to keep the bad spirits away, and if there is one place in Limnos that would have to be free from the nasties of all things evil, it is Galazio Limani.

The owner, Nikolaos Karamalis, is one of the friendliest and most professional restauranteurs in Limnos. His personalised service and welcoming demeanour is second to none. On quieter days he will even sit and have a chat with you and encourage you to feed your scraps to the cats. No wonder these feline residents love it here.

Obligatory bread always kicks off a Greek meal, closely followed (or preceded by) a couple of cold beers, and the fresh, home-made bread of Galazio Limani was one of the better ones we'd munched on in Limnos.

It was evident my stomach could do with a rest after a fairly steady routine of stuffing it with cheese croquettes and deep fried vegetables as my eyes were instantly drawn to the bowl of bright green string beans I'd spotted at the table next to us.

Tony wasn't quite ready to take a break from his hard-core, stomach-loading exercises and decided to order the Limnian cheese saganaki, Greek salad, smoked mackerel and lamb stew ... with chips.

The saganaki came in three different shapes and sizes which is a little unconventional given the traditional triangle wedge that usually arrives. Obviously this was too much for Tony to tackle on his own so I thought the least I could do was relieve him of his cheese-eating duties and take the small round one. I also helped him out with the salad.

Everything was fresh and delicious, but the stand-out for me was the string beans. I ate that whole bowl (the beans, not the bowl). They were the best green beans I'd ever tasted and despite the word "string" being in their name, there was not a string to be found. They were crunchy yet melt-in-the-mouth tender, lightly oiled and salted but green as Scottish grass I tell you. I don't know how else to describe them. I just could not get enough of them.

And there were no bathroom incidents the next day.

It was an extremely hot day but Galazio Limani is completely shaded by a large canopy surrounded by leafy trees and cooled slightly by welcome breezes from the bay. This is the perfect place to retreat from the mid-afternoon sun and enjoy fresh Limnian cuisine. And if you're lucky, you might be entertained by the antics of some gorgeous little kittens like we were. Click here to read about the rest of our day in Moudros and see the video of the kittens at play.

Galazio Limani doesn't have a website but can be found at:
Moudros Harbour, Limnos
Phone: +30 225 407 1041
Rating: 8.5/10

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Boat trips around Limnos

Two very prominent figures in the Limnian community are boat trip operators Litsa and her husband George – well known not just for the business that they run, but for their flamboyant personalities and genuine hospitality. For 17 years these two have been taking tourists around the island on their traditional wooden Greek fishing boat "Anemos", and every time we are in Limnos we join them on at least three boat trips. This year it was four.

Known as a "kaiki" (pronounced "ky-i-ki") the art of creating these beautiful boats comes from the heart. They are built from pinewood, the frame constructed from curved carvel planking and finished with decking known as "katastroma". A prominent bow post makes the kaiki stand out from the rest of the Mediterranean working boats. Sometimes the wooden steering arm of the kaiki is carved in the face of an animal. Each kaiki is unique and built from memory, without any plans, simply relying on the boat builder's passion for the sea.

George and Litsa have four trips on offer: West coast cruise, South coast cruise, Sunset cruise and a day trip to the small neighbouring island, Agios Efstratios. We have done them all and we both agree the West coast cruise is the most picturesque and best value-for-money trip they offer. For 35 euros you are taken on a full-day trip along the west coast of the island. It includes a two-hour stop at a secluded beach that's only accessible by boat, an impressive buffet lunch, all the wine you can drink and lots of entertainment from Litsa and George.

George is loud, but Litsa is louder. Together they provide hilarious entertainment for the passengers on board. Litsa screams at George in Greek, telling him how to steer the boat, her voice echoing off all the cliff faces around us, and he would just roll his eyes and give us a look that we all know means "See this crazy woman I have to deal with??" Crazy as she is, Litsa keeps everyone very well entertained and informed – her knowledge of the island, its history and geography, is encyclopaedic.

Below: Tony with Litsa

Some of the most spectacular sites on these boat trips are the vertical cliffs where wild mountain goats cling to 180-degree cliff faces. I'm always fascinated by their skill and bravery to explore these treacherous parts of the island, and try not to think about them not being able to find their way back to higher ground. In her thick Greek accent, Litsa reassures us she sees the goats climbing up and down the cliff faces all the time, "These goats are acrobats!"

If you look closely in the picture below, right in the centre of the photo you will see a lone black goat. How did he get there? But more importantly, how will he get out of there!!

During the stop at the secluded beach George will sometimes go diving for sea urchins, and if you're lucky you might be treated to eating one of these slimy orange blobs, torn straight out of its gnarly body by the rather sadistic George. One time Tony was happy to indulge in this peculiar delicacy, being rather adventurous when it comes to eating strange foods. After swallowing what he described as a slippery bag of salt, he resolved there was no need to try one of those again.

Click here to see a video of our various boat trips, including Tony's wonderful sea urchin eating experience.

The trip to Agios Efstratios is more or less a commuting trip for the residents of the small island to come to Limnos for their weekly shopping needs. Agios Efstratios has only 300 inhabitants. It's a pleasant boat trip if you love the open sea, travelling around three hours each way. The island itself has a couple of tavernas in the port where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch for a few hours before the boat goes back to Limnos.

If you take the south coast tour, you visit the beautiful Thanos beach where the water is shallow and flat and there's music at the beach bars and lots of activity at the peak of the summer season.

The sunset cruise takes you half-way up the west coast, leaving Myrina port a couple of hours before sunset. The sunset viewing location is spectacular – on the horizon is Mount Athos on the Greek mainland and the second-highest mountain in Greece, and behind you is a vast expanse of mineral-rich cliff faces emitting a brilliant golden glow. What a beautiful way to end another wonderful day in Limnos.

Litza and George's boat trips come with the highest recommendations from Tony and I. They run boat trips almost every day of the week during the summer months. Call George on his mobile next time you're in Limnos to book one of these must-do boat trips.

Anemos boat trips, Limnos
Call George: 6945 132 163

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dogs of Limnos

The dogs of Limnos are going through a transitional phase at the moment. No longer do scruffy, short-dog-syndrome terrier types run rampant on the streets, nor do the quieter, lanky types roam the alleys looking for food scraps. The only dogs you see now are either found in the arms of excited young Greek girls, or languishing in the heat tied to ropes in people's yards.

Some people attribute the change in dog presence on the island to tolerance levels for strays reaching saturation point. Stories of theatrical proportions were being told by neighbours about stray dogs being shot, poisoned and drowned, even claiming some people's pets were being killed, mistaken for strays.

However, at least one lucky stray dog has escaped the apparent culling. A large, dishevelled dog, "Beach Dog" as we called him, had the most gentle nature and spent most of his time wandering around by himself on the sand, not bothering anyone. At lunchtime and in the evenings he would be found at the seaside tavernas making his best puppy dog eyes to sympathetic diners for his daily meals. He would patiently sit by your table just quietly wagging his tail, hoping for a few scraps. Even if cats were around he would politely keep out of their way.

Beach Dog's good nature is probably what spared him from a poisonous fate, and it's probably what guarantees him a good feed every day. Hopefully one day a caring local will take him in and give him a home.

Another dog we met in Limnos, Rocky, isn't a stray but he is in the unfortunate situation of being tied to a rope all day. He is the pet of George the motor scooter hirer. The day we picked up our bike we fell in love with young Rocky. He's only a year old and is very energetic and excitable and we couldn't help but question George about the way he was keeping him. Rocky has shade, water, food and a kennel, but he needs exercise and the opportunity to explore his environment, he needs to be walked and needs space to run! "It's ok it's ok!!" George exclaimed. "People take him walk every day!" You take him! Take him now!!! You go walk, he loves walk!!"

George's proposal was quite unexpected but we thought "why not" and started unravelling Rocky's rope that had been wound around the pole several times. The excitement and energy in this dog once he realised a walk was imminent was really quite extraordinary. He was like a mad animal jumping up and down yelping, completely untrained for walking and extremely out of control. But we were determined to give Rocky a lovely half hour away from his confines and out into the wild world of Limnos.

The first ten minutes were excruciatingly challenging, with Rocky dragging Tony with all his strength and just generally being a CRAZY dog, but the heat and sun quickly brought him to exhaustion and having run out of pee (he was marking his territory on EVERYTHING) he soon realised lifting his leg every 2 seconds was pointless also. He settled down and was happy to just trot alongside us and stop for a few sniffs every now and then.

We took Rocky for a few walks, one time joined by a young boy named Mihalis. We were walking down a quiet street and out came this boy from nowhere wanting to help walk the dog with us. Our attempts to tell him in Greek that he should go back home were falling on deaf ears as he insisted he holds Rocky's lead with Tony. "I do this before" he said in English. Perhaps he's another one of Rocky's regular dog walkers? We decided there would be no harm allowing him to join us (and it also reaffirmed a growing theory that Tony is actually the Pied Piper ... )

And one more island dog that deserves a mention is the Pharmacist's immortal chow chow. Now that is a lucky dog indeed. He would have to be a thousand years old. Even the first time we met him in 2009 he looked a thousand years old. He certainly looks like he's been through the wringer that dog. He has no teeth, black testicles and a black tongue, can hardly walk and spends most of the day lying on the road looking dead. The only thing that seems to move on him is his animatronic tail as Tony calls it, mechanically moving up and down like a robotic part.

The "Walrus" as we've affectionately named him lies on the road outside his owner's shop all day, waiting for him to finish work and take him home. On a motor scooter. It really is a sight to see, this walrus lifting its dense body up off the ground and using every last bit of energy and effort to haul itself onto the platform of the motor scooter at his owner's feet, and watch them ride away. Last year Tony and I spent literally hours outside the shop one night, painstakingly waiting for the Pharmacist to close the shop and take his dog home, just so I could capture it on video.

Click here to see the video of Pharmacist Man taking Chow Chow for a ride.