Another year, another Greek island. If my maths is correct the 34th we've stayed on. There've been another dozen or so we've visited or been in transit on long enough to have a meal, some of those we've gone back to stay on.
We wondered if Sifnos would be too similar to Serifos where we stayed a couple of years ago but we needn't have worried. Each island has its own personality. Smooth journey via BA (no longer the nation's favourite airline but adequate) to Athens, then road to Piraeus and comfortable fast Speedline ferry.
Our studios were about 5 minutes outside the port village of Kamares. It was large, furnished in traditional style but with a modern compact shower room. We had a shady space outside for dining and a small pavilion opposite as well. No seaview as we were at the bottom of a sloping site but good view of the mountains. Resident cats weren't too much of a pest- but obviously not used to being shooed away and not pampered. More interesting were the three resident tortoises. We first saw the large one patrolling a stretch of path up and down. We nicknamed it Usain but after an encounter with one of the two smaller tortoises it was clearly FloJo, and the smaller ones Usain and Mo.
The beach at Ayia Marina was a blue flag beach, unusual in town beaches: long, clean , lined with dunes and tamarisk trees, some areas with serviced sunbeds and some left uncluttered. The beds we used were uncrowded and kept clean by a nice young man who fetched us coffees from the local beach bar which got us a discount on the beds. We found a couple of euro in the sand and Sheila gave them to him as one of the perks of his job- he was quite embarrassed and reluctant to accept them. On our beach days we tended to have lunch at that bar although I found overweight older men in budgie smuggler trunks coming in straight from the sea put me off my loukania and keftedes. The deck of the other bar which was a hangout for a younger crowd was often caught by the wash from the many ferries each day.
A phenomenon I observed: a largely empty cafe. One half of a couple comes off the beach and selects a table. The other half follows and after some discussion a completely different table is selected.
Back at the port there were lots of places to eat. We tried all of them that had more than just a traffic view. The exception was the Italian and the Pizzeria. We saved our pizza habit for when we got home too tired to cook. It was always interesting to watch the boats and fish on one side and the people and vehicles on the other, especially when a ferry came in. Despite restrictions on driving unless to the ferry there was the typical unhelpful parking which hindered the larger lorries. Local families still attempted to take their evening Volta and kids played on bikes and even a Segway, despite the heavy traffic from the ferries, passengers wheeling their luggage etc. There were quite a few sailing and motor yachts in and out of the bay, the beach was cordoned off by buoys and nets to keep them and jetskis etc away from the bathing areas which were quite shallow in any case. Unwary small vessels anchoring in the large ferry turning area or tying up at the ferry jetty would be warned off by the ferry hooter. A couple of times our peace was disturbed by a low flying sightseeing helicopter, probably from the only superyacht we saw. As a blue flag beach there was a lifeguard station, not always staffed. The one we saw was more like The Simpson's "Comic Book Guy" than the Hoff, dozing and smoking. The beach was shallow and gently shelving before you were out of your depth and even the surf caused by the ferry wash was no problem for bathers.
As you know, I'm very fond of Greek food and enjoy new dishes. Suffice it to say I only had souvlaki on our penultimate night and we only had one horiatiki and that had local myzithri cheese and not feta. The poshest restaurant had Smyrnian specialities, we went there twice. The first time I had their take on minty meatballs Smyrna style and a local lamb and aubergine dish "The Empress fainted" (makes a change from the Imam). They have us a leaving freebee of generous glass of Paros suma raki. The second time we went there we got watermelon, clearly didn't spend enough ( the suma was ?4 a glass on the menu). Other memorable dishes included a different take on my favourite lunch :yemista the stuffed pepper/tomato comb. In this case it was a stuffed red bell pepper and a stuffed onion, and the filling included capers and raisins. On the night we had fish I had some very nice roast veg with it. There were a range of local beers on off as well as the usual Mythos: Vergina, Fix ,Alpha and ESA.
There were also several very good cafe/ice cream parlour zachoroplaseio in the village for post dinner sweets and brandy. When S asked for Campari fisiko (with fresh orange) the boy apologised for the delay (about 5 minutes) while he dashed off on his bike to the minimarker for another bottle of Campari! On Sundays our landlady did a tureen of Sifnian chickpea soup at lunchtime free for her guests. Needless to say I'm now back on my diet.
Our studio was quite peaceful except for a neighbour's dog who barked or whined 24/7, the occasional bleat from a sheep, a nearby child's saxophone practice once a week and the inevitable Greek cockerels who have their own timetable. The worst noise came from what we gradually realised was a wedding party, very loud disco from the "other" beach bar. We had joked that it seemed the base for Club 25-26 as each ferry brought more people of that age-group most of whom seemed to know each other. On the Friday the music went on from lunchtime then stopped abruptly at 10.15, I assumed they then went to eat. We could hear it in our studio and in the port across the bay. The following day we saw them all going up to the church of Ayia Marina which was above the bay up a zigzag stepped path. It was timed so that photos outside the church caught the sunset. Afterwards more music, but again it did not go on late. Cheers and fireworks when the happy couple arrived at the bar, showers of tinsel streamers and confetti: we were picking it up out of the sea and sand for a couple of days later. Some little girls were collecting it, the rest of us just put it in the bins. It was good to see quite a lot of recycling going on, and not much litter. It has taken Greece a long time to embrace this concept.
Sifnos is well known for pottery: there were a coupld of working potters in the village and several shops. Most of their wares too big for suitcase travellers, though I expect they did well from the one small cruise ship which visited for 24 hours.
The ate also proud of their xerolithia: the tradition drystone construction used in houses, churches as wellas property and field boundaries and terraces. It must withstand earthquakes, most of the terraces were in better condition than on most islands. The local grey-brown stone splits easily like slate and is often supplemented by Parial marble from ruins. Stone also borders and surfaces the ancient monopati paved donkey tracks. We didn't spend all our time on the beach. We walked to the ends of the bay on both sides. One led to a ruined lookout tower , the path unhelpfully crossed twice by the water pipe to the village water treatment plant , (good to see one of these in each main village, unlike the unsavoury septic tanks we've seen on other islands) and the other to the church of Aya Anna. The island had many (some say 55) ancient defence watchtowers and lots of typical Cycladian dovecotes, some converted to dwellings, as well as the inevitable windmills.
We took the 'bus to the main town and did a walk for a couple of hours to an ancient acropolis and neighbouring church of Atya Andreas. Unfortunately, we hadn't looked closely at the contour lines. When we finally got to the path off the road we had another 800metres but up a paved stepped path UP to the site 400 metres above sea level. The walk book said 20 minutes. It took us 30 with several rests and water stops. We started on a cloudy day but it was full sun by then. It was a very interesting site, very well preserved walls. The irony we discovered that it was one of the three days a week the bus goes there! As it had not been full we caught it back to the village afterwards.
It was good to see most of the villages had a free carpark outside to discourage on street parking.The bus timetable took a bit of working out. It often appeared as it we had to change in the main town but usually they said "Stay on bus" and after a couple of minutes the same bus left on the other journey. Sometimes we paid the driver as we got off (VERY cheap) and sometimes there was a young conductress on. If the bus was full she had to squeeze past the standing passengers to collect the fares. I was glad I was standing (it is the closest I get to young women these days!). The main 'bus stop in Apollonia is 100m from a free car park and on an awkward corner so 2 motorcycles were always parked there. Passengers had to wait on the opposite pavement. There were times when the bus had to hoot to get badly parked cars to move out of the narrow streets. Sometimes once the schools had started the bus detoured to the school to pick up the kids. The driver always knew if one was late and shouted the name till they came running!
The second big walk we did was from the bus station down a monopati to the Kastro. I reassured S that it was downhill all the way (except for the last climb to the Kastro) and we did really well until we found a house had been built across the path and an impenetrable wall and fence erected. We could see where we wanted to be. After trying several dead ends I finally founf a loose fence we could squeeze through. Then we had to scramble down a dry river full of scratchy juniper (glad I'd worn long trousers). We were still one level from the other path we could see so had to climb up one of the drystone terrace walls (about 2 metres) and through au uncultivated terrace and a church yard to a monopati on the other side of the valley and then UP to Kastro. The map had shown the path ending in a track. As we passed where the track met the road we could see it was now the private drive to the new house.
The Kastro was interesting , the usual house piled on house, and some built over the streets. Ancient pillars a and Roman sarcophagi were incorporated into later buildings or used as water tanks. The original walls were still in good repair.
So, where to next year? I have my eye on an island absent from most of the guidebooks. Watch this space.