Tuesday 28 August 2018

Eating and drinking in Ikaria.

On the side of this main, pedestrianised road which cuts through the main square in St Kirikos,

is this cafeteria where we had pre-dinner ouzos for the first three days of our stay in Ikaria. We would arrive at around 7:00, when it was blissfully empty. By 9:00 there would be no table to be found. They make the most delicious pikilia (tapas) which unfortunately contributed to the weight we gained while we were on the island. Irresistible, though.

Even though we really liked it here, we abandoned this place after the third evening, as we fell in love with Therma.

Our view was this sculpture by Nikos Ikaris but in reverse: this photo was taken from the harbour, and beyond the sculpture you can see the shore and the place where we sat.

Klimataria, The Vine, is where we would go after the ouzos, but we also used this place for lunch quite a few times.

The tables are outside, on the pedestrianised street, wrapping around the block, so that the taverna forms three parts of a square.

It was fairly busy at lunchtimes and packed at night. A very popular venue.

Lovely atmosphere, the place was buzzing, and you felt that this is where it was at. The staff are extremely friendly and delightful, the food so-so. But, we liked coming here.

This is Kritikos on the beach in Therma, situated on the sand. We ate here twice, once for lunch, and once in the evening.

You can see my beach towel on my seat, used to protect the chair from my wet bikini. This is what I love about having lunch in Greece on the islands - it is totally accepted to move from swimming to eating, without having to change.

Kritikos is no.1 on TripAdvisor.  The food is new Greek cuisine, and it's very good. We developed a strong dislike to this place however and never went back after the second time, mainly because of the attitude of the staff. They've over-friendly, the kind of friendliness that you know is totally insincere. 'How are you today?' would the waiter ask. 'Very well, thank you', would be our answer. 'You have no idea how happy this makes me, you have made my day', would be the answer. Really? This would have been a minor irritation had Ken not gone into the taverna to enter his pin on the card, where all the staff were assembled making fun of the customers in roars of laughter. Not nice. The other thing about Kritikos is that the locals and Greeks in general do not use it - it's only foreign tourists, which is always an indicator.

Instead, we started going to Paralia, on the other side of the bay, where the friendliness of the staff felt genuine without being overbearing, and where the food was exceptionally good. Traditional Greek cooking which was so delicious that I wanted to sample everything on the menu while at the same time wanting to have what we'd had the previous day, as it was so good. Their fried courgettes were the best I've ever had, as was the tzatziki. I also had the best keftedakia (small fried meatballs) I've had for a very long time. We pre-ordered lobster for our last night: we were told that having it would depend on whether the local fisherpeople would be able to catch any, and they did. It was a good meal to end our stay.

Next door to Paralia was the cafeneion where we had our pre-dinner ouzos. Friendly staff, good ouzo, and lovely views

that changed as the light changed.

Saturday 25 August 2018

Therma, Ikaria

A five-minute ride on this boat took us to Therma. When the boat wasn't running, we took the bus. Due to the extremely relaxed lifestyle of the Ikarians, sometimes the bus would not run either - or it would depart early, like the time when after my jacuzzi at the spa I run to get the bus, only to discover that it had departed 20 minutes early - we then would take a taxi.

Therma is 2 km from St Kirikos, a small village that takes its name from the hot springs that are to be found here.

The source of the spring is in this cave in the sea on the left of this photograph, and the spa is the building on the right of the cave. This is the spa I used

even though there are two more in the village, such as the Apollonion, above.

This quay is situated in the middle of the beach

It's a good beach, and we swam here most days. Unfortunately, there is little shade, and we struggled some days, but we could not complain - organised beaches are a sign of tourism, and we welcomed the fact that Ikaria is still undiscovered and unspoiled. An acquaintance who comes from Ikaria said to me: 'If you go to Ikaria and you don't like it after the first two days, get on the boat, go back to Athens and don't come back. If you are after an experience like Mykonos or Santorini, Ikaria is not the place for you. If, on the other hand, you like Ikaria, you will be coming back, year after year, as what it has to offer is unique'. We are definitely in the second category as we've been enchanted by this island.

We swam for hours every day. What made the swimming particularly delightful for me were these rocks on the edge of the land. Swimming around rocks is one of my favourite things in the whole world.

So, I would swim around this rock and then the next one, and the next one, and then there's a little rocky bay,  and then another rock in the middle of the sea, and I would be in ecstasy.

We would then swim across the bay

in order to reach the cave. As you near the cave, the sea water starts getting very warm as the spring water mixes with the water of the sea. I cannot describe my surprise and delight the first time I experienced that.

Inside the cave some rocks have been strategically placed

to form a small pool so that people who want the water even hotter and less diluted, can sit there and feel the benefits of the hot spring. This is what we would do at the end of our main, long swim. The water is very hot and extremely pleasant. Right at the source of the spring it's scorchingly hot - this is where Ken would sit provided there was room for him to move around a bit, otherwise he felt he would burn. It was bliss. 

Ikaria is full of these hot springs. Therma is one of the main ones. People call these springs radioactive, as the main elements are saline radium and radonium, elements that are very beneficial in small doses, particularly for musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis but also for dermatological and gynaecological conditions and problems with the respiratory system. People who suffer from heart conditions or who've had a stroke recently, are advised not to use them. These springs have been used by people since Antiquity.

Sitting in the cave gave one a diluted form of these beneficial waters, but I also wanted to try the effects in a more controlled environment

so I had a few sessions at the Spilaion spa.

I chose to have a jacuzzi in this pool. 20 minutes is the prescribed time, and this is what I did. Sometimes I was on my own

sometimes there were more people there, like these three women who were also staying at our hotel. The one who is waving for the camera comes here every year as she finds the beneficial effects enormous - she says the benefits last all year. This was the story I heard over and over. I met a young woman who is also called Eirene and who also went to Essex University as we did. She too comes here every year, stays for 20 days and was full of praise for the beneficial effects of these waters.

The cave and spa at night.

After our first three full days we started coming to Therma in the evenings too, as we really liked the place.

We would have pre-dinner ouzos here, in this cafeneion, with good views of the sea

watch the night-swimmers, and the changing colours of the beach and sky. Dinner would be next door, where the food was delicious.

These structures are used everywhere in Ikaria to create harbours. As Ken said, they are reminiscent of Sarah Lucas' Nuds, her abstract forms created by using stuffed tan nylon tights.

We were also able to visit the makers' fair one evening

where jewellery, home-made cosmetics, cheeses and wine were being sold.

Tuesday 21 August 2018

On the way to Therma, Ikaria

Even though we stayed in St Kirikos in Ikaria, we spent most of our time in Therma which is 2 km away. That meant commuting four times a day, to swim during the day, then back to our hotel for a siesta, and then back to Therma for pre-dinner ouzos and then an evening meal. Our preferred form of transport was this little boat, but when it did not run (see here for the unreliability of transport in Ikaria due to the inhabitants' laid-back lifestyle) we would take the bus. When the bus did not run, for the same reasons as above, then we would ring for a taxi.

The boat ride was very short and extremely pleasant.

The skipper, helped by his son and grandson, is Mr Yannis. He has been doing this job for 50 years and is thinking of retiring next year. I enjoyed my chats with him but what has really stayed with me was the day when he said to me: 'My son, my grandson and I have been shipwrecked'. Expecting to hear stories of wild seas, wrecked boats and struggles for survival, I asked him for details. 'All three of us have lost our wives', he said. I thought it was the most poignant description of widowhood. 

Churches in the middle of nowhere are very common in Greece.

Unlike large parts of Ikaria, the area around St Kirikos is quite barren.

The boat ride would last a little more than 5 minutes (one euro charge) and we would soon see Therma in the distance.

A small bay, a sandy beach, a small settlement,

and most importantly, the hot springs that Ikaria is famous for: on the left hand corner of the photograph you can see the cave where the spring originates, and the building which is the spa.

We liked the beach here, but more about this in another post.

We would get off the boat, the people waiting would get on, and the boat would be off again, back to St Kirikos.