Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why it's fun to live in the "Old Europe"!

Karpathos is an island located between Rhodes and Crete. It's part of the Dodecanese islands. To get there, we took a chartered flight from Ljubljana (there are also flights from Athens). After slightly two hours we were on splendid sandy white beaches. One minute I was in Italy, then in Slovenia and then in Greece, in like 4 hours' time! Cool!

The island itself is just 49 km long and only 11 km wide with a population of about 6,500 people. Unlike Milos (home of the famous Venus which is found in the Louvre) which we had visited 2 years ago and which is much closer to Athens, Karpathos is rather void of (very) expensive yachts and boats and therefore the surrounding water is simply crystal clear and with practically no traces of boating pollution. In fact, the beaches themselves (with very few tourists in September) can be wonderfully silent as there are few boats which pass by (on one beach there were only five of us one day!). Those who come from Chicago will no doubt find themselves very much at home on Karpathos as it's an incredibly windy island (thus making those very hot days much more bearable).

We rented a scooter and covered some 450 km in just one week, exploring many of the magnificent and deserted beaches. Costs are still incredibly low in Greece. For example, two lawn chairs and a beach umbrella ran as low as just 5 euros and as “high” as a whopping 6 euros. A far cry from what they charge at Ostia! Sights to see include the secluded town of Olympos. To get there, you can either take a boat ride and dock at Diafani and take the 9 km bus ride to the town or you can do what we did and take the "Highway to Hell" road: a 18 km dirt road full of rocks and holes which winds all the way up to Olympos (hopefully, EU funding one day will help the islanders to pave that road thus increasing even further tourism to Olympos). If you're going to take that route, the best way is to rent one of the many small jeeps which are available. The ride is no doubt much more comfortable. The paved road back to the main town (Pigadia, where the main port is located) amongst the high cliffs is worthy of a high-speed chase scene from a Bond movie!

Many locals speak rather good English as many had gone to live in the Boston area and in Canada. Sensing that Karpathos is on the rise tourism-wise, after more than 30 years in North America many have moved back to their native island to open hotels and restaurants (we ate in one for as low as 24 euros). There’s a small airport which is slowly expanding. The one and only terminal for the time being has a luggage retrieval about the size of ones washroom and the duty-free shop is currently located in a container but the plane got us there and back safely and that’s what counts the most. The organization, a Slovenian-Greek cooperation, went off very smoothly. Our hotel, the Amoopi Bay, was exceptionally convenient as it was located right in front of some splendid beaches. There was also a pool-side bbq one evening and with 12 euros you could eat all you wanted to. The surrounding mountainous area is rather barren, almost lunar-looking actually, but nevertheless varied with the odd goat located here and there as you drive by on your scooter. Quite amazing to see just how far the Roman empire once stretched as there’s even an ancient Roman cistern located on the island.

Some of the old villagers also speak rather good Italian. From 1912 to 1944 the Italians had captured Karpathos from the Turks who had gained control of the island in 1830 under the Protocol of London. October 7th, 1944 is an important date as the islanders, tired of foreign occupation, took up arms in the town of Menetes on October 5th and after three days had liberated their island once and for all of Italian troops. Karpathos: no doubt worth a summer-time visit next year (all pics by M. Rimati).