Last I posted, we were leaving Athens for the Cyclades island of Sifnos. Thus ends the reverential, historical meditation on Greece. Welcome to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
Doug, Benjamin and I barely make it back to the hotel from a barely-eaten meal at a touristy taverna and we meet up with my sister and her family. We jump in cabs already waiting, our bags in the trunk. Hope we got them all! My cab gets to the port of Piraeus first but we don't have the dock number we're going to be boarding on... whoops. Luckily Debbie & Justin's cab pulls up and so we follow thems with the tickets. Very exciting, getting on the giant hydrofoil, stowing our own bags (all accounted for) in the hold and finding our seats. We get a table! And, after all the rushing, we wait... an hour until we leave port. The tourists have all gotten there dutifully at the recommended time. The locals stroll in en masse twenty minutes before departure. Ah.
Interesting, how we pass the two hours and forty-five minutes of ferry sailing. The Greeks are talking, eating and laughing all around us. Meanwhile, our kids are watching a DVD on the portable player. Justin is reading his Kindle. I'm on my ipod playing bridge, and Doug's working on his laptop. Hmmm.. What's wrong with this picture? Not a damn thing! We need decompression time!
After a very smooth trip, we climb down to the hold to grab our bags and stand amongst the crowd waiting to disembark. Ahead of us, the island bobs in view— green lush mountains, white square buildings, blue shutters… we’re here. Where is the chorus singing ABBA songs? We shuffle out slowly, motorbikes behind and alongside nudging us along like sheep dogs, we hit the dock, where an official is ordering the pedestrians: “Thexia! Thexia!” I’m excited because I know what he’s saying: “To the right! To the right!” Pimsleur Greek 1 is coming in handy already.
We’re at the port of Kamares, which is on the west side of the island. Our hotel is in Platys Gialos, which is on the southern end. We assume we’ll just hop into taxis and be on our way. Only… this is a small island, not a metropolitan city. Five taxis are waiting at the dock, and five groups, who have called ahead, get into them. Uh…Debbie and I wander along the small dock area, hoping to see more cabs. Nothing. All the cars have disgorged from the ferries. Everyone is off. Will more taxis be coming? I ask the woman heading a snack shop and she says, in very halting Aglica, that you must call taxi.
The problem is, of course, that we a) have no taxi phone numbers; and b) we have no phone. We find taxi numbers on a wall, and fortune smiles when we find a phone card already in a cartetelifono. Only… there are no taxis available, or at least as far as I can tell because no one speaks Aglica. I get the idea to call the hotel and ask them to call a cab for us, which is brilliant except… there are still no taxis available. When the ferry comes, the woman at the hotel explains, all the taxis are busy. She can get one in an hour. By now it’s about 7:30. I ask if we should have dinner first and then get a taxi and she says, yes, yes, better you have dinner, then call us, we get taxi. I leave the phone card in the phone to continue the karma, buy my own, and we set off, towing bags and small children, to find the main square of town.
Ah, there it is. The main square in most towns in Sifnos is approximately two blocks long. We find succor in the form of a rare non-Greek restaurant, an Italian estiatoria with a very funny proprietress. Doug can use his Italian. We sit at a table alongside the road, suitcases forming a bulwark, and enjoy a delicious and leisurely meal. Sated, we ask the hostess to call a cab. No problem, except… another ferry has arrived. It will be about an hour.
Mamma Mia, here I go again…
We make a lamb Athena during dinner...
We are getting a little anxious. If this were “The Amazing Race” there’d put our panicked faces into slo-mo, then cut to commercial. Our kids have been relatively good but we’re reaching the end of all reasonable expectations. I call the hotel again, to see if they can do anything. Debbie wanders the street. We think of renting a car, but, of course, there are no more cars available. Finally, the man at the rental car place tells us he will get us a cab. 20 minutes. Will there be two cabs, for the six of us and our luggage? No problem, they will “make it work.”
20 minutes later a battered Mercedes sedan, circa 1980, wheezes along the cobbled streets. Our driver miraculously packs all six pieces of luggage, plus assorted carry-ons, into the trunk, holding it all together with a bungee cord. We manage to cram the six of us into the car. It wasn’t, perhaps, the safest way to travel, but at that point if our driver had shown up in a tricycle we’d have made it work.
Can one be in such beauty and still stressed? We test the possibilities.
Off we go into the night, up and down hills, through narrow streets and around hairpin turns. The moon is huge and full. Finally, we pull into the driveway of the rustic, serene Hotel Platys Gialos. All worries fall away; it seems that we’ve arrived at Paradise. It’s right by the water, which glitters in the moonlight. Our rooms are each about fifteen steps away from the bay. Bougainvillea trees and pink oleander rustle in the breeze near the pineapple palms. We each have a small courtyard of our own. Our lovely hostess Vigea greets us and hands us our keys. We’ve made it.
Of course, there are some minor troubles in Paradise, most of them focused on the bathroom. For some reason, there is a small clear window that opens in our bathroom into some kind of dusty back hallway. What’s it there for? It reminds me of the ancient Greek innkeeper that Theseus killed, the one who would creep out of a hidden door near the guest’s bed and bludgeon him as he slept. I cover the window with a hand towel and hope for the best.
There’s also a somewhat more earthy concern. Like most toilets on the island, there is a “no tissue paper in the toilet” edict. You’re supposed to dispose of your used paper in the small covered bin next to the toilet. Now, this is perhaps not so big a deal to women, who (do I have this right?) have to do something of this sort already. For me? I’m horrified. Doug almost jumped back into the Mercedes. “Did someone okay this?” he demands. He gives serious consideration to not going potty for the five days we are here.
But our surroundings are too beautiful, it’s too magical a place for such scatological worries. Go with the flow, the waves lapping at our doorstep gently suggests. Relax, encourages the susurrus of insects. Settle into the Island Pace. Benj falls asleep almost immediately, and we follow suit. Periodically, the toilets let forth a grinding, creaking noise that sounds like Medusa’s scaly slithering in “Clash of the Titans.”
It's a lullaby.