Friday, 18 January 2013

Further (long overdue) Update

Of course EasyCruise no longer run at all. I guess the new cruise itinerary killed it off rather than saved it as a business.
Hopefully the information here may still be of use to anyone visiting these islands via other means though.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Update - 14th February 2009

Well, after all that I said in the text below about not going again, we already booked for next year, albeit in a compact cabin on a 2 for 1 deal which gives 14 nights of cruising for about £1000 for the both of us. More than last time, but with the offer I still think it's a good deal. So look out in Late September for further updates to this site....
(update 4/4/09)
...and now I'm no longer going on easycruise again...

Please, if you are reading this blog, be aware that EasyCruise have completely re-vamped their cruising concept as of the end of March 2009. The cruises we had booked for this coming September that were to have followed a similar format to that described in this blog, have been cancelled, to be replaced by shorter 4 and 3 day cruises that visit a couple of destinations each day for a few hours, and spend much more time "at sea" on the boat. Apparantly the original cruises were not selling too well and this is the company's attempt to attract the more traditional cruising set. I am doubtful they will succeed as I think it's the facilities and luxury of the bigger cruise ships that attract the customers, rather than the high prices and crap intineraries which are the features EasyCruise seem to have copied. Easycruise Life simply does not have the facilities to support spending any length of time aboard ship.

Needless to say, although offered an alternative cruise for the dates we had originally booked, we have instead chosen to cancel for a refund.

So please bear in mind if you are reading on, that the cruise as described on this site no longer exists in this form.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Introduction

This September (2008), my wife and I took a 2 week holiday to Greece and her islands. The second week of that holiday was centred in a hotel in Tolon on the mainland in the Peloponnese (for which my musings can be found at greedygreen-tolon.blogspot.com when I get around to publishing that one) but the first week was spent on a trip from Athens to Bodrum in Turkey and back visiting the five Greek islands of Kalymnos, Kos, Paros, Mykonos and Syros on the way. We had chosen EasyCruise to do this and at the time of booking was pretty much a bargain getting a 7 night cruise in a "superior double" cabin (i.e. it contained a sofa in addition to the bed, and you get a bit more room to move about, but hardly a "suite" as the lady checking us in was firm to call it) all for £342 for both of us. Before you think this too amazing, bear in mind this is the cruise accommodation (including port taxes etc) only and does not include flights transfers, and food or drink on board, or any excursions etc. Even so I still think the price remarkably good.Now, as I write this introduction, we are at our first port of call out from Athens, Kalymnos. Already I can say that it's been money well spent, but before I get anyone's hopes up, please bear in mind that prices for this cruise have rocketed since we booked and the same week next year is currently on sale for the rather heaftier price of £1,165! And although you now have no choice but to go Half board, this price also includes and early booking 30% discount. So unless the following observations in this blog have you yearning with desire to do exactly the trip as described, I can sadly no longer recommend the trip unless Stelios has a serious rethink on his pricing structure.The major plus point of the cruise is that unlike most other big cruise lines, the EasyCruise itinerary aims to get into port late morning to lunchtime, but not leave again until the early hours of the following morning, so rather than sailing away from each island at tea time you have the evenings to enjoy there too, which to be frank is normally when the Greek culture wakes up. Of course the new regime which forces you to take half board somewhat detracts from this as evening meals in the vast variety of local tavernas that you would come across on this trip is one of the selling points for me.Anyway to complete the introductory blurb, we flew from Teesside Airport (or Durham Tees Valley, if you really must use the crap new name) with KLM on a 06:00 flight with an hour switch over at Schipol, Amsterdam to the Athens flight which landed at about 13:30 local time. We then made out way via the Athens Metro to Piraeus where we stayed for one night before going to board the ship on the Saturday afternoon a little after 1pm. We had decided to fly out the day before for safety in case flights or baggage got delayed at all, as the following day, times would have been a bit tight. A good decision really as we watched passengers getting on the boat at Kalymnos having missed the sailing from Athens due to flight delays from Manchester, and had had to fly on to catch the boat up.So, if I haven't bored you already dear reader, please continue with the further adventures of a would-be middle-aged beach-bum, trogging round the Aegean for a week...

Piraeus Dream Hotel

After a bit or searching about the internet we picked the Piraeus Dream Hotel (web:http://www.piraeusdream.gr/ email:info@piraeusdream.gr) for our one night in Piraeus, and immediately afterwards having mentioned this to a friend of mine who lives out in Athens that I was hoping to meet up with, was told that he always thought that it was one of those hotels that businessmen take their mistresses to in the afternoon and were we paying by the hour? However, apart from what my wife considered to be kinky lighting in reception ( I could quite see why myself) and a possibly described as romantic pinky-crimson wall colouring in the corridor with the condom/toothbrush vending machine on the wall, I couldn't find any other evidence to support this.
The lady in reception was very helpful, and sorted us out with a room change when we (rather un-romantically) didn't want the double we were first given and opted for a twin instead. Not that there was anything wrong with the double, other than we turn into Sybil and Basil Fawlty when on holiday and like our own space for sleeping.Anyway the room was clean enough and the air-con efficient enough to leave me with absolutely no complaints about the place. It's a little small if you were for some obscure reason planning to spend a full holiday in Piraeus, but as an overnight on your way somewhere, it was absolutely fine. There was tea/coffee in the room and for those that like to know such things six hangers in the wardrobe. The beds were comfy enough and you got a couple of pillows each already in the room (the seconds being in the wardrobe initially). There was also a bit of a minibar in the room from which we had a couple of (330ml) cans of beer at 2.5 euros each.
The lifts are those you need to pull the door open when it arrives - I tell you this only having watched someone else stand for a while waiting for it to slide open for a while after it had arrived. And they are fairly cosy. Two of you can get in with luggage but you need to push right in as the inner doors "fold" closed so need a little extra room in front of you once you're in.
Breakfast was up on the 4th floor in a nice light airy room, and was again fine for a short stay. The full-English was in reality scrambled eggs (done very nicely I must say), bacon and little mini frankfurter style sausages. Please don't expect mushrooms, grilled tomatoes etc. There was also some cheese and meats, bread, cereal (fake corn flakes or coco-pops) and coffee and orange juice. There was also I think some croissants and some flaky pastries items which I didn't go for so can't attest to.
There's a little seating area in reception with about six or so little 2 seat sofa with brown throws over them. Not inspiring to look at but were comfy enough while we were waiting for our room change or when I quit the room to go and have a ciggie. From eavesdropping on other patrons, reception staff seemed fairly helpful about sorting you out with wherever you were off to in the morning, given out info on ferries and gate numbers and cruising times to the islands ("You want to go to Santorini? Well there's a slow boat and a fast one. The slow boat will take 5 or 6.....years") and I even heard that if you were off early you could arrange a take away breakfast with then if you were going to miss breakfast at the hotel.
All in all, for 60 euros for two including breakfast, I'd be happy recommending this place and would certainly use it again. Sadly, clutz that I am, I managed to delete all the photos I took of the room.

Kalymnos

Kalymnos is the first stop on the cruise, and the ship docked at about 11.00am having steamed though the night across the Aegean. The dock is right on the edge of the town centre of Pothia, the island's capital, so the bars and tavernas start virtually from the end of the dock jetty.
The town centre along the harbour is a busy street made noisier still by the hoards of youths on motorbikes that just seem to ride up and down for something to do. That said the atmosphere round the harbour is not completely spoilt by this and you can enjoy a nice drink of meal here with a view across the gulets to EasyCruise on the jetty.
As our Lonely Planet guide book mentioned, Kalymnos was an island built on a sponge diving economy, but this has all but died off with the remnants now consisting of the odd sponge shop (masquerading as a museum) on the front. Now the island is trying to build up it's tourist industry and so caters well, especially for the day tripper, although I couldn't imagine spending a week or two there.
There is a town beach to the left as you walk off the jetty, and another small stony, but quieter beach a short walk further on just round the headland, but neither are wonderful. However there seem to be regular buses out from town to other places on the island with what I assume are better beaches, but we didn't venture out to find them. If, as we did, you head for the smaller stony beach (called Therma if I recall correctly) then I recommend taking water with you as our time there was cut short by thirst due to the bar being either shut down or closed on a Sunday when EasyCruise visits..
For lunch we choose “O Barba Stoukas” which is along the front but out beyond where the main road heads out of town an a few hundred yards further. Excellent food though, especially the Pastitsio (macaroni and mince, baked in a large tin and flavoured with cinnamon) which was a special for the day.
At dinner time we followed the guidebook's advice and headed for "Xefteris" which truly excelled. It's down a side road that continues on along the line of the row of harbour front bars and tavernas - as you cross the main road out of town, instead of bearing right to continue along the front, just carry straight on and very soon on the left you can see an alleyway leading into the taverna courtyard. You don't get the views across the harbour, but this is one of those rare greek tavern'a that still maintain the old habits of inviting you into the kitchen to see all the food in the pots and ovens. Having seen this I was wanting some of everything as it all looked so good. However we made our choices and delicious it was. I have to mention the "Revithia Fournos" or chickpeas baked in the oven. It's the first time I've had this dish, and I was completely sold on it.
We stopped at the "Coffee Bar Sirocco" on our way back to the ship run by a very friendly guy who looked a bit like Ed Harris, which is easy to spot for it's very nautical theme with a mast and boat bow forming the entrance. A very pleasant few ouzos flowed with "Ed" constantly bringing out dish after dish of nibbles to go with our drinks (pickled cucumber & olives, monkey nuts, lentil puree with onions & olive oil, and finally watermelon.
Kalymnos was a really nice relaxed start to the cruise.

Bodrum

Second day we sailed into Bodrum in Turkey and docked at about 10:00am. We’d chosen to go on the arranged tour of the castle and the afternoon gullet cruise so we assembled at 10:30 and filed of the jetty, through the customs terminal (empty as it was – you don’t need passports or visas etc as a day cruiser) and onto a little fleet of small buses, sorted by those with either Greek or English speaking guides. Although you can see the castle close by from the ship, it’s on the other side of the harbour so the transport is necessary even though you could do without the wait as they finish getting everyone on board with little of no air-con running. However that’s a small gripe indeed. A quick trip round to the main harbour front takes about 15 mins with the heavy traffic in Bodrum centre (it’s about a kilometre walk along the front to the town centre from the boat or there’s a stand of taxis waiting to take you for 6 euros too) and we all get off and walk along the harbour front past the gullets lined up to the castle entrance.
Now the castle is most impressive and I believe it’s another of those “Castles of the Knights of St. John” that seem to dot many places in this neck of the woods, but more about the history of the place I’m afraid I can’t tell you, for although the guide was a very nice man (he could be in the AA) his voice was quite quiet, he didn’t bother to wait for everyone to arrive before delivering his talks whenever he stopped, and his English was a tad pigeon (although it’s hard to complain given my grasp on any other language). Still I got the gist that several people had occupied it from time to time, bits of it are built from the original stones from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (one of those seven wonders of the ancient world – even if it is the one most people have never heard of), and there were definitely crusaders there at some point. There are enough towers, fortifications, a mosque minaret, steps and walls to keep even the most avid knight happy miles from his round table, and I really enjoyed looking round the place even after I’d given up trying to listen to the guide. However in addition to the castle itself there’s also a few little treasures inside for those who want more than rocks piled up in a fortification style, as this is the place where a lot of the undersea archaeology is displayed. One room contains lots of glassware tastefully lit recovered from beneath the waves, another contains a mock up of a section of ancient galley showing how the many amphora that are also on display in the castle grounds would have been stored and transported originally, and a third shows the remains of a bronze age (that’s about 1500BC to the layman – or very old indeed t you and me) ship and cargo of metal ingots and amphora. Even if you can’t make out much of the ship itself (another mock up on the wall above the wreck gives you an idea of what it would have looked like) it’s interesting purely from the perspective that this is the oldest wreck ever found to date anywhere.
There is also in what is called the English Tower a variety of interesting objects from lion heads and model ships, to old armour and pirate flags which is worth a little look too. By the time you get to the Snake tower (so called for the snake carving on the wall) which contains more amphora, you will have to make your own mind up as I was too amphoraed out to even stick my head through the door.
In the entrance courtyard to the castle is a little snack bar and souvenir shop, but the guide barely gives you time to go to the loo and grab a take away bottle of water, so unless you are doing the castle by your self, don’t settle yourself down with a Tom Collins to sip.
On from the Castle we got back on the bus and headed for the jewellery shop. Interesting this tour didn’t even try to dress it up as anything other than the “here’s where we do our best to sell expensive stuff to the captive audience of tourists” bit of the tour. The jewellery was lovely I’m sure and if you want to shop for gold I’m sure you could haggle a good price if you try hard enough, but the army of salesmen that hover over you whenever you catch eye contact with 14 carat ring, is irritating enough to me that I was hunting for the exit sign a few nanoseconds after entering. Of course the exit is in the far corner of the shop (I imagine they might actually lock the entrance doors behind you once you’re in) and it routes through the attached souvenir shop to give them a last chance at trying to get cash from the cheapskates on the tour that can’t afford gold.
The worst point about this stop was that not only was it in the middle of nowhere as they normally are to stop you wandering off, but once you left and were waiting for the others to finish inside there was absolutely nowhere to sit down or get some shade. Luckily the sun was at an angle that the wall of the building afforded some shade, but the wait was just very uncomfortable.
Finally back on the bus and we head back to the harbour front via a short stop at a panoramic view point next to the windmills on the hill for people to take photos, and we waved goodbye to our shoes as we boarded our gullets. I’m not quite sure why we couldn’t have shoes on the boats but it was no big deal apart for a few bear-sole-burning moments on the dockside until you were on board.
The boat then takes you out to a nice calm bay where the water is clear for a swim. As you have a first dip, lunch is prepared (long awaited it has to be said if you didn't have breakfast on board as it's now getting on for 3pm) which consists of some breaded chicken on sticks, pasta in a tomato sauce, boiled potatoes with rosemary(?) and some salad. Drinks are available to buy on board and our bill for 2 cans beers & 2 ice teas was 8 euros.
Another swim after lunch and you then move on to another spot and are encouraged to indulge in a third dip before the gulet finally sails on to the dock side next to EasyCruise.
To get back to the ship you pass through the customs block where theres a security check of your hand luggage where they ask to see your key card.
The excursion is, I think one of the better value ones at 40 euros per person for pretty much the whole day. The castle and the gulet trip are really worth while, whereas the jewelery shop is just to be endured.
What can I say about the rest of Bodrum? Well not much to be honest. We took a taxi back into town and after a bit of a wander round the shopping streets stopped for what would have been a very pleasant meal folled by some hubbly-bubbly pipe smoking on the beach front, had it not been for the fact we were completely ripped off when the bill came. So as warning, always check the price of anything before ordering, and make sure you are very clear about what you have ordered before the friendly waiter leaves your table. At this restaurant (called 'Hey Yavrum Hey' so you know to avoid it) the starters came on a very large tray where you just picked off the dishes you want without any menu showing you there price, we ordered a bottle of wine and recieved one cloudy with sediment and were charged 35 euros for it as they claimed they only serve fine wine. We ended up paying 117 euros for the meal and pipe which frankly ruined what would otherwise have been a pleasant evening.
Sadly just like several other people's comments I overheard on board, we were glad to be leaving Turkey behind and sailing back to Greece in the morning.
If you are into the Bodrum night life & clubs, then the ship's schedule is generous in giving you until 7:30 in the morning before you have to be back on board.
For me however, I was happy to sleep those early hours away and wake up in Kos.

Kos

At about 10am we docked in Kos as it's only a short hop across the water from Bodrum, and the jetty is right next to the castle in Kos town, so it's a short stroll along the side of the castle wall and your in town which is bustling with tourists. We'd been to Kos before for a few weeks and so we had a fairly lazy day, but if it's your first time don't miss a look around the castle especially as it's so close.
The town is not particularly pretty in as you approach from the sea in the way that the harbour of Hydra or the cliffs of Santorini are, but once in the town it's a lovely maze of shopping streets and bars and tavernas that are mixed in among the bits of ancient ruins of the agora and a theatre and hug around the castle, which I think gives Kos town it's own unique charm. Yes it's a tourist place, but the reason why many tourist places have grown up is because they occupy some beautiful area and I think Kos town is one of those. There are plenty of places to eat and drink to choose from but for location some of my favourite are along a quiet road that runs along the side of the agora with are the bars/tavernas on one side and a view of the ruins on the other. The road is closed to traffic (apart from the obligatory motorbike - but there's nowhere near the volume of motorbike traffic as Kalymnos suffers) so it's a lovely relaxing area of town. We stopped off for lunch here at the "Snack Bar Holland" which rather obviously caters for the Dutch visitor missing their krokets and bitterbalen. It's run by a friendly Dutch lady and the Hawai Burger was delicious if messy with all the sauces dripping down my fingers as it was wolfed down.
The main square is a busy place with bars surrounding it where we stopped to people watch with a coffee and toastie in the morning. In the middle is an old mosque which has now been converted with souvenir shops built into it. I wondered if Mohamed might on his return borrow a line off Jesus regarding the house of Allah being turned into a den of thieves.
There's also a little indoor market just on the square where the wonderful smells of all the herbs and spices on sale fills the air.
For most of the afternoon we spent lounging at the "Tarzan Bar" on the main beach. You need to walk to the right all the way round the almost circular harbour from the castle jetty to get to the beach but it's really not far. The bar is a strange mix in it's themes, being named Tarzan, with a cactus on the sign, a predominant orange colour, and decorated with surf boards. However, a pleasant afternoon was whiled away here drinking ouzo and listening to the mix of dance music being pumped out towards the beach.
For the evening we returned to an Italian restaurant that we had visited on our previous holiday in Kos where we remembered having had wonderful crepes. The restaurant is called "Otto e Mezzo" (tel: 22420 20069) and is on Apellou Street one of the main narrow shopping streets.
I have a soft spot for Kos Town as it's different round each corner and there's a lot in a small area to keep you interested. We left walking past the floodlit castle, after a few cocktails at the Limani bar, a small friendly spot with brick benches outside covered in rugs and cushions to sit on. It's set back from the harbour front but still with a view over a small square to the ships. In the square we were treated to an impromptu fire juggling show to round off a very happy day in Kos Town.

Paros

In Paros the ship docks as close to the centre of town as you could wish for. At the end of the jetty is the windmill roundabout which is the central point of the roads running through town. From here it's the briefest of walks to the church of a hundred doorways which is probably the main 'thing to go see' In town. There is also an ancient graveyard with roman sarcophagi a short walk left off the jetty and the remain of a Frankish fortress to the right and up some steps where the signpost points, but the grave yard is only worth a cursory look unless you are seriously into Roman archaeology, and the fortress is now just a few walls upon which the more modern town has been built, only interesting to see the ancient temple column sections that the franks obviously thought looked better as part of their wall than as part of a temple.
The church, however is well worth a look being a wonderful example of old orthodox splendour with the use of much gold and icons. To the right of the church entrance in the courtyard some steps lead up to a balcony that runs round the inside of the church which gives some much better views into some of the chapels that are 'no go' areas on the ground floor. Also in the courtyard is a small Byzantine museum for the zealot iconophile. I didn't bother with it myself being not that fond of icon painting, but it may be more to your tastes.
Having, done our church site seeing we stopped off at the Argonauta Hotel Taverna (email:www.argonauta.gr) for a spot of lunch where they do a very nice starter variety plate for two containing a melitzanosalata (sort of aubergine dip) to die for.
The streets of the town surrounding the old Frankish fort are typical Cycladian architecture with lots of narrow twisting whitewashed alleys and streets made famous in places such as Mykanos town and it’s a delightful place to wander around. We ambled through this area and eventually can back out on the front by the beach, which wasn't a place I'd recommend as I like my comforts of sun bed etc. This beach just seemed a little desolate to me especially with the strong wind blowing the large quantity of sun dried seaweed across you together with the sand. There are a few parasols there for shade, but having stretched our towels out it didn't take much of the sand and seaweed windblast scrub before we felt suitably exfoliated enough to give up in search of a bar.
This sanctuary took the name of "Pebbles" and there's a cut through just to the left of the restaurant part on the front that takes you up to a small bar area on top with a view out to sea. It's not the cheapest place in the world but settling down with a mug of fruit tea (ask to see the box of teas if you like such things as the menu of teas is a work of fiction as the English waiter explained to us) and another of coffee, we watched the sun glisten on the water and huddled closer into the ever decreasing spot of shade in the corner of the bar.
After a change back on the ship, we headed back out down the niggly-naggly alleyways in search of a place for dinner. However each one that looked OK, seemed to have a hefty price tag, especially the one with a picture of Sean Connery with the owner taking pride of place at the doorway (the one time presence of someone famous always being a good reason to add a few euros to your prices).And so we ended up going to the left of the jetty to find some of the places the Greeks eat at, and ended up at a fish restaurant called "Trata" where it seemed like there was one Greek lady rushed off her feet. However, we did eventually get served, and the food was delicious, most especially the chickpea starter (very different to the one in Kalymnos but just as good) and the incredible sweet which has no name as it's the owner's own invention. A much more reasonable bill was presented here than the more touristy part of town and I think we;d eaten just as well if not better.

Mykonos

At Mykonos we had opted for the excursion to neighbouring Delos for guided tour of the ruins there. From reading forums and other internet reviews of the cruise we had the impression that it would be very tight trying to get to Delos under your own steam as the last boat to Delos is only just caught by the EasyCruise tour. However on our trip the ship docked by 10:00am and the shuttle bus started at ten past, which cost 8 euros per person for unlimited use between the ship at Mykonos Town a good 2 km from the new port where the ship docks. As the tour only sets off at 10:30am from the ship, I think there would have been ample time for someone to nip down earlier on the shuttle and get a ticket for the Delos boat at 11:00am. Having said that there’s not a huge mark-up on the tour price so I was quite happy to have it all organised for me.
I say that the Shuttle bus takes you to Mykonos town, but it actually drops you at the old port so there’s about 400m into the town itself. We had about a 10 minute walk around the harbour front to the Delos ferry (giving us tie to nip into a shop for a couple of vanilla croissants for breakfast) which we boarded for a half hour crossing on a fair swell that made the boat sway quite considerably – sick bags are provided if required.
Delos itself is uninhabited apart from people working on the site and is fairly devoid of any shade, so a hat and generous quantities of sun screen are a particularly good choice as the guided tour takes a little under 2 hours. The site itself covers quite a large area and we were first shown round the domestic district with many twisting streets and houses a lot of which still have walls above head height so you get some impression of what the place may have been like. Our guide, Joanna, was very knowledgeable and was good to wait until everyone was present before starting to speak at each stop although some impatience did start to show when the party got slower at catching up (understandable as she has to complete the tour and still give you time to catch the 1:30pm ferry back). This may have been as we were a very large group, which in turn could have been because you were let into the site based on trust – at the gate only EasyCruise people were let through to begin with, but rather than showing your ticket the guy at the gate simple asked “EasyCruise?” and if you said “yes” you were let through. So I have a hunch there might have been a few more than ought to have been there. Anyway, there’s lots to see, from the House of Dionysus (the grandest of the houses) and the theatre with it’s rainwater gullies channelling water to the arched public cistern, to the temple district with the foundation level remains of the temples to Apollo and other gods and the famous lion statues which is where the tour concludes. It was a fascinating tour and it’s a place that I’d like to go back to again on my own to have a wander about with out the crowd, now that I’ve done the guided tour. If you have the time and inclination you can stay on the island longer and catch the 15:30 last ferry back to Mykonos but we ambled back down from the lion precinct to the 13:30 boat as in the heat it is quite draining and also with only a day in each place we wanted to see a bit of Mykonos Town itself in the daylight. The other downside to this plan of course is that the 13:30 ferry is fairly packed so we, and many others, didn’t get a seat for the return journey.
So to Mykonos itself…yes, it’s pretty and yes it’s got a pelican, but for me this was my least favourite of the Greek Islands on the trip (Bodrum being the only place I disliked more for obvious being ripped off reasons). It seems like Mykonos Town is believing it’s own hype, and the prices are somewhat astronomical. At first I thought prices on board ship were expensive, but that’s just peanuts to Mykonos. We had lunch at an unremarkable little bar that was whitewashed inside with a cute little balcony overlooking the sea. It was minimalist elegance inside which meant it echoed a lot and it was full of people with much more money to spend on their clothing labels than I, which seemed to be a theme to much of the town. The whole place felt like somewhere to ‘be seen’ rather than the Greece I am used to. Don’t get me wrong, I normally visit tourist destinations in Greece but if you avoid the Malia, Lagana or Faliraki type resorts, most spots still have something identifiable Greek about the culture there. Mykonos seems to have lost this and pretty twisty turning white and blue alleyways aside is characterless in it’s desire to be trendy.
We came back into town in the evening and eat down in ‘little Venice’ at the Alefkandra Taverna so called for the Greek name for the area which was surprisingly more reasonably priced for the town, having previously sat down at a bar further into town and left sharply as soon as we looked at the drinks menu with cocktails at 1 euro shy of 20 – compare that to the 5.50 at the harbour front in Kos Town.
For me the best place in Mykonos is the harbour front just round from the old harbour where we sat with an ouzo or two looking out to the boats on the jetty and watching the tourists try to pat the pelican without getting catch by that rather large beak
And so, Gay Love Paradise Mykonos, is probably a bit like marmite – your either going to love it or hate it – for me, someone used to shopping at Matalan and Aldi, rather than designer boutiques and the Harrods Food Hall, it’s somewhere I’ve no real desire to return to. One last example, we looked in a shop window at a long sleeved top that had caught my wife’s eye – for something little more than a t-shirt with some sparklely bits sewn on the price tag was 420 euros, which as one of the waitresses on the boat said was about her whole wage. If you are used to paying this much for clothes, you might like Mykonos.

Syros

Syros is the last island to be visited on the cruise and most of the crew seem to favour it. The main town of Ermoupoli stretches out either side of a rocky bar of land upon the end of which the jetty sticks out into the sea. The harbour front on the left side is crowded with bars and cafes whose tables occupy the space right on the dock edge across the main road from the bars themselves. The town itself spreads up the hillside to the church at the top of Ano Syros with mainly Venetian styled architecture the elegance of which it at odds with the working nature and traffic of the town together with the shipyards to the far left of the harbour bay. The town to the right of the jetty rises with the rocks and is difficult to get to as many of the roads you expect to lead over the headland to this side end up in dead ends – however more of that later.
About a ten minute walk around the harbour to the left brings you to the bus station opposite “Goodys” the burger chain (you can easily make this out from the boat), from where you can get buses that travel round the island. We decided not to share the bus with the horde of screaming school kids who had timed there travel at the same time as us and splashed out on a taxi (a taxi rank is about half way round to thebus station from the ship) which cost us 7 euros for a trip to Galissa Beach (the bus on the return was 1.40 euro each by comparison).
Galissa beach is supposedly the best beach on the island and it was a lovely spot to spend a few hours in the afternoon, being nice to get away for once from the big towns where you dock – Ermoupoli being one of the bigger towns. There a handful of quiet tavernas on the road through the village and a bar or two down closer to the sandy beach itself. The beach is very shallow going out a longway and is relatively rock free so ideal is you have children with you and 2 sun beds and an umbrella will cost you 7 euros (you even get a receipt). The only downside is the number of ciggie butts littering the sand which is doubly a shame as each umbrella has an ashtray attached to the pole. We had some of the nicest cheese pies at one of the beach front bars and a lazy few hours here to recharge the batteries a bit. One word of warning is that the umbrella material is not solid so lets through some sunlight, so it’s still possible to burn if you spend a long time there even when you think you are in the shade.
The buses run every hour or more in high season and as long as you get one going the right way will take about 15 minutes to get back to Ermoupoli. Get on the wrong one and you’ll still arrive but 45 minutes later instead. Tickets are bought on the bus rather than at a ticket office.
Back in town we performed the 3 S’s on board headed out again for dinner. As we were due back on board for 21:30 for a 22:00 departure, we went out a little earlier than usual but this ended up being a good thing as I will explain in a moment. We first had a drink on one of the harbour front cafĂ©’s (picked for the comfiest looking of the chairs and called “Okio”) where our 2 ouzos were supplied with a complimentary little plate of nibbles consisting of cucumber and carrots in vinegar, little crunchy breadlet bites and a flavoured mayonnaise style dip which was very much appreciated. We then moved on to find a restaurant called Thalami (web:http://www.thalami-restaurant.gr/ email:info@thalami.gr) which was mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. This is when we ended up head up many dead ends trying to get over to the other side of town until we eventually happened upon the place and were rewarded with possibly the most delightful setting for a Taverna of the entire holiday. The guide had mentioned you eat from a balcony overlooking the bay to the right of the headland, but until you sit down there you won’t appreciate how beautiful the view is. As I mentioned earlier it was fortunate we went out a little earlier to eat as we got to see this in the daylight and after dark. The taverna is at one end of the bay where all the Venetian houses cling to the rock side. One large building to the left of the restaurant is built on old medieval looking arches into which the water laps, and rising above the scene is the roof and towers of the magnificent Catherdral with it’s cobalt dome. As light fades this is all lit up and we spent a happy evening gazing out at the view while enjoying wonderful seafood. We had white bait and batter fried courgettes to start and grilled squid and a seafood spaghetti from our main course and it was all delicious. If you want to try this place go in the evening as others tried it for lunch, found it closed and so missed out on something special. As we got chatting to a lovely Irish couple who have bought a little villa on the island in their retirement, it was with great reluctance we had to leave the place to get back aboard ship for our return to Piraeus overnight.
I think I have to agree with the crew as I think this was a cruise where the best was saved to last and Syros was a completely enchanting island even with the noisy bustle of the working town. Go there.

EasyCruise - The Ship

EasyCruise Life is a converted ferry, and I don’t know how much conversion it took but you’ll actually find little more facilities on board as you would a normal long distance ferry. For instance I went on the Aberdeen to Shetland ferry a few years back and even that had a little cinema on board – not so with EasyCruise. What you do get is a main bar and restaurant area which opens out at the back of the boat past the small swimming pool to about 15 or so tables and chairs on deck looking out over the stern of the ship. Above this on the next deck is an area of sun beds that surround an opening that looks down onto the pool below and a further sunbed area climbing up onto the deck about that. The sun beds are big padded chucky affairs and look relatively comfortable. There’s also a row of bar stools to either side of the pool.
Inside just beyond the main bar is the ‘Chill Out’ bar along the starboard side of the ship were a couple of TV’s play mostly the CNN channel and where they do a happy hour of half price drinks at about 7pm.
On the first sunbed deck (deck 7) there’s also a gym (free to use) and a health and beauty salon (treatments to pay for). There's also a gift/duty free shop that's only open while the ship is sailing. Hence of course it's technically not in the EU so the ciggarettes really are duty free and a snip at 15 euros for 200 or 25 euros for 400. Oh, yes and they also sell some perfume, t-shirts and jewelery and stuff....and did I mention 400 fags for 25 euros...?
Apart from that there’s reception on deck 5 and lots of cabins.
Now I’m not complaining about the lack of cinemas, different restaurants, and climbing walls etc. that you get on the big cruise ships as EasyCruise is pitched at a different level. This is no frills cruising and the price we paid matched that, although with the prices quoted for next year this may be a different story. The main point about the cruise itinerary is that you don’t leave the places you visit until late in the evening or even well into the next morning, but always arrive either mid morning or (on one occasion) at 2pm at the latest.
We’d read about problems on the earlier cruises with service in the restaurant, but the few times we did use it we didn’t notice any particular problem. Occasionally you waited a while for a drinks waitress to come by if you were sat out back, but if that was a bother you could always rise off your lazy ass and walk to the bar. In general the waitresses (mainly Russian I think) were excellent and friendly and I had no complaints about service.
Our cabin staff was also a cheerful Russian lady who always had a knack of arriving to do something in the cabin when we were there, but she was such a happy sole and quite ready to come back later if you asked. The crew overseer seemed a little more miserable and I think our cabin lady got some stick off her from time to time, poor lass.
The cabin itself was a superior double although looking at the deck plan I think we got the smallest ‘superior’ room they had as it was little bigger than the standard double, with just enough extra space to put a sofa in the room. However it was plenty big enough for the both of us, and the bed was wide enough as it’s effectively two singles pushed together. For reference the number was 5106 on the port side towards the bow (left towards the pointy end). The main problem with the cabin is the layout with no sockets anywhere near the mirror; a full length one right next to the cabin door. For the ladies that want somewhere to prepare, it’s fairly difficult unless your hair care electricals have very long leads. The nearest socket was on the other side of the cabin next to the bed. I think a better layout would have been to ditch the sofa and put in a small dressing table (with mirror and socket) and a single comfy chair instead. The sockets were standard Euro twin round pin ones by the way. However none of these cabin gripes were insurmountable (my wife’s hairstraighters did indeed have a very long lead) and we were happy enough with the accommodation. It was relatively clean, although a little more attention under the bed and behind the sofa (came across a few old peanuts there) could have been in order.
The bathroom has an airline style toilet with the 'suck out like a vacuum' flush, and the shower has a inch or two high ridge to stop the water spilling into the rest of the bathroom. The effectiveness of this ridge seemed to depend which way the ship was leaning on any particular day as sometimes the water built up and overflowed a little and other day it pooled against the wall nearer the drain. Again not a big problem if some does spill over as there’s no way unless you leave the curtain drawn and aim the shower hose out the door that any water will get out into the main cabin area.
If you want to wash your smalls then an outside cabin is useful as when the sun hits that side of the ship you can dry off some small items on the window ledge. There is also a laundry service on board (24 hour for return of items) with a shirt costing 3 euros or a bag of up to 8 items costing 18 euros. Too pricy for a cheapskate like myself.
Outside on the ship you can walk right round on deck 7, dropping down round under the bridge a level to a balcony facing forward, if you want to see where you are going. There’s shoebox sized wooden boxes at regular intervals on the side outside decks which are ashtrays for the smokers (the top hinges up) and there’s ashtrays available in the bar/pool/rear deck areas. You can't smoke in your cabin though or in the chill out bar.
It might seem as if I've concentrated on the bad points of the ship, but in reality I thoroughly enjoyed my week 'cruising with Stelios'. The rooms were OK, the service was fine, the itinerary was great, and the cruise director, Anita, was full of energy and very helpful. I can't comment much on the food as we used that service very little, only having the buffet on the first night (there's little choice as you're at sea that evening) and once more for breakfast. Those two times the food was fine, in nothing exceptional.
At the end of the cruise you can opt to take the organised transfer to Athens airport which leaves at 9 in the morning and costs 18 euros per person. probably close to what a cab would cost for two people but for convenience I think was well priced. We used it and it was a just over an hour to get back although for Athens I think the traffic was fairly light.
The best point by far was the time spent on the islands and for some this indeed may be the selling factor that still makes it worth the higher prices that are now being charged. I problaby won't pay the extra to go again but I'm very glad to have got in there early while the prices were lower and the half board optional. I had a wonderful time and will be keeping a keen eye out for any early deals if Stelios gets another ship to replace EasyCruise One at any point.