Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ithaki, Greece - what's open in the off season?

As I walk up the hill and away from Vathi, I look down over the bay and there’s an eagle. It glides a full circle of the bay, looking for fish and thermals and vanishes out of sight. A moment later a car passes, and without any indication from me, stops and picks me up. He drives me to the ferry port. As we reach the crest of the hill the eagle is sitting on top of a cypress tree, at the site of Odysseus’ Palace, looking at us. I defy augury… but…

This has been an extraordinary auspicious stay in a beautiful place. There's trouble beneath the surface, but these are good people and they are as hospitable as they can be. And visitors are their main source of income. In case you’re travelling round that area and happen on this blog, I’m just going to pop in a few recommendations of places that are open in the off-season. They would welcome people at this time of year, even if the tourist machine is not in gear right now.

You’ll need Alpha Car Rental, in Vathi, easy to find behind the road with the 2 banks, if you haven’t brought your own wheels. He’s closed 2-5 every day for siesta and currently only operates 1 car in the off season, so it might be wise to book so he can sort out insurance for more if need be. Nico, a friendly South African expat runs it. Hitchhiking is an option in a pinch, as most of the roads only have 1 destination. I managed it fine for 2 days. But it would stop being an option if everybody did it. The schoolbus leaves Vathi shortly after 7am as I remember, and then again at 2pm for certain. It goes all the way to Kioni stopping along the way. But there is no bus back after it. The driver tends to charge 1.50 no matter how far you’re going. Nobody rents scooters in the off season.

I stayed at Grivas Gerasimos. They were clean rooms, a little way from the centre, overlooking the harbour. I was in half of a twin rather than a double. It was very reasonable though. This website probably has a good number of reasonable ones. At this time of year everyone has rooms that they want to fill, the whole island is full of them. If you want something more plush I reckon go to Kioni, but you’ll need a car if you do that.

There was one easy place for meat in Vathi. There's no menu, so check the prices before you order. In Stavros is a very touristy looking place called Ithaki Grill. It’s not cheap and the food will be from the freezer at this time of year but it's still very good. The guy was surprised to see me, and he and his wife had a massive argument about the fact that he’d given me a discount. Still, the tourist menu is marked up a lot, so it’s worth asking and risking her wrath. But make sure you get an apartment with cooking facilities or you’ll regret it. And there are no menus at this time of year so do ask the price, in bars as well – once you’ve eaten it or drunk it you can’t negotiate if they ask for way too much. The best food suppliers tend to drive around – the fish guy sells his catch in midmorning in Vathi outside the banks, and there’s a vegetable guy I came upon in Kioni who sold me the best orange I’ve ever had, and some good broccoli too.

The language barrier is an issue. English is a school subject, but often people clam up when they have to speak it. They can communicate perfectly well in it, but it’s that thing of trying to get it right rather than just said. I wish that I had boned up on some greek, but it was all too last minute. And being the only foreigner in town meant that any conversations I joined instantly became awkward and stilted as people accommodated to me. Being a tourist is one thing, being the only tourist is another, being a broke tourist? I felt like people were wondering what the heck I was for. Broke tourist? A truck without cargo, taking up space and bringing nothing. Right now, the aesthetic of sharing what a beautiful place they live in is much overtaken by the brass tacks of getting as many euros in the bag as possible. It's right next to Kefalonia, and let's face it, Homer is a good deal better than Louis de Bernieres. I am surprised there were not more people there. I arrived in Athens and the whole place is rammerjammed with Americans.

GETTING THERE: Is pretty easy from the airport. Regular buses run from the airport to Kifissos station - x94 as I remember, but not hard to find. A ticket was 5 euro. I expect there is a cheaper way, but they don't want you to find it. From Kifissos you're looking at around 20 euro and a 3 hour bus journey to Patra, and from there there are 2 ferries a day - or sometimes, like on Saturday, just 1. The ferry is about 4 hours and is anything from 10 to 18 euro depending on who you ask. A lot of it is booked by agents and resold. When you land in Vathi you don't have to be a mule like me and walk up the hill. There are always taxis to meet the ferries. And I expect they're pretty reasonable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you have an email to contact you. Some reason cant reply to your email.
Spiros Lourantos
Alpha Car Rentals
Ithaki , Greece