Kate Docking, University of Kent
When I’m not ‘PhDing’, one of my favourite things to do is to find a cheap flight, cajole someone (usually my sister) into coming with me, and visit a new country. One of the highlights of my recent non-work related travels – if not the highlight, really – was going Greek island hopping in June with my friend Tab. Over the course of two weeks, we visited three islands in the Cyclades: Santorini, Anafi and Ios. Here is essentially a ‘mish-mash’ of some of my favourite bits.
Swimming in the sulphur springs of Nea Kameni, a volcanic island very close to Santorini, was definitely a memorable experience. We got on a boat to get there, which ended up actually docking some distance away from the actual springs, and we were informed by the tour guide that only ‘strong swimmers’ should make the crossing. Tab and I quickly assessed our respective swimming abilities, and, more concerned on potentially losing out on the 20 euros each we’d coughed up to do the trip than the possibility of being stranded in the Aegean Sea, we launched ourselves off the side of the boat and completed the swim. Surrounded by hyperactive young backpackers wielding Go-Pros, we somewhat ceremoniously and a bit dubiously covered ourselves in the ‘sulphur-mud’ (I’m not certain what it actually was, but apparently it’s good for your skin). This was certainly a unique and fun way to spend one of our mornings in Santorini. Another Santorini highlight was the two and a half hour walk we undertook from Fira (the capital of Santorini) to Oia. We were laughably unprepared (we had about one bottle of water each in blazing heat), but thoroughly enjoyed the amazing views and talking about a range of riveting things on the way, such as Santorini building regulations and the ideal size of a water bottle.
After a week in Santorini, we spent a few days in Anafi, a much smaller island about an hour and a half boat away. I absolutely loved Anafi, and I think, on balance, it was my favourite island. For me, Anafi really encapsulated what springs to mind when someone mentions a Greek island: rugged beaches, traditional domed white houses, churches with blue tops, and incredible sunsets. As soon as we stepped off the ferry (while uttering the classic ‘I’ve still got my sea legs on!’ as we walked onto dry land), I knew Anafi would be a very different experience from touristy Santorini. Only a handful of us disembarked, and, indeed, we kept seeing the same people throughout our stay. We spent most of our time there sleeping under the tamarisk trees on many of the beautiful beaches, which provided a natural form of shade when the temperatures soared during the day, and swimming in crystal clear waters, often the only ones in the sea. Anafi remains untouched by mass tourism (for now), and I think that contributes greatly to its sense of isolation, ruggedness, and community. This is a place where people actually live, and have done for years, not somewhere that simply caters for the demands of modern tourists.
Our last island was Ios. We were firmly told by several people in Santorini that Ios that it was the ‘party island’, but it didn’t really live up to this reputation. When we arrived in the Chora on our first evening (the main village) we were faced with lots of virtually empty clubs and bars. We couldn’t walk through the streets without getting hounded by promoters trying to get us into their empty places. All Tab and I wanted was to find somewhere to have a drink that wasn’t 8 euros and didn’t consist of literally energy drink in a plastic bag. Surrounded by 18 year olds probably on their first trip abroad without an authoritative figure, I felt distinctly out of place. Ios was lovely – it’s got great beaches, a nice town with some really good restaurants and it’s very aesthetically pleasing – but it didn’t have the rugged charm of Anafi nor the jaw-dropping views of Santorini. But of course you can’t love everything about travelling, and our slightly negative experience of Ios definitely did not even taint what was an absolutely incredible trip.