Between Boats

Recharged by a family holiday in Norway, we backtracked to Lesvos to be reunited with our bikes. Before leaving the island in December, Dimitris had connected us with Ioulia and Titos, who are at the core of the Lesvos mountain bike community. Not only did this generous couple whisk our bikes and gear to careful storage as we left Lesvos, but they also met us with our bikes in a van as we returned. We had dinner together that evening, and we tasted a range of delicious local dishes, most new to us.

There is a cold snap all over Europe, and Lesvos is currently not the sun kissed Greek island of tourist brochures. There is more to be explored here by bike, but we’ll have to come back in warmer weather to enjoy volcanic landscapes, hot springs, and a petrified forest. We left by ferry in a dim chilly dawn, happy to be wearing hand kitted neck-warmers that Ioulia had given us.

Thank you, Ioulia !

Thank you, Ioulia !

After more than fifteen hours on a ferry, we arrived in Piraeus at midnight and made our way to a small hotel. Facilities and heating were basic, but the friendliness of the fellow who greeted us made up for any shortcomings. We slept late next morning, to compensate for the two previous nights: the first on a bus from Istanbul, and the second cut short by early rising after an evening’s introduction to ouzo.

Koulouri of various kinds, displayed in a bakery.

Koulouri of various kinds, displayed in a bakery.

Koulouri are often sold from street stands.

Koulouri are also often sold from street stands.

Piraeus, a western suburb of Athens, is the mother of all ferry terminals. Tsawassen and Swartz Bay will never seem the same to us! Our hotel offered to store our bikes and bags all day, and we soon realized that this was a place of comings and goings. People are returning to Athens after spending Christmas holidays on the islands, and most have travelled as foot passengers, wheeling their luggage. Every hotel lobby and coffee shop we passed today seemed to have mountains of suitcases.

As we moved around Piraeus, we saw something new to us. While we stood outside a bakery, two young men dashed inside from the street, one played a clarinet while the other banged a drum. They exited fairly quickly; we think the owner had shooed them away. Twice later, once in a restaurant and once in a coffee shop, pairs of teenaged girls came in and went from table to table playing triangle chimes. Nearly everyone firmly ignored them, and both times they were quickly seen out by waiters. I once saw a man slip them some coins, though.

We were not quite sure what was happening. Was it a form of mobile busking? We’d been in Greece since late November, and hadn’t seen anything like this till before. Could it be something seasonal and celebratory, we wondered? Dimitris has explained in a comment. Thank you, Dimitris!

It is seasonal. It is happening the day before Christmas, New Years day and Εpiphany. We call it ” kalanta” (κάλαντα). Children (usually) are going out home by home singing Christmas carols or jingle bells bells.

We bought ferry tickets and Sensodyne toothpaste, drank coffee, used WiFi, and ate cheese pastries. As we donned layers to face a short but chilly ride to our boat, we realized that Chris had left his rain pants in Norway. We boarded for a 9:00 p.m. departure to Chania (pronounced Hania) at the western end of Crete. We’ve taken a cabin for this one, as neither of us was looking forward to sleeping on benches or under the stairs again.


4 responses to “Between Boats

  1. The kindness of strangers is so warming -literally – great neck warmers, and so much easier to put on and off than koulouri. If no rain pants, then avoid Vancouver.

    • Rain pants have surfaced in Norway. Here in Chania we just bought a 10 euro pair. These will do fine for cycling with the addition of a bit of electrical tape at the ankles.

      Inspired by Both Louise at Xmas and by Ioulia, I have bought needles and two colours or wool here in Chania.


  2. “Could it be something seasonal and celebratory?”
    Hi there.
    It is seasonal. It is happening the day before Christmas, New Years day and Εpiphany. We call it ” kalanta” (κάλαντα). Children (usually) are going out home by home singing Christmas carols or jingle bells bells.
    Have a nice day from Molivos.

    • Thank you for letting us know, Dimitris! When I was a teenager, sometimes we would go Christmas “carolling” from house to house. Sometimes we collected money for a charity. I think this is similar ….but I got the feeling in Piraeus that that the staff of the coffee shops and bakery were a bit fed up.

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