Greece Travel Guide logo

Greece Travel Guide


 Greek Island Guide


Hotels of Greece



Matt's Greece Travel Blog

Barbarians at the Gates:
Kea in August

Koundouros, KeaIt is August First. My least favorite day of the summer, maybe of the year. Its the day when thousands, maybe millions of Athenians hop in their cars and leave the city for the islands and villages, clogging up the roads, the ferries, the restaurants, hotels and beaches, little realizing that their arrival destroys the thing they came here for: peace. For us in Ioulida we are mostly spared. Athenians don't live here unless they are bohemian. Normal middle-class and nouveaux rich Greeks don't like the chora(village) because it requires too much walking. They have to park their cars below or above the village and this is too much for even the most physically fit, who instead buy villas and condos with sea view and a parking space and maybe a pool that they rarely use, it being more of a status symbol than something practical. (Do you really need a swimming pool on an island surrounded by beautiful sea.) The less afluent will fill the few hotels and rooms scattered around the island. There are only about four rooms to rent that are actually in the chora and they are not on the internet. The phone number for Kyria Eleni is guarded like a family heirloom.

Ferry arrival, Kea, GreeceThe ferries will arrive every couple hours today, arriving full and leaving empty. The popular beaches on the northwest of the island will be full of umbrellas, beach toys, and cigarette butts. The taverna at Otzia will be unapproachable. There will be traffic jams in the port. Of course my favorite beaches will only have a few people on them, being too rocky or too wavy for most Athenians. But my trips to the beach have to be timed perfectly if I want any hope of finding a parking place within a half mile of the village. When we return from the beach before we round the last bend we pray or visualize a parking spot in the parking lot. In August we are rarely successful and I have to drive up to the Piazza, drop off my passengers and go back down to find a spot on the road where I can fit without someone taking off my mirror. But I can't complain. After a nice swim what can be better than a half mile walk and then a climb up the mountain. From tonight Yannis and Rolando's will both be full with returning locals and Athenians who will bite the bullet and make the climb for dinner at least once this summer. The good news is that as long as he stays full Yannis will roast a pig, something he only does on weekends in June and July.

Vourkari, KeaThe worst place to be is the normally quiet yacht harbor of Vourkari. The small road sandwiched between the yachts and the crowded restaurants and cafes is packed with cars trying to drive through, to and from Otzias. And just because it is August does not mean everyone is on vacation. The giant dump trucks filled with gravel for the new villas that may never be sold continue to pass by, adding to the chaos. Half the people who come here drive SUVs. I have even seen Hummers and the new giant JEEP, built to compete with the Hummer for the few people stupid enough to want a gas-guzzling truck in a place where gas costs $10 a gallon and the roads are barely wide enough for two Fiats to pass each other. In August you can sit in one of the coffee bars or one of the expensive fish tavernas and look at a wall of yachts, all with their televisions on, cutting off the breeze from the sea.

Galiskari, KeaIts not a pretty picture is it? Well that's OK because it really does not matter because you probably won't be able to find a room here in August anyway. Athenians book their summer holiday months in advance. Should you be so lucky to get a room here then make sure you have a car to go with it so you can escape the crowds and go to the beaches that the Athenians don't dare venture to. That would be any beach without a taverna. You are probably better off going to Santorini or Mykonos where the influx of Athenians is less noticeable because the islands are usually busy anyway. But the most impacted islands in August are the quiet ones and Kea is the closest quiet island to Athens. So for the next month I will be at my desk, working on my website, answering e-mails, and my newest hobby, finding album art for the 6432 songs in my itunes. I will also spend some sleepless nights because this is my daughter's favorite time on Kea because its when all her friends come and the bars and clubs stay open until dawn and whether she makes it home by curfew or not is a matter of whether she took the trouble to ask someone what time it is before she notices the sun coming up. I had one night like this already and sent her a text message threatening a heart attack for her grandmother should she awake and find Amarandi's bed empty at 6am. She was at a friend's house playing Monopoly. Or maybe that was last night when she came in a one in the morning which is early by Greek island standards. At one am there are still little children playing in the platia while their parents are eating dinner.

En Lefko, KeaWe have a full house here. It makes it difficult to work because both Andrea's sister Pamela and her mother are talkers and my workspace is in the living room between their bedrooms and next to the telephone. In a mad rush I finished up everything that required any kind of creative thinking the day they arrived. I can edit photos and answer e-mail with their chatter in the background, and even scour the net for a cool photo of Roy Harper for the compilation of his songs I put together from these old cassettes I had transferred into MP3 files. The last couple days I have gone to the platia and had a coffee at En Lefko, our hip bar and coffee shop that will be my home for the Olympic games since they have the kind of big screen television that you need to watch a sporting event. Evening at En Lefko is the best time to see the people who eat at home most nights and don't come down to the never ending party at Rolandos where we are most nights. Yesterday Kostis Marulis stopped by our table on his motorbike and told us about the Athenian wedding party that filled the rooms of his new hotel, smoking in the no-smoking rooms, complaining because they could not find their friends, or the hairdresser, or the fact that he does not have TVs in his hotel. "I don't believe in television" he tells them. "I would not put a TV in my rooms for my guests just as I would not put a child molester in a room for my guests. To me they are the same thing".

Marmari Express Ferry, KeaMy friend with a hotel on Sifnos begs me to send her business for August so she can tell some of her Athenian guests she is full. "Some people are terrible. When they leave the rooms have been destroyed. Cigarette burns on the furniture and mattresses. Cigarette butts and mountains of garbage left behind. Spilled drinks. Broken glass. And all they do is demand and complain and make noise." The people from Thessaloniki, who are usually a step or two ahead of the Athenians, take their holiday in mid-July and don't provoke the kind of ire the Athenians do. Its a historical difference. When Thessaloniki was one of the most important port cities in the Mediterranean, Athens was a provincial backwater, a small village surrounding what had once been the most important city in western civilization but was forgotten to all but the most educated. Its modern population are mostly rural Greeks who came in the last fifty to one hundred years because there was no future in the villages. Now they have money, cars, fashion magazines and an appetite for excess. They think of their neighbors to the north as being provincial but its no secret that the best music, art, food and literature comes from Thessaloniki and I have yet to hear complaints about their manners the way I do of the modern Athenians.

Kea ferryThe wind has been blowing like mad, at around 7 beaufort in the daytime on the sea and at hurricane strength through the house. We keep the windows closed because every door breaks away from the big stones and hunks of marble holding them open and bangs until someone finally gets up to fix it. Nikos at the Ephoria (government office) told me yesterday that the waves at Orchos were three meters high. The sea is full of whitecaps. If it gets much rougher the boats won't go from Lavrion and there will be a lot of angry Athenians stuck there until it calms down in the evening as it always seems to. When they arrive they will see the banners stretched across the hillside and what is left of our new dock. HERE SINKS THE PROMISES OF THE GREEK GOVERNMENT AND THE MONEY OF THE GREEK PEOPLE.

Korissia dock, KeaThe original dock was destroyed in a massive storm several years ago and finally they began to build a new one. Before it was completed another storm wrecked it and the government just gave up. So with modern engineering how is it that a brand new ferry dock could be destroyed in one storm after replacing an old dock that had withstood thousands of storms before eventually succumbing? Lets say they gave ten million euros for a new dock. Right off the bat some of the money disappears into the pockets of whoever is involved and can get their hands on it. Then the contractor whose bid is accepted either because it is low or he has bribed someone, has to cut corners to save whatever is left for him so he can make a profit. Maybe a lower quality of sand or cement, or fewer workers who actually know what they are doing (they say the entire pedestrian avenue around the Acropolis was built by two Albanians with a wheelbarrow so the contractor could pocket the money that would have gone to buying the necessary machinery which is why it took years instead of months to complete). You see this all over Greece. Collapsed docks, like a scene out of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Yesterday I read an article in the Athens News about the new roof over the ruins of Akrotiri in Santorini, Greece's Pompei, designed to withstand a 10 point earthquake and a category 5 hurricane, that collapsed from its own weight four years ago and killed a tourist. It still has not been rebuilt. So if they are dragging their feet on one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, what chance does Kea have to get their dock repaired before the next storm wipes it out completely and we have to come here by helicopter? (We got our new dock 2 years later- see photo)

Korissia Beach, Kea, GreeceSo these are my thoughts on this first day of Greek summer. On the bright side the weather is beautiful. The heat waves of last summer which I believed were the proof of global warming being MUCH WORSE than we thought, seem to have just been an unusually hot summer. The Greek economy, like the US, is tottering on the brink and many Athenians with their new credit cards maxed out, are in no position to take a month off or even afford the ferry fares which have risen something like 18% from last year. Last summer was a banner year for the island of Lefkada because it has a bridge and you can drive to it. Come to think of it Evia seemed pretty busy too. The bells of the church were ringing all morning. Today is the start of the fasting which precedes the Holy Day of the Panagia (Virgin Mary), sort of like Easter Jr. The 15th of August and the days before and after will be the peak of the summer and then things will slowly wind down and by September 1st the island will be empty again. Of course that's when we have to go back to Athens for Amarandi to go to school but for anyone coming to Kea then, they probably won't even know what they missed in August.

E-mail me with questions and comments or join my Greece Travel Facebook Page

Return to Matt-Blog Index