Our four-day cruise to some of the most beautiful islands of the Dodecanese, Greece was a memorable one and, probably, one of the best summer holidays we''ve ever had so far. For me, it marked the end of my summer break as I'm going back to work on Monday to start preparing the new school year which begins on September 9. After Chalkidiki, it was yet another chance to fully recharge the batteries before I got down to work. The Dodecanese lies in south-eastern Aegean in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and consists of 12 larger islands and 150 smaller ones.
Alkis and I actually booked this cruise on the spur of the moment when we saw the TV advert of Salamis Filoxenia. However much I hate flying, I love travelling by ship. Being at sea is an exhilarating experience especially when you travel on board a fine cruise ship. Salamis Filoxenia is, indeed, a 5-star floating hotel! The food was excellent and consisted of a sumptuous buffet at the elegant dining-room although the service at the bars and decks was rather poor.
DAY 1 - Saturday, August 17
At 3:00 pm, we were leaving Limassol behind us and sailing to the island of Leros. We loved our cabin which looked like a hotel room providing all sorts of facilities, such as a comfortable queen bed, bath robes, a spacious bathroom, a wardrobe and a relaxing decor in all shades of green. We had a snack at the pool bar while enjoying a show of Greek dances and music. There were more shows and entertainment in the evening, but Alkis and I preferred taking a romantic stroll on the upper deck before dinner and an after-dinner drink at Captain's Bar where we enjoyed soft piano music by Achilleas-the pianist. Soon after departure, we also had to put on our lifejacket and go to the dining-room where members of the crew explained how to use the lifejacket and what to do in case of emergency. 25 hours later, we were entering the picturesque port of the island of Leros.
DAY 2 - Sunday, August 18
We both had such a great night's sleep that we could hardly believe one can sleep so well on a ship. Although we had had a great dinner the previous evening, we were surprised to see that we were starving the following morning. Surely, the invigorating air of the sea gave us a huge appetite. Breakfast consisted of freshly baked rolls and croissants, toast, eggs, bacon, omelette, an impressive variety of fresh fruit, ham and cheese, sausages, pancakes, sweets and freshly brewed coffee.
At 4:00 pm, we were entering the port of the island of Leros. The view of the island from the ship was breathtaking. That was our first stop for the next 7 hours. We wanted to book the excursion to Leros, but, unfortunately, it had been fully booked and we were told that there was nothing to do or see near the port. On the minus side, there were hardly any taxis in Leros, so we couldn't go far. We decided to have ice cream at a café near the port and think about what we were going to do in Leros for the next seven hours. Finally, we shared a taxi with another couple travelling on the same ship and...snapped into action! We asked the taxi driver to take us to a nice spot not far from the port. He drove us to the idyllic beach of Panteli for only 6 euros. It was such a tranquil place with amazing views and we truly enjoyed a stroll in the narrow streets of the village and later a great dinner at Apostolis Tavern. That was where I had the best astakomakaronada ever. The bottom line is that we fell head over heels in love with Leros!
DAY 3 - August 19
We were back to the ship by 10:30 pm as she would sail off to Chios at 11:00. We had a last drink at the Captain's bar before falling into the arms of Morpheus. We got up early the following day as we had booked the excursion to Chios' mastihohoria - the villages where the famous mastic is grown. We had breakfast at 6:00 am and just before disembarkment, we had the chance to stroll on the decks and enjoy a gorgeous sunrise.
We got into a very comfortable coach which drove us to Pyrgi and Mesta. On our way there, Melina, our guide in Chios, told us all about the history and culture of Chios and explained how mastic is collected in these villages. We also had time for a coffee break and a visit to the Church of the Dormition of Virgin Mary before going back to the town of Chios where we had some time to explore it before embarkment at 12:30 pm. While Salamis Filoxenia was sailing off to Samos, we had lunch, a short siesta and then coffee on the deck.
At 6:00 pm, we were entering the port of Samos - one of the most beautiful islands of the Dodecanese and the birth place of Pythagoras - the Greek philosopher and mathematician who proved that: "if the triangle had a right angle and you make a square on each of the three sides, then the biggest square has the exact same area as the other two squares put together" I can say the Pythagorian theorem but... I can't understand it! I've always been wreckless at maths anyway, yet I wanted so much to see the statue of this great man. As you can see in the photo below, what annoyed me was the young lady sitting by the statue completely disrespectful of our history and cultural heritage. So soon after Leros, I fell in love with Samos even though I've only had a glimpse of its infinite beauty. The sunset in Samos is truly magical. We had dinner at Aphrodite's Tavern which I strongly recommend if you ever travel to Samos. My grilled king prawns were an ode to the palate! I also recommend their kolokithokeftedes - Greek zucchini fritters. We were quite reluctant to leave Samos and go back to the ship, but the crew's orders were clear: back to the ship by 11:30 pm. We went straight to bed and I went to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Must be that delicious Samos wine we had at the tavern!
DAY 4 - August 20
At 7:00 am, Salamis Filoxenia dropped anchor in Kos - a familiar island as we spent a week there in July 2011, so we were looking forward to re-locating our haunts in the town centre. Our footsteps led us from the port to the market place where I purchased some of their great spices and fruit as well as the local red cheese (tyri tis possas) . We spent the rest of the morning at Psalidi Beach where we had time to swim in amazingly crystal clear waters. When we went back to the ship at 12:30 pm, we knew that our next stop would be back home. 24 hours later Salamis Filoxenia safely sailed to Limassol.
Hospitality is the official translation of filoxenia, but it doesn't adequately describe it. Filoxenia literally means "love of strangers". It is a generosity of spirit, a joyful kind of the-best-of-what's-mine-is-yours attitude in which Greeks take great pride as a defining attribute.