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Greek Low Season


It's fun doing exactly the opposite of what the guidebooks recommend. So I've decided to remain in Gavrio, the port of the Greek island of Andros, instead of quickly moving on like others do.

The most popular destinations in Andros are Batsi, a tourist resort nearby, and Andros Town, also called Chora, on the other side of the island. Admittedly, Chora is beautiful, perched upon a rocky spur. Gavrio's beauty is a more traditional one: a curved harbor with cafes in large numbers, well protected in a natural bay surrounded by greenish hillsides.

Andros is the northernmost of the Cycladic Islands, often referred to as the shipowners' island, many of whom have summer residences here. There are shipowners in Gavrio as well: fishermen whose little boats are moored at the elegant flagstone promenade. I have an appointment with one of them, Giannis, who insists that I send him the photo in which he's proudly presenting his impressive catch for me.

Seen from the waterfront, Gavrio's two- and three-storied buildings look a bit neglected, an impression that disappears the minute you set foot in the stylish cafes on their ground floors, where the original old rafters and walls of natural stone are yet intact. My own cafe day starts just before 10 in the morning when I watch three ferries arrive in the wake of one another, from Rafina on the mainland, continuing afterwards to Tinos and Mykonos. I amuse myself checking who finishes fastest.

The spacious bay allows the ferries to turn around and land with their stern, midway in the harbor. Their masts reach, at least from my viewpoint, slightly beyond the crest of the mountain. A blue jewel is approaching, Aqua Jewel, an anticlimax lasting 10 minutes; very few travel on her. She is succeeded by a classical white beauty, Express Penelope, with quite another attraction and still quick, 7 minutes. As Superferry II arrives, blue and white, half of Gavrio seem to be on their feet, even my host Miltiades, all participating in 10 minutes of concentrated hustle and bustle.

Weather Surprise

The car drivers no doubt enjoy racing through the roadway puddles gathered in the port, remains of last night's downpour. It started rather innocently, as a warning to those who wished to get home dry-shod. The rest got a prolonged stay in the bars and cafes, entertained with thunder and lightning and frequent power cuts. Finally, all the places were full, unusual at this time of the season, the end of May.

To compensate for the lack of beach weather, I decide to find the town's main square. Every Greek village has a square, an oasis where the town hall normally is, lined with kafenions under shady plane trees. To my surprise, Gavrio has no such square. Never mind, I'll take a walk instead, saying good morning to people, "Kalimera!" I get mixed responses: strong and clear ones, others smiling and warm, also short and busy ones, a few so shy and reserved that I feel I should have kept my mouth shut.

The harbor is Gavrio's unmistakable center, and there is no reason to be bored here. I could play video games or Lotto, queue at the post office or have a cozy chat with Miltiades. At the far end of the harbor, Tzoanna catches my attention, a bright red cargo boat unloading sand onto trucks. A crane hauls up the sand and turns, apparently aiming its heavy claw at the driver's cab. Seconds before a collision, the crane operator pulls a horizontal string which makes the claw stop and open right over the truck body. One driver escapes from his cab to a safe distance, just in case.

Out of Town

The Agios Petros Beach lies a couple of kilometers to the south, on the way to Batsi. Part of the way can be covered on a pleasant cemented path along the sea. The broad beach ends at a peninsula, so invitingly green that I must go there. Passing the Paralia tavern, I see a group of talkative elderly people enjoying an early lunch. I'll join them later and hope Maria kept her promise from yesterday; a greater choice of food today - after all, it is Saturday.

I ascend the peninsula with a smashing butterfly fluttering about me, sharp yellow and a touch of green. Suddenly, it plays a vanishing trick on me. I find it at last, parked on the green scrub with its wings folded, resembling a green leaf. Only now do I notice the array of flowers; in white, yellow and shades of violet. Out at sea, uninhabited Cycladic islands are bathing in the sun, while the hills landwards are wrapped up in dark clouds, ready to empty themselves into the long, deep fertile valleys hiding between the mountains of Andros.

On my way back, I meet two frustrated gentlemen, armed with brooms. The rain left a little lake outside their tavern, and every time a car drives past, their freshly painted facade gets a dirty splash. To save it from being completely soiled, one of them tries to sweep the water into the middle of the road. The other is ready to sweep it on, over to the opposite side and down the roadside. The water keeps running back, though.

Considering the abundance of cafes and taverns in and near Gavrio, plus the fact that tourists are advised to skip the town, overcapacity might be a very real problem. However, Gavrio can actually be extremely busy. During the summer, the town is invaded by Athenians every weekend. After a one-hour bus trip, or in their own cars from Athens to Rafina, followed by two hours at sea - they are basking in the Cycladian light, swimming in a clean sea and filling their lungs with wholesome air.