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We explore the island of Salamina near Athens

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 01 to 06 June 2019

Saturday 01 June, we explore the island of Salamina near Athens

Today we leave but first we have to pay what gives me the chance to practice my Greek with the owner who doesn't speak English. Amazing how many people who work here in tourism hardly know English. But mainly Greek people come here. We get two bottles of tsipouro as a farewell gift, a kind of brandy without anise. Then we drive to our favorite pub for a final cup of coffee at this beautiful place where we had a great time. I can also practice there because the waiter is curious what we will do next. And then we set off. With the boat from Marmari to Rafina we only had to drive 120 kilometers but we take the detour via Chalkida where a bridge connects Evia to the mainland. Now we have to drive more 100 kilometers extra, but in terms of time it only costs an extra hour and we have no waiting time for the ferry. And because we want to avoid the ring road around Athens, we drive after Chalkis inland towards Thebes.
Fountain of Dirce, ThebesThebes was once a large and powerful city-state, but nowadays an ordinary town that is a lot smaller than 2,500 years ago. It is mentioned in many ancient Greek myths, like how Oedipus would solve the mystery of the Sphinx at Thebes, bringing him into the city as a hero and marrying the queen as a reward who later turns out to be his own mother. There are several places of interest but we only drive to the Fountain of Dirke or Dirce. She was once Queen of Thebes, who, after her husband's death, was turned into a spring by Dionysos and lived there as a water nymph. But not anymore because the well and the sanctuary are now completely dry.
Then we drive quickly to Nea Peramos where the ferry to Salamina leaves. We can drive directly onto the boat and within 10 minutes we are already on the island. There are 2 cities on the island, the capital Salamina or Salamis city (and to make the confusion even greater, it is also called Koulouri) and Aianteio. In Salamis city it is busy, the terraces are full, probably with people from Athens and the surrounding area because that is at a travel distance of about an hour. Our first impression is not really great because there is a lot of junk along the roads. When we look for a terrace in Aianteio we are disappointed, it mainly consists of residential areas. Then we drive on to Kanakia, in the south, where we have rented an apartment.
The so-called 5-star beach at Kanakia Kanakia beachThe last 10 kilometers we go into the mountains and again we take some narrow and scary parts and it takes us more than 20 minutes to get there. The village does not offer much: unpaved, narrow roads full of holes, there are 2 mini-markets and at the beach 1 restaurant. We are clearly in a corner of the island here. There is nobody at the apartment so we first drive to the 5-star beach, at least that is what the travel guide says. But that is a bit disappointing, it is a narrow strip of gravel and we see jellyfish in the water, which we have not encountered before in Greece. The bottom of the sea is also covered with thick boulders so that you cannot easily walk into the water. We give the beach a maximum of 0 stars.
Then we have a drink in the only restaurant in the village but we are surly received and served even more surly. We feel a bit disappointed. We have booked our apartment through booking.com and nowadays they ask if you want to give the estimated time of arrival. To be sure we always give up a bit later tham we expect ourselves and here we have specified that we would arrive between 6 and 7. But it is 5 o'clock when we are in front of the apartment so I give them a call, so we can at least install ourselves for the coming days. A man answers the phone but soon I get an angry woman on the phone who complains that we are way too early, that they live an hour away and that the apartment must first be cleaned. Making objections makes no sense, she is extremely outraged that we are already standing there, it is a shame, she tells us!
Peristeria on the southeast coast of Salamina We have to wait until our apartment is readyReturning to the restaurant makes no sense, again to those moody waiters? Our mood has already dropped quite a bit and we are going to drive around. We do not have much choice because on the way back to Aianteio all side roads turn out to be deadends and Elisabeth is disappointed that we have to pass those scary roads again. Eventually we drive to Peristeria and Kolones, just a few kilometers from us as the crow flies but with the obligatory detours it takes us almost 40 minutes. And we only see dirt, along the roads and along the coast. We look at all the beaches that we pass, but they are even less attractive than the one at Kanakia. Eventually we drive back and wait in the car at the beach. We are tired and quite disappointed in the island, apparently we had somewhat too high expectations.
Our basement apartment without a view, KanakiaThe owners have just arrived at the apartment and are still busy cleaning. No, we can't go in yet, it's not clean yet. Our own fault, if only we should not have come so early. But it has been 7 now, I say. In the meantime we have learned that we are not getting a nice apartment upstairs, but the basement, half underground, a dark cave full of mosquitoes because the door is open. Even when we are finally allowed in, the woman walks in and out to tell us everything we have to take care of and the mosquitoes keep coming in. It is after 8 o'clock before we are finally alone.
Although not entirely alone, because they also stay one night at the place and their 2 children just hang around me when I want to sit outside and regularly the nosy owners also come by. The place where I can sit outside is under a staircase, in the wind and among the mosquitoes. We are so sorry that we immediately booked for 6 nights! We briefly inform after the apartments on the 1st floor with a balcony but they are twice as expensive, € 70 a night, absolutely not worth it! We tell ourselves that we first try it for 2 days and that we will just leave earlier if it really doesn't work. We have now and then a 'bad' day in the holidays and this is certainly one for the top 10.

Sunday 02 June 2019, a first exploration of Salamina

Our hunt for mosquitoes last evening was in any case useful, because they didn't bother us last night and we wake up a little more hopefully. We have not been disturbed by dogs either, and that can be quite different in Greece in this kind of villages. It is cold inside and also on our outside seating area because there is only shade. That would be ideal if it is above 30 degrees, but it is not nearly coming close.
We first read about the island, of which we had never heard about until a few days ago. Foreign tourists hardly come here, but many Athenians do in the summer. The island belongs to the Saronic Islands and is 95 km² big. In the north of the island there is a lot of heavy industry and pollution, the south has many forests and only quiet villages. We make a list of sights that we want to see and of course we still have to find a nice beach.
Monument for the victims of Salamina in the battle for the Acropolis in 1821 Red-colored fishing nets in the port of Koulouri on SalaminaFirst we drive to the capital and walk through the port area, looking for a terrace and we only have to pay 4 euros for 2 capppuccino, elsewhere in Greece we always pay at least 6 or 7 euros. Most residents work for a shipping company, in fishing or in heavy industry, and only few are completely dependent on tourism. But there surely is unemployment because a single mother tries to sell us some homemade hangers. We have a chat with her and she says that this island has also been hit hard by the economic crisis, there are also a lot of beggars. She has pretty nice hangers and we decide to buy a couple as a souvenir for our daughters.
Separating waste, that looks professional, Koulouri Not all waste is neatly separated, SalaminaIn the port we see the expression of a laudable endeavor: modern waste bins to separate the waste, but we are barely out of town or we see the waste heaps along the road, from pruning waste to complete mattresses. Collection services work irregularly and when the containers are full, a sort of landfill is automatically created, recycling is rarely done and the country has already received EU fines several times before because of this. There are many illegal dumps and the government seems to have no policy at all regarding to waste and pollution. It is time for someone to realize that there is money to be made from recycling, but how do you approach this if the waste is not even collected regularly?
View of Koulouri (Salamis city) The small Iliakti beach on SalaminaWe first drive along the coast as much as possible and the sea looks nice, but the beaches are disappointing: they are small, rocky or sometimes muddy and there is waste everywhere. To start cleaning here is almost impossible. And we don't really understand the award of stars to the beaches. Compared to the many beautiful beaches that we have already seen in Greece, these are not worth a single star. The pebble beach at our village is still pretty good and cleaner than what we see today. In the north of the island there is also pollution from heavy industry.
The coast in the northwest of Salamina Bust and home of the poet Angelos SikelianosThe coast is in any case still photogenic and just like elsewhere in the country there are also plenty of monuments here. Here is the bust of Angelos Sikelianos, an important poet from the first half of the 20th century who lived here. Between 1946 and 1951 he was even nominated annually for the Nobel Prize for literature (but never won one). He drafted a protest letter in World War II, addressed to the Germans to stop the persecution of the Jews, and it was signed by numerous prominent Greeks. He died accidentally when he asked for a medicine (Nujol) and Lysol got it that he drank.
The Panagia Faneromeni monastery on Salamina Courtyard of the Panagia Faneromeni monasteryOpposite the bust is the entrance to a few churches and the Faneromeni monastery where frescoes from the 18th century can be seen. There is a museum and on the internet it was named as one of the top attractions of the island but we were bored after fifteen minutes. Too bad, we just started to get a little more enthusiastic about the island because of the landscapes we saw along the way.
A tree grows through a wall, Salamina The road ends in the north of SalaminaWe drive from the west coast to the north and try to keep close to the coast as much as possible but often the roads just stop or become impassable, so we have to go back and once a steep road after the top really disappears almost straight and steep into the sea, something that Elisabeth doesn't like at all. We also see funny things such as a wall that is simply built around a tree trunk. Have they ever thought about what happens to the wall when the tree grows thicker?
A marred landscape in the north of Salamina Lots of activity on the sea between Salamina and PeramaThe further north we go, the more traces we see of heavy industry and pollution. There are numerous ships between the north coast and the mainland. Opposite is Piraeus, the port city of Athens and the largest port in Europe and the third largest in the world. Now I suddenly remember where I should have known this island from: in 480 BC. the Persian fleet was destroyed here at the Battle of Salamis. The Greeks were far in the minority but managed to lure the Persians into the narrow Salamis isthmus, and that was the turning point in the war that the Greeks eventually won. A long time ago I had to translate a part of Herodotus about this seabattle.
Small beach in the Limniola bay on SalaminaThe most beautiful beaches that we see are small and taken over by hotels. After a long drive we drive back to Kanakia and see that our apartment owners are still there, so we continue to the beach restaurant. This time we are received very kindly, what has happened since yesterday? It is still weekend so that means that all the restaurants are full of Greek families having an extensive lunch and dinner, and here it is no different, there are still a few and their tables are really overloaded with food. We take what is left, something with minced meat and we are surprised how cheap it is. If you don't want to spend much in Greece, go to Salamina!
We take another look at the beach and we will have to try it tomorrow, it is better than most we have seen today. And it is quiet here, we always like that. By 7 o'clock we are back at our apartment and the owners are gone. Now we really have the place to ourselves. They are very nice but very meddling and we would not have a moment alone. We are quite social, but when someone comes to you on an unsolicited basis, we do not really like that, certainly not when on holiday.
Sunset on Kanakia beach, SalaminaOur mood is certainly better than last night, but we also realize that this island is not one of the highlights of Greece. It is also a shame that it is still so cold in and around our apartment and that it is more or less a mosquito paradise, we are wearing socks, a sweater and long trousers in the evening. The next day we sleep in and then look for a place on the beach. It takes some searching because there are dozens of small jellyfish in a number of places and we do not want to be pricked although not all jellyfish are poisonous. Because of the rocky bottom we also have to watch out for sea urchins. Those spines can hurt nasty. We are spoiled with the many sandy beaches and sandy seabed that we have often found so far. No, this is really not a 5-star beach.
The church of Elijah the prophet towers over KoulouriTuesday the 4th of June we drive to the capital where we start with cappuccino which is even cheaper this time: 1 euro for a normal cup and 2 for a large mug. In most tourist places you pay 3 or 3.50 euros for a normal cup. No wonder Athenians like to go here. Then we walk to the archaeological museum but that is closed. Normally museums in Greece are closed on Mondays but on Salamina that is on Tuesdays. The same applies to the Panagia Faneromeni monastery and the St Nicolaas Lemonia monastery.
The beach at Vromopousi on SalaminaWe take a look at the Ammos beach, the 2nd with 5 stars according to the travel guide but absolutely not according to us. There is a strong wind and it doesn't look very attractive. In Salamisstad we eat a burger and then drive back to our village. There we try to get to the acropolis of Ajax the Great by car, one of the heroes from the Iliad in which he fought against Troy with the Greeks. But the sandy roads getting too bad for our car, I will walk there another time.
We go to the beach for a while and then back to our apartment. If we want to get something out of the car, we suddenly realize that the keys are still inside the room and the door automatically locks. Fortunately we have the window ajar and after we have released the screen we can open it a little further so that I can jump inside. Fortunately, because otherwise we would have had to call the owners!

Wednesday 05 June 2019, naval battle of Salamis and the acropolis of Ajax

The trunk of an olive tree that would be 2500 years oldToday we have a more active day and we look at Aianteio (Aias was the ancient Greek name for Ajax) for an olive tree that would be 2,500 years old, the oldest in Greece. That means it would have been planted in the 6th century BC. Who knows which famous Greeks have passed by here? The circumference of the trunk is in any case impressive.
In Salamina we of course stop for a coffee and then we go to the archaeological museum again which is now open.
Grave stele of Pythogenes in the museum of Salamina Grave stele in the Salamina museumThere are 2 men at the entrance and soon I am talking to them in Greek. I learn a lot from this type of conversation, more than in a restaurant, because it goes further than just ordering and paying. I think it is a beautiful but difficult language and I still have to translate far too much in my head, which means I quickly fall behind in a conversation. Still, I am making progress.
The museum is not very large, but there are local finds from prehistory to the early Christian period. What strikes me is that there are many burial stones where women and men shake hands. I ask why that is because women had a very low status in ancient Greece, they were really only important for giving birth to children. The attendant explains that it mainly concerns mothers who say goodbye to their son (the deceased). Shaking hands on Greek burial tombs is symbolic of saying goodbye to life.
St. Nicholas church in KoulouriThere are also a few nice coin treasures in the museum. Before we leave the guard wants to know more about our trip. I take every opportunity to practice and we talk for as long as we have visited the museum. Then we drive around the city that is much larger than we first thought. There are 31,000 residents permanently living on the island but it seems that during the summer holidays that number can grow to 300,000, 10x more! Many Athenians have a second home here.
Salomomaxon monument and burial mound, in memory of the battle of Salamis, 480 BC. Memorial for the naval battle of Salamis in 480 BC.In the northeast of the island we visit the Salomomachon monument. It stands on the burial mound where fighters of the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. are buried. It is a bronze statue that was placed in 2006 and overlooks the isthmus where the naval battle took place.
A little further north we see another monument in memory of that battle. If the Persians had won, the West would very likely have undergone a completely different development. It was the first time since the fight against Troy that the Greek city-states were united on such an enormous scale against an enemy.
Church in Ambelakia in the east of Salamina Church in Ambelakia in the east of SalaminaWhen we want to go to the most northeastern tip of the island, we drive past a counter where we are asked which boat we want to take. None, we want to leave here again, because apparently we are not getting any further. This is the busiest part of the island and most people arrive here from the mainland. We are even trapped in a traffic jam for a while when we want to drive away towards Ampelakia. There we stroll around the gigantic Maria Church of the Assumption from where we have a view of the old naval port of 2,500 years ago.
The ancient city of Salamina lay here in classical times Remnants of classic Salamina scattered in the landscapeAt this place lay the capital of the island in classical Greek antiquity. There are remnants of foundations of the old city on a vast area, but we don't find it very interesting, there is no information and the site looks mainly neglected, just like the rest of the island, to be frank. In 2016 a program was started to tidy up the island and to tackle excavations in a more structured way, but we don't notice much of it yet.
View over the island of SalaminaWhen we drive back through the interior we can clearly see how mountainous the island is. If there was not so much waste along the road and a lot less heavy industry, we could call it a beautiful island. We go to the beach near our village, Kanakia. On the map I have figured out how to walk from here to the acropolis of Ajax. It is so called because Ajax is so well known while he has never been king of Salamina, he died too young for that. Elisabeth stays on the beach because it is quite a climb up a hill and it is warm in the sun, around 30 degrees.
Remains of the Mycenaean acropolis of Ajax near Kanakia The Mycenaean acropolis of Ajax near KanakiaWhen I reach the top I see that we were quite close to the acropolis yesterday by car. There are no information signs while Ajax was nevertheless a famous hero from the Iliad. He was the one who rescued the body of the hero Achilles from the battlefield at Troy. It is quite a large area where you can see the foundations of the Mycenaean acropolis and it is strategically located on a hill overlooking the bay of Kanakia. The city flourished in the 13th century BC. and the most important find is a bronze plate with the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II on it, suggesting that there was trade between the two empires. I find it quite impressive but also puzzling that there is no more attention for this excavation.
View from the Mycenaean acropolis on Kanakia in the south of SalaminaAfter half an hour I descend to the beach where I find Elisabeth on the edge of the road. She was surprised by a mini tsunami and everything was flooded by the salty seawater. She was able to rescue her phone and my bag, but her e-reader has passed away. We buy a few bags of rice to let the machine dry, but unfortunately that doesn't help. Fortunately we also have a tablet with us because she has no other books with her. Look, that won't happen to me with my paper books even though they take a lot more space and weight. But I never take all of them to the beach at the same time. However, I can imagine her disappointment, I would not know what to do without books!
We experienced such a mini-tsunami before, a few years ago (there are dozens of earthquakes in Greece every day) and no matter how little the waves were, the power of the water was impressive. A few low waves that flood the beach at a gigantic speed. Just small waves but with such power that even we ourselves were dragged into the water including all things and clothes. Just like back then it was now only about 2 or 3 of those waves. The next time we have to choose a higher spot on the beach.

Thursday 06 June 2019, the caves of Euripides

View of the sea from the cave of EuripidesToday we first drive to Kolones where we still want to see a few things but we really get one thing done, the caves of Euripides. According to tradition, this famous poet and writer of tragedies was born on Salamis on the day of the famous naval battle. When he was writing his tragedies, he often withdrew into these caves. Before that he had to make a considerable climb over a difficult path and Elisabeth decided to stay with the car. However, we have not agreed at which time I will be back and she starts worrying if I stay away for at least an hour. In that time, a car stops next to her with some rough types. Fortunately, they drive away after a few minutes, but she did not like it, being there alone on a deserted parking spot.
The entrance to the Euripides cave at Kolones in Salamina The cave of Euripides near Kolones on SalaminaI climb, not aware of this happening, further to the entrance of the caves. Along the way I come across the remains of a sanctuary of Dionysos and then stand before the caves. Access is forbidden but I find the entrance very low anyway and I don't have a flashlight with me. Evidence has been found in the caves that there was already a sacred site here in prehistoric times and it became a place of pilgrimage (or tourist attraction) in honor of Euripides in Greek and Roman times. By the way, it is not 100% certain that it is the Euripides cave, but a drinking cup with its name was found in 1997. The name, however, was put on it centuries later. In the 14th century the Franks used the caves as a hiding place and a treasury.
When I'm back we agree that from now on we have to make better agreements when one of us sets off on our own. Elisabeth tried to call me and send her a message from the cave but we couldn't reach each other. We also decide to leave the other things on my list for what it is, it is not all that important, we are ready for R&R. We drive to Salamina where we have a drink. Then we go to the beach at Psili Ammos that has slightly smaller gravel than the beach in our village. The last time we were here, there was a strong wind, now it's nice and quiet.
Statue of the warrior AjaxOn the way back we have to drive all the same roads again, we don't have much choice if we want to go to Kanakia. In Aianteio we finally take a picture of the hero Ajax, son of the Argonaut Telamon, who together with Jason went looking for the Golden Fleece. According to mythology Ajax also had the supreme god Zeus as one of his forefathers, but he had begotten a lot of children with human women anyway. Ajax died in front of the walls of Troy, according to some writers by suicide. He was angry that not he, but Odysseus, had received the armor from Achilles after his death. He furiously wanted to take revenge, but the goddess Athene made him mad and he killed a flock of sheep instead of the Greek leaders. When he recovered, he killed himself with a sword out of shame and repentance.
We still managed to survive 6 days on Salamina, despite our cold and dark apartment. But we don't need to come back here. The owners call us to say that they will come by tomorrow, but we have already paid so they don't have to. We can also stay a week longer if we want. Well, no thanks. We take an extensive meal at the restaurant along the beach. As unfriendly as we were received on the first day, so friendly are the waiters now, after all we have become regular customers. Food in Greece is not that expensive but here it is even cheaper than on the mainland and other islands. For two meals, a salad and 4 drinks we spend just over 20 euros. And the food is great!


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