Island-hopping in the 1980s – part 3 of my Greek roamings

Island-hopping in Greece in the 1970s was a truly rewarding experience. I had fallen in love with the country!

In the 1980s, after completing my studies, I finally got a real job and it turned out that my new employer allowed us to take fairly long uninterrupted vacations in the summer. This allowed me to spend 5-7 weeks in Greece, a place I had come to adore.

Unfortunately, my Interrail journeys came to an end as I had passed the upper age limit for the preferential card. However, I found that cheap flights were a good way to travel to Greece.

In the 70’s, traveling had been part of the goal, it had been a lot of fun to travel around Europe by train, but now it was all about discovering Greece for real.

Here are some memories of my trips to Greece in the first half of the 80s:

Pireus 1981. The ferry for island-hopping to the Cyclades
The small park of Tzelepi, waiting for the boat to sail to the Cyclades
The ferry to the islands, Piraeus 1981
The ferry to the islands, Piraeus 1981

Island-hopping, in the 80s

From 1980 to 1984, I visited island after island in the magnificent Greek archipelago (from 1982 and on with then-girlfriend Eva, now wife). In the summers of 1980 and 1981, I saw a considerable part of the islands. I was determined to return to my beloved Amorgos and I would for sure stay a few days in Athens on each trip. In 1980, I traveled to Mykonos, Naxos, Santorini, Crete, Paros, and finally to Amorgos, the place of my heart.

Mykonos hamn, 1980
Mykonos port, 1980
Santorini, 1980
Santorini, 1980

When I returned to Amorgos in August 1980, I decided to stay in the port of Katapola and take the bus back and forth to Chora, which was still my favorite place on the island. It was a bit tricky to find a place to stay and for around a week I slept directly on the small beach next to the village. I shared space with a flock of ducks under the shelter of some αλμυρίκια/tamarisks (a saltwater-resistant tree common on Greek beaches). There was no organized camping place at that time.

Badbåt till klipporna i Katapola, 1980
Boat to the cliffs in Katapola, 1980
Katapola, 1980. Boende med ankorna på stranden
Katapola, 1980. Living with the ducks on the beach

After a while, though, I managed to share a room with a Cretan guy who worked as a waiter. When I visited Amorgos in 1979, I’d only seen Katapola and Chora, so I wanted to explore more of the island. But it was not easy to get between the different villages. The road between Chora and Aegiali wasn’t finished yet, the road construction was ongoing. To the “lower” part of the island (Kato Meria), there was a road, but it was barely passable. To get to the northern port of Aegiali, you needed to go by boat or with good walking shoes.

Island-hopping with Skopelitis (and Marianna)

Marianna was the boat that connected the small Cyclades with Naxos, which was a vital link for these islands. Marianna was built in Norway and operated as a fjord boat under the name Vaeröy. Many vessels operating in the Greek waters came from northern Europe, not least from Sweden. There were often small signs in Scandinavian languages about what you could and couldn’t do on board.

Marianna, 1981. The calm before the storm
Katapola, 1981. Marianna in port.
Marianna, 1981. The calm before the storm
Marianna, 1981. The calm before
the storm

But it was something really special to go island-hopping with Marianna. I’ve never been so scared on a boat as I was on a couple of occasions on board this ship. Marianna sailed through thick and thin (and unfortunately also in storms). It was usually the legendary Dimitris Skopelitis himself who was at the helm. There are lots of stories about this sea bear. He started taming the waves of the sea with his various ships as early as 1956. You can learn more about the history of Skopelitis here, with some great images:

Skopelitis was an amazing sailor and captain. He also played the violin well. I remember once we were on the Marianna somewhere between Aegiali, Donoussa, and Koufonisi. It was a heavy storm out there, and I was pretty scared as the waves were washing over the deck. Inside the saloon it was impossible to stay, people were all over the place feeling sick.
But when I was sure that our last moment had come, suddenly music came through the howling wind. When we looked into the wheelhouse, we saw Dimitris Skopelitis was playing the violin! All of a sudden, the ship and the rough journey didn’t seem so scary anymore.

Marianna was eventually replaced by the vessel Skopelitis, which wasn’t the best. A few years later, the Captain acquired the current ferry Express Skopelitis. Today there’s not much that’s “express” about this old vessel, but it’s still a seaworthy, reliable, and clean ship.

If you want to go island hopping in the Small Cyclades, a trip on board Express Skopelitis is almost a must. The crew is great. Giannis Foustiris usually captains her today. Legendary Captain Dimitris Skopelitis (Kapetan-Mitsos) sadly passed away a few years ago.

Amorgos – 1980, the hike towards Aegiali

When I first went to Amorgos in 1979, I didn’t know much about the island. I’d barely heard of Aegiali and the surrounding villages. So after a few days in Katapola and Chora, I decided to explore the northern part.

It was approaching August 15th—the Assumption of the Virgin Mary—one of the biggest holidays in Greece, as many travelers know. In the village of Lagada, this is celebrated for two days, August 14-15. I was lucky enough to experience the festivities there both in 1980 and 1981.

I had decided to hike to Aegiali from Chora together with a Dutchman I had met in Katapola. Many people said that the hike usually takes 3-4 hours, along a well-marked donkey trail. We were told to get an early start and to bring plenty of water.

However, things didn’t quite go as planned. In Chora, there was a small party at Dimitris’ taverna To Kastro, with music and lots of wine. I had earlier talked to a couple of soldiers about going with them in their jeep towards Aegiali, as long as the road was clear. The condition was that we had to be ready to travel early in the morning.

We had sleeping bags with us for some kind of accommodation in Aegiali, but we didn’t get up in time! The jeep had already left. The sun was high in the sky when we started the trek and we soon got lost. Hans was smart and turned back to walk the next day, but I kept walking, with far too little water.

On the way to Aegiali, with goats as only company
On the way to Aegiali, with goats as the only company
On the road to Aegiali in 1980. Hans from Holland gives up and returns to Chora
On the road to Aegiali in 1980. Hans from Holland gives up and returns to Chora

If you’ve seen the classic movie Ice Cold in Alex, you’ll understand how I felt when I finally reached Aegiali. I still clearly remember the panorama when I passed all the mountains and was on my way down to the harbor (this was before the new quay was built). What a view! So insanely beautiful! It’s nice even today, but the old little harbor was so incredibly charming!

Närmar mig Aegiali-bukten efter ca 4 timmars vandring i bergen. Den lilla ön Nikouria i bakgrunden.
Aegiali Bay with the small island of Nikouria in the background.
Äntligen framme i Aegali, 1980, efter fyra timmars vandring i bergen
1980. Finally arrived in Aegali, after four hours of hiking in the mountains

After the long, hot hike with far too little water (I know, a bad idea!), I was pretty exhausted.

Aegiali 1980. Cold retsina after a long hike

The first person I met in Aegiali was a Greek musician I’d recorded in Stockholm and who had tipped me off about the island from the start. I had no idea that Giannis Alexandris would be there. This summer he ran a simple taverna with some friends.

1981 Aegiali, Sunset Boulevard. Lite innan festen 15 augusti
1981, a little before the party on August 15, on the alley that later was called Sunset Boulevard, in Aegiali.

But where would I sleep? I asked around and found out that there was no accommodation in the port of Aegiali or the villages of Potamos, Lagada and Tholaria. There was no camping at that time, so I had to do what many others did and use a part of the beach for me and my luggage.

Great festivities in the villages

In the days that followed, more and more people arrived in Aegiali to celebrate the festival in Lagada. On the 14th of August, many of us walked up the donkey trail to the festivities.


It was a wonderful couple of days, with the village partying and dancing until dawn. In the evening a large group of us went down to the beach to sleep, only to go back up to the church the next day, where πατσά/patsa, soup made from cow’s stomach, was served after the church ceremony. According to many Greeks, patsa is the best thing to eat after a long night of drinking. And it was true, at least this time.

1981: On the donkey trail to Lagada to celebrate the Assumption, 15th August.
1981: On the donkey trail to Lagada to celebrate the Assumption, 15th August. At that time there were no roads to the villages.
Lagada 1981. The central square just before the celebrations
Lagada 1981. The central square just before the celebrations began

I spent a few fantastic days in Aegiali and the village of Lagada before returning to Katapola. The following year I made the same journey to take part in the great celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15 August.

Lagada 1981. German fiddler meets the local musicians
Lagada 1981. German fiddler meets the local musicians
Lagada. Assumption Day of the Virgin Mary in 1981.Great festivities at the remote church

Agia Paraskevi

On 26 July, I also saw the island’s other big religious festival, Agia Paraskevi in Kato Meria, the south of Amorgos. It was already big then, and today it is said to be the biggest in the Cyclades. The island’s famous dish, πατατάτο/patatato, which is goat and potatoes in a stew. It’s delicious!

In 1982 it wasn’t easy to get to Agia Paraskevi because the roads were terrible. But the legendary old Dodge bus managed to make a few trips so that people could join the celebrations.

1981. Agia Paraskevi. The Dodge bus
Agia Paraskevi. The Dodge bus on its way to the i festival
Dressed for the festivities. White against white.
Dressed for the festivities. White against white.

I and a few friends ended up on a truck bed, which was fine. There weren’t many private cars on the island at the time, which made sense as the roads were few and in poor condition. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to experience this festival again.

You can read more about the Agia Paraskevi festival here:

Agia Paraskevi 1981. Πανηγύρι/panigyri - one of the biggest festivals in the Cyclades
Agia Paraskevi 1981. Πανηγύρι/panigyri – one of the biggest festivals in the Cyclades

1984. Crete and Kalymnos

In August 1984 I was newly married and planned to go with my wife to Karpathos. We had heard that the island would be similar to Amorgos, which we loved.

We arrived in Piraeus to buy tickets for a ferry to the Dodecanese islands and then to Karpathos. This very long trip would end in Agios Nikolaos in Crete. We thought we’d take the same ship back to Amorgos.

But we hadn’t realized that one of Greece’s biggest holidays was coming up. It was August 15th, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. There were no tickets left for any ferries. Would we have to spend this weekend in Athens?

After a bit of a wait, we finally got a seat on the boat “Knossos” to Heraklion. The ship’s former name was “M/S Svea”, with lots of signs still in Swedish. M/S Svea had collided with another ship about ten years earlier, but after a few years at the shipyard, she had been put back into service. We arrived at Crete’s capital, Heraklion pretty early in the morning. We jumped on a bus that took us east to the town of Agios Nikolaos. From there, we planned to take the ferry over to Karpathos, from the wrong direction, so to speak. We thought it was a pretty smart move.

1984. 1984. Picturesque Agios Nikolaos, Crete
1984. Picturesque Agios Nikolaos, Crete

But we hadn’t expected the strong storm that hit the Cyclades and the Dodecanese islands at that time. Winds of 9 to 10 Beaufort stopped all ferry traffic for almost two days. We finally arrived 36 hours late, on the ferry “Kamiros” that would take us to Karpathos. The waves were still pretty high when the ferry passed the island of Kasos, but we were told that due to the storm, we couldn’t dock in Karpathos.

1984. Storm och mycket lång väntan i hamn på färjan sm ska ta oss till Karpathos
Storm and a very long wait in port for the ferry that will take us to Karpathos
Luftigt vandrarhem i Agios Nikolaos. Väntar ut stormen innan avfärd mot Karpathos
Airy hostel in Agios Nikolaos. Waiting out the storm before departing for Karpathos

We were disappointed, so we rolled out the sleeping bags on the floor and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, we were woken up by the boat docking in some unknown port. It turned out that we had reached Karpathos after all! We then tried to pack our things as quickly as we could, but we didn’t have time before the boat weighed anchor again, heading for Rhodes. We decided to skip Karpathos and go to Kalymnos instead. Yes, this can happen!

We haven’t yet had the chance to visit Karpathos. It might sound a little crazy to mention a non-visit in the text, but I think that a canceled Karpathos visit is also a Karpathos visit. After all, we were so close! It’s been similar with many of our Greek wanderings. Plans have often had to be changed, often depending on weather and wind, among other things. But that’s also part of the charm, isn’t it?

1984. Kalymnos

1984, Kalymnos, port Pothia
1984, Kalymnos, port Pothia

When I think of our arrival at the port of Pothia on Kalymnos, the Greek concept of φιλότιμο/philotimo immediately comes to mind. There are many memories from travelling in Greece that describe this concept perfectly.

My then-girlfriend (now-wife) and I arrived on the new island pretty late after a long journey from Crete, where we’d been waiting for the boat. Rooms were scarce in the town, so we ended up in the village of Myrties, staying with an older couple called Kokkino, which means “red” in Greek.

The nice couple, Red, had lived most of their lives in Paris. Now in their older age, they spent most of the year on Kalymnos. We hadn’t had any food for quite some time, so we walked randomly north on the island and eventually found a tavern that looked quite nice after a 30–40 min walk.

Hamnen Pothia, Kalymnos 1084
Port Pothia, Kalymnos 1984
Shop for sponge sales, Kalymnos 1984
Shop for sponge sales, Kalymnos 1984

The owner asked if we wanted fish. He had a σφυρίδα/ white grouper that he could grill. When the fish was brought in, we saw that it was huge! We thought the money we had brought for the evening wouldn’t be enough. When the bill came, we realized that was true. But, the owner said there was no problem. I offered to go to the hotel to get more cash, but that was out of the question. Pay tomorrow, he suggested.

The next day, we went back to do the right thing and also have lunch. The owner was sitting in the shade drinking ouzo. He smiled at us almost blissfully. His wife told us that her husband was happy on this particular day. We understood that he often had such happy moments.

When we asked for the bill, they apologized for selling us a fish that was way too big, so we didn’t have to pay the full amount. The man was in a particularly good mood that day, so he offered us even drinks for lunch. We’ve eaten sfyrida several times since then and always think of the fish tavern on Kalymnos.

Philotimo is a wonderful concept! It means showing empathy, compassion and generosity towards fellow human beings without expecting anything in return. We’ve experienced this many times in Greece, including in this lovely restaurant on Kalymnos in 1984.

Masouri beach, Kalymnos 1984
Masouri beach, Kalymnos 1984
Telendos, satellite island of Kalymnos
Telendos, satellite island of

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