Our Round The World (RTW) journey begins
A return to the Cyclades brought us to Naxos for the first time. It was a great place to start even if it wasn’t the initial plan!
Life can work very differently than one imagined, even with best laid plans. Finally ready to navigate to a position where a massive RTW could be moved from a contemplation stage to actuality.
January 2020 we envisaged a round the world adventure. Excitement of meeting old friends and acquaint with some new ones, in far off places.
Tickets were booked in the New Year, the lift off date was 8th November 2020.
Excitement was overwhelming until March 2020 when Covid hit. Lockdowns began around the world. Our Airbnb closed its doors. We waited.
Surely It would be all over by November? We were holding out that India, our first port of call, would open its borders again.
See our original itinerary.
Our ideas were forced to change by the time the year was hitting its last quarter, as countries closed and bookings where cancelled by operator’s.
We felt downhearted but determined.
Needed quick thinking
We didn’t have many countries to choose from. Somewhere sunny called and quick thinking was a necessity, due to giving notice to our apartment.
Decision made – We’re off to Naxos
We decided on Naxos, a Cyclades island in the Aegean. It wouldn’t be as hot as our first stops, India or Mauritius but sometimes a Belfast summer in the term of degrees wasn’t that bad.
Then the UK gave notification that the country would be locked down, with no flights out, 3 days before we were due to leave. Thankfully we hadn’t booked anything yet but we had to act fast!
Within hours we had flights and accommodation booked that would whisk us out of the UK a day before the door slammed shut. On our day of departure, the 4th November, there was also notice that Greece was also going into lockdown a couple of days after we were due to arrive. It felt like we were in an action movie running, sliding, rolling, and just managing to slip under the shutter as it rumbled down.
On our way
With an early start, driven to the airport by our niece Tracy, we flew from Belfast city to Heathrow, then an onward flight to Athens. It was weird and unnatural to see airports so quiet.
New rules as we head to Naxos
To enter Greece we had to fill out, online, a locator form, 24hrs before our departure, and wait for a QR code to come through to show before boarding from Heathrow to Athens.
Nerves jangled as they weren’t the fastest, but finally it came through with a ping, during the early morning, with just hours before our flight.
I (Miko) worked out online that to be subject to their random testing, your QR code had to start with a particular number.
However, until I got through Athens border control I didn’t relax.
Luckily security waved us through, while some people got pulled aside for the random testing. Our number 4 did the trick!
Arrival in Athens
Using Accor Points we checked in, mentally exhausted, to the hotel at Athens airport.
Travel has its challenges, but travelling during covid is draining, with all the rules. It doesn’t help that I have never liked rules.
Getting used to other countries’ restrictions and rules is arduous. It heaps on extra pressure.
Welcome to Naxos
The tiny plane landed into Naxos Island with the wind greeting us like it was Ireland.
A hire car waited for us, as we watched passenger’s luggage being brought from the plane in a tiny trailer.
Our new home in Naxos
Driving to Annio studios was hassle free, on the quiet winter roads of Naxos, and our little studio was pleasing to the eye. We got to choose a room due to the lack of customers. It was a lovely place by Plaka Beach.
The white washed walls and blue shutters brought us back memories of other Greek escapes in Mykonos and Santorini. The Cyclades are pretty as a picture. The rose garden was immaculate and the smell wafted throughout the air.
It was a relief that we’d made it to Naxos, a peaceful hideaway from a world descending into chaos; where illogical, confused, and absurd strategies, thinking, and directives had left a large proportion of the population in disillusionment.
Plaka beach, Naxos, was several KMs long, or longer if you climb over the granodiorite rocks, bouldering down to the sea in a huge neolithic cascade, and headed into Agia Anna or Prokopios.
Rudimentary art captured an imagined shark thrusting inland from the water. Plaka’s sands were white, golden, and fine that fed into the crystal clear water.
Sometimes rocks, under the sea or protruding from the sand at the shoreline; large, smooth, and looking like ancient cooled lava flows, developed extra character to a scene backed by the interspersing of beach bars (all closed up for the winter) and protecting dunes. A real delight.
There were a few friendly residents about strolling, walking dogs, or generally exercising on these heavenly golden sands
I (Knox) embraced my regular morning runs in this ideal Naxos setting, jogging the rough dirt roadside before returning along the shifting sands.
The sea lapped relatively gently when there was a northerly wind or more vigorously crashed ashore with a southerly or south westerly.
The beautiful shoreline of Naxos
On the few days when the breeze abated below a whisper, the sea would be akin to a sheet of glass in its stillness. The effect reminded me of the ancient Greek myths of seafarers cast adrift in calmness, praying to the gods for a favourable wind.
If the gods were on their side, that wind would blow in and chop those waters up in an instant.
Naxos weather – exeeding expectations
The temperatures far exceeded those that were starting to bite back in a cold November UK. Even for Cyclades standards, it was dryer and slightly warmer than usual. A good number of days pushed towards 20 degrees with a hot sun beating down through a generally cloudless sky. You wouldn’t have thought it, though, as the locals walked about in their jumpers and big winter coats.
Like a Belfast summer!
For me, it was like a late spring / early summer in Ireland and I delighted in sporting my T-shirt, shorts, and flip flop ensemble. I definitely attracted some odd looks from the locals of Naxos..
Yes, there were some thunderstorms, with lashing rain, but these were few and far between.
There was absolutely a nip in the air if the sun went behind a cloud or when it set around 5pm. At these times, we just wrapped up a bit more and carried on. Us Irish are used to changeable temperatures and weather in the summer so a hoody, jumper, or raincoat is always at hand.
Our 1st floor wrap around balcony/terrace, at Annio Studios, Naxos was a great suntrap. Drinks were enjoyed also, as our southwest facing aspect invited the sun in all day long. Our sea view caught the setting sun and afforded us some wonderfully, fiery descents that had the camera snapping. The outdoor space was important. It felt like we had a living and dining area connected to our bedroom.
Breakfast, afternoon snacks, and even the odd dinner were all had on the terrace. We ate simply and healthily.
Annio Studios, Naxos provided free bikes and this proved vital, as well as vindicating our decision to rent a car for a few days at the start, as it provided access to Chora (Naxos town).
With the main supermarkets about 7/8Km away in Chora, the bike allowed me (Knox) to get to the Spar Koutelieris in 15/17 mins (depending on the tail/head wind) and AB supermarket a few mins after that.
There were a few bakeries in the area too that offered delicious cakes and sweet desserts.
Deliveries from shops
AB did deliveries but one had to shop in store first then they’d arrange a delivery time. I was able to stock up on most of my provisions without having to carry them back myself. I could then go to the Spar and/or the bakery for goods that AB didn’t have. These I could carry in a backpack and in bags on the wrists/handlebars, nicely balanced, back to Plaka. Job done and we ate well.
The cats ate well too. Numerous feline friends sauntered in and out of our lives, to varying degrees, and they all had such individual characters that made us laugh, cry, and swear under our breaths lol.
Sylvestra – The best cat on Naxos
Sylvestra, named because of her likeness to the cartoon cat Sylvester, was an arrow to the heart.
Miko: “I went to Naxos, not fussed about cats, as I was never a ‘cat person’. But I left with such a fondness for this wee lady. She stole a little piece of my heart.”
She introduced herself with a meow from the garden beneath our balcony. Initially, she stayed down there and would find a hole in the long grass as a spot to settle and snooze in the sun, always with one eye open to watch us with. We would peer over the balcony, meowing a hello and this timid princess enjoyed, politely, meowing a hello back in such a ladylike fashion.
Tabby – a naughty Naxos cat
Tabby “the Indomitable” kinda stepped in and took over. She didn’t shyly wait around. Within days, not to pass up an opportunity, she climbed the bougainvillea and padded onto the terrace with greeting cries and purrs. So vocal, she would not be denied. She made herself comfortable on a chair or on my (Knox) lap. She gave small bites to try and show dominance or would swipe the back of our legs if she didn’t get what she wanted.
I (Miko) certainly wasn’t having any of that! She was dispatched out the door if she misbehaved lol.
Food focused Tabby
She didn’t want to sit still for long. Her main focus was food and she would sneakily nip into the room to dash straight for the bin or fridge. While she did get tidbits, our vegetarian diet wasn’t much to her liking. She did guzzle down yogurt, cheese, and any meaty cat food that was on the go.
Tabby the traitor
It was never enough and she quickly left us for our neighbors, Damien and Camille due to their fish supply! We were used, abused, and forgotten until they left just after Christmas.
Bruiser – A tough Naxos cat with a lot of aliases!
Bruiser, AKA Horse/hoarse, Fegs, B Smith, and 100 other hilarious aliases that popped into mind played the innocent with her feeble, gravelly, 60 a day smoking habit sounding meow.
She practised leg rubbing but she was a bully, make no mistake. White with a couple of marble spots, short haired, and yellow and red streaked devilish eyes, she was built like a tank while her chipped ears and scarred nose showed a penchant for going to war.
Beware of Bruiser!
Miko: “Aw look” edging into the room, rubbing herself against the door frame.
Knox: “Aye, she’s cute.” we burst out laughing at her hoarse meow. “OUCH! The wee fecker”
The bite on the palm of my hand, as I (Knox) went to stroke her head when she rubbed through my legs, served as a warning to be wary of sharp movements around her. She got fired out of the room and was trusted only to come to the door in future. She did make us laugh, rolling around the grass as if butter wouldn’t melt, but we had to watch her like a hawk.
Definitely a bully
Poor Sylvestra avoided her like the plague. She’d hide behind bushes, peering to see if it was okay to come out. Tabby was also on the receiving end of Bruiser’s fierce claws and was pinned a couple of times as we had to distract attention to give her the chance to flee.
Felicia – Bruiser’s pal
Felicia (short, smooth, and tight Black and white fur like Felix but female) was her pal. She would hang for a bit of food but wouldn’t come near to be petted.
Sweet Sylvestra comes into her own
Meanwhile, Sylvestra, with her pink nose, long whiskers, fluffy, silky smooth, black and white coat, and longing stare moved in.
We’d pass her sometimes and encourage her to come over. Her confidence grew and she enjoyed a pet, as well as a bit of dinner now and then. With patience, she discovered the bougainvillea route to the balcony and, once there, she wanted to kiss and purr and dribble and strutt and rub herself against the chair, your leg, your hand, and in fact anything possible to show how happy she was.
We were so surprised. It was as if she was saying “okay, you seem fine, so I’m ready to get closer now”. Try lifting her and it was a different story. It was as if aliens had come to beam her to their spaceship. She would scrabble and claw to slip from one’s grasp and hide under the bed, where a tapping of a cat food tin would be the only thing to prize her out.
Loved her food
She delighted in the tidbits that she got and talked as much as Tabby would when food was on the way. We ended up picking up more cat food each shop we did and she got well fed every day, along with some for the other cats too of course. Slowly sylvestra ventured into the room. Outside, she had her wee “Circle of trust” (The base of a swinging chair minus the chair) that she retreated to as her safe place.
Safe place in Naxos for Sylvestra
Inside, under the bed was her safe area. She still used this sometimes even when becoming brave enough to jump on the bed beside us. Sylvestra took to this like a duck to water or, more appropriately, like a cat to a mouse, using her dancing feet/claws to milk her way further into our affections. She would sleep sometimes but only ever so slightly as she was always on guard.
Every movement or noise would stir her. Her large, green, saucer eyes demanded to know why she had been frightfully disturbed. She was a jumpy cat and I (Miko) seemed to be the jumpy version of her lol. She enjoyed me singing to her and her eyes relaxed themselves again as she fell into slumber.
Hard to say goodbye
It was certainly a wrench to leave her and the tears were tripping us as we climbed into the taxi heading to the airport.
Dumpster Cats of Naxos
Outside of Annio’s, we befriended the bin cats, where we brought the recycling. There were quite a number, but the main ones were the 3 Blackies or 3 witches (Terry Pratchett’s Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat). They were very nervous and wary, but started to come round, and got much closer by the end.
Two of the blackies really cottoned on quick when I (Knox) started coming and serving out the food on top of the bin with the closed lid. They’d be up on the bin lid and watching as I flip flopped up the sandy road.
Their piercing green eyes watching intently and little meowing squeeks. We got quite attached. I was concerned one day when I arrived to firstly see none about. I said to Miko and we both made a trip up later that day. We then only saw one hiding, more scared and nervous than before.
All was revealed in a day or so when the others reappeared with shaved bits and sprayed markings.
We spoke to an Italian woman we saw releasing one from a trap. She, with her husband, had been doing the rounds, catching as many as possible, to get them neutered. This helps to humanely control the population.
Tiny Ginger furball
The other wee furball that melted our hearts was a wee ginger kitten I (Knox) stumbled upon on my feeding route. There were the same heart strings pulled as Marmalade had when I was a teenager that arrived with our family after a bomb blast that destroyed many homes in our area. This Kitten, Ginger Rogers, was smaller and more disheveled as she staggered out of Maragas Camping.
I don’t think she could believe her luck when I passed. It loved the food and the pet that I gave the flea ridden wee mite. I just wish that I could have done more.
Fiesty Ginger Rogers
The next day, low and behold, GR had ventured further down the road to appear in the lane that Annio’s was on. I quickly got some food and stood guard against any other cats while she had her fill. After, she sat in the sun and loved getting stroked. This wee one had a lust for life. A couple of days later, I saw her sitting in Yazoo, a restaurant/bar that was closed for the winter but had the owners/workers still staying there with their families.
A new home for GR
We then didn’t see GR for a couple of days and became worried until I (Knox) saw, from the distance of our balcony, one of the kids with what looked like a ginger furball in her arms.
Later enquiries proved me right, with delight, as this little mite had fallen on her paws. The heartstrings of the family, who also had dogs, had been pulled and they had adopted GR. We were properly made up.
Cooking in Naxos
Around the world, I’ve (Knox) cooked using various kitchen makeups. Naxos was no different.
From Basic to more sophisticated
On our first tour of India in 99, we lugged along a single ring kerosine stove that enabled me to cook simple meals for us to reduce costs and integrate with locals at the markets. In other places, I’ve had the luxury of a full kitchen. In Naxos, I had something in between with my 2 electric hobs, a sink, a fridge, and minimal worktop space.
Confidence to use what I had
My culinary skills have improved over the years, along with my confidence, and I was able to prepare some pretty decent fare. I was able to procure most of the provisions that I required, including delicious halloumi and Mature Cheddar, and that helped the variation in meals.
India in Naxos!
I was even able to make a reasonable Aloo Gobi as I found a Tikka Masala curry jar in the Spar. Not my usual method but I didn’t have my normal array of Spices and herbs to prepare from scratch. I’m sure Ganesh forgives me. It was a great and unexpected alternative meal as long as I remembered to buy rice and not pasta that looked like rice!
Working with the staples
As well as pasta, salad, and spud dinner staples, I was able to cook Fried rice, chips, Halloumi burgers, veggie burgers, spicy bean burgers, sweet potato fries, and the curry.
We also enjoyed a cheeky takeaway Pizza on occasions from the delightful crew at Su e Gui who were happy to deliver to us. This gave me a much needed rest from cooking at times.
The challenges surrounded juggling pans and hot plates for each meal. With any cooking, timing is key to success. My prep had to be spot on both physically and mentally.
Having a clear route prepared in one’s mind helps to compensate for the lack of space and utensils. This was especially true for our Christmas dinner. There were so many elements:
- Red wine veg patty
- Mashed potatoes.
- Cauliflower and broccoli in Cheese sauce.
- Mushroom and lemon stuffing.
- And my gravy
From prep to fulfillment
There was a lot going on and the prep started on Christmas eve (even before for the shopping). I wrote my instructions down so I was clear what ingredients were needed and that my path to culinary success was distinct. Stuffing without an oven was a first.
The gravy was prepared and reheated. Each cooking step was followed. I was delighted with the outcome and Miko was suitably impressed. The meal was delicious. As usual for Christmas, we were so full afterwards and enjoyed an evening of relaxed TV watching.
Seeing the sights
We had the car the first few days after arrival and used this to get initial supplies in and to purchase a new set of hair clippers for me (Knox). We also did a whistle stop tour of some of Naxos’ sites.
Coastal art at Cedar forest
A forty minute jaunt south, over the rugged hills and through mountain villages, arrived us at the Cedar Forest of Alyko. I (Miko) was drawn by the renowned artwork. This was an abandoned coastal resort development. Artists had transformed the concrete dereliction into such a cool hippy vibe of thought provoking colour.
Tripped out 3D paintings protruded a head through walls, graphic birds, pointers for viewers position, a Sadu like benevolent portrait, strength of mind impressions, and many more reliving peoples’ failings and wastefulness.
The nature of Naxos reclaiming the land
Cedar trees and shrubs filled in the other gaps as the rocks rolled into the sea. Nature reclaimed what would always be hers. Down by the little white and blue painted chapel, a few buildings, small single and double room dwellings, showed signs of habitation. We left them to their rugged and simple life in this coastal mix.
We came back up to the North of the island and Naxos Town. the wind had picked up and was whipping round us now.
The clouds had closed in a bit and the temperature dipped. I (Knox) was determined to see Apollo’s temple as Miko sheltered in the car. The gusty wind crashing the waves against the harbour walls. Great spays of water fizzed around the paved causeway that connected the harbour to the islet of Palatia.
The huge marble gate, a single remaining part of the unfinished temple, was visible but to get there was now fraught with danger as the weather deteriorated by the minute. I took my photos from the female statue, truncated from the neck and half carved around the torso and legs, that stood at the start of the path. The only option was to retreat. The bluster nearly took the car door off its hinges so we reluctantly called a halt to the tour.
Getting supplies in
The next day was about preparing for the lockdown by stocking up and there ended any further tours of the island. Going out would now have to be accompanied by a note with one’s details and reason for leaving home.
Sightseeing wasn’t a valid reason. This was no issue around Plaka and neighbouring Agia Anna and prokopios, or my (Knox) cycles to the large supermarkets in Charos, but we were wary, especially as visitors to the island, of venturing too far. The official lockdown never ended in the two months we were there, which was a shame as it prevented us from savouring the winter hospitality in the local tavernas and restaurants.
It wasn’t the usual birthday treats of being showered with gifts or a crazy booze fuelled night out, but it certainly was a treat being in Naxos, even in lockdown.
My (Miko) only wish was that it was sunny. Proper sunny! Wish granted. I woke up to a breakfast menu and a heartfelt poem from Knox. We had a wonderful sun drenched walk on the beach that morning, then spent the rest of the day bathing on our private terrace, supping on some bubbles.
Candle lit dinner
Later with candles lit, it was a delivery pizza from our favourite restaurant. It actual maybe one of the most memorable birthdays, and one I will certainly remember!
We made a bit of our own fun, in our makeshift terrace studio, putting together a few funny musical videos; including a Christmas special of “Fairytale of NY” rendition, as well as a bit of song writing, and general creative sparking to keep us entertained as well as crease up our family and friends with fits of laughter.
There were also a few aperitifs shared with Damien and Camile as we whiled the nights away. They were meant to be in Indonesia but that plan, as ours, had to be changed.
Lazy sunny days preceded wonderful sunsets. It can’t all be work and no play. Some terrific snaps of scenery were achieved and we really loved the place.
As much as we felt at home, itchy feet reminded us that we were due to be on a RTW. It was time to decamp and set off for pastures new.
For the last half year, we had checked every month for news on India’s borders opening for foreign tourists who don’t own private jets. It never materialised. We looked at other Asian countries slowly opening but the entry requirements were restrictive.
Cape Verde looked promising, but getting there was proving problematic.
Moving on from Naxos
Besides this fact, it wasn’t around areas of our original itinerary. We looked again, scoured the globe, and saw an opportunity to cross the Atlantic to the Americas.This would at least put us in touching distance to a large chunk of places we had wanted to visit.
While quite a difference to our expected route, Mexico had now become central to our escape from Europe’s winter and a promise of sweltering temperatures. Our decision to flee the UK was vital. It would have been impossible for us to get out at this stage due to changing conditions.
Mexico was attainable because of our escape to Naxos, and would now be our gateway to the Caribbean, the US, and potentially more.
Check out our next destination