Naxos is the largest of the Cyclades Islands and is situated pretty much in the middle of the Aegean Sea. You can get there by ferry, as I did, hydrofoil, or by Olympic Airways connections from Athens.
The ferries and hydrofoils to Naxos all dock in Naxos Town where the first thing you notice is a bizarre archaeological site standing proud on a headland (see journal entry). The port feels much more touristy than many other island ports, what with the tavernas, restaurants, ticket shops, and tourist shops lining the harbour.
The town is made up of four distinct areas. First, there is the harbour, with its bustling front of bars, restaurants and tourist shops and fishermen at work. Then there’s Nea Chora (Agios Georgios) (see journal entry) to the south with its huge, sweeping, sandy bay. Next is the old town, which starts just behind the harbour and is divided into two areas; the Kastro, where the Venetian nobility used to live, and the medieval Bourg, where the Greeks lived.
The Bourg and Kastro areas of the town are an experience to explore! The narrow winding streets are mazelike and it’s easy to lose all sense of direction. The reason for this is that the Cyclades Islands have a long history of piracy and invasion and the towns were designed like this in the hope of confusing the invaders. Many of the streets, especially in the market area of the Bourg contain quaint little cafes and tavernas that are more authentic than those down by the harbour. There are also many small local craft shops here (often the front rooms’ of peoples’ houses) where you can by items such as hand made lace, pottery and jewelry.
I stayed in Naxos Town for the four days I was in Naxos and didn’t feel any need to see the rest of the island. By day, I relaxed on the beach and by night, I wandered the streets of the old town, or people-watched from one of the many tavernas along the harbour. To be honest, I spent the first day or two feeling very lonely and sorry for myself and wondered if six weeks travelling alone around the islands was a good idea after all! However, it didn’t take long to shift this mood, once the relaxed atmosphere of the place took hold.
The one thing that really struck me though in those first couple of days is how vulnerable you are if travelling alone. Simple things like leaving your table to visit the bathroom or buy another drink aren’t so simple anymore and mean packing up your stuff as if you were leaving completely and then maybe having to sit somewhere else on your return if someone else has taken the table. And on the beach, the simple pastime of going into the sea to cool off is fraught with anxiety as your bags and towel, etc. are left unwatched on the shore. I have to say, though, that it is not the done thing to steal stuff out of an unguarded bag on the beach, so your stuff should be safe, but I still wouldn’t bring out anything that is valuable to you. It’s all common sense really.
On the other hand, travelling alone opens up new avenues of opportunity as well as being a scary experience! People tend to feel sorry for you and treat you better if you’re alone. For example, the son of the lady who rented me a room during my stay here told his mother that I was his friend and got me half rent, as he felt sorry for me for travelling all alone! I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth! People also seem to go more out of their way to help if they feel you’re alone.
Naxos town had a profound affect on me, but I’ve never really worked out why. It is a very attractive town to stay in, there is ample nightlife and restaurants etc, the beach is very good. . . but then many places can boast the same. I suppose it’s also because Naxos town is a commercial hub that does not rely wholly on tourism and therefore is bustling and busy all year round, so you don’t get the feeling that the atmosphere is temporary and put on like a show for the tourists.