Volos' Shores by Night
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Few cruise ships call at Volos, though it is the third largest port in Greece. When you disembark, you'll see the cranes and shipping containers of an industrial port, rather than shops, ATM's and other passenger necessities. But don't be put off. Once you get away from the docks, you'll find that this dynamic city -- which lies between the wooded slopes of Mount Pelion and the Gulf of Pagasitikos, 326 km from Athens and 215 km from Thessaloniki -- offers plenty to do on a day ashore.
Downtown Volos is a conveniently short shuttle bus ride from your arrival point. You'll find interesting museums and churches, an array of shops, and a pretty, yacht-lined waterfront with plenty of al fresco restaurants serving traditional Greek dishes. Do as the locals do, and take a volta-- a leisurely stroll -- after your meal to walk off dinner along the quayside. In the surrounding areas, picturesque mountain villages offer scenic views and local products, while centuries-old monasteries perch atop rocky outcroppings. And, if that doesn't appeal, you can always head to a nearby beach for a relaxing day in the sun.
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Other Eastern Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Athens (Piraeus) • Bari • Bodrum • Corfu • Crete (Heraklion) • Dubrovnik • Gythion • Haifa • Istanbul • Izmir • Jerusalem (Ashdod) • Katakolon (Olympia) • Koper • Kotor • Kusadasi • Limassol • Mykonos • Odessa • Positano (Amalfi) • Rhodes • Santorini • Split • Varna • Venice • Volos • Yalta • Zadar
You can pick up Greek icons painted on wood -- using pretty shades of azure, scarlet and gold -- from around 20 euros in the downtown antique shops.
The locals speak Greek among themselves, but English is also widely spoken.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Local currency is the euro, and you'll find plenty of banks with ATM machines near the marina area. For the closest locations, walk one street inland to Iasonos Street, which runs parallel to the waterfront. For the latest exchange rates, check www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.
Where You're Docked
First impressions of Volos are not luxurious. The small and rather makeshift-looking passenger terminal contains nothing more than port police and agent offices with very few traveler conveniences, such as ATM's or Internet cafes.
Don't bother. If you're not heading off on a tour, get into town as quickly as you can.
On Foot: The one-mile walk from the dock to the beginning of the waterfront promenade will take about 20 minutes but will seem interminable in the searing summer heat, which can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
By Shuttle: For about $5 each way, ships will offer shuttle buses that will take you to the main harbor.
By Taxi: Well-regulated taxi drivers are happy to negotiate fees for tours of the city and trips to Makrynitsa, a pretty village about 15 miles away. They usually quote about 70 euros per cab, but you should pay no more than 50 if you negotiate. Don't pay more than 4 euros per person to get to the seafront, or you might as well take the shuttle.
Watch Out For
If your cab runs on a meter, check that the driver is using the Number One rate, used during the day, and not the Number Two, which applies at night and is roughly twice as expensive. If there is any dispute, get a receipt -- the driver has to give one on request, by law -- and say you'll call the tourist police to check it out by dialing 171 on a local phone.
The area by the main harbor, dotted with small yachts and cheerfully painted boats, is the best place to enjoy lunch-with-a-view and some retail therapy. One block inland is Iasonos Street, which offers a wide variety of shops, ranging from sophisticated clothing stores to craft shops that feature traditional icons, candles, unusual toys and ornaments, and novelty household goods.
The exquisite Greek Orthodox Agios Nikolaos -- Church of St. Nicholas, located on Agiou Nikolaou -- is worth exploring for its solid silver icons, richly carved altars, pulpit and choir stalls, fabulous crystal chandeliers, and elaborately painted walls and ceilings.
The Volos Archaeological Museum (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., tel: 0421 28 563) contains a rich collection of wares from the Bronze Age, pottery dating to the 5th and 8th centuries B.C., and sculpture from the 5th and 6th centuries B.C. This museum is famed throughout Greece for its well-preserved paintings, considered among the country's most important examples of ancient Greek art.
The Municipal Gallery (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., tel: 0421 25 760) is housed in the town hall and is another must-see for culture vultures. It contains a fine collection of paintings, sculptures and engravings by contemporary Greek artists.
Been There, Done That
Grab a cab to Makrynitsa Village (about 35 euros roundtrip, 50 euros with a city tour) for great views over Volos; shops crammed with local honey, herbs, honeyed fruits and ceramics; and the pleasure of escaping the traffic-filled city while exploring a pretty little mountain village.
The Meteora Monastery – once an amazing aerie retreat for medieval monks -- is one of the most spectacular sights to be seen during a call at Volos. It dates from 1356 and is set hundreds of feet up on soaring sandstone rock faces. At one time, there were 24 monasteries and church buildings. The only way to transport goods to that location was to hoist them in large nets, while people scrambled up dizzying 120-foot-high rope ladders to gain access -- an act of religious faith in itself.
Roads, rocky steps and bridges now link the different parts of the monastery, which now consists of four monasteries and two convents. It's a fair trot from Volos – about a two hour drive will cost at least 120 euros by cab -- and if you're tight for time and fearful of missing the ship, it might be better to take a ship's tour.
If you do go independently, head off early; the monasteries usually close between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Men should wear long trousers, and women should plan outfits that cover their knees, shoulders and chests, as inappropriately dressed visitors will not be admitted.
The closest resort for swimming, sunbathing and lunching is Alikos Beach, about four miles (roughly 10 euros by taxi) from the port.
If you have time to head south along the coast (and spend 25 - 35 euros on a taxi each way) you'll find more good beaches around the lively town of Argalasti. The town itself has a pretty main square lined with shops and cafes. Just to the east lies Potistika Beach, which is surrounded by spectacular rock formations, and Melani Beach, where you'll find two kilometers of soft honey-colored sand.
Volos is famed for its fish tavernas and believed by some to be the best place for fresh seafood in the whole of Greece. Local dishes worth trying include calamari (deep-fried, battered squid), pastitso (minced lamb with macaroni) and gemista (tomatoes or peppers stuffed with minced lamb and rice). Ouzo is as much an essential part of the Greek dining experience as calamari and stuffed vine leaves. Go easy though -- it may taste as innocuous as an aniseed ball but Ouzo has a sharp kick, especially in high temperatures.
You'll find plenty of waterfront restaurants at Alikos Beach and also lining Volos Marina, where you can look out over the posh yachts as you tuck into your olives and calamari. All the waterfront restaurants looked pretty good -- check out where the locals are eating and take your pick.
If you want a recommendation, Ta Kymata (The Starfish) -- just three or four restaurants down the Volos waterfront from the drop-off point -- serves up calamari and sizzling hot cheese pasties. The service is delightful, and a substantial lunch with white wine and lots of mineral water costs less than 10 euros a head.
If you'd prefer lunch on the hoof, there are lots of fragrant bakeries in this area, their windows crammed with goodies like filo-pastry-and-custard tartlets and substantial cheese or meat pasties costing 3 or 4 euros apiece.
Staying in Touch
Head along the waterfront until you spot Ogl Street on your left. Walk up this short street, and you'll find the Volosi Network internet cafe. It's big, clean and very well-equipped. An hour of Internet access costs 2.50 euros.
There are plenty of international phone booths along Iasonos Street. (You can buy phone cards at the news agents' shops, or use credit cards.) Be very careful when using credit cards; though per-minute charges look cheap, connection charges can be hefty.
Perhaps because Volos is not a mainstream port of call, shore tour options are limited.
A good overview is offered by the "Volos and Makrynitsa Village" excursion ($49 for 3.5 hours), which combines a visit to the Volos Museum with a drive to Makrynitsa on the lower slopes of Mount Pelion. The village square here is known as "the balcony of Volos" because it offers wonderful views of the city, and the village shops are well stocked with local honey, herbs and spices.
The "Monasteries of Meteora" tour ($119 for 8.5 hours) takes you on a two-hour drive to Meteora -- a collection of sandstone pinnacles towering hundreds of feet above the surrounding countryside, populated by 14th-century monasteries. The spectacular tour includes lunch; visits to two monasteries to view their Byzantine artifacts, murals and icons; and a drive past the Plain of Thessaly and the ancient battle site of Pharsala, where Julius Caesar defeated his rival Pompey.
For More Information
Volos Tourist Office, Riga Fereou Square (+30 24210 23500)
Useful websites: greeka.com and pelion.org
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--by Maria Harding. The U.K.-based Harding, a journalist and broadcaster, is one of Britain's best-known cruise writers. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express