Sitting on the beach in the little fishing village of Apollonas on the northern tip of the Greek island of Naxos, I pick up a beautifully smooth pebble. Nothing unusual about that, except this one is made of high quality marble and has the most gorgeous translucency and lustre, glowing like the skin of a goddess when washed by the seas.
I imagine some love-sick teenager a couple of thousand years ago, longing for the curves of a girl and caressing such stone. I reach over and grab an alternative pebble, this time one made from granite I think, and wonder how malleable this stone would be. Very is the answer, as it only takes a few minutes to cut a soft groove. I imagine the early attempts might have been primitive, but classical Greek sculpture has a history of several thousand years so it isn't like they were in any hurry.
Naxos and Paros are just loaded with with the stuff. It's certainly the only place I have ever been where they make dry stone walls from it. Town squares and streets are paved with it. Doorway lintels and arches are made from it. Tables and bathrooms covered with it.
Unfortunately the weather on the Greek Islands at this time of year can be changable and getting off Naxos proved to be somewhat challenging. High winds and angry clouds dominated the horizons, so perhaps it wasn't surprising that they cancelled all the ferries, even the large ones. It probably wasn't so much that the seas were too rough as much as they just weren't sure how rough they were actually going to be.
After being stranded for an extra day we tried again, even though the weather really wasn't much better with the other islands completely disappearing in the gloomy squalls. So with all our luggage, two children and two strollers in tow we joined all the other passengers waiting for the ferry to arrive as the angry clouds turned blacker still, the rain became horizontal, and was soon joined by thunder and lightning.
It was just at this moment that the ferry chose to try to arrive, looming out of the gloom. It looked so close that I think the captain missed the harbour entirely on the first run, was way out of position on the second run, and finally sailed off out of the harbour, turned around and had another go, managing to dock on the third try.
All the soggy passengers stormed aboard including yours truly with a rucksac on my back, camera bag over my neck, stroller by one arm and 20Kg boy by the other. This wasn't the sort of place you wanted a 3 year old to dawdle or wander around.
Naxos and Paros, despite thin descriptions in the guidebooks, turned out to be fascinating, pleasant and a welcome surprise, the winding town streets full of whitewashed houses and fine architectural details, everything in fact you imagine a Greek island town to be.
But as we explore, all to briefly, some of these delightful island villages, which are turning into ghost towns at this time of year, it gradually dawns on us that we are following a theme as all the places we like have significant Venetian influences.
Quite appropriate I suppose, given where we started!