Pelicans rule on Greek party island
I HAVE become a pelican stalker.
I am on the Greek island of Mykonos, and the day before, in town, I came face-to-face with the island's mascot, a real-life pelican.
The bird was waddling through a narrow passageway when we met in the middle.
It wouldn't do to obstruct a pelican, especially when it's almost as tall as my five-year-old son, and its pointy beak is as long as my forearm and liable to be used as a weapon.
So I flattened myself against the wall and the creature padded past me, a troop of camera-toting tourists in its wake.
I would have joined the pelican paparazzi, but I was late for a lunch reservation and the food won out. Still, I rued the brief amount of time I got to gawk at the pelican and was determined to see it again.
Which is why I am now at seafood restaurant Nikos Taverna (tavernanikos.gr), where I hear the pelican turns up every day around noon for free fish.
The story behind how a pelican came to roam the island goes back to the 1950s, when a Mykonian fisherman found an injured great white pelican and nursed it back to health. The islanders adopted it and after it died in 1985, other pelicans moved in to fill the vacuum. There are now three of them here.
So I am seated at an outdoor table at Nikos, with one eye on the menu, and the other keeping a close watch for the bird, when I see staff hastily throwing a net over a display of fresh seafood on ice.
Then the pelican's head appears, bobbing above the tables in front of me as it makes its way to the entrance of the kitchen, which opens up to the street.
"Pelican!" I shriek and skip my way around the other tables - to join a crowd of onlookers already queueing up for a selfie with the creature.
The pelican is a reluctant celebrity. It allows people to take photos with it, but it also refuses to look at the camera because it's got its gaze fixed on the kitchen, waiting for someone to come out with fish.
A waiter stops briefly and strokes and talks to it, while an islander walks past, hugs it and kisses its head, but the pelican acknowledges neither.
If there were a speech bubble above the pelican's head, it might read: "The things I do for food."
Eventually, an employee emerges from the kitchen and slips several fish down the pelican's throat, and the creature, satisfied, flaps its massive wings several times in slow-mo, then pads away, abandoning its post as photography model, the queue of selfie-takers be damned.
I have by then spent about 45 minutes milling around the bird and finally go back to my order of sea urchin on the shell, seafood platter and home-style venison stew, all excellent, which makes visiting this restaurant a win-win situation.
GET LOST IN MYKONOS TOWN
Mykonos is Greece's answer to the party island of Ibiza in Spain, and is where celebrities like footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, actress Lindsay Lohan and reality-TV personalities the Kardashians have been spotted in recent years.
Mega yachts drop anchor at the harbour, while the jet set lounge in the upmarket resorts that dot the island.
Drop by the island's many party beaches, like Paradise beach, and feel the temperature rise from the heat generated by the toned, tanned and almost-naked bodies there.
Meanwhile, the fashionable throng the town's streets after dark, hanging around clubs that blast pulsating music.
But there are simpler pleasures to be had on Party Island for the rest of us who don't own beach bodies or have the inclination to club.
For one thing, it is a gratifying pursuit getting lost in town, a maze of narrow alleyways and twisting passages designed centuries ago to confuse pirates.
But unlike invaders, tourists will have a much more pleasant time trying to find their way around - many of the flat-roofed houses that line the streets are now trendy boutiques, souvenir stores, art galleries, bars and restaurants.
The town is a riot of colours with the dazzlingly whitewashed houses accented by electric blues, fire-engine reds and deep lush greens, and with explosions of bougainvillea bushes at street corners joining the melee.
If getting lost makes you hungry, drop by a visitor favourite, Hibiscus Croissanterie (19 N. Kalogera Street), for an ice cream or a sampler plate of Greek pastries, eaten at its tiny sidewalk tables.
It is located at the junction of two major streets, so there is heavy passenger traffic and is a good place to people-watch.
Another good fuelling spot is Salt And Sugar (www.facebook.com/saltandsugar.mykonos), a kitschy cafe done up in hot pink. If you cannot stomach pink, just close your eyes as you bite into its delicious crepes, bursting with fillings, and you will be fine.
In the day, you may find yourself jostling with a flood of tourists, clad in bermudas and sunglasses, released from cruise ships that stop here.
For a quiet interlude, branch off into the tight little side lanes, where the houses are still for living in and pots of flowers on window ledges and lines of drying laundry speak of domesticity.
And if you manage to break free of the labyrinthine streets, head for the harbour, whose waterfront is lined with cafes and where fishing boats bob on water so clear that fish can be seen from above.
You may also see fishermen cleaning their nets by the tiny whitewashed church.
SAVOUR THE SUNSET
Santorini may be the go-to Greek island for sunsets, but the ones in Mykonos aren't shabby either. And without the crush of tourists in Santorini jostling one another for the best view, watching a sunset in Mykonos could very well be the more enjoyable experience.
A good sunset vantage point is at the windmills, five of them perched along a ridge at the top of town. The harbour, too, offers a pleasing vista and, as a bonus, the whitewashed buildings along the waterfront catch the rays of the setting sun and turn a pretty orange.
Many restaurants also offer front-row seats to view the sunset, such as those along Little Venice, a row of fine mansions-turned-restaurants built so close to the sea, they seem to rise up from the water.
Two restaurants here worth your while are Kastro's Restaurant-Bar (www.kastrosmykonos.com), a modern seafood restaurant right at the end of the row, which serves food as inventive as the view is good (chocolate mousse with caramelised bacon, anyone?).
The other eatery is Katerina's Restaurant (Agion Anargiron 8, tel: +30 2289-0230-84), which is next to Kastro's and has fine food too. If you make a reservation, you can score a seat on the balcony, which hangs so close over the water that on days when the sea gets rough, waves splash in (in which case, you will be offered the next-best table at the window).
Getting lost in Mykonos town can easily take you two full days (excluding beach visits) if you want to take things slow.
But while enjoying the sights, watch out for the pelican and remember to give way if you see it.
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