Mykonos Town, The Curse of the Cruise Ships and Shirley Valentine

Little Venice Mykonos

“There is nothing quite like this extraordinary cubist village, with its flittering, dancing shadows and its flaring whiteness. It’s colonnades and curling streets, houses with extravagant balconies of painted wood, lead on and on, turning slowly inward upon themselves to form labyrinths, hazing-in all sense of direction until one surrenders to the knowledge that one is irremediably lost…. It is not cozy, it does not try to charm. It brands you like a hot iron.”  –  Lawrence Durrell

It was two mile stroll from Ornos to Mykonos town and as we approached the bay and the port we were confronted with three hideous cruise ships menacingly lolling about on the water like an invasion fleet.  These weren’t in Mykonos the last time I was there.

Unfortunately these floating hotels seem to be turning up everywhere – ugly, monstrous and completely incongruous, dwarfing the town and spoiling the view of the harbour and the sea front, one of them was an eleven-deck eyesore resembling a block of 1970s council flats, no style or charm, just a floating unattractive leviathan.

These loathsome giants spoil everywhere they visit; Santorini has become a crowded nightmare, Dubrovnik is overwhelmed, Venice is sinking under the weight of tens of thousands of people.  I hate these cruise ships not least because I immediately knew that it would unleash hoards of cruisers swarming from the ship for a quick culture break in between continuous gluttony at the all day, all you can eat on board troughs.

In the Colossus of Rhodes, Henry Miller wrote prophetically: “I began to get the feel of it, what Greece was, what it had been, what it will always be even with the misfortune of being overrun by tourists.”  Well, he would have shocked today because this was quite unlike the Greece that he knew in 1939 as all these people descended on the old town centre to ram-raid the jewellery shops and plunder the over-priced boutiques but to bring little benefit to the rest of the local economy by stopping for lunch or a beer.

Mykonos Street 1

Mykonos town is a lively place and one of the top tourist attractions in the Cyclades, not as spectacular as Santorini, as historical as Naxos or as dramatic as Ios, but with an enviable location facing west with the town rising up from a gentle shelving crescent shaped bay full of traditional fishing boats competing for moorings with the pleasure boats and yachts.

Once in the town it was clear the damage the cruise ships have done.  I had recollections of quiet mazy lanes, whitewashed walls with blue doors and windows but it has now been turned into a giant shopping mall with designer clothes and expensive boutiques and slow progress through the streets as thousands of people were dawdling through and walking at a pace as though crossing a ploughed field.

It has become a Walt Disney EPCOT World Showcase version of a Greek island town and that is a shame because just as in Florida where people visit  London, Paris and Rome and believe that they have actually been to England, France and Italy a lot of these visitors will come ashore at Mykonos town and think they have been to Greece and really, let me tell them, they haven’t.

Mykonos Pasta

And when I say thousands of people I am not exaggerating because throughout the summer the cruise ships deliver an average of six thousand invaders every day which literally doubles the population of the town.  To put that into perspective that is like half a million people visiting the Australian city of Melbourne every day or over one million descending on Calgary in Canada.

We walked and elbowed our way around the town and patiently waited for a gap in the crowds for our photo opportunities and then emerged at the old port which thankfully retains an element of character and charm on account of the fact that the cruise ships and the ferries use the new port about half a mile away and it has thankfully escaped redevelopment.

Mykonos Then and Now

By late afternoon the little town began to empty as there was a stampede for the shuttle boats as the mother ship gave a blast of its mighty horn to alert shore-goers that the troughs had been refilled in preparation for evening meal.

Mykonos once had a famous resident, a pelican called Pétros  who arrived injured one day and stayed waddling around the streets, going from one restaurant back door to another in anticipation of fishy scraps from the kitchens and stopping every now and then in a good-natured and obliging way to have a photograph taken with the holidaymakers.  When Pétros died the people of the town decided to replace him but the new Pétros  is not nearly so obliging he was nowhere to be seen to today.

My daughter with Pétros in 2005…

Pefkas Stork Mykonos

It is only a small town so after a while we began to recognise places as we ran out of new streets and so we strolled back to Ornos and back at the Anemos Apartments we wasted a couple of hours at the side of the pool.

The following day we tackled another long walk this time to the beach resort of Agios Ioannis  which is an unremarkable little place but is famous for being the location of the film ‘Shirley Valentine’, not that she would recognise it of course because thirty years of development has irreversibly changed the character of the secluded bay where Shirley had her holiday and met the owner of the taverna, Costas.  Costas wouldn’t recognise his taverna either because it is now called the Hippie Fish and the beach outside is decorated with rows of sunbeds.

Anyway, Shirley Valentine is one of my favourite films and I was glad of the opportunity to visit the filming location.

Over evening meal we declared the visit to Mykonos a great success and later we packed our bags ready for our next stage of the adventure and a ferry-boat ride to Naxos and then to Amorgos.

Walking in Mykonos

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25 responses to “Mykonos Town, The Curse of the Cruise Ships and Shirley Valentine

  1. I loved my recent trip to Greece, but found the cruise ships and crowds overwhelming in Mykonos and Santorini as well. I think that’s why my favorite island was Naxos — it was beautiful and seemed much more peaceful due to the lack of huge cruise ships and the accompanying crowds! I have never been on a cruise myself, and what I saw did not make me want to try one.

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  2. I have not been anywhere in Greece yet. I won’t be going in peak season.

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  3. “Video killed the radio star” and those darn cruise ships are ruining many a wonderful destination.

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  4. I really enjoyed your piece about Mykonos Andrew. I went there several times in the mid-nineteen-Sixties: it was part of my job as a tour operator rep. I loved the look of the place but wasn’t that thrilled with the rather materialistic attitude of the inhabitants. I now live in Corfu and here too we have those ghastly great behemoth cruise ships. Everything you wrote about them is true for us too. I am so glad that I travelled the Greek Islands in those lovely nineteen-sixties days!

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  5. We too refer to cruise ships as floating council estates. Beyond me why anyone wants a holiday cooped up in a tiny cabin (depending on budget) with nothing to do apart from eat, drink, participate or not in organised entertainment and watch the diversity (not) of seascapes. Wretched passengers clutter Gib too. Although they do seem to eat lunch, as well as buy cigarettes, alcohol and perfume. I dread to think what the assault on Mykonos is like though. My Greek island trips were all out of season though 🙂

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  6. Agree with everything you say about the cruise ships and I’d add to that the hordes of Game of Thrones fans who choke up historical sites and block pavements and alleyways. I’ve just returned from Croatia where the GoT fans were there in thousands along with the cruise liners. With Venice, stay outside the city and travel in after 3.30 or so, but then it gets dark! We travellers have no recourse. Soon we shall have to travel only in winter!

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  7. Greece is a wished for destination but too bad it’s so overrun. Sigh.

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  8. What a wonderful bird is the pelican… and I have agree that Petros is more wonderful than most! I have many photos of the magnificent bird, Andrew. –Curt

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  9. You’ve confused me. I thought you’d struck Mykonos off but you ended up liking it. I hate cruise ships! I wish you’d taken me with you to Naxos though. Now those were idyllic memories, but I’ll never go back.

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