Category Archives: island hopping

Greek Islands – Tinos, St Pelagia and Pilgrimage

tinos-pilgrim-statue

“Tinos, where the little hanging offerings of crutches, bandages and paintings, testify to the miracle having taken place, and remind one once again that here, as in the ruined and forsaken shrines to Aesculapius, healing and divination are one.” – Lawrence Durrell – ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’

The ferry from Syros took us to the intriguing island of nearby Tinos which is a rather secretive place that doesn’t feature very often on holiday itineraries.  As we approached the port we could see that not being a holiday island it wasn’t going to any special effort to become one and the harbour front was rather functional and utilitarian and without the ribbon of colourful bars and tavernas to which we had become accustomed.

Actually, although it didn’t seem a tourist hot spot to us as we approached the harbour, it turns out that Tinos, a large island just northwest of Mykonos, is in fact the most visited of all the Greek Islands.  Not by overseas visitors however because 90% are Greek and since Greeks come looking for an authentic experience even the most tourist friendly places retain a feeling of originality and visiting the island is a more genuine and unique experience than say Mykonos or Santorini.

Greek Doors 2016 (3)

One of the reasons so many Greeks visit Tinos is that it is an intensely religious island famous most of all for the Church of Panagia Evangelistria which holds a reputedly miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary and is the venue for an annual pilgrimage that is perhaps the most notable religious pilgrimage in all of the eastern Mediterranean.

Many pilgrims make their way half a mile or so from the ferry wharf to the church on their hands and knees as an extreme sign of devotion.  It was extremely hot and it was hard enough work just walking up the long hill to the church so I imagine that you would have to be seriously determined to do it on all fours, although to be fair there is a ragged strip of dusty red carpet at the edge of the pavement to stop pilgrims ripping their hands and knees to shreds or getting stuck in the melting tarmac.

On the way to the church there were old fashioned stores selling various sizes of candles to take to the church and instead of postcards there were racks of cards each with a picture of a part of the body.

The shopkeepers could speak little English so couldn’t explain what these were but we eventually worked it out for ourselves.  If you have a bad limp then you buy a leg picture, a poorly arm an elbow picture, a hangover a brain picture and so on.

It occurred to me that if you are going to crawl to the church you will probably need a knee picture.

Anyway, you take this postcard picture to the Church and ask for a cure to whatever it is that ails you and secure it to an icon and when you leave, just to be certain, so that God doesn’t just simply forget about it shortly after you have gone you light a candle to remind him.  The bigger the candle the better and some of these monsters, without exaggeration, were easily four feet tall and a real fire hazard I can tell you!

pelagia-of-tinos

We reached the brilliant white Renaissance style Church, gleaming like a fresh fall of snow and went inside to see the miraculous icon which according to tradition was conveniently found after the Virgin appeared to the nun, St. Pelagia, and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried.

There is a familiarity to these stories that generally include  a simple nun or young children – Knock in Ireland, Fatima in Portugal and even Joan of Arc in France.  The Virgin never seems to appear to a sceptic academic or someone in high office in the Church such as a Bishop or a Cardinal.

By suspicious coincidence the icon was found on the very first days after the creation of the modern Greek State and henceforth Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the Greek nation.

Inside the church it was quite hard to find because in contrast to the bright sunshine outside it was dark and oppressive with the sickly aroma of incense exaggerated by the heat of the burning candles.  Eventually we found it, almost completely encased in silver, gold, and jewels, and with a line of people waiting their turn to admire it and place a gentle kiss upon its base.

All of this icon kissing means quite a lot of unwanted spit and saliva of course so to deal with this cleaning ladies armed with spray cleaners and dusters circulated constantly to deal with the slobber and the germs on a continuous and never ending polishing circuit of the church.

After we had seen the church and wandered around the gardens for a while we walked back down the long hill and back to the harbour where we walked rather aimlessly until we came across the best of the bars that we could find and stopped for a drink while we waited for the ferry to Mykonos.

Tinos is an odd sort of island but I am glad that I took the detour to visit it.

More posts about a Marian Apparition…

Montserrat and the Black Madonna

The Royal Monastery at Guadalupe

Fatima in Portugal

The Holy Shrine of Knock

Greek Islands, Syros, Bus Ride and Gyros

Syros Helmet Greece

After the Herculean exertions of the day walking to the top of two high peaks and negotiating hundreds, maybe thousands, of steps we were in no mood to march a great deal further this evening and so rather than walk to the town or the harbour we stopped instead at a gyros restaurant (and I use the word restaurant in its loosest and most generous sense here) and ordered some fast food and some white wine served from a plastic bottle.

After two weeks we were ready for this and the really good thing about the Greek Islands is that there are no McDonald’s, Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken because fast food here is all about the gyros which is a Greek speciality (sold all over the World now of course) where the object is to cram an entire meal, meat, chips, vegetables and sauces into a pitta bread wrap and then try to tackle it without it falling apart and the contents dribbling down the front of your shirt or falling onto the floor.

greek-gyros

Well, this was absolutely divine and I am not knocking all of the restaurants and tavernas that we had eaten in so far but it just might have been the best evening meal so far.  We drooled over it, we described it to each other in ever-increasing gastronomic superlatives and we mopped our plates clean.  Disappointingly of course this was fast food and it was all over in a flash and were back in the hotel sitting on the balcony and looking out over the lights of the town and the reflections on the water which spread and shifted like a kaleidoscopic diesel slick over the water.

The next morning over breakfast on account of the fact that we had completed two days intended walks in just one we had to make some alternative plans so we thought we might find the bus station and take a ride around the island.

Syros Street Decoration

Bus services in the Greek Islands used to be reliably unreliable but things have changed since our last visit and the entire bus service thing appears to have been privatised.  Gone is the inefficient fleet of state-run cream and green coaches with their tatty seats, worn out curtains for shade, belching engines and groaning gear boxes and they have been replaced with a fleet of modern Mercedes-Benz vehicles with engines that meet EU emissions standards and have air conditioning, recliners and seat belts.  The price to pay for this little bit of progress is that the new bus service is much less regular.

Those were the days – Serifos (2009)…

Old Greek Post Pre-Privatisation

So we took the ride to the nearby village of Vari on the south coast.  As we left the bus we instinctively knew that this wasn’t the sort of place where we would want to spend the entire day so we examined the bus time-table and noted that the next bus back was in forty minutes, which was too soon and after that an hour and ten minutes and we thought that we might be able to manage that.

To be fair there was a nice beach and we had a swim in the sea and then a drink in the water side taverna and then strolled back to the bus stop and waited, and waited, and waited and waited.  The bus did not come so after half an hour we gave up and started to walk back to the taverna.  Suddenly a bus appeared and we sprinted like Olympic athletes back to the bus stop only to have our hopes dashed and be told that this was a school bus and there was no way we would be allowed on that even though we had just given a whole new meaning to the term ‘school run’!

The driver told us that the next bus back to Ermoupolis was in about an hour so we wandered back to the taverna and ordered lunch and waited.

To be honest I wasn’t at all confident that there would be any sort of bus back at all but sure enough one eventually arrived and we thankfully got a ride back to the port.

Syros Church and Statue

It was our third and final night in Syros and because we had enjoyed the gyros so much the day before we just went back to the same place for our evening meal.

The following morning we had an early morning ferry to Tinos and then on to Mykonos so after settling our account we followed the steep path down to the ferry terminus and waited for the Blue Star to arrive.  It turned up dead on time and Kim immediately stood up and started pushing her way to the front of the line.

Kim is from the North-East of England where most people have a lot of Scandinavian heritage but I swear Kim is an exception and has French blood pulsing through her veins because she just cannot be in a queue without wanting to get to the front of it.

When the boarding gates opened she did her best Lionel Messi impression and swerved and weaved her way skilfully through the crowds of people, scattering children and elbowing people aside if anyone dared get in the way.  I have reminded her several times that it is all completely pointless because I am left way behind and eventually she will have to wait for me because I am the one with the tickets!

Anyway, we eventually got on board the Blue Star, made our way to the top external deck and watched as the pastel colours of Syros faded away behind us as the ferry made its determined way to nearby Tinos.

Tinos Greece Ferry

Greek Islands, Ferry Ride from Ios to Syros

Greek Ferry

From Ios we were travelling now to the island of Syros and I had found a reasonably priced ferry ride for just €16 each.  This was a seven hour journey (I suggested to Kim that she thought of it as a sort of cruise) stopping off at Sikinos, Folegandros, Naxos and Paros along the way.

I have been visiting the Greek islands on and off for over thirty years and island hopping for the last ten and I have noticed that things are beginning to change, and not always for the better either.

There are new roads being constructed on the islands and EU funded improvements to ports, traditional mini-markets are becoming supermarkets, bus services are being privatised and updated and the ferries are beginning to change.  New roads are fine and improved port facilities are good, personally I prefer the dusty old shops with surprises in dark corners and the inefficient buses but I have to say that I am really disappointed by the ferry changes.

This year again there were new routes and unfamiliar boats and these were all high speed and modern and they are not nearly as much fun.  They are more expensive, have inside allocated airline style seats, in some cases no access to the outside deck and generally lack character or individuality.

I understand that these changes are welcomed by the people who live on the islands, who now have faster and more convenient transport options, but it is a sad day for back packers and island hoppers.  I prefer the uncertainty of missed schedules, the battle with the elements and the confusion and commotion associated with getting on and getting off in preference to the reliability, the smooth ride and the orderly airline style of boarding and departure.

In 2006 I travelled from Naxos to Ios on an old rust bucket called the Panagia Hozoviotisa (named after the monastery on Amorgos) and there was a real sense of adventure. It was two hours late and there was a force seven gale and the boat struggled through the heaving seas but it was an honest hard working boat and the journey was wonderful.

I used it again in 2007 but now it is laid up out of service in Piraeus.  So too the G&A ferries the Romilda and the Milena that used to run the western Cyclades but have now been replaced with charmless monsters called SpeedRunner, Highspeed or Seajet, boats named without thought or imagination and completely lacking any sense of romance.

Using the traditional old ferries was even more of an adventure because the island hopping guide advises that most of them should be avoided if possible.

This year only the Ventouris Sea Lines Agios Georgios was left and we used it twice, once between Serifos and Sifnos, and then from Sifnos to Milos and we really took pleasure from sitting on the open deck with a mythos, listening to the gentle ‘sha sha sha’ as the prow scythed through the water cutting an arrow head of foam into the blue, enjoying the sun and watching the islands slowly slipping by.

On the old boats it is possible to move freely from deck to deck, get close and see inside the bridge and watch the captain plotting a course and then at the other end watch the crew at work at the stern and a mad rush of activity when they came in to a port and then left again shortly afterwards.

It was noisy and fun with creaking ropes and rattling chains and the men looked like real sailors.  On the new boats there is only a monotonous hum from the modern engines and the crew, dressed in smart corporate uniforms, don’t really like you leaving your seat and wandering about unless you are going to the overpriced bar.

This regrettable change is driven by the desire to improve but is in part due also to stricter operating rules imposed on ferry operators after a disaster on 26thSeptember 2000 when the Express Samina Ferry sank off of Paros while the captain slept and the crew watched a football match on TV.  Several of the crew were convicted of manslaughter and sent to jail and the General Manager of the company committed suicide when he jumped from his sixth floor office window in Piraeus.

I am glad that I had a few years of travelling between the islands on the old boats and I suppose I will have to come to terms with the fact that these days have gone but the journey from Ios to Syros on the Aqua Spirit was a reminder of those good old days.

To be completely honest I enjoyed it a whole lot more than Kim because after five hours or so at open sea her patience tanks began to run dry and she certainly didn’t enjoy the last leg of the journey from Paros to our destination port of Syros.

I know this for certain because she reminded me several times!

Greek Islands, Window Art in Amorgos

Cat Sign Amorgos GreeceRestaurant Sign Amorgos GreeceWall art Amorgos GreeceAmorgos Wall Art

Greek Islands, Naxos and the Cathedral Tour

Blue Star Amorgos to Naxos

‘The problem is not that French is impossible to learn: you can hear it spoken perfectly in Tunisia, Algeria or Morocco. No, the real problem with French is that it is a useless language’. Jeremy Paxman (UK Journalist)

It was still very dark when we made our way down to the harbour and joined a line of passengers flocking onto the ferry Blue Star Paros which was throbbing away in the harbour and we made our way to the partially covered seating area on the top deck of the boat.

As the quayside rumbled with the sound of drag-bag wheels we watched from the deck rail we saw what resembled a sort of Pied Piper story unfolding as people emerged from rooms and spilled out of little side streets all heading in the same untidy direction and making their way to the boat.

It left on time and slipped noisily out of Katapola into a disturbingly rough sea and as the sun rose behind us the wind whipped up the foaming waves and sent them high enough to crash over the sides of the top deck covering our faces in a salty brine.  The ferry lurched alarmingly from side to side and the Greek flag was cracking like a whip in the wind as though trying to detach itself from its pole as we sailed west making brief but frequent stops at Koufonisia, Schinoussa and Iraklia before arriving in Naxos in time for breakfast.

Dash For The Ferry

After eating we walked to the top of the town to find the Venetian Cathedral tour that was highly recommended in the Island hopping guidebook.  We waited around in the courtyard outside the Cathedral and not a lot seemed to be happening and we wondered if we were going to be disappointed.

Eventually an old lady in an extravagant floral blouse and with a worn out old dog for a companion ghosted in from a hidden door in an adjacent room and enquired if we were there for the tour and we told her that yes we were.

She went to a great deal of trouble to explain that her English was quite poor and clutching her stomach she told us that her doctor had advised her against speaking in English because this made her ill.

I’m not a medical person you understand but this seemed highly unlikely to me and whereas conversely I may find it possible to understand that speaking German can give you a sore throat this woman had no credible explanation for a diagnosis of stomach cramps just through speaking English; but anyway as we set off she proceeded to speak perfectly even though it was in a hushed and croaky voice.

This was really excellent, we were the only people on the tour and we received an exceptional commentary all around the interior and the exterior of the Cathedral.  But then disaster struck as  a group of French people gate crashed the party and after a short debate about language preferences with these unwelcome latecomers she continued for the rest of the tour in about 75% French.

Naxos Street

She apologised to us for that and lamented that “English people cannot speak French and French people will not speak English!”  which, when I thought about it, was a very profound and accurate observation.  This shouldn’t have surprised us of course, we know how precious they can be about their secondary World language so we just had to accept the inevitable and struggle to make sense of the French and be grateful for the few stale bread-crumbs of English that were infrequently scattered our way.

There is no good reason for the French to be so stuck-up about their language, after all it is only the eighteenth most used in the World, Chinese is first, followed by Spanish and then English.  More people even speak Portuguese (sixth) and worst of all German (tenth).  The French, it seems, need to come to terms with the balance of linguistic power in the World.

Actually, even in a foreign language, this was an excellent tour and the communication difficulties didn’t spoil it one little bit.  Our guide swept us through a museum, a monastery and a simple basilica as we visited buildings and rooms that would simply not be accessible to tourists who did not join the tour.

In one room there was a pot-pourri of treasures that really deserved to be in a proper museum where they could be looked after properly.  She dragged them out of boxes and held them in her frail hands and in a rhapsodical way accompanied by extravagant arm gestures as though she were conducting an orchestra kept imploring us to “look at this, look at this!” 

Naxos Cathedral Tour

At one point she opened an illuminated manuscript and declared it to be five hundred years old but she turned the pages over as though it was a copy of last week’s Radio Times.  That sort of thing would never be allowed at the British Museum.  No wonder Lord Elgin took the marbles back to London so that they could be looked after!

This was a brilliant tour that allowed us to see something that we would not ordinarily have seen.  It lasted about ninety minutes and then she asked for just €2 each.

Now, I am not usually prone to impromptu acts of extravagance but this had been so really, really good that we gave her €5 each and still walked away thinking that we had bagged an exceptional bargain.

Our sojourn in Naxos was now almost over so we collected our suitcases from the bag storage depot and made our way slowly to the port and waited patiently for the Blue Star Ferry to arrive for our onward journey to Ios.

Naxos Cyclades Greece

Greek Islands, More Doors of Amorgos

Amorgos Door 05Greek Door AmorgosAmorgos Door 06Amorgos Door 04

Greek Islands, Amorgos and a Walk Through History

Amorgos Chora

The plan today was to visit the nearby village of Tholária.

There was a bus due at a quarter to eleven but having inherited my dad’s aversion to paying unnecessary bus fares and as it was only ten o’clock, I gently persuaded Kim to walk the couple of miles by road and footpath instead.

In the past this might have been a problem but Kim now has pedometer and has been transformed into a walking fundamentalist zealot and we set off at a cracking pace towards the village several hundred feet above us down at sea level.

The road zigzagged all the way up and we could see it looping away from us in front so I was glad when we came across a stony donkey track that was a more direct route and we left the road and tackled the steps instead disturbing the stones and scattering the basking lizards as we went.  It was uneven and difficult in sandals even for someone like me who is in peak physical condition!

At every turn I hoped the village would get closer but around every turn was another expanse of steps and another receding view of the whitewashed houses and every plodding step seemed like a hundred.  I decided that when we got home I would write to the local rambling association and tell them to disregard my application for membership.

Tholária Old Ways Amorgos

As we climbed we passed through what might be loosely described as fields with rows of derelict terraces and dry stonewalls that separated the hillside into equally measured individual plots of land.  Amorgos is mostly inhospitable rock that has been baked hard in the sun for thousands of years but as recently as only fifty years ago people here were scraping away at the thin soil and removing the stones to try and make a living or to feed the family by growing fruit and vegetables.

Each islander had a personal plot and would attend every day to manage and tend the land.  They had to carry all of the water to the side of these plots and the only way to achieve this was by using a donkey. Then in the 1960s visitors started to arrive and the enterprising islanders realised that there was more money to be made renting out the back room and this was also a lot easier than a difficult twelve-hour day toiling under a hot sun.

The terraces are all abandoned now to thistles and what other few hardy plants can survive in a hostile environment and they are unlikely ever to be cultivated again.  There is no one to look after them or protect the heritage, each year parts of the walls collapse and disappear and soon they will be gone altogether and that will be a sad day.

This man seemed happy enough however…

Tholária Amorgos

Although no one will ever see it again I like to imagine what this hillside might have looked like fifty years ago with farmers scratching away at the ground, donkeys occasionally braying and patiently waiting to return to the town and fishing boats slipping in and out of the harbour below on the silver water.

This arrangement was a feature of Greek islands, a port at sea level where the fishermen work and then a village high in the mountains, medieval refuge from pirates and invaders and where farmers worked the terraces.  A good deal and as we sat and drank a cold beer I imagined the hard life and primitive economic arrangements of the past where farmers with calloused hands stained red from the colour of the earth exchanged fresh vegetables for sea food with the fishermen from the port, bronzed and salt streaked from time spent at open sea.

It sounds simplistically noble and idyllic, something Voltaire or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would approve of but my goodness I bet it was a hard life.

Another delivery of potatoes…

Tholária Door Amorgos

After walking around the village we set off back to Aegiali and came across a group of walkers who enthusiastically showed us a short cut but it was down a tricky path and they had stout leather walking shoes with knotted laces and we had inadequate sandals with synthetic soles so we ignored the advice and stuck to the road instead.

There were a lot of walkers here on Amorgos and I couldn’t help thinking that if I was going on a walking holiday then I might choose somewhere like the Black Forest in Germany or Snowdonia in Wales not (as much as I like them of course) a barren rock in the Cyclades where the relentless sun would surely force me into a very early submission and a dash to the bar.

Back at the port we stopped for a drink and then after half an hour or so Kim got carried away and suggested another climb to the village of Potamas not far from Aegiali but up a tough and demanding road and set of steps which I think, after we had reached the church at the top, she was seriously regretting the suggestion.

Greek Taverna

Descending through the mazy streets and alleys there was time for a drink in the main square where elderly locals were beginning to gather for an end of day chat.  I wondered where all the young people were and I think I immediately answered my own question – Athens probably.

Back at the village we found a dusty mini-market because we wanted to buy some wine.  It was surprisingly expensive and the information on the labels hard to interpret but at the back of the shop a French couple were passing judgement on an obviously home-made red poured directly from a plastic bottle.

They declared it to be entirely acceptable so we agreed that if it was good enough for them then it would be perfect for us so based on this Gallic recommendation we purchased a bottle for ourselves and took it back to the room and sat on the balcony for a couple of hours and waited patiently for the next inevitable sunset.

Sunset Playtime on Greek Island of Amorgos

Greek Islands, Mykonos to Amorgos

Amorgos Church & Windmill

“The flavour of the place is pleasant and alert, as you gaze over the rail (of the ferry) you may have a Byronic twinge of nostalgia and decide that one day you might return to settle among those mazy streets and silent dusty squares.”  Lawrence Durrell

Being a nervous traveller, normally when travelling by ferry that requires a crucial connection I like to allow a couple of hours or so leeway so that I can be certain of making the transfer.

The journey to Amorgos required a change at Naxos with only forty minutes on the timetable.

I began to get nervous when the first ferry was over fifteen minutes late and when it docked I tried to use thought transference to will people to board quickly and then to get the captain to slip the moorings and leave and it must have worked because everything went smoothly and soon the Seajet was easing away from Mykonos and was soon at full throttle and heading efficiently south towards neighbouring Naxos.

Dash For The Ferry

Once disembarked Kim did her ‘Frenchman in a queue impression’ and pushed her way to the front  of the line for the connecting ferry to Amorgos.   It wasn’t very elegant but at least we were sure to get on board and that was important because if we had missed this connection then we would be stuck in Naxos for the night.

It wasn’t an especially memorable crossing, I always prefer the older traditional ferries but this was a high speed, expensive but efficient and it roared its way across the water to deliver us to the main port of Katapala.  This was a shame because we were staying at the opposite end of the island about fifteen miles away and there was no one to meet us as promised.

There wasn’t a scheduled bus for three hours so we found a taverna for a beer and a salad, phoned the hotel owner and he agreed to drive down and collect us.  Thirty minutes later he arrived and after another half an hour or so we were sitting on the balcony of our hotel room.

Amorgos cat

This was a place to chillax, tranquil and slow, perfect for recovering from a nervous breakdown or contemplating the meaning of life and other serious matters; why are British police vehicles called Panda Cars, how did the Trojans fall for that Wooden Horse Trick and just how did Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton become U.S. Presidential candidates?  Here, I thought, I might find the answer to something that has always troubled me – how can I be sure that the little light in the fridge has gone off when I shut the door?

Amorgos provided a huge contrast with Mykonos.  No sun-beds cluttering up the beach, just towels spread out and held down in the corners by stones, no pesky buzzing scooters, just pedestrians and no tattooed people but instead lots of ageing bearded hippies with pony-tails, wearing white linen and leather sandals, carrying sketch-pads and all that was missing was the joss sticks and the candles, the flowers and the guitars.

The prices too were much more to my liking and more suited to our budget and in the space of about three hours the cost of living had literally halved.

Amorgos Green Window

The beach was close to the port but there was no activity of any kind because there were no boats due today.  The whole place had settled down to late afternoon lethargy.  It is nice to see boats because it means there is still some connection with the rest of the world, or did I get that wrong and it is the other way round?

Not being dedicated beach people we stayed just long enough to dry off and then returned through the village and back to the hotel where we let the rest of the afternoon just slip through our fingers.

After four days it was time for a shave and I mention this not because anyone would be remotely interest in my ablutions but because I have noticed a curious thing about bathroom wash basins in Greek hotels.

In almost every bathroom there is a notice on the wall explaining how precious the water is and encouraging guests not to waste it – so curious then that there is hardly ever a basin plug and if there is then it more than likely will not fit and the water just pours away into the u-bend and beyond.  Surely if they are serious about being careful with water then it would be sensible to provide a simple piece of rubber on a chain to make sure that to wash your face you don’t have to keep the tap running continuously!

Folegandros Chora

Later we dined in a restaurant in the harbour where a full moon was decorating the inky sea with silver glitter that shifted constantly and broke and reassembled  a kaleidoscope image on the surface of the water that undulated with a gentle ebb and flow and that reassuring sound of tiny waves lapping the shore and percolating through the sandy gravel.

From the hotel balcony there was a good view of the night time harbour that was peaceful and serene with the lights of the buildings reflecting on the surface of the water and providing an idyllic image of the Cyclades.

In this moment I was reminded why I always say that Amorgos is one of my favourite Greek islands.

Amorgos sunset

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

 

Click on an image to view the gallery…

Greek Islands, Doors of Mykonos

Mykonos DoorMykonos Door 02Mykonos Door and Chair