Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Marvels of Mykonnos and A Stop in Syros

Saturday, November 8, 2008
Mykonnos, Greece

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We had the sort of day in Greece of which lazy memories are made. Both Llew and I have become addicted to the chocolate croissants from the corner shop and after showering, we dressed and went out to meet a most gorgeous day on Mykonnos. With our croissants all bagged up, we chose a deserted restaurant on the waterfront to have our coffee while overlooking the port and the ferries that sailed in desultory fashion disgorging their passengers upon the quays.

When we had enough of such idle perusal, we began making our way towards the curve of the island and the little Greek church that sits on the edge of the waves in stark white-washed glory, its stone walls bathed in golden sunshine. A few feet below us, gentle waves frilled with white foam churned the jade, turquoise and aquamarine waters, filling me, once again, with wonder at the simple beauty of the sight. Because I became obsessed with capturing these scenes for keeps on my camera, I took many pictures. It amazed me that we had this little piece of paradise entirely to ourselves. The silence, but for the sound of the breaking waves on shore, was complete and it felt as if we were on our own private island. How heavenly it was!

Reluctantly, we tore ourselves away from the scene and made our way towards "Little Venice", that part of Mykonnos that has one-storey balconied structures that jut out into the water, seemingly like the houses that hang above the canals of Venice--hence the quaint name. People were just beginning to stir by this time along the cafes that line the water front. But right ahead of us loomed Mykonnos' famous four windmills and we decided that we simply should climb up the hill on which they are perched for a better look. Picturesquely, we passed by Zorba's Auto Works en route and, of course, our minds were taken back to that lovely film with the most haunting of signature tunes, Zorba The Greek. At the windmills, the light was clear and true and perfect for some more photo ops. These remain some of my happiest memories of Mykonnos. Far from the party crazed tourists who throng its beaches in the summer and turn the island into a glitzy cabaret, this is the Mykonnos of my heart's fondest desires. We were so grateful that we chose to come in the 'off-season', indeed at a time when most businesses are closing shop for the winter, for we truly had a chance to experience the true flavor of island life and culture.

Indeed, being in Mykonnos during the off-season worked to our advantage. Back on the beach, we chanced to enter a gelateria where the owner was closing for the season and offered us gigantic helpings of free gelato! We were as pleased as Punch! Taking our cups of Snickers and Double Chocolate and Rum and Raisin, we walked to the beach and there on the sands, with the seagulls screaming raucously around us and the ferries lying in the harbor, we relished our ice-cream. By this point, we had run into Vince again--he kept turning up like the proverbial bad penny--hahaha--and I volunteered to lend him by novel The Memory Keeper's Daughter which I had finished and enjoyed and because he was desperate for some English material to read on his long return ferry ride to Athens. Vince came along with Llew and me to Pension Stelios where he hung out with us for an hour as we sat on the balcony overlooking the azure waters of the port and the white curve of the Chora. This too, will remain one of my favorite memories of Mykonnos--a day devoted to aimless rambles and pointless chatter.

A Stop in Syros:

Then, Stelios was dropping us to the port for our ferry ride to Santorini. Our boat, the Blue Star Ferries Superferry II, took us to Syros where we had a five hour layover. Syros is another quite beautiful Cycladic island but decidedly different to both Mykonnos and Santorini in flavor.The port town is called Ermoupolis and it is larger, for one thing, more impressive and extremely elegant. All the streets are paved with white marble--the roads too. Structures along the streets front are painted in the softest pastel shades of peaches and cream.

Our first stop was the large main square called Plateia Miaouli which as Lonely Planet puts it, is indeed "worthy of Athens". An imposing Neo-Classical Town Hall sits in a square ringed with fashionable cafes and stores, all of which, unfortunately, were closed for the weekend. After we rested our feet for a while--for the gentle climb had taken its toll on mine-- we continued wending our way up the hillside to arrive at the lovely Church of Saint Nicholas that dates from the 1840s. Since neither Llew nor I had visited any of the famous Greek Orthodox churches until this point in the trip, we resolved to enter the church and check it out. And how grateful we were that we did!

In the church, a Christening service was in progress and the baby lay quietly in the arms of its parents with its god parents in tow. The church was ornate in the extreme with paintings coverings its wall, crystal chandeliers in bright colors pouring light upon the marble floors and the fragrance of incense filling every crevice. The ceremony, in Greek, of course, was lengthy and very ritualistic, involving a great deal of song and movement and offering us Greek theatrical pageantry for which we had not bargained. We enjoyed it enormously and having watched for almost an hour, decided to go outside again.

Darkness had fallen over Syros and our attempt to find a suitable restaurant for dinner began. How lucky we felt to find a small eatery open that served us a fantastic Greek Salad and huge Meatballs in Lemon Sauce. This was truly the taste of the Mediterranean and we feasted heartily over a bottle of Mythos beer. Earlier in the evening, we had visitied one of the many confectionery shops that line the water front and had picked up some of Syros' famous treats--nougat and clove and orange flavored marzipan and some more sokolatina (chocolate mousse pastry). With these treats in our possession, we boarded the ferry Romilda at 9 pm for the long overnight sail to Santorini.

It had been a terrific day--easily one of the best in our Greek Odyssey and one I know I will long remember.

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