Folegandros: Ano Meria and the Folk Museum

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There are always two sides to (most of) the islands and Folegandros certainly shows this in its interior village of Ano Meria. The name itself is quite a common one throughout the Cyclades, in fact Ano just means upper and Meria usually translates as side. ‘upper side’ doesn’t sound so romantic but a practical way of differentiating between the villages. In fact there is also an Ano Meria area in Syros which refers to just a few hills on the near-deserted Northern Coast.

As Folegandros has a great little bus service in the peak months, Ano Meria is fairly easy to explore and can be incorporated into many of the hiking trails. Before heading up there we were advised by a friendly café proprietor to ask about the Folk Museum’s opening hours in the municipal building in the Chora. I’m glad we did as it opens everyday in the summer from 5pm to 8pm, it would have been a long wait if we had got the 11am bus as originally planned! When you look at a map it is an area that hugs the main-road for quite a while in the middle of the island which means that you can see the coast from both right and left. The village doesn’t have a central platiea or square so meanders along without a real beginning or end. The bus will do request stops all along this stretch of road and it was good to see plenty of locals were using the bus too. The village houses seem to coalesce around the road and since it began life as nothing more than a simple donkey track, it has a sense of just springing up rather than any grand design. The area is where most of the island’s permanent population reside in the Winter and still home to nearly 150 residents, many of which still have farm land on the terraces and graze animals. As we wandered around we spotted lots of goats, sheep and donkeys. Donkeys are still used along the main road to transport people as well as harvesting crops – so don’t be surprised to see a few tied up along the road. There are three of four taverna’s spread out along the road, as well as a few decent supermarkets selling lost of fresh fruit and local products.

We stopped in a small tavern at the end of the village, before the road to Agios Georgios. After our coffee’s I popped inside to use the WC and was amazed to find hand made models of Greek ferries, I had a quick chat to the man working there who was mad about the ferries and made the models himself. Very impressive!

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Reaching the Museum is fairly easy as its well signposted from the road, the site is set back on a pathway and incorporates all the small jumbled buildings found on traditional themonia-settlements in farming communities. It is free to enter and its supported by the Folegandros Cultural Society, so they just request donations instead of an entrance fee.

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The guides who give each group of visitors a tour round to explain all the buildings and artifacts and their history. We were first to arrive and the young Greek lady who showed us around was superbly knowledgeable and fluent in English, explaining that her grandfather was from the island and she returned from Athens in the summer to work at the museum.

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Firstly you get taken into the oldest preserved farm-buildings which are all set out as they would have been in the 17th Century; it’s a treasure trove of terracotta pots used to store everything from wine to honey and olive oil. Numerous farm tools from this era are on display, the guide also explained the threshing circle using a mule or donkey to walk around to separate the wheat from the chaff.

There was also a grape press where men would stamp on the grapes and a rudimentary channel and tray cut out of stone to collect the liquid.

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She explained the really interesting history about how we all associate Greek houses with being white when really they left them as stone and mud in order to disguise them in the hillside from raiding pirates and invaders. White painting of houses came in later, for environmental reasons, white reflects the sun but it was also part of the large-scale tourism promotion in the mid-20th century and after 1974 all new buildings in Greece had to be repainted white by law. It shows a slightly darker side of how we normally see the Cycladic islands as being postcard perfect.

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The museum has two displays one of the 17th Century farm house and then the 19th Century farmhouse, which is more recognisable with smaller shuttered windows and three basic room, this time an indoor kitchen, living space for weaving and a workshop, as well as a bedroom.

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As you’ll see from the pics, it’s stuffed full of wonderful crafts, and artifacts that offer an insight into life on the island. Our guide explained that most family settlements like this would build a new house when they could and leave the older farmhouse to be turned into storage – which once you know this you start to see how many of the houses in Ano Meria and other villages show this similar evolution over the year; mostly a 1950/60s built house, often build next to an older dwelling – seeing it as more worthwhile to build from scratch than repair and modernise. This is one of the reasons there seems to be few traditional farmhouses from the last century still inhabited…but you do see plenty of the tumble down ones with ‘for sale signs’. The museum site also had a really well tended garden, build on slopes, with some particularly scary scarecrows too.

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The garden had a lemon tree growing in a traditional stone wall shelter to protect it from the ravishing winds – having seen the remnants of these tree-shelters on our walks it all made sense now to protect the trees.

The museum really is an interesting way to while away some time and learn more about the traditions and crafts of rural life in Greece. It is great to see more of the cultural preservation taking place in the islands and efforts to attract tourists who wish to experience and understand the traditions that go with rural life.

There isn’t a website for the museum but some details can be found here

Saints and celebrations

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In Kini there is an annual festival of Agios Petros (Saint Peter) which takes place every year on June 29th on his  Saints Day. St Peter was an Apostle who was a fisherman so it makes sense that a tiny Greek Orthodox Chapel was built for him, perched above the rows of boats to keep a watchful eye on the local fishermen.

It was certainly a hot day and evening for such a festival, the temperature yesterday peaked at around 36c Although we went swimming late yesterday, people stayed on the beach late to watch the festival procession and cool off in the sea. It is forecast to be 44c in Athens this weekend – impossible to imagine but this heatwave is seeing some of the highest temps in Greece for over 10 years. I have to be thankful that we are luckier here in the islands, but this heat is really unusual. Even the garden is melting, tomatoes wilt in the sun and I have seen locals laying sheets out to shade their vegetables from the heat!  We have had a few internet outages and the power also went off the other night, a click and the air-con went off which prompted me to wander outside to see utter darkness across the hills. But wow the star-lit sky looked incredible. Everyone seems to be blaming these powercuts on the humidity and heat, so fingers crossed they don’t continue.

Yesterday’s event started at a stiflingly hot 7pm with the Orthodox service in the Chapel. I’m sure less than 20 people can actually fit inside, so many people gathered outside and on the steps below fanning themselves and cramming into areas of shade. The harbour had been decorated with bunting, flags, tables and chairs laid out while the band was setting up. After the ceremony, the Orthodox Priest blesses the icon of St Peter and it is walked in a procession down the hill led by local dignitaries and some of the children we recognised from the village. After it reaches the port the fun really started, when the Priest and his helpers carry the icon onto a decorated fishing boat and sail around the bay to bless the waters. One boat led with the revered icon and another six or so decorated fishing boats followed until there was a little flotilla of vessels circling the bay, they were followed by youngsters in little sail boats from a local sailing club. Flares were set off and whistles blowed in celebration. I captured a few pics of the event below.

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After the blessing and serious bit, it was time for the Greek feasting and frivolity. If one thing is for sure, it is that locals and visitors alike love to share in the jubilant dancing and feasting that comes with Greek village traditions. As the sun set over the bay, the temperature cooled slightly, the grills fired up cooking sardines and souvlaki, stalls selling Loukamades (deep fried donuts), wine and beers flowed. There was a live band, fireworks and a display of traditional dancing from the local cultural organisation.

It seemed like everyone came down to see what was happening, regardless of faith,  to meet people they know and catch up. Local families came to celebrate and enjoy the feast, while tourists wandered through the crowds to soak up the culture,from babies to the elderly, these sorts of events bring everyone together, and this was especially true with the dancing that went on late. The music just brought everyone up to dance- holding hands, learning the steps, from teenagers to the older generation, who I must say really do know how to move! I even was bravely coaxed into joining in, which was so much fun, even though the steps are always confusing.

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Plus, I finally discovered that everyone DOES know all the words to Markos Vamvakaris’s classic “Frankosyriani“; the love song was sang by an older man who got up from the crowd, everyone joined in and a few older dancers struck out the leg-slapping, slow floor sweeping moves of the Rembetiko masters. We snuck away just before 1am, sweat glistening on our faces and mosquito bites on our legs. Still the music was nowhere near stopping and people still had energy to dance wildly into the hot night.

I hope Agios Petros was impressed.