Easter now

This is the first Easter I have spent in the UK since 2015 when I chased my then 4 year old nephew around the garden on an egg hunt. The air was warm and I think we all got sunburned while he found a basketfull of slightly melting eggs. We realised later that we didn’t quite find all the eggs and some laid undiscovered until the summer! So here we are at the Easter Weekend in the UK. I don’t even know what that consists of these days. For those people lucky enough to still be working I guess it’s a weekend off…although talk to anyone with children there seems to be zero real time off or away from responsibility in lockdown. We persist and try to make the best of it, telling ourselves this is all normal.  

I do love Greek Easter – the rituals and long days of sunshine and feasting but the Orthodox celebrations won’t be taking place next weekend. Greece’s lockdown continues and so far it seems to be showing good signs – very few infections, low death rate and a health system that has increased ICU capacity. So Easter here and there, like life, will be different this year. No big church services – no fireworks lighting up the sky to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection ‘Christos Anesti!’ – no shops full of decorated candles for the children and bakers windows full of neatly plaited Tsoureki. No red dip dyed eggs and smashing contests. Of course some of this will happen in households but without the big village celebrations and family gatherings it won’t be the same. 

The first Greek Easter celebrations we experienced were in Patmos, an island in the Dodecanese; I recall watching the town gathering in the square for church services, flags adorning the churches and then midnight fireworks and bangs that went on, and on, and on. The next night there was music and dancing and long tables laid out in the square to share the feast. The lovely couple who ran the hotel we stayed at gave us ornately wrapped tsoureki with red dyed eggs nested in the bread and explained the significance of each;  the bread made with butter and eggs, to provide a rich treat after fasting. Designed with three plaits that are braided together to represent the Holy Trinity—God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit and the red eggs blood and rebirth. All to be baked on the Thursday before Easter and only eaten after the midnight service on Saturday when the celebrations begin with feasting. Oh, and one can’t forget that delish Magiritsa soup made from sheep entrails – which isn’t actually awful – just a rather unique taste! 

Easter Candles

I’ll be missing the sights and sounds of a Greek Easter next week but making the most of what we have here and trying to stay positive. I struggle to hear anyone talking about ‘exit strategy’ when this is becoming more obvious by the day it is a long range crisis with an unknown human and economic cost. Whatever normal is again, it won’t happen for a long time. Accepting that is scary and we (the UK) seem to be nowhere near getting a grip on it. But given that we are all in this together, even if that is in our own separate human ways, there has to be good to be found and here’s a few things that I have found joy in: 

1- Baking: having finally located flour in the store I have made an apple and fruit traybake, choc chip cookies and some no-yeast herby focaccia bread. There is a high chance I’ll bake again today…and will need to step up the exercise! 

2 –  Planting seeds: loving my little kitchen window experiments, I have not been this excited to watch cress grow from seed since I was 5 years old! Herbs, tomatoes and courgettes might be taking their time. But all offer hope and/or acceptance that we could be here a while! 

3 – Walking/running: out in fresh air across flat fields and bridleway paths. Never have I been more appreciative of low population and wide open spaces. Also the weather freakishly glorious.

4 – Writing: just words, one at a time, piecing themselves together and forming fragments of the world we live in. No, definitely not a time to pen a novel from scratch or finish a dystopian masterpiece, but keeping going is key. Also was also great fun having regular video chats with other creative folk and attending virtual sessions of the StayatHomeLitFest!  

5 – Distraction: “I have seen the best minds of my generation lost to Netflix”™ Deborah Levy. Not to say TV is bad, but away from the news it can be uplifting and distracting in equal measure plus we all suddenly have the time to watch. Currently dipping into Unorthodox, but haven’t even watched Tiger King. Should I? 

In many ways what I am living with perhaps isn’t so different from what I had thought I would do after quitting a job.  It just hasn’t worked out in any way that I considered.  A month ago when I packed up my virtual desk we lived in a totally different world. The map has changed, the lines redrawn and exist in different place now, physically and mentally.

Being present in this day to day is my only option; the prospect of getting other work has diminished vastly, any plans of travelling, volunteering or setting up a new venture are in flux and for the first time in my life I don’t have a fixed point to race towards. Yet in all this chaos there is calm, stillness, patience. In this state of now I am being really thankful for everything I have and can exert control over. 

For now, everything else will have to wait.

Amorgos: hiking in the clouds

I hadn’t seen The Big Blue so didn’t know what to expect. In the pre-instagram age of the late 80s Jean Luc Besson’s film catapulted this small Cycladic Island community onto the tourists radar. Even 30 years later people still visit to plunge into deep blue waters. Numerous places to stay are named after variations of film’s title as well as an annual ‘Real Big Blue’ diving competition. This was all lost on us. We went to discover Amorgos’ rugged land, famous hiking trails, not just the blue sea.

The early start in the island capital’s Chora coincided with dawn shuffling over the grey sky. We packed our rucksacks with supplies for the long hiking route #1. Stepping out into the eerie village  we were greeted a wild moan of wind rushing through the streets like an omen. Hadn’t we come here for the Hellenic sunshine?

The first part of the walk seemed easy, down a cobbled traditional stone path, seemingly headed right into the Aegean. Instead it dipped into a tarmacked road and became a car park at the famous whitewashed Monastery clings dramatically to the rocky cliff face. Panagia Hozoviotissa has captivated worshippers and travellers since the 11th century. Described eclectically as a chest of drawers by one intrepid explorer in the 1800s – it still holds true as a revered place of Orthodox worship.

“Bonjour, Ca’va?” a voice came from a hobbit-sized doorway. We were greeted by a monk laying out skirts for the women visitors to wear. Respectful dress codes still apply. Most visitors are French or Italian, so he practices less English. He chats in between offering a shot of honey infused raki and a bite-sized Loukoumi. We tell him of our hiking plans and he is surprised we are taking such a long route, ‘you are strong, right?’ he says doubtfully looking at our slight frames. Smiling he waves us off with “Kala Tichi” Greek for good luck. Between the dark clouds rolling in from the mountains and the doubt from the monk, I feel only trepidation as the rugged path stretches before us. The full route is 20km to Aegiali – the sign post states 4hours 40mins. We take this with a big pinch of greek maybe time!

After a sharp ascent and narrow drop to the sea, we keep pace traversing a shrubby plain weaving in and out of gigantic boulders. The 4 other hikers are crossing the opposite way, it becomes apparent we are doing the hike in reverse. The path direction less travelled.  Traditionally the Orthadox biers of Easter are taken in procession across the island from Aiegali to be laid the Monastery. Stopping off at every church on the way to give blessings. Hiking the path backwards perhaps is fitting in summer. The wild goats don’t seem to mind. As we reach the peak when the path converges, the clouds are descending fast, I feel like they are whipping round us and making the morning seem like a foggy winters eve.

20180828_10394820180828_102814It warm but the sun is nowhere to be seen. Never mind the big blue, this visibility means we can only see about 10 foot in front of us. Soon a clatter of goat bells clang harmoniously and we round a corner to see a whole herd emerging out of the clouds.  They converge round us unafraid and bleeting.

Onwards high above the roads and scattered farmhouses that remain in this harsh landscape. Past vast terraces of land once cultivated for wheat and grains, vines and olives. Reaching the abandoned village of Asfontylitis marks the half-way point in the middle of the Great Strata path. Although a couple of the houses are restored, village life hasn’t changed here in centuries. We saw two men carrying water from the well helped by their sturdy mules. The church marks the centre of the settlement, they waved kindly at us, probably used to stray hikers nosing around. Some amazing rock paintings of stick men appeared on large stones as the path veers left and up – were they a warning?

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We took a lunch stop after the vast valley of Oxo Meria facing the tiny chapel of Agia Mamas. Two men stood around in the shade. Soon one was whitewashing the church walls with a long extended brush. The other took photos with a rickety clicking digital camera. This must be the proof of their mornings work. How else would anyone know if the painting at been done, the church was a good few hours walk from any of the main roads.  Only hikers or mules would be witnesses to the new coat of paint.

Finally around 5 hours later we took the final decent down the path into Aiegali, the clouds seemed to part as if by magic and the sun blazed down.  There was no question then, the big blue sea beckoned us for a cooling dip.

Perhaps we were learning what the fuss was about after all.

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Islands of Industry part 2: Milos

 

You will have definitely seen Milos, it perhaps exists in people’s imaginations long before they visit it. Its images infiltrated your vision when you think about that Cycladic Greek paradise with azure blue seas and white sand, the contrasting colours of fisherman’s houses right at the sea and boats bobbing in the harbour. Milos has all of this and a whole lot more, which is why it’s having a bit of a moment. This is a good thing for the Miliots haven’t been reliant on tourism – so it’s a supplementary activity. It has been a steady industrial island, with a history of mining and mineral extraction plants since the turn of the Century. In fact the mines here contribute about 5% of Greece’s national GDP.

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I had ‘ummed and ahh’ed about Milos – for the reason that it’s getting lots of coverage in tourism press, so is building a following, not yet on the Santorini / Mykonos scale, but on its way as tourists add in Milos to an island hopping route. It has a ton of high speed connections too. That’s why we went in June before it got too busy. I was finding it tricky to secure somewhere relatively good value quite last minute. There is a lot of ‘boutique’ places which 10 years ago I suspect had meaning, now is a tired trend in hotels that often means double the price for some white painted furniture (sorry!).

As we’d just stayed in Kimolos, being blissful and low key, the inter-island hop to stay on Pollonia for 4 nights on Milos was super simple. The Panagia Fanomerini boat actually runs all year round and the mine workers use it to commute to work between the two islands. Although the timetable had just that day changed, hence a ‘will it / won’t it’ panic about whether there would be a 12 midday service or wait until 5pm. The café waitress offered to help us and a few conversations later soon established it was on at midday as promised. Like everything in Greece, having ‘travel-faith’ always helps (taxi’s turn up on time, boats run, people offer lifts).

Arriving in Pollonia was certainly a contrast to sleepy Psathi. Pollonia is a little harbour and swathe of sandy beach fringed by tamarisk trees, it has about a dozen café’s and restaurants on the front, from souvlaki houses to higher-end cocktail bars. Kind of traditional but feels well established for tourism as most of the buildings have sprung up in the past 10 years or so. But the traffic was a little crazy, lots of ATV, quads and mopeds buzzing around! When we rocked up at the travel office to check in to the apartments, the sales girl spent too long trying to tell me how I definitely needed a vehicle to see the island properly. Pah, we have legs! It’s not that I don’t trust us as drivers, its more I don’t trust other drivers – especially younger kids who maybe don’t drive mopeds normally.

We stayed in the Eleni, which was clean and quiet and just a short walk from the seafront at Pollonia. And more importantly close to breakfast at Kivotos ton Gefseos (the ark of taste!) which did amazing homemade honey, cakes and ice creams. We even ate breakfast there one day; eggs and bacon in the gorgeous paradise garden.

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So Pollonia is right next to this huge benzonite mine, which I think most people don’t even realise as they sip cocktails on the seafront and work on their tan. The island has been well mapped into 6 routes with descriptions here. As it was too windy to head to the beach, G decided on route 4 as it sounded like one of the most interesting and different hikes you can take. It covers a vast area still in use mines along the cost and interior sites.

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It starts in Polllonia, heading out the back of the village on a well –marked road. For the majority you are on unfinished roads with mining traffic. We did this on a Sunday and given everything else is closed in Greece, it was astonishing that trucks worked tirelessly up and down this road. The mine and processing plants form a vast area belonging to S&B Industrial Minerals whose main product in bentonite, used in clay and concrete manufacturing. The truck drivers have painted personalised trucks (like ‘the yellow dragon’) and given the strangeness of people wandering around a dangerous site, they were friendly too.  Waving at us, not to scare us away which is what I feared!

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This isn’t an ideal hike for everyone, the only other walkers we saw were a French couple, the lady was not having a good time and hated walking on the roads with the trucks. They stopped twice and asked us a few questions, eventually abandoning the hike before reaching its real highlight.

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The view from the massive mine makes it all worth it. They have even made a viewing point shelter where you can sit and enjoy the view. And it is quite an amazing view which really reminds you of the sheer scale of mines like this.

Milos

After this stop the trail returns to the rural farming fields and olive groves that one gets used to in the Cyclades. It heads out to the coast in a loop so we extended the walk through to the beaches at Pachena, where we ate a picnic lunch on the lunar landscape and tried to swim in the huge waves crashing on the shore. We contined the walk to Kambos and the caves at Papafragos- where we saw a few people idly ignore the crumbling rocks and warning signs to take slightly eye-watering photos leaning over ledges! Heading back into Pollonia, we passed an abandoned looking garden Nursery owned by the mining company – where apparently they grow plants to help stabilise the rock shelves and re-green the land.

Milos

Milos is a unique place, its geology and coastline are unique. That’s why going out on a boat trip seems to be one of the definitive experiences on the islands .But when I found a day trip offered on kayak this seemed like a much better experience than being trapped on a crowded boat for 6 hours!  Rod who runs Kayaking Milos, a geologist and Australian ex-pat knows the islands coastline like an expert having lived on Milos for over 20 years. The day trips are 9.30-4pm, with snacks and lunch, tons of help and guidance for new and novice kayakers. He plans routes based on the winds and currents each day, so our small group went out at Aghia Kiriaki on the south coast and kayaked about 13k on the water – which sounds like a lot but it is entertaining and informative, so you don’t notice the exercise! (well not much, but my arms were tired the next day!) The route took us past Tsigrado beach, which can only be reached by climbing down the rcks on a rope ladder. Yikes, I was much happier seeing it from the safetly of our double kayak. We explored the coast, team work all the way, paddling through caves and sulphur springs. Stopping for swim breaks along the way, firstly at Firaplaka and then lunch at Gerakas beach. All breathtraking views and a really interesting way to see the island up close.

Milos

Milos

Although it is a relatively small island it has a lot to do. Not just admiring the interesting industrial landscape and geology – of which there is plenty. But there are also stunning beaches and traditional tavernas. Like the one very close to our apartment in Polloonia, called Liofyto – a fab open air terrace set in a lovely garden. We fed our holiday bellies with a local speciality of lasagne with veal, tiganes pork bites and green salad with mustard dressing. The place was full of Greeks and locals celebrating a babies christening late into the evening.

Other nights we found some great seafood at Enalion on the sea-front– a sun-dried octopus with tangy fresh lemon and chickpea salad. I’d also recommend the souvlaki place on the main road, so cheap and so tasty. Luckily we balanced exercise and eating on this trip!

Even if you have a week on Milos there is probably a lot to see and do, contrary to belief you need a car or moped, or ATV, the islands bus service is frequent so you can get by without.

Here is my top 5 things to see and do:

1.Go hiking
Choose one of the 6 mapped routes to experience the island on foot. With 75 beaches to explore by foot, boat or vehicle, it is still possible to find your paradise. Despite the popular ones being Sarkoniko with its white lunar landscape and the caves at Kleftiko, there are dozens more to see off the tourist trail.

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2. Walk down to see the restored fisherman’s houses at Klima
Most are painted in colourful hues and used as holiday homes. This would have been the islands original port for the ancient city of Melos.

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3. Visit the Catacombs just outside Trypiti
Here outside the smaller settlement of Trypiti is a wonderfully preserved catacombs – the best in all of Greece apparently. Only 4 euros entry and you get a guided walk through, where the roots of plants hang spookily from the ceilings of the two open chambers. It’s well maintained and shows an interesting explanation of the islands shift to organised religion as orthodox buriels were established. There is a ton of interesting graffiti there too from as early as the 1920s

Milos

Milos

4. Explore the site of the ancient city of Melos and see the amphitheatre
The area is well signposted and explained. On the way you’ll see the marked spot where the famed statue of the Venus di Milo was found in the 1820s. Now in the Louvre in Paris, she is an interesting claim to fame from the islands past glory in the ancient world.

Milos

Milos

5. Wander around the streets of Plaka
Although I didn’t find it the most atmospheric of Chora settlements you can see in the islands, it is undeniably pretty, well maintained and has lots of interesting shops, bars and café’s.

Milos

 

It’s not often I have regrets about Greek Islands, but I do with Milos. I wish we had had just maybe one more day there so we could have visited the Milos Mining Museum in the capital Adamas as I understand it wonderfully weaves together the islands history and industry. Next time, there definitely has to be a next time!

Syros: walking back in time

Last Friday we set off on a walk so it ended up creating its own nickname “extremehikingfridays” which obviously lends itself to some funny hashtags! At first didn’t mean for the day to be completely absorbed by a hike, but as we were enjoying exploring so much we ended up doing a full loop back to Kini, around 20k in total. Extreme-hiking lived up to its name!

We set off on the first bus from Kini to Ermoupolis at 9am, with a packed lunch, fruit and snacks and plenty of water to keep us hydrated. The route chosen would take us North out of the town, passing tiny hamlets of Richopo, crossing into Ferekidh’s Cave, up to the original settlement of Kastri and then onto the excavation site of Chalandriani. This combined a few of the existing trails mapped as 1, 2 and 3 which we thought gave us plenty of options for finishing it up with either a taxi or walk back to Ermoupoli.

The weather was warm and breezy, so not too hot for walking. But the first section was the ascent through Vrodado and the steps nearly defeated us!

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This leads up to Anastasi which is known as the Church of the Resurrection of the Savior. This blue domed Orthodox church sits astride the hill, opposite the hill top of Ano Syros where Agios Georgios the Catholic Church holds court. Anastasi is dedicated to “Resurrection of the nation”. Built in 1874 by the local architect Dimitris Eleftheriadis, it is very impressive with a mix of Byzantine and neoclassical elements. Once past the 200 step climb we set of walking out of the town through an area called Dhili. Here the houses are a mix of very old and newer constructions, and as you leave the confines of the urban area they start to have more land for agricultural purposes. Once we reached a Panacrandos Church, this is where the path of trail 1 started – the path is well marked and views here are spectacular.

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Outwards over the Aegean to Tinos and Andros, taking in Cape Armonos and Agios Demetrios which is the byzantine church looking out to sea and spectacular if you get to pass it on a ferry.  After a while on this barren stone path, we came across a tiny hamlet of Richopo where there are signs to Ferekidh’s Cave (or Pherecydes of Syros as he is also known). A philosopher known as one of the Seven Sages of Ancient Greece, his work contemplated the importance of time (chronos) by using a heliotrope (sun-dial)  village of San Michalis (yep where they make Syro’s famous cheese).  but there is a bust of him in Ano Syros as well. His philosophical musings discussed metamorphosis and the underworld, as well as teaching Phythagras.

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Pherecydes was a complex character and very little of his written work remains – Scholars disagree on his work so this could be why signs point to his cave, yet the cave doesn’t receive historical site protection. This possibly goes some way to explain why the powers that be decided to build the municipal dump and recycling-centre less than a mile downhill from it! Which has sadly resulted in a million plastic bags are carried away on the wind from the dump and end up littering the amazing path around the cave – this was just such mess and made me pretty angry.

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You get plastic bags with every single purchase here. It would make a huge difference if they’re use was reduced and the authorities did more to protect the rubbish from blowing out of the site and ruining the island. Rant over!

You’ll see from the pics, it is an amazing cave. A real place of contemplation and solitude.

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From here we scaled inland to Plati Vouni, which is a rural settlement of themonia (houses) closely built together – many households still work on the land, keeping goats and chickens, bring water up from the wells and natural springs. We even spotted a few circular threshing floors as well, although at this time of year all the hay and wheat had been collected. Apart from electricity cables this area would have changed very little in the past 50 years, being very similar to Folegandros and other Cycladic rural villages we have walked through.

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Passing down through a valley we headed out to coast again on route 3, losing our way slightly as we were following this immensely valuable description of the walk. Reaching a lonely house, then the trail leads down and out to the headland to reach the remote beach of Ghilsoura. Even though remote, without a road to it or electricity cables, the house was occupied by a Greek family enjoying a drink on their terrace. We misjudged and took the turn too soon – luckily the family realised what we had done as we tromped through their land, and started waving and pointing us towards the right path! We exchanged pleasantries and thanks. If it wasn’t for their intervention, I am not sure where we would have ended up.

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The beach at Ghilsoura is magnificent and remote, with pristine pebbles lining the shore – we took a dip here and enjoyed our picnic. This would have been one of the two beaches invaders and pirates landed at when the only settlement of Syros was at the Kastri. We looked around at the back of beach where the trail was meant to rise up to the Kastri, but the path is almost completely hidden! It doesn’t make itself known until you are right infront of it and see the red arrows marking the path. The Kastri rises from the top of the summit making it the perfect place to spot any threats and by time any invader reached the top, they’d be tired!.

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Dating back to the Early Cycladic period the Kastri would have been not only a fortress to protect the islanders, but also a village where the daily ritual of life went on. There have been numerous excavations over the years including the discovery of the Acropolis area at the top of the site and a graveyard with about 600 tombs. Some of the ceramic vases, stone and metalwork fragments are held by the Syros Archaeological Museum and reveal it was a sophisticated society.

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The climb to the top reveals its charms and practicality – no pirate invader could make it to the top without being seen! The views from up high are its main vantage point – out to sea and inland across the island. To get a real explanation of the Kastri’s scale I found a good photo here . When you are exploring it you don’t get the full sense of its scale so was good to see that aerial image beforehand and wander round accordingly.

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Here we came across 4 fellow walkers which is a rarity on our travels. These Greeks asked us where we had walked from and were surprised to hear we walked all the way from the town (rightly so as we’d already done 8k!) They had parked their car at Chalandriani and walked over, which is a steep 30 minute which does make the site accessible for even non-walkers. But I found walking there past the smaller hamlets first gives you a better sense of the variety of landscapes on this compact island.

After this we scaled uphill to Chalandriani which is also a small settlement and site of a large excavation. A few houses remain occupied here and terraced land dominates the view.

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The excavations in Chalandriani started in the late 19th Century by archaeologist Christos Tsountas  and the findings from the village are considered one of the most important in Cyclades. Figures and pottery from this site are displayed across the world on loan from their home in the National Museum in Athens. I even managed to see some pieces from Chalandriani in the Ashmolean Museum on my last visit to Oxford. So it was great to see the site they came from – although there isn’t much to actually see here.

From this road junction where the trail 3 ended, we made the epic decision to walk back to Ermoupoli, but heading on an alternative route back that passed the settlements of Kiperousa, Senero and Finikia. Although this cut through on the road this is a stretch of the island that is fairly quiet especially mid-afternoon.

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Once you reach Finikia, this is a few old abandoned houses and newer farms which would have been in a valley, possibly with a Spring to supply irrigation. It has the tell tale signs of a seam of lush green trees growing through the middle of the valley. It was blissfully quiet and at the same time has a ghostliness quality to it, as you walk past you can imagine life in the abandoned 19th Century dwellings and mules using the paths marked by dry stone walls. All of the paths which wind up and down would have carried goods and livestock to the markets of Ano Syros.

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As the road corners towards Ano Syros this area is really interesting as it still has the remains of windmills. One has been kept intact and sits proudly overlooking the valley. But its doors are locked and marked by a sign saying it was restored by the Municipality. We took the steep path up to the peak of the hill where the remains of three windmills stand and then on to Alithini.

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The views here are breathtaking – from it you get a sense of all the histories of the island merging into one modern personality. From the medieval settlement, growing and expanding through the 18th Century in it’s industrialist heritage. Ermoupoli stretches out as a meeting place of both its the rural and urban populations, defined by many people who came as immigrants, changing the islands fortunes, religion, cuisine and culture.

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In Alithini, we found a path marked trail 10 which would take us up over the final hill, past the out of action wind turbine and down into Kini. This path is one of the sparse remains of the original path network that even up to the 1960s workers from Kini would have used daily. It has two options; Alithini to Kini or heading up to Aghia Varvara and then turning at Piskipio and down into the shipyards and factories of Ermoupoli – a route of 8k each way. Imagine that as a daily commute to work!

During the Italian occuoation of Syros in the Second World War, as vehicles were a still a rarity on the island, Italian soldiers would have used the old path network to solicit food from farmers and transport goods by mule. As you walk these routes which connect villages and churches on worn cobbles and marbled stones, sometimes with carved steps and bare earth, it impossible not to imagine the lives of those Syrians who walked them everyday.

By the time the sun was low in the sky we reached the bay of Kini. There was only one option, taking our aching legs and heading straight for a rewarding beer !

#extremehikingfridays watch this space for more adventures!

 

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