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Saturday, June 02, 2007

ISLAND HOPPING

MAY 30 - JUNE 1

Our three day excursion to the islands has been a wonderful adenture. We left Pireaus early Wednesday morning by Super Fast Ferry and it took only four hours to reach Pireaus with one stop at Syros and another uick one at Tinos. My friend Crola had prearranged accomodations for us at the lovely Mykonos Beach HOtel (55 Eur night) and we caught a cab from the port and got settled right away in our pretty little beach bungalow. Then we set off to texplore the labyrinthine whorl of streets in the town.

MYKONOS is the picture post-card Greece, along with Santorini, the most expensive of the Greek islands. The est times to visit it is late April to mid June or later after the summer. During the peak season the islad is the scene of hedonistic happenings and a crush of tourists, making it impossible to enjoy the island for its Cycladic charm -- the sun dazzling off the pristine white cubistic buildings with their blue and green trem, magenta bougainvillea spilling from balconies, the many small red or blue domed churches and the wide choice of beaches.

Mykonos town is a maze of winding narrow streets so when there are throngs of pushy tourists nd rowdy partyers it can become overbering. Fortunately for our visit we only had to contend with the occasional herd of happy shoppers who were desposited on shore from their cruise ships, stay for a few hours, then depart.

We visited Mykonos' famous row of windmills, some of which are now private dwellings, and took lots of photos of them as well as the most picturesque and photographed little church ont he island, the Church of Panagia Paraportiani, an amalgamation of four tiny churches lumped into one dazzling white asymmitrical building where the play of light and shadow off the multifacited structure make it a photogrphers delight. We even got a peek inside, lit a candle and had a look at the very old icons that decorate the walls.

Our hotel. the Mykonos Beach hotel was located on a beach just outside the town and shared a pool with it's sister hotel, the Mykonos Bay. The beach was stony so I enjoyed floating around in the beautiful pool which was chlorinated salt water. I pretty well had the pool to myself both times I went for a swim.

The first evening we were treated to one of those spectacular Aegean sunsets and enjoyed a relaxing dinner at a little taverna down the road called "Niko's Place" run by an English woman named Joanna with her capable crew of young women. The next morning we were up early to take the cruise boat over to the island of Delos.

DELOS is a small rocky island no more than 5 km long and 1.300 met. wide A sacred place to acient Greeks because it's the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. It's situatied in theheart of the Aegean in the centre of the Cyclades islands which form a circle around i. The Apollo sanctuary was estabised in the 9th centure BC and it was the place the ancient Greeks gathered to workshop Apollo, god of light, harmony and balance; and Artemis, the moon goddess, his twin sister. It became a rich port by the 5th century BC with merchangs, bankers and ship owners arriving from all over the Medterranean It also attracted artists, craftsmen, lyracists and writers. Diromg the Persian Wars in 478 BC Athens established an alliance known as the Delian League that kept a treasury at Delos. It was declared that no one could be born or die there and it became one of the most important Greek religious sites.

By the 1st cetury BC some 30,000 peope lived on the island. The Romans made Delos a free port in 167 BC and then brought even greater prosperity with a lucritive slave market that sold up to 10,000 people a day. Due to attacks by enemies and pirates the island gradally became abandoned and fell into decline.

It was a blazing hot day as we trudged the sonty archaeological site scaring little lizards who basked on the rocks. There's a new museum at Delos with impressive finds on display. And of course the highlight is to visit the row of stone lions, an offering from the Naxians to the shrine.
One of their sisters sits by the Arsenale in Venice, stolen away by seamen. The original remaining lions are stored in the museum so the ones you see on display outside are copies but identical and treated so the don't suffer the affects of the weather.

When we returned to Mykonos we had a very expensive lunch at one of the trendy seside tavernas at Little Venice (named so because the building crowd together with their foundations right in the sea, like the real Venice.) That evening at sunset, after a rest and a long swim in the pool, we again walked down to Nikos for dinner by the light of a full moon.

TINOS
Friday we caught the early ferry over to Tinos so we could have a look at the famous church there. This green, mountainous island is a Greek Orthodox place of pilgrimage. Each August, the celebrated Church of Panagia Evangelistia is visited by hundreds of pious souls, many of them infirm or disabled, who carwl up the hill on a carpeted pathway, making their way into the church to pray for blessings and miraculous cures for their ailments.

All the way up steep hill leading to the church, on one side of the road is a width of carpeting where supplicants crawl on hands and knees to the holy shrine, and up the red carpeted flights of steps into the church sanctuary.

Outise the church there's a lucrative trade in tall candles, incense, icons and evil-eye deterrants as well as small glass vials to be filled with holy water that comes from a hose and tap outside the church. The church dominates this otherwise ordinary town. The ornate facade, with graceful colonnades, is surrounded by a complex of religious buildings and museums. The church yard is an impressive stone mosaic and there is a fountain court. The interior of the church is hung with thousands of silver votive offerings, many of them with a nautical theme with tiny sailing ships, fish, and fishing boats. Tinos is an island of nootable seafarers and below the church is a memorial to the sailors killed on The Elli, a Greek shop torpeoded by anItalian submarine in Tinos' harbor on Assumption Day 1940.

The main feature of the church is the famous miraculous ican which is embedded with gold, silver, diamonds, pearls and surrounded by gifts from the hopeful. People file past and stop to genuflect and kiss the icon. We actually saw one elderly woman crawling in on her knees, inching across teh floor to kiss the icon and thenc raw l to the front of the church flessings from the priests. Whle we were there the priests(papas) were singing the liturgies and the church was full of people, so it ade a rather special ending to our island holiday.


NEXT: The ASSEMBLY OF 2007 and the Sunset Birthday Party on the Pnyx

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