A GREEK CRUISE –A Dodecanese Delight
Posted March 22, 2012, 3:32 p.m.
A GREEK CRUISE –A Dodecanese Delight
By Rosemary Pavlatou
As I have done for the past few years, I decided, with a few friends, to take a week away from the daily grind of work and this year we decided to stay close to home and enjoy a boat trip in our local Dodecanese, the twelve islands that make up the chain governed by Rhodes. The trip was to begin in Samos, from where we would join our yacht and begin the trip back home.
Samos seemed at first sight to be pretty but not of any great interest. Even the Greek contingent with us had little to offer in the way of information or insight. We were however forced to stay two days there, as one of our group had to leave overnight on urgent business and so we bought a guidebook, asked our agent for advice and piled into a rental car to discover the Island.
We were very favorably impressed by how much there was to uncover when we began to scratch the surface. First we drove to Vathi the capital, a large bustling town with lots going on in the new area by the port. Further back is the old quarter which has far more character and less bustle. With much to see, and not much time, we pressed on with our island tour and visited some of the beaches and small villages to the north of the island until lunch beckoned, and we then decided to drive to the hills in search of both local colour and good food.
This took us up a winding road to Manolates where we found a huge parking area with a fabulously captivating view over the Nightingale Valley. Wandering the narrow streets of the village we came upon a number of small shops displaying the work of local artisans; jewelry, wall hangings, paintings. A fascinating half hour of browsing gave way to our hunger and the search for somewhere to lunch. We finally decided upon a small tavern where we were led up steep stairs to a small dining area overlooking the village square. Small, and pleasantly dusty, we felt like we were being entertained in a private home rather than a restaurant. The proprietor was forthcoming about his island, his village and his life and the food was excellent local fare.
Replete, we continued our tour of the island enjoying the wonderful scenery on the way. On the road to Pythagoreion, where we had agreed to stay, one of our company read in her guidebook about an ancient tunnel and insisted that we find it to explore. What we didn’t know was that this was no ordinary tunnel but the Eupalinian aqueduct. It is just over 1 Km in length and was excavated by hand in the 6th century BC to bring water to the town, and possibly, if the village were to be attacked, used as an escape route through the mountains rather than over them. An amazing feat of engineering, this was one of only two known tunnels in history to have been built simultaneously from both ends, and the only one in which geometric calculations were used to ensure that both ends met in the middle!
The next day we continued to enjoy our stay in Pythagoreion and were captivated by her back streets and wandered through some interesting shops as we strolled along the quayside to discover a rather interesting statue to Pythagoras, a Samiot, after whom the town is named. Drinking coffee on the waterfront with the local population was both interesting and entertaining and at the end of stay we had become comfortable enough that we were reluctant to leave.
But leave we did, our friend returned, and we set sail to the neighbouring island of Fourni.
As is sometimes the case the weather closed in rather faster than we had expected and anchoring off Fourni town was not possible. It took us several uncomfortable hours to find a sheltered bay where we could anchor comfortably and spend the night. The remarkable thing was that the bay had a number of traditional fisherman’s houses on the shore from where inquisitive heads would appear at the small windows to watch the strangers in their midst. The scene made me remember the story of Grace Darling who rowed out to help ships from her father’s lighthouse, in the gloom I thought at one time I could see a rowing boat pulling towards us, but it was just a trick of the light. A bowl of tasty pasta helped dispel any further visions and after a good night’s sleep, we left Fourni without having actually seen it at all. The best laid plans and all that…
We went on to Agathonissi where drizzle set in on arrival, so, in the rain, just a few of our party took to the steep path from the tiny port where we were presented with the choice of Megalo Horio or Mikro Horio (large village or small village). On an island with a total population of around 150 this seemed a stretch of the imagination. Feeling adventurous we took the higher road to a tiny neat village which turned out to be ‘the big village’. We had just begun exploring when the increasing rain stopped play and we had to take cover in a small coffee shop. The shop had but one other customer and the proprietress. We took a table and were soon in conversation with both of the occupants. We heard stories of emigrations, repatriation, carving a life from fishing, home grown vegetables and the joys of simplicity. It seemed that, for all the hardships of life on such a small island with such a small population, the consensus was that it was a good life, giving us the faint impression that they rather pitied our ‘racy’ lives on the island of Rhodes.
The rain stopped and we got up to pay, but our companion insisted that he would add it to his tab and pressed us to stay and join them for lunch, which would be along as soon as the charcoal on the barbeque outside in the wet caught. We thanked our host refusing his generosity and returned to the rest of our party with tales of Agathonissi and its wonderful inhabitants.
By the next morning the sun was out and we swam in warm water, in a bay off Marathi that we stopped in on the way to Lipsi, a tiny island, again with only a few hundred inhabitants. Arriving on the quayside was not particularly inspiring, the impression was of rather a flat non-descript place. But we were here now and the sun was shining so we set off to explore. Well was I wrong! We found Lipsi to be quite extraordinary. The small village is so neat and well kept, it was a pleasure to wander the streets past all of the crocheted curtains that adorned all of the windows. There was no prevailing architectural style to the houses, but there was an overall feeling of them being well kept and the locals having a visceral pride in their surroundings. The small shops were interesting, we found a great bakery and a pleasant café, a Greek essential. We walked over the ridge behind the town to discover some fine views and coves on the far side of the island. We talked to the fishermen mending their nets on the quayside, and to the baker in his bakery, people were unhurried and happy to tell us about their lives and their island. Tiny, the island offers an insight into a traditional Greek way of life which is becoming rarer by the day. Here you will find honest Greek food, pleasant locals and a serenity that cannot be bought.
One of the most impressive things we noticed was the recycling bins everywhere. These are taken for granted in so many places but are just taking hold in Greece. The challenge for a small island to collect and deal with recycling is huge; the same as for any town council or city but with a tiny purse from which to fund it.
That evening we dined at a restaurant by the harbour and discovered that the Mayor was at the next table. He was duly interrogated about all that we had seen, we heard about the problems, and again, the joys of small community living. Lipsi has been declared an archaeological site in its entirety. This is an unusual, if not unique decision, by the archaeological department of Greece but it was decided that the whole island, that had been inhabited since the Bronze Age, is of such significance that they could not choose just one area. A number of ship wrecks around the coast have lead to the waters around the island also being protected, diving is now prohibited to ensure its underwater treasures are not taken.
Our next stop was the second most holy island in Greece, with a huge Orthodox monastery and ties to St Paul who came to Patmos on his travels. It is said, that while he was here in Patmos, he had the ideas set out in the Book of Revelations.
Patmos is a pretty island with a good main port, where we docked, and it is situated just by the principle town. A short walk took us to the town where we strolled happily for a few hours before lunching at a taverna off the main concourse. Refreshed, we decided to take a trip to the Monastery and the old town high above the port. Just a few minutes away by taxi, the Monastery sits regally over the town. Priests, monks and the faithful from far and wide gather here. At Easter a huge ceremony takes place full of pageantry, with enormous significance to the Greek Orthodox followers. One of my favourite days is Good Friday when the epitaph of Christ is taken around villages throughout Greece, followed by a candle light procession of villagers. This is a particularly impressive moment, on this dramatic site.
We enjoyed our wander through the streets of the old town of Patmos. The views are amazing and the winding alleyways between the houses with their thick stone walls are evocative and enticing, leading to small squares, dead ends and unexpected vistas. As with most such places, the rumour is that the construction was deliberately confusing to repel invaders and pirates, but the more probable reason is the complex land laws and merely how the plots were allocated originally and were historically developed.
We decided to walk back down the hill along what was a very pleasant, though slightly hazardous, path down to the town. Meandering through woodland and fields, the path was, in some places, worn and rather difficult going when steep and covered in loose stones, but thankfully that was for just part of the way and it evened out to become a refreshing stroll back, just in time for that first ouzo.
Dinner that night was in an alleyway, outside a tiny restaurant, just two streets from the port. We had been recommended to try it by our lunch host, who told us we would find the best fish in town here. And so it seemed. We ate a simple meal of fresh ingredients. The company and the wine combined to make it an evening enjoyed by all.
The next morning we headed for Leros.
Leros is a small, rather beautiful island South of Patmos in the Dodecanese chain. We tied up to the quay on the front of the main town and rented two cars to take in the island. We visited some rather tempting looking beaches and some small picturesque fishing harbours, then took a long winding road to the castle of Panteli. The precipitous climb was well worth the view and the visit to the remains of the castle, which was built in the 10th century on the site of an existing acropolis, and was thereafter reinforced by the Knights of St John and used for centuries to defend the island. It’s magnificent vistas far out across the sea would indeed have offered a wonderful vantage point from which to watch for invaders, if of course you could keep your mind on that and not allow it to wander to take in the incredible view.
Driving very carefully down the mountain we were just in time to arrange for lobster pasta at a beach taverna just below the castle for later in the evening. In the early evening we were able to take a walk along the sea into a wooded area just outside the town. It was very pretty and would constitute a real sanctuary in the heat of the summer. We were reluctant to leave but our pasta called and excellent it was too!
Our time was up however, and having lingered just a little too long too far north, we sped back to Rhodes missing some of the islands we had promised ourselves to visit: Kalymnos, Kos, Nyssiros, but then we needed to keep something for next time! And if you get the impression that the trip was mainly about eating, drinking and talking to locals, you would be right. We make no apology for that and can highly recommend it.