We left Rhenia for Syros planning to spend a few days there, knowing that the wind would cause us no problem. We picked up the battery that had been delivered to the ACS office and began the charge anxious to use it at the first opportunity. Fonda (Jane) the transgender tender has morphed from the male Helios to the female Fonda so named because of all the ‘work’ done to her! ……… more on this later.
Ah Syros, how can we have dismissed you as being uninteresting on our 2012 visit? Ermoupolis, Hermes’ town is the only city in the Cyclades. Syros has been an important pivotal point in this group of islands and at one time, rivalled Athens in importance, it has an interesting history. Two hills rise behind the port, Ano Syros, to the north west of Ermoupolis, is a mediaeval settlement and appears more like a traditional Cycladic Chora, a labyrinth of lanes bordered by small white cubed houses, turquoise and blue shutters with bougainvillea running rampant. This area was inhabited by Venetians in the 13th century and is the Catholic hill! The church of Aghios Giorgios dominates more like a castle than a church from the outside. Nothing was open except the church. It was very quiet. Tourists could be numbered on one hand, cats on hands and feet (both) and two old ladies sweeping dust from their front door. We felt we were touching the heavens and now climbed down only to ascend the other hill.
On the ‘opposing’ hill is the area that was largely created by refugees fleeing Turkish massacre from the islands of Chios and Psara. At the top of this hill is the Church of the Anastasis. We entered the dark, deeply incensed air of a traditional Orthodox church and were whisked back to reality by hand sanitizers, notices to wear your masks, to refrain from kissing the icons and socially distanced seating.
From here we descended into the elegant neoclassical square and the city centre reflecting its prosperous past.
We hired a car with me as the driver, only one dodgy moment, when turning I moved out onto the wrong side of the road – doh! We headed south to the more populated and cultivated part of the island. It goes without saying that as we drove we were looking for suitable anchorages. There were a few and we stopped at Galissas for coffee. I am as guilty as the next woman of checking on Instagram and I noticed a message from Juzzy, a friend of ours from Matthew’s school days, that there was an OL (Old Lorettonian) from their year living on the island at his winery! A WhatsApp message later and Ed phoned me and invited us around to see him that afternoon.
Driving north to the Bronze Age settlement at Kastri in the north and chastened by the description of a hard walk with no shade across scree fields we decided to abandon the idea of a walking adventure and view it from a distance. It is very wild up in the north. Not much cultivation. Lovely views over to Tinos and Andros in the East and then on the West coast the dramatic indentations and a bay in the far north where we had anchored in 2012. The rocks in this bay named Grammata (literally meaning ‘letters’) are carved with the graffiti of long gone sailors as old as antiquity and as modern as the 19th Century. They variously thank the Gods for safe arrival or invoke the Gods protection for a journey to come……………..we were thanking Covid for keeping other cars off these narrow roads!
We returned to the port for lunch and then on to find Ousyra Winery. This was an adventure in itself and caused small strife in the car. We only had a dropped pin on a Google Map to go on and in the first instance tried to approach it from the south by driving up a dry river bed. Retracing our steps we arrived at where we thought it was and it wasn’t. At the third attempt and keeping faith with my navigator, at the end of a very narrow road that seemed to be leading us nowhere but up the mountain, we arrived!
What a wonderful enterprise. Funnily enough, at dinner a couple of nights earlier I had chosen a bottle of wine, a Rose. My wine expertise goes as far as picking an attractive label or going by a name, rather like I might choose a horse in the Grand National, I chose ‘Fokiana’ from Ousyra Winery and it was very pleasant. A Fokia( Φωκια) means seal in Greek, selkie to the Celts, so of course that’s why I chose it and now here we were sipping cool white wine having been shown the vats and had the process explained. They are in the process of expanding and creating a place where people can come to taste. I think it is aimed at a high end market and I have yet to find any in the bottle shops of Syros!
We went to an Art exhibition. The Art Gallery of the Cyclades is housed in part of rather a magnificent building, originally built as the Customs sheds and storehouses. Inside it has nice brick work. Local artists exhibit here, we met one – I recognised him from a self portrait – and got an explanation of one of his paintings, he definitely likes very large ladies and red heads.
So thinking we had explored Ermoupolis and Syros, we left, planning not to return until next year. We sailed a lovely sail to Panormos bay in Mykonos.
We anchored off a tiny beach resort but of course this is Mykonos and apparently a double sun bed here cost 100 Euros, the music was relentlessly head banging so we moved anchorage after one night and had a more peaceful time but still music permeated from the head of the bay, it must only have been playing for a handful of people.
Mykonos Sunday. There is nothing nicer than an early morning swim, before the sun’s rays become aggressive, the colours of the rock and of the land are muted but somehow more discernible than when it reaches its zenith and leaches the life out of most things me included. Now I can see leading up to the little sandy beach the colours; scrapings of bruised purple, rusty tank bronze, cat black and cloud grey; clumps of grey green vegetation and pale fronds of grasses. The landscape at first sight looks totally barren but now, this morning more is revealed and the faint sharp lemony fragrance comes to me in the damp of the morning. Light falls on the water like a fairy fisherman, a golden net of hexagons on the turquoise water and sunlight shimmers on the sandstone rock above – τι ομορφη θαλασσα!
So now we come to Tinos and are tied up in the port. On a hill above the port is the Church of Evangelistria, a supremely holy icon and place of pilgrimage to Greek tourists. There is a carpeted pavement so pilgrims can approach on their knees. The way is lined with stalls, well one or two in this time of Covid, selling enormous candles, images of saints and ‘tamata’ the little metal discs with images stamped on them; legs, ears, hearts, symbols of marriage, babies etc. You leave it with the saint as an offering and hope to be cured or get what you desire. I have never seen a church hung about with more chandeliers and ‘tamata’ all accompanied by beautiful Byzantine chanting
Tinos is also famous for its dovecotes or doocots as I would say. The more elaborate the better. There is certainly no shortage of stone and marble as a raw material and these buildings go much further than simply being a practical house for winter fodder. They are flights of fancy, sadly I only saw one in the town but apparently the countryside is dotted with them.
The weather was such that we could go up the east coast of Tinos, it was a long motor and we ended up in a large bay, another Panormos (it means sheltered harbour). We tucked into a tiny bight beside a small white chapel and a beach backed by tamarisk trees. The bottom was weedy and we weren’t sure of our anchor but we figured that it would be OK. A man in a boat moored up and made his way into the chapel. At night we could see the light shining from the window – I like to think it was a candle. There is always someone who takes care of the myriad chapels that cover the islands’ countryside, even the most inaccessible will have someone who fills the oil and lights the lamp. I am glad of this later when a nasty wind whips up putting us too near the rocks for comfort so we up anchor – so easy now! and move in towards the village.
Here, we thought we might venture ashore for a bit of an explore. All was ready, Fonda in the water, torqeedo engine with new battery secured and the tiller arm in place. Andy tries it, 100% battery full but …………………………NOTHING!!! Oh we cannot believe it, now what? Luckily there was a considerate man in a yacht nearby who, having the same engine came over to see if we needed assistance. It was such a help. After a series of elimination tests, swapping one part for another, trying them all out on his engine, we concluded that the problem must lie in the engine itself. We packed everything away again and will get the engine looked over when next in Athens.
As we were motoring we notice an unusual noise. Any new noise, change of tone or rhythm while the engine is running alerts us both and sends us into a cold sweat – here we go again! We thought it was the rope cutter on the prop and Andy dived the next day and secured what he thought was loose but on the way north to Andros the noise resumed. So we didn’t go to Andros but return to Syros to find out what really is the problem ……………………..
Having no commitments, we really are like gypsies this year!