The Greek archipelago has nearly 2,000 islands of varying sizes and accessibility.
Leaving Athens we hopped a ferry to the Aegean Island of Syros (about 150km SW of Athens). This will be the first of many island-hopping adventures in Greece. The Greek islands have been on Jill’s Bucket list for a long time (most particularly Mykonos and Santorini) but while we are here we will be seeing a bunch of the others.
The first of which is Syros.
Let’s start with the ferries. What an absolute delight. The first one we got on was, a 1900 passenger and car ferry taking us from the Athens port of Piraeus. The boat was doing a milk run to almost all of the islands but as we were the first stop it was pretty nice. We were in cattle class and did not spring for business but we still had large roomy seats, plenty of space, luggage rooms, cafe’s and restaurants, what more could you want or need. By all accounts there were even cabins downstairs for those doing the long haul trips to the further away islands, but we didn’t see them.
Lets not be silly here, we have all seen the photos of the Greek Islands and the images are amazing. And sadly, they actually look this way. Syros is certainly not as pretty as some of the others that regularly get featured, but it is still stunning.
Syros Island used to be one of the most significant islands in cycladic civilisation (early Bronze age). We landed off the ferry in the island’s capital Ermoupolis (named after God Hermes). Ermoupolis was the first commercial and industrial centre of Greece (in the 1800’s) mainly due to its location and deep water port.
When booking, Jill got us our own little house on the top op the hill in an area known as – Ano Syros. This is the medieval settlement of Syros and offered some stunning views over the town, ocean and the port. The official spiel says that it is a classical cycladic medieval settlement that is densely built with narrow roads, circular order and a radial street plan. I will attest to the narrow streets but would seriously question any sort of order or plan.
The little house Jill got us involved kicking out some little old lady from her home for a few days. This is the nature of the locals cashing in on the tourist dollar I guess. After getting off the ferry we hopped a cab to the top of the hill where we me George and Angelika (the lady we were ousting). We then hiked up and down the narrow streets (mostly up and down stairs) lugging our big bags for about 700m until we got to Angelika’s house.
Angelika was small, but her house was built for a hobbit. It was a 2 storey tiny house. Downstairs was a kitchen and toilet/shower while upstairs had a bedroom and another small room with no particular purpose. The door to downstairs was a stable type door that reached up to my nipples. So to enter I needed to bend virtually fully at the waist, not just ducking.
The bedroom was tiny and the staircase between the floors was so small that neither Jill nor I could manage them. On the way down we could take the first two stairs but then needed to sit on the step and slide our bums from stair to stair as we were both too tall to traverse them effectively. This was fine unless you wanted to use the toilet during the evening. The corner of the toilet featured a huge rock that was obviously too hard to chisel out when building the house, so they just left it there. The downstairs ceiling had some lovely ancient logs that added a ton of character.
The Church of Saint George is the christian church built in the top of the hill of Ano Syros. It was originally built in 1208 but had been destroyed and rebuilt three times since.
Ano Syros was lovely but it did involve stairs, lots and lots of stairs. Every trip out of our (tiny) house was an adventure, involving a ton of stairs, a more than decent hike, and it was even worse trying to get in and out with our big bags. But up on the hill there was the odd cafe/bar/restaurant with just amazing views.
Of particular note was an eclectic little place that was about as bohemian as you could get. The food was sensational, cheap and the atmosphere was buzzing. You could barely breathe from the amount of smoke that filled the place (more than the fair share was added by the chefs as they cooked). And you were constantly harassed throughout your meal by gangs of marauding cats (at least 5 that inhabited the restaurant during opening hours).
The next day we hiked from our house back out to the road and got on the (free) bus to take us back down to the port of Ermoupolis and spent most of the day wandering around town. This is only a few km from our place and was at the bottom of the hill. It is a regular(ish) port for cruise ships so the waterfront is packed with cafes, restaurants and tourist shops.
The other side of town holds the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas (the patron saint of seafarers, is also the patron saint of Ermoupoli). Construction began in 1848 and took 22 years to complete. The church is known as Agios Nikolaos “the rich,” to distinguish it from “Agios Nikolaos of the poor” another church on Syros.
Because of the siesta that is taken in Greece we were unable ot take the bus back up to Ano Syros unless we were willing to wait until 6:45pm (we were dropped off at around 10:45am). So we did our bits and caught a taxi up the hill. This is something that we ended up having to do several times and our fare (for the identical trip) ranged from 4 to 8 euro.
On our last full day in Syros my looks got me confused once again. This has been a regular occurrence as we have travelled the world, especially once I get a bit of a tan. In Egypt they thought I was Italian and in Italy they thought I was Egyptian. In south and central america most people just assumed I was Latino and spoke Spanish to me. It even got to the point in India where people were speaking Hindi to me thinking I was local.
Well in Syros, the local politician greeted me whilst I was having a coffee at a local cafe. He handed me his promotional material and launched into a full spiel in Greek. Once I set him straight, he took his stuff back and headed to the next table. A short while later we popped into the supermarket to get some milk and the shop keeper launched into a full conversation with me while I stared blankly.
On our last evening we went to one of the little restaurants on the hill (the one with the best view) for our final Syros meal. We ordered the large platter of small things. This was like an Italian antipasto platter but with a distinctly Greet twist. Washed down with a carafe of wine and a beer we had our most expensive meal in Greece so far.
Having seen Syros and having looked at the tourist photos of our next few ports of call, I am growing a little concerned that the variety of the next few posts may be a little light on. They all seem quite similar. Stunning views, narrow streets, tons of stairs, oceans and seaside townships. Anyway, bear with us.