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                              CYCLADES - GREECE

The Cyclades:

During our travels through the central group of the Greek islands known as the Cyclades, we explored many whitewashed cliff top villages affording stunning views. This area of Greece is know for its beaches but the quality of sand in the Med is very course and not abundant so you see many satisfied sunbathers stretched out on the rocks in Europe! There are many historic ruins in this eastern area of Greece, the islands also differing tremendously in character and landscape.

The entire area is buffeted by the infamous and fitful "Meltimi" winds that can blow to Force 7 or 8 from the North for weeks on end making planning routes challenging. Since they do not reach full force until June, we were hoping to explore Greece and move on ahead of these annoyances.

Mykonos May 4/09

Our 75 mile run from Patmos proved to be one of those rare perfect sails that keeps you motivated to continue cruising, fast on flat seas, steady winds behind the beam! However, as we rounded the corner to make our run down between Delos and Mykonos, the wind picked up to 30 knots on the nose, against a strong current and it took us hours of wet sailing to tack back and forth in order to make it the few miles to the harbor.

We secured a spot on the wall near the main harbor of Mykonos, where the ferries and cruise ships dock. The marina was chockers but we were able to raft to a Dutch cruising boat, so when Bruce arrived, he simply stepped off the ferry boat and onto Ascension.


Bruce & Gord

Unfortunately it was cold with wind and rain but we had lots of visiting and catching up to do. The inclimate weather kept the crowds at bay while we explored the town. We lent Bruce some warm weather gear and suited up for a walk around the harbor. Normally the beachfront area is thick with throngs of oiled-up sun worshippers resting from relentless partying to the wee hours to the throb of discos that Mykonos is famous for. All part of the scene.

Panagia Paraportiani

The most famous church on the island is the Panagia Paraportiani dating back to 1425. It is made up of 4 chapels at ground level with another one above

 

Throughout the town, tiny flower bedecked churches mixed with trendy boutiques, bars, eateries and galleries.

 

16th Century Windmills embellish the hilltop, once used by families all over the island to grind corn. One is still a working mill.

The touristy town of Mykonos is probably the supreme example of a Cyclades village - a tangle of dazzling white alleys and cube shaped houses, always with the typical blue shutters,  an icon of Greece. Built in a maze of narrow lanes to defy the wind and pirate attacks, it is easy to get lost!

Little Venice

Venetia is the artist's quarter of Mykonos Town. The tall houses have painted balconies jutting over the sea. There were even people fishing from their living rooms! Down every twisty narrow lane there is yet another taverna, bar or chic restaurant.

Touring the Island

While we were waiting for the weather to settle we rented a car to tour the island for the day. Although Mykonos is low lying, dry and barren, we had an interesting day sightseeing. Dissecting the treeless hills, ancient rock walls crisscrossed the countryside.

Everywhere there was evidence of partial construction, mainly of villas and holiday homes, but never did we see anyone actually working. Skeletal structures just seemed to be abandoned. Perhaps a reminder of the fragile worldwide economic situation.

beaches...

Tourists flock to Mykonos for the beaches and we found some dandy ones, which we had all to ourselves!

churches...

Around every corner was another domed church. This one was unusual, in that the roof was red instead of the standard blue. The monastery was restored by two monks in 1767 and has an ornate marble tower.

Our tour of the island terminated at the best fruit stand I have ever encountered. The English speaking owner promised she could give me anything I asked for and even offered to deliver to the boat. True to her word, I got fresh basil, fresh parsley, mint, strawberries (not in season elsewhere), asparagus, and the finest selection of vegetables I have seen anywhere at a good price too!

We had booked a boat trip to Delos for the following day but the wind was still howling so we postponed our journey until the following day.


Delos May 6/09

The sacred island of Delos is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece and a major religious center. The Ionians arrived in Delos in about 1000 BC and once has a population of 30,000.

Since anchoring there is prohibited, we took a daytripper boat to visit the ruins and explore the old city which lies on a small, narrow, barren island 5 km long.

Lion Terrace

The famous lions, carved from Naxian marble at the end of the 7th century BC, were set up to overlook and protect the Sacred Lake

 

Today the island is uninhabited, save for a myriad of iguana lizards that scurry about everywhere amidst the ruins and find refuge in the scattered collection of storage pots once used for offerings and dating from the 7th century BC.

We chose an ideal time to visit Delos as dozens of varieties of wildflowers were abundant and
in full bloom. Flowers draped the marble ruins and blanketed the grounds. A stunning site!!
 

Bruce and I take a rest on the wall after our visit to the Archaeological Museum, Theatre and dynamic display of mosaics.
The island is very flat, but the rock encrusted Mt Kythnos rises high above the harbor. It was an arduous climb  via  crumbling uneven stone steps but the view from the top was rewarding. With the huge bay and remnants of the once lavish homes stretched out below, it was a great place to just sit and imagine how the legendary Greeks of Delos lived in their thriving port and carried out their day to day activities.

Syros May 7/09

We motor-sailed to Syros with very light winds, taking advantage to charge batteries and make water on the way. We arrived at the Marina Sirou just outside of town where moorage was available side tied to new docks. Another EU  "unfinished" marina project, no facilities but great for us because it was free!

Syros is the commercial centre of the Cyclades, a traditional yet modern city surrounded by most barren hills, a short walk from the marina.

  We walked around the Harbor in lower town and had a refreshment at the palm lined Grand Square. We opted to take a taxi up the long steep hill to the upper town where the twin bell towers and distinctive blue and gold dome mark the fortified medieval town of Ano Syros.

Ano Syros, a Catholic settlement, is a maze of whitewashed passages, arches and steps forming a huddle of interlinking houses. The architecture was unique, making the most use of the limited space with slate or straw roofs and tight corners.

Rough stone stairways to the entrances of homes were decorated with pots of colorful flowers and overhanging bougainvillea.

At the top of Ano Syros is the13th century Baroque cathedral of St George. The view was superb over the terraced hillsides, Syros harbor, and neighbouring islands below.
We walked down the hill and back to the lower town of Syros through a quiet village. On the way back to the boat we found a great supermarket and stocked up on cheap Greek wine.

Paros 37.05.3N 25.09.1E  May 9/09

Time to move on, we left Syros and set our course for Paros. It was warm and sunny but unfortunately the Wind God had slept in so we had to motor all day. The engine was rebelling and was running far too hot so we knew there was a problem. We anchored in the bowl of the undulating slopes of Paroikia Harbor, Paros  after having checked out that the quay/marina was full. We were thrilled to drop the hook beside Djarkka, ready for a fun reunion and Happy Hour.

The following day we explored the narrow cobblestone streets that wiggled around the built over shell of the 13th century Venetian Kastro of Paros. Dazzling whitewashed cube houses cascading with jasmine & Bougainvillea, absolutely immaculate, tidy streets. Tiny eateries were hidden away in every nook and cranny. The onslaught of tourists was yet to arrive, so the town was very quiet. Cats lazed in the sun, so did the local men!

Bruce was on the hunt for fried calamari so we took a squiz at every menu board as we walked past the dozens of restaurants along the way, looking for something at least semi-reasonably priced.

Treasures from the past

We peeked between the slats of a rotting wooden doorway which revealed ancient wooden wine kegs and primitive pots.


We continued our walk along the waterfront. Around the corner of the harbor, umbrellas sprawled along the beach were perched in wait for oiled sun worshippers.

All around, softly contoured terraced hills displayed orchards, vineyards and olive groves flourishing from Paros' ample rainfall providing a lush green backdrop.

pictured left: Gord, GB & Sara

Churches

As in all the Greek towns, there was no shortage of churches around every corner. I loved the stark white traditional bell towers and blue domes that contrast vibrantly against the azure clear blue sky.

Church of a Hundred Doors

We visited a splendid church dating form 326 AD, the building actually consisting of three distinct churches. The largest area displayed columns of marble and decorative mosaic on 2 levels.

The church is the oldest in Greece in continuous use
and a major Byzantine monument.

Touring the Island

We rented a car and GB, Sara, Bruce, Gord and Ginny challenged the narrow cliffside roads around Paros Island. The road signs did not give us a sense of security by any stretch of the imagination!

We drove through olive groves, some of the trees snarled and weathered from hundreds of years.....the stories they could tell!

We followed the back roads to quaint harbors, past rural farmlands and picturesque villages perched on pastoral  hillsides.

Marble Quarries

One of our stops was to see some marble quarries. Since antiquity Paros has been famous for its white marble which has ensured its prosperity. As we drove along the roads, huge slabs of marble were everywhere in abundance, used for building materials for everything from retaining walls to cobblestone roads.

We entered the tunnels of the abandoned marble quarries at Marathi, last worked for Napoleon's tomb. The tunnels form a network but we did not have a light with us so could not venture too far into the mountain.

We stopped at several mountain villages, including Lefkes, the island's highest village and the capital in the Middle Ages..

Octopus aplenty

A classic restaurant displayed the common string of octopus drying in the sun readying for the evening's mezedes (snack).


Naxos 37.06.36N 25.21.98E  May 10/09

We had a wonderful sail to Naxos. Another one of those rare days when the conditions were perfect. We were glad that Bruce was able to get a good sailing day in during his stay with us.  Naxos is a close neighbour to Paros and was not very far so we were securely tucked in at the marina in the main town Naxos by early afternoon. We were lucky as the quay was full but we were able to squeeze in and stern tie to the quay. The harbor master came by but would not commit to the charge for mooring there (When we checked out, he just asked us to pay what we thought it was worth for the time we were there!!). Our plan was to leave Ascension at this safe marina while we took a ferry to Santorini. Beside the fact that the weather forecast was not particularly conducive to the run south to Santorini, the anchorage there is very deep and unprotected, the marina is too shallow for our 8 foot draft.


The Cathedral in Naxos

Naxos island is the largest and most fertile of the Cyclades. The waterfront is a busy port bustling with cafes and a concrete mass of hotels and apartments, but Old Town Naxos was the usual charming confusing labyrinth of alleyways of a medieval fortress. Again, there were some amazing churches and cathedrals, the white domed one on the left was one of my favorites.

The harbor is dominated by the unfinished Temple of Apollo (Portara Gateway) that stands on the
 isthmus adjacent to the marina. Legend is that when Istanbul is returned to Greece, the temple door
will miraculously appear.

 

The old town "Kastro" is the most alluring part of Naxos with its warren of alleys, arches, tunnels around the Venetian castle on the summit. We wandered through the  winding backstreets full of Venetian style dwellings, many with well kept gardens.

 

 

Naxos had a superb beach where we spent a day just relaxing

 

Touring the Island

We rented a car and were glad of it as we found Naxos to be the most beautiful Greek Island we had experienced to date. Mountainous, lush and fertile, with unspoilt villages and lots of beaches. The roads were good, albeit sometimes there would be a delay as a herd of goats would commandeer the highway.

The road, lined with masses of yellow wild flowers, took us through plains of olive trees and mountainous terrain. As the road twisted along the shoreline, we had awe inspiring views of the sea.

We travelled the island winding around 3000 foot stark
 barren Mt. Zeus in the island's southwest.

Just below Mt. Zeus, we followed
a walled marble road to the
Aria Spring

 

Old classic stone windmills in Greece have been replace by the sleek modern ones that stand incongruous to the surrounds....the Old and the New!

more marble....

As in Paros, there were lots of colossal white marble quarries, some still being mined.

At Knidross, a short walk led us to a garden where the enormous Kouros Statue lies on its side. In the middle of the orchards is a little cafe of sorts where a women serves Greek coffee beside her fish pond.

 
Back at the boat, Bruce treated us to some of his famous Margaritas. We made plans to take a ferry to Santorini the following day because the weather seemed so unsettled to sail there and the boat was safely moored at the dock in Naxos.

NEXT>>>> CYCLADES (con't) SANTORINI