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Greece (Skopelos) Photo Friday Uncategorized

Video Friday: Can you hear the people sing?

Listen carefully for the summer sounds of Skopelos, Greece.


Listen carefully… can you hear it? Last summer, I heard voices rising from the depths of Skopelos Town on the island of the same name in Greece. I don’t know who was singing or for what reason, but it was a beautiful moment and one I had to capture and share. The sense of community in this village is strong. Enjoy this brief glimpse of Skopelos life! For a post from my blog full of photos of Skopelos, click here.

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Greece (Skopelos)

Come see the churches of Greece’s Skopelos Island

…where Panagitsa Tower is just the beginning. 

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All photos: Marilyn Yung

How do I stay for three weeks on a Greek island that contains more than 300 churches and 24 monasteries and leave the island with only a handful of photos of them? Tell me how that happens. 

Here’s how: they’re everywhere. One can’t possibly photograph them all.

That was me last June when my husband and I spent three weeks on Skopelos Island in Greece, as part of our five-plus week journey across Greece. Yes, we were on the island for three weeks and yes, this meager post contains the entirety of my church photo collection. I wish I had seen more, but that’s for the return trip, right?!  

No matter where you look, whether in town or in the countryside, you’ll see a church of some sort. 

A chapel, part of Panagitsa Tower of Skopelos Old Town.

Some churches — whether they’re in the town (Skopelos Chora) or on the greater island — are quite large and are designed to hold a small congregation.

Others, on the other hand, are private and built by a family for their own use.

We took a short tour inside this church, Agios Michael Synadon in Skopelos Town. Here’s a post on that visit.
This is the back side of Agios Michael Synadon. The curved apse contains the altar. The exterior of this church features Roman sarcophagi, pieces of old stone coffins.
The interior of Agios Michael Synadon. Read this post to learn about our experience inside.

Even so, you’re looking at what photos I do have because (let’s be real), these churches are simply stunning.

Spectacular yet humble.

Ornate on the inside, yet unassuming on the outside.

In short, so very different from what I’m used to here in the United States that I was captivated.

This little church was closed the handful of times we walked by. Notice the turquoise-colored glazed “plates” above the door and on the tower.

Each church is so different in design from the others! To think that someone designed these buildings, supervised their construction, and saw them built in this little village where they continue to be used to this day.

This little church is wedged deep into the winding streets of Skopelos Town.
Here’s a closeup of the beautiful icon painting above the front door.
My husband peeked inside this church and here is what he saw. Notice the gold-painted icons at the altar.
A sunny church just around the corner.
Stacked belfries are a common design.
Panagitsa tou Pyrgo, the Holy Mary of the Castle, greets everyone when you enter Skopelos harbor.
Notice the church bell tower in the center back of this photo. Churches are everywhere!

Once you wander outside of Skopelos Chora, you’ll start to see the many small, private family churches that dot the countryside.

We hiked across the island one evening and stopped to rest outside some private family churches along the way. We signed up for a tour with Heather Parsons, founder of Skopelos Trails.
Here is another church we encountered on our cross-island hike from Skopelos Chora to Panormos.
And here’s another. Note the curved apse that usually contains the altar. Photo: Marilyn Yung
Here’s a church we noticed on our return one afternoon from Stafilos Beach. Read this post for more information.
Still more churches were seen on our hike to Panormos.

And now let’s head back to town to see a few more…

Churches seem to be literally around every corner.
This tiny church was perched on a bluff above the Old Town. We walked by this at least once a day on our way up or down the steep hill that took us downtown along the harbor.
Another stacked belfry nestled deep with the labyrinth of Skopelos Chora.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed these photos of the churches we saw on Skopelos Island in Greece, including those in Skopelos Chora. Follow my blog for more posts from our travels last summer. Also, check out my categories for more destinations near and far.


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Greece (Skopelos) Photo Friday

Photo Friday: Sunny Church in Skopelos

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On every Sunday morning last June, my husband and I were mesmerized by the calming tones of musical chants floating on the breezes wafting across the natural amphitheater arrangement of Skopelos Town. Also known as the Old Town or Skopelos Chora, the largest town on Skopelos Island is home to 123 churches Greek Orthodox churches.

We discovered this church last June when we visited the island, one of three that compose the Northern Sporades east of Athens on the Pelion Peninsula. I’m not sure exactly where this church is within the town… somewhere down the hill, tucked among whitewashed homes and shops, nestled along a cobblestone street that may or may not show on Google Maps.

Follow my blog to catch my next post on the churches of Skopelos (both those in the Old Town and those scattered about the island), where I’ll show you a slew of charming places of worship, both private and others.

Click on this video to hear music similar to that heard on Sunday morning in Skopelos.


Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more posts about Skopelos Island and other near-and-far travel destinations.  Click here for my latest post titled Three Weeks in Skopelos Greece: The Old Town.

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Greece (Skopelos) Photo Friday

Photo Friday: The blue waters of Skopelos, Greece

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Crystal clear Aegean waters frame these rugged rocks just offshore the beach below Panagitsa Tower in Skopelos Old Town on Skopelos Island in Greece’s Northern Sporades Islands. To read more about our three weeks in Skopelos, check out this post. 

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Greece (Skopelos) Uncategorized

Three weeks in Skopelos, Greece: The Old Town

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Our time in the Old Town on Skopelos Island

Last June, my husband and I spent three weeks on Skopelos Island in Greece, as part of our five-plus week journey across Greece. At the time, I posted daily on this blog about our itinerary as we traversed the country from Skopelos Island, to Athens on the Pelion Peninsula, to the Peloponnese (Mycenae, Delphi and Olympia), and then a final five days in Heraklion, Crete, Knossos Palace,  and Phaistos.

However, for some reason, I never devoted a post to Skopelos town, the largest city on Skopelos Island, and which is also known as the Old Town or the Chora. This post will remedy my negligence, and furthermore, in writing this, I’ve stumbled upon three more upcoming topics that need to be covered as well. These upcoming posts are listed at the end of this post, so press the Follow button and keep on reading.

If you’re unfamiliar with Skopelos…

Along with the islands of Skiathos to the west and Alonissos to the east, Skopelos Island comprises the Northern Sporades Islands. These small landforms are located east of the Pelion Peninsula in the inky blue waters of the Aegean Sea.

Skopelos covers 37 square miles.

According to our hosts at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, the island has a summer population of approximately 6,000 residents. That number decreases by half during the winter months.

According to skopelosweb.com, Stafylos, the first mythical resident of Skopelos was the son of Dionysus, the God of Fertility, Euphoria, the Vine and Wine, and his mother Ariadne, daughter of the Minoas, King of Crete. Relics of these mythological lives were excavated in 1936. The grave of King Stafylos was found in the town and its namesake beach that to this day is named Stafilos. Inside the grave, excavators found the king’s sword with its golden handle. Today, this sword is kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Read this post about the museum.

Now that I’m back home and reminiscing…

I do wish I had taken photos of all of the “normal” places in this town… such as when we visited the bustling pharmacy, the chic coffee bistros (such as Kahili’s Bakery) on the main drag, the Vodaphone store, the grocery store where the locals shop, the hardware store up the hill, the butcher on the back road, the post office.

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This centuries-old church is right across from the Vodaphone store.

But when you’re spending time in a place that’s off the beaten path a bit, you start to feel intrusive when you’ve constantly got your camera out shooting every little establishment. Yes, it’s expected in the more touristy areas, but not necessarily in those places that provide the basic needs of daily life.

And, yes, most of those places aren’t much to look at, by the way, but they do show you a little town that functions like most others… except that people call out to each other and wave more, or they stop and chat for a few minutes, or they just quit working in the middle of the day and just… stop. doing. everything.

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There is always a church in view in Skopelos Old Town. Notice the upper right skyline. Many of the churches are privately owned by families.

This more social atmosphere, I am convinced, is afforded when cars aren’t in the mix. When you can’t seal yourself inside your car and drive right up to the door of your destination, and you are required to walk there on foot, you tend to mingle with people more.  True, in Skopelos Old Town, there are cars, and scooters, et al, but they don’t dominate the scene. Just keep your eyes and ears open and you can walk safely anywhere.

We travelled to Skopelos so my husband could serve his three-week residency at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts. He had applied for the residency in July of 2018 and had been accepted about a month later.

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We didn’t really know much about Skopelos Island when we applied for the residency.

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Here I am with Barbi, the dog next door, at the home where students stay while they work at Skopart. I plan to write a post about the arts center soon. Follow my blog to catch that post.

However, after his application was accepted, we began to do more research on the island that would be our home for three weeks the following summer.

We quickly learned that Skopelos Island was the shooting location of the 2008 movie, Mamma Mia! starring Meryl Streep.

While the island’s economy experienced a boom during that time, life on the island eventually returned to normal; today, Skopelos Island has retained much of its charm and non-touristy feel.

With the Mamma Mia! buzz long over…

And, based on our visit that is also long since over, I would agree that yes, Skopelos Island has much to boast about… incredible beauty, intriguing history, and a quiet small-town atmosphere. With the Mamma Mia! buzz in the past, Skopelos Island provides an authentic Greek island experience.

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Part of that might be because there’s no airport like there is on Skiathos Island right next door. (In fact, being a regional hub of sorts, compared to Skopelos, Skiathos feels congested, chock full of tourist retail shops and restaurants. Follow my blog for a post on Skiathos soon.)

The good news: there’s no airport on Skopelos.

The bad news: there’s no airport on Skopelos.

To arrive on Skopelos means taking a ferry, and there are several types of watercraft at your disposal: freight ferries, passenger ferries, hydrofoils, water taxis, and more. Find schedules at this website.

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These Hellenic Seaways ferries are pretty posh. There’s a cafe inside, TVs, good lighting and comfortable, air-conditioned seating.

We found that there’s no need to book ferry tickets ahead of time. Even though we were unsure what boat would work best for our schedule, the clerk at the ticket office knew. It was just easier to let them figure that out for us. And there really aren’t more than a couple of choices any day anyway.

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This ANES (say Ann-Es) carries both passengers and freight.

The ticket office, which will have tickets and schedules for all the ferry companies, is located near where the taxis will drop you off from the airport. It won’t be hard to find. After unloading from taxi ride from the Skiathos Airport, our taxi driver noticed us scanning the street for the ticket office. As he sped away, he read our minds, gave us a loud whistle, and pointed us down the block. Sure enough, the ticket office was about 100 yards away.

Still, had he not whistled at us, we could also have asked anyone standing nearby. There were waiters, restaurant owners, and others eager to seat us for a cold drink at the several eateries that line the main street across from the ferry docks.

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The Flying Cat. Expect a bouncy ride even in calm waters. It takes about an hour and a half to ride from Skiathos to Skopelos.  Our ferry made one stop in Glossa on Skopelos Island on our way to Skopelos Town..

They were more than happy to help us find the ticket office as well. While it’s obvious their true motive is to fill another table in their establishment, they are actually very helpful and to me did not seem overbearing at all. They can call a taxi for you, hold your luggage, or direct you to their restroom.

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In Skiathos, we enjoyed chatting with our waiter, Kostas. We sat at the cafe for an hour or so sipping on cappuccini and breakfast. He kept us abreast of the arguments ensuing with the boat captains across the street. They were arguing about schedules and such. Kostas, a college student who also attends university in Athens, said the men argue all the time.

For now, enjoy these photos from Skopelos Island and the its largest city, Skopelos Town.

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Around this bend (plus a couple more, I think) would be our final destination, Skopelos Town.

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At this point, our nearly 24-hour journey was coming to a close. It had been a long haul to Skopelos Town.

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Skopelos Old Town glistened in the warm Greek sunshine as we pulled into the docks. The red arrow indicates our studio unit at Mayorka Apartments. Click here for a tour!

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The ferry will disembark at the large parking lot, and then your journey on Skopelos begins.

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Transportation on the island runs the gamut: ATVs, compact cars, buses, vans, delivery trucks, and of course, scooters and cycles.

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This sign at the bus stop shows the layout of Skopelos Island. The red circled part shows the amphitheater setting of the Old Town. The Old Town lines the harbor and climbs up the surrounding hillsides forming a bowl-like city.

Our host from the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts met us at the parking lot. At that point, we drove outside of the central business district to a grocery store about a mile away. We zipped along the narrow streets alongside scooters, trucks, motorcycles, and more compact cars.

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Our first stop after arriving in town: groceries. We picked up a selection of things to stock our small studio apartment that was located way up high on the hillside above the Old Town.

Once we returned to our room, we unpacked, put the groceries away, and enjoyed the incredible view from our balcony. Sitting on our balcony during the day or at nighttime and watching boats and people, mere tiny dots way down below, come and go provided my favorite memories from our time on Skopelos.

It’s the little things, people.

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Our room overlooked the harbor of Skopelos Old Town.

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The evening view of Skopelos Old Town was breathtaking.

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We walked down these stairs every single day. What a workout climbing back up!

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These stairs were the final push when we returned from Old Town. Yes, we could have called a taxi, but why not get a workout instead?!

My husband worked during the mornings in the studios at Skopelos Foundation for the Arts just up the hill from our studio apartment. During the afternoons, we would walk down, down, down the hill into the central business and residential district.

By the time we devoured lunch — Greek salads usually — and ventured down into the town, the cobblestone streets were quiet with the afternoon break that most businesses take. The streets were eerily vacant, and it compelled us to whisper our conversations, since we definitely had the feeling that people were napping inside their homes as we walked by.

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Bougainvilleas were in abundance on Skopelos!

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Afternoons are quiet — except for the buzz of air conditioners overhead — in the Old Town.

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You can see the slight indentation in the walk for water to drain down during a rain.

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Google Maps doesn’t always work here. If one gets disoriented in the maze of streets, it’s best to keep your eyes up to see landmarks and distinctive buildings.

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I bought a pair of sandals at a shop near here. All the walking (at least four miles a day, I would guess) quickly wore out the older pair I had brought with me.

It’s impossible to take a bad picture in Skopelos Old Town. Seriously.

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My husband was always taking pictures of interesting brickwork, chipped paint patterns, or centuries-old stonework.

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Greek Orthodox churches are ubiquitous on the island and in the Old Town. Follow my blog for a future post on the “Churches of Skopelos.”

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Some stairways seem to never end. We walked up one of these at midnight after a dance recital concert in our attempt to find our way back up the hill to our apartment.

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This garbage truck somehow manages to snake its way through the teeny streets of the Old Town.

Venetian influence and power can even be found here in the Old Town.

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This wall is ancient and provides a border for the Panagitsa Tower.

This wall in the photo above is the only remaining piece of the original Venetian Castle of Skopelos,which was repaired by the Venetians in the 1300s. In fact, we were amazed at how far Venetian influence extended from northern Italy and across the Mediterranean. When we visited the island of Crete a few weeks later, we would tour another Venetian Fortress and also walk atop Heraklion’s own Venetian Wall.

I’ll include this photo of a chapel in the Old Town in this post, but there are literally hundreds more on the island.

Follow along for a future post about this and other beautiful Greek Orthodox churches.

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This church is part of the Panagitsa of Pyrgos Tower, the white-washed church structure you see when you first enter the harbor. I plan to write a post dedicated to the churches of the island soon. Follow my blog for that post!

You can’t visit Skopelos and not meet a feline friend.

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This cat visited our room a few times during our stay…

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… this one made himself quite at home, too.

No rushing allowed…

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Cappucini, a bottle of sparkling water, and a slice of baklava. Yum! Or how about…

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…a delicious spinach pie! Dishes like this are popular on the island, including the well-known Skopelos Pie, a similar pastry filled with cheese.

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We took a walk across the harbor on a couple of afternoons. This photo shows another angle of Old Town Skopelos from the opposite edge of the harbor from where we spent most of our time. This side of the harbor features more modern, resort-style hotels.

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On the morning we left (around 6 a.m.), this was our hilltop view as we waited for our taxi to drive us downtown to our ferry.

Eventually, it became time to leave Skopelos after our three-week visit. We were glad we planned to spend enough time there to visit the grocery store a few times, walk downtown nearly everyday for various needs, and just to feel as if it was our home-away-from-home.

We would love to revisit the town someday–whether it’s just the two of us again perhaps with a group of students from the university where my husband teaches. In fact, I would even like to experience Skopelos in the winter months when the population plummets. I know it would be a drastic difference, but I would still like to experience it.


Thanks for reading! Even though it’s been several months since our visit, I’m still finding topics to revisit and write about. In the words of Anais Nin, writing lets you taste life twice.

Follow my blog for these upcoming posts: 

The Churches of Skopelos

Skopelos Foundation for the Arts

Skiathos Island

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Greece (Crete) Uncategorized

Phaistos, Crete: The most famous Greek ruins you’ve probably never heard of

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A peek into the past in the hills of southern Crete

Phaistos. Phaestos. Festos. Faistos. And then in Greek, it’s spelled Φαιστός.  No matter how you spell it, each name refers to Phaistos Minoan Palace, the second most important site (after Knossos Palace in Heraklion) of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.

We visited Phaistos last summer in late June. After touring the archaeological sites at Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Olympia, and Knossos, we made a final stop at Phaistos. After a confusing morning journey by public bus from Heraklion, we made it to Phaistos in plenty of time to take a leisurely self-guided tour, eat a small lunch beneath a pine tree, and have a cold drink and ice cream in the small, on-site gift shop before hopping on a bus back to Heraklion. Here’s my post about how to get from Heraklion to Phaistos, click here.

If Minoans are new to you, here are a few facts about the culture from my husband:

  • The Minoans, named for their ruler, the mythical King Minos, are known for their advanced civilization that settled the island of Crete and other surrounding islands.
  • The Minoans were great sea travelers.
  • They built enormously sophisticated palaces for their royalty. The palaces were very “high tech” for the time period and exhibited a distinctive and advanced architectural style.
  • Phaistos was the region that produced Kamares ware, a pottery style dating from the 1800-1700 BC. Kamares ware, named for the nearby cave where it was found, is known for its dark background and white brushwork. Kamares wares were considered luxurious to own and were exported throughout the Mediterranean to Cyprus, Egypt and Palestine.

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Kamares ware, including these vessels, were found at the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos. | Photo: M. Yung

A self-guided tour of Phaistos is relaxing and quiet. Unlike Knossos, there are no guides-for-hire who approach you as you enter offering to walk you through the site for a fee.

While these guides are likely very helpful for many tourists, we doubted that they were truly needed, considering the large number of detailed placards placed throughout the site. Granted, that assumes one doesn’t mind reading.

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This photo is taken from the opposite side of the palace grounds.   Jerzy Strzelecki [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
When you do stop to read the signs, you can learn a lot. Here are some basic facts taken from a placard found at the entry to the main site:

  • The hill of Phaistos was inhabited as early as 4500-3200 BC in the Final Neolithic Age.
  • The first palace of Phaistos was active from 1900-1700 BC. The palace controlled the plains and valleys found below the palace hilltop.
  • The city of Phaistos — and Minoan culture in general — flourished until  323-367 BC.
  • The Phaistos Palace grounds included a central court, surrounding wings, multi-story buildings (similar to Knossos), gateways and open balconies.
  • More facts follow the next few photos.

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Phaistos is found on a hilltop in southern Crete. The valleys on all sides of the hilltop are blanketed with olive trees, grape vineyards, cypress trees, and farms. There are several caves in the surrounding hills also. Many items, including pottery, have been found in these caves. | Photo: M. Yung

  • The first Phaistos Palace was built around 1900 BC.
  • It covered 8,000 square kilometers over three terraces.

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Tickets to the Phaistos site are 8€ each. Getting there is inexpensive, too, via public bus.

  • The original palace was inhabited for 250 years and destroyed and rebuilt three times.
  • It was destroyed the last time by an earthquake around 1700 BC.

It’s amazing that visitors are allowed to walk on stones laid nearly 3,700 years ago!

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Little at Phaistos seems to have changed since the 1919 photo above. It’s still isolated, quiet, and remote. | Photo: M. Yung

  • After the earthquake, the ruins were covered and a new palace was constructed on that.
  • This last palatial site was smaller, but according to the placard, “more monumental.”
  • This last Phaistos Palace was destroyed in 1450 BC, but not rebuilt.
  • Two more facts follow below.

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It’s amazing how little has changed over the years. This photo from 1919 shows the steps leading to the West Court. The theatral area and diagonal wall appear in the lower half of the picture. | Frederic Boissonnas [Public domain]

  • The city of Phaistos continued to be inhabited and thrived in Hellenistic times from 323-367 BC.
  • In 150 BC, Phaistos was finally destroyed by Gortys. When Rome conquered Crete in 67 BC, Gortys became the capital, replacing Knossos.

But back to our tour…

The main reason we wanted to visit Phaistos: the pithoi.

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Two pithoi appear below a reconstructed walkway. | Photo: M. Yung

These pithoi (the singular word is pithois) are well-known in art history circles and Phaistos is considered the premier site for this particular kind of storage vessel. In fact, my husband hoped the site would have more available to see, as he had seen photos of many more pithoi on display here.

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A room with storage jars known as pithoi. | Photo: M. Yung

Still, it was fun to wander the grounds and find a pithois tucked away here and there. There were more to see in an area of the grounds covered with metal shelters; however, these shelters were in large areas closed off to visitors.

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Mitch walked as far as he could into the Magazine of the Giant Pithoi, a room that contained  several large pithoi jars. | Photo: M. Yung

In fact, this was our main disappointment with Phaistos:

a good portion of the site was closed.

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The shrines of the West Wing were predominantly small rectangular rooms that contained benches. According to the placard, inside these rooms excavators found ritual vessels, figurines of deities and other cult objects. | Photo: M. Yung

There was definitely a feeling that Phaistos is overlooked and forgotten.

  • a few signs were missing
  • some barriers were broken
  • a wooden observation deck had missing boards

Generally, Phaistos seemed neglected. And this isn’t really surprising, considering Greece’s other economic priorities.

True, due to its location, Phaistos sees fewer visitors than other more popular Greek archaeological sites. In fact, Phaistos doesn’t even make this Top 20 list of Greek ruins.

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Photo: M. Yung

Still, Phaistos is a valuable peek into the past, and among art historians, it’s well-known and revered.

The Phaistos Minoan Palace reminds us that we shouldn’t underestimate the abilities and ingenuity of ancient cultures. For example, precisely placed stairs and drainage pipes made of solid stone show us the resourcefulness of the Minoans.

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Drainage pipes were used at Phaistos. | M. Yung

 

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This is the Queen’s Megaron (throne room) found at Phaistos. It is covered by a metal shelter on this side…

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…and this side, too. | Photo: M. Yung

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The Phaistos Disk is on display at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The disk represents one of the greatest mysteries of archaeology. No one knows the meaning of the symbols incised into the clay. It was made between 2000-1000 BC. It measures about six inches in diameter. | Photo: M. Yung

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Photo: M. Yung

It was a beautiful sunny day when we visited Phaistos. In fact, by early afternoon, we were ready to hop on an air-conditioned bus and make the trip back to Heraklion.

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This photo shows the theatral area on the left and stairway to the West Court on the right. | Photo: M. Yung

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Here I am walking near the theatral area in the West Court. The wall to my left can be seen on the left side of the preceding photo.

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Kouloures, large stone-built structures, show time-consuming craftsmanship. | Photo: M. Yung

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Relics from the past are scattered across the grounds. | Photo: M. Yung

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This photos shows the surrounding hillsides. I’ve circled in red additional outlying structures that were subordinate to the palatial hilltop above.  We ate our lunch (that we had packed and brought with us) on benches beneath a pine tree right above this scene. | Photo: M. Yung

Mysteriously, no one knows for sure the reasons for the collapse of Minoan culture, including the civilization at Phaistos.

Perhaps that’s a fitting conclusion for this archaeological site that today is still out-of-the-way, obscure, and famous.


Thanks for reading! This post is another installment from our cross-country Greek odyssey last summer. It’s amazing how many more sights I have yet to write about. Follow my blog for more travel posts, including this one from our final day in Greece when we visited the site of Paul’s To an Unknown God sermon.

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Greece (Skopelos)

Hiking the Coast-to-Coast Trail on Skopelos Island

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The end of the trail: Panormos.

Three-plus hours of exercise and socializing in the Greek countryside

On Wednesday night (June 12), Mitch and I hiked across Skopelos Island from Skopelos Town to the little seaside town of Panormos. The three-hour hike was organized by Heather Parsons, founder of Skopelos Trails.

I had heard of Parsons last fall when I found her in an online search. It seems when you research Skopelos Island, her name will eventually surface. Her organization, Skopelos Trails, is dedicated to restoring, maintaining and improving the ancient stone pathways, called calderimi, that are sprinkled across the island.

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Victoria Rose Phillips, Grayson Phillips, Mitch and I

Parsons has written and published a book as well, called Skopelos Trails. It shows the paths for  the island’s many walking and hiking trails. Parsons has provided detailed—almost step-by-step directions— for finding and following the paths either on your own or with guidance from her or her business partner and our guide, Emmanuel.

According to a post on Facebook just today, the local forestry department recently asked Skopelos Trails to provide them with details of all the closed trails.

IMG_9485In the post it says that Emmanuel had drawn in by hand 116 km of trails on the department’s terrain map. Clearly, Skopelos Trails knows its the land better than most.

Parson’s book also contains hand-drawn illustrated maps that appear alongside the directions and description of the Trails. The illustrations may not be drawn to scale and if a business was used as a landmark on the map, it may have changed, especially if you are using an older edition of the book.

The trails are marked and rated by level of difficulty and the trail we walked Wednesday night, the Coast to Coast Trail, is considered “not strenuous,” or at least that’s how Parsons described it to me in her reply to an email I had sent her as we were making arrangements. (Since I had a 7 a.m. ferry ride to catch the next morning, I wanted to make sure the three-hour Coast to Coast Trail would not wipe me out for the next day’s travel to Venice to see my daughter.)

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Starting off from Skopelos Town below.

With Parsons’ “not strenuous” description, we decided to sign up for the 25€ hike, but we opted to take the bus back later from Panormos to Skopelos Town instead of going to a restaurant with the other hikers. I would have loved to socialize more with the others, since during the hike we were able to visit for only a short while.

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The plan was to meet at 5 pm at Kahili’s Bakery and Cafe down on the harbor front street or at 5:15 further up the hill near our apartment, where the calderimi, which started just down the hill a small distance, passed by.

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Mitch next to a small family Greek Orthodox church

As we stood near the telephone pole with a Skopelos Trails trail marker (a 3″- diameter white circle with a yellow hiking boot footprint), we began to hear huffing and puffing from an approaching group.

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To our left, trudging up the hill with the entire town of Skopelos spread behind them as a backdrop, proceeded two couples from England; Anna, a young Athens native who lives in Skopelos; a woman from Skopelos who had built a brand new home in the mountains of Skopelos; and our guide, Emmanuel.

Our addition to the group included Mitch and I plus Grayson and Victoria Phillips, who is serving an artist residency at Skopart.

In total, there were eleven of us—quite a good number for an end-of-day stroll (and I use that term loosely) across the island.

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The previous Thursday, according to the Skopelos Trails’ Facebook page, a group of five hiked the path starting at 9 a.m.

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It would have ended in the heat of the day, so maybe an evening hike, with it’s cooler temperatures during the latter two-thirds of the hike, makes for a more tempting outing and attracts more participants.

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One of the natural springs we came upon

We did stop occasionally during the hike— about five times. During our stops, we would take a photo, drink water, or refill our water bottles at a  natural spring. There are several of these springs on the island and many islanders use them for their drinking water.

The water was cold and clean, Emmanuel assured us. Our bottles were nearly full, so we didn’t drink from the spring, but I wish I had. Should have tasted natural Greek spring water. How often do you get to do that? I did scoop up some of the icy water and rubbed it on my arms and neck for a cool-down, though.

We arrived right on schedule at 8:15 pm in Panormos, having traversed the island through olive groves, along stone-walked paths, on top of stone-bordered terraces, alongside pastures where goats and an occasional horse roamed.

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The hike took a solid three hours and fifteen minutes. I’m writing this post in Venice; when I return to Skpelos, I’ll look into my copy of Skopelos Trails to see how many kilometers we covered. I’m guessing right now about five.

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We also came upon five tiny and well-maintained Greek Orthodox churches. Our guide told us that many of the churches were built by families so their members would have a central location for burial. In at least one, a single candle flowed in the darkened nave.

I was tired when it was over. I would definitely label the hike “moderately strenuous.” It’s very rocky, and very steep in parts, and in many places we were walking in thigh-high grasses or on steep grades that were covered with a cushion of small, smooth leaves (a eucalyptus variety?) that made a few of us nearly fall.

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Even though it was a challenging three hours, it was very enjoyable literally getting off the beaten path to see the rural Greek countryside, and rugged and forested mountains, which are particularly unique to Skopelos.

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We also enjoyed meeting and visiting with people from around the world. As Judy, an English hiker from Bristol said, “It’s so interesting when people from all different parts of the world with different lives come together to connect in this way.”

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Thanks for reading! This was a fun experience and when I return to Skopelos next week, Mitch and I hope to take another (probably shorter!) hike using the Skopelos Trails book. Follow my blog for more posts from our summer travels and feel free to leave a comment about some interesting hikes you’ve taken recently.

Categories
Greece (Skopelos)

A big fat Greek vocabulary lesson about the word “Sporades”

Gus
Now, give me a word… any word… and I show you, how the root of that word… is Greek. How about “arachnophobia”? “Arachna,” that comes from the Greek word for spider… and “phobia” is a phobia, it means “fear.” So, “fear of spiders.” There you go. Read more at: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk

Gus Portokalos would be proud

You know in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the father, Gus, explains how every English word can be traced back to the Greek language?

Well, he’s right on that point when you look at the name for the group of islands that my husband and I are visiting: the twenty-four Sporades Islands along the east coast of Greece.  (Actually, we’re only visiting one of those islands, Skopelos.)

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Only four of the twenty-four Sporades Islands are permanently inhabited: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonnisos, and Skyros.

When you look at the twenty-four islands that make up the Sporades  on a map, they appear to have been scattered into the Aegean Sea. Picture in your mind seeds or spores that have been tossed across a field by a farmer.  Or consider the seemingly random process in which cells scatter and germinate. It’s a very visual and literal way to describe these islands.

Now let’s do what Gus would do.

Ever think about the English word “sporadic”? According to Merriam-Webster, this word “describes the distribution of something across space or time that is not frequent enough to fill an area or period, often in scattered instances or isolated outbursts.”

See? The English word sporadic can be traced directly back to the “Guh-leek,” as Gus would say.

For even deeper backstory, there’s this from Merriam-Webster:

Sporadic “comes from Medieval Latin sporadicus, which is itself derived from Greek sporadēn, meaning “here and there.” It is also related to the Greek verb speirein (“to sow”), the ancestor from which we get our word spore (the reproductive cell of a fungus, microorganism, or some plants), hinting at the seeming scattered nature by which such cells distribute and germinate.”

So when when the islands were created or “sown,” they were scattered like spores. What better name to call these islands other than the Sporades Islands?


I’m a word nerd. I love learning where words come from and how they have changed over time. Click “like” if you enjoyed this post and leave a comment about a word you find interesting.  Follow my blog for more posts as we continue our month in Greece.

Categories
Greece (Skopelos)

A tour of our studio apartment in Greece

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Here’s what €40-80 will get you on Skopelos Island, depending on time of year

I thought it might be interesting to write a post about our lodging here in Skopelos Town, sometimes called the Chora, on Skopelos Island in Greece.

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Here’s our front door.

We’re staying in a room that sleeps three people at Mayorka Studios, which is located just a three-minute walk down the hill from Skopelos Foundation for the Arts (Skopart). This is the arts center where my husband Mitch is pursuing a three-week artist’s residency.

The studio we’re staying in runs €40-80 night, depending on the time of year. July and August are the most expensive times; it varies greatly after that. In addition, if you come to the island to participate in a Skopart artist residency, your rates may be lower.

Mayorka Studios comprises twelve units perched high on the hill that overlooks Skopelos Town below. In fact, if you look in the picture below, you can see the apartments in the extreme upper left corner. They are not white, but instead are painted a light coral color and have red tile roofs.

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You can see Mayorka Studios in the very top left of this picture, right along the edge.

Our room has a king-size bed and a twin. It also has a limited kitchen with a few pots and pans, an ice cold fridge, double sink, a small two-burner stove, …

and a kettle that boils water in no time flat.

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The entrance. You can park on the lot there by the scooter, but no one here right now has a car.

The kitchen has the main appliances we need, but not a microwave or oven; however, I don’t think that microwaves are as popular here as they are in the U.S. As for the oven, yes, I would like to have one of those–even more so than a microwave, actually– but oh, well. My daughter’s apartment during her first internship in Venice didn’t have an “oh-ven” either.

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Rather plain Jane, but perfectly adequate.

The kitchen also contains the basic utensils needed, but we did have to go buy a sharp serrated knife for slicing tomatoes. (We have Greek salads with nearly every meal to make sure we get our daily allowance of feta cheese.)

The bathroom has a small shower and a hand-held shower head that hangs over the faucet. The shower at our AirBnb in Athens featured this same type of shower setup, so it must be common here. It’s a little awkward to get used to… you’re never just standing under flowing water. You have to hold the shower head. Kind of a pain. Man, am I a whiner or what?!

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And now for the other angle.

The toilet functions, except for “the rule.”

That would be the “never flush paper” rule, which was also awkward to get used to. Flush NO paper, not even the dirtiest paper? Nope. Apparently, it clogs up the pipes. So, instead of tossing your paper into the toilet, you just toss it into the lidded trashcan. I noticed this same rule at a hillside restaurant near the Acropolis in Athens. That place had a large lidded basket for the used paper. IMG_9411

Our king-size bed is very comfortable and firm. There are plenty of good pillows also. The place is spotless thanks to the housekeeper who drops in every morning around 10.

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Yep, that’s a bathroom. Notice “washing machine” next to toilet.

The TV (an old tube version) doesn’t seem to work. I suspect that the batteries in one of the remote controls are dead; however, I still can’t seem to get the little black box that sits on top of the TV to be friends with the actual TV.

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Shower with hand-held faucet. This was a new one for me.

But it doesn’t really matter, since the one night I was able to get something to watch, it was a soccer game with a Greek-speaking commentator (duh). So it was no great loss, but still. I get a kick out of watching TV when I’m in another country. I think it’s fun to learn what people in different countries are interested in,  their perspectives and priorities.

As for laundry, we wash it by hand.

Yes, you read that right. In fact, there’s a lime green plastic washtub wedged between the toilet and the wall specifically for the purpose. We take the tub, put it on the floor of the shower, turn on the water, sprinkle in some powdered Tide for handwashing and get to washing.

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The housekeeper dries the sheets in the breeze.

Then we rinse (sometimes in the tub, sometimes just in running water) and hang the wet duds on the clothesline on our balcony just like everyone else.

 

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Outside our door

It works really pretty well, and yes, saves a lot of energy. I can handle not having a dryer, but a washer really would be nice. Our place in Athens had one, and even though we were there for only two nights, we washed a load of laundry. (And honestly, I do think it might be a little unusual to not have one in our unit.)

So even though we handwash our own clothes, can’t flush toilet paper, and the TV doesn’t work, this place is still the bomb. And that’s because…

it’s all about the balcony.

The view is absolutely incredible. In fact, who needs a TV when you have a front row seat to the best show in town all day and all night?

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View from the balcony

Watching the ferries, tour cruises, and boats of all shapes and sizes sail in, unload, and sail back out will probably be one of my best memories from this entire trip. We can also see people way down there walking up and down the harbor front street. And late at night, when the balcony doors are open (and they usually are, because it’s quiet and safe up here), you can hear live Greek folk music rising on the breeze from the Paganitsa Tower taverna. It’s heavenly.

I guess you could argue that the balcony is our only sitting area, however. You’d be right. There is no indoor dining area, for example, or an easy chair to sit in.

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If you stand along the railing on the balcony, this is the view of the town to the right of the port.

Last Saturday night, during the second night of the music and dance festival, when students were showcasing their modern dance routines, someone must have been performing to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. Those crazy-good chords floated up from the performance at the City School down below…

another nice memory.

So, except when we’re in the kitchen fixing meals, if we’re in the apartment, then we’re on the balcony sitting in the two wicker rattan love seats, looking out at the Aegean Sea, and maybe sipping a glass of wine. There’s a glass-topped table there and that’s where we have breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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This just shows the top of the apartments. Notice the solar water heater on the top unit. Each unit has one of these. Hottest water ever!

We’ve dined out only twice in the week and a half that we’ve been here. We head to the grocery store downtown (or catch a ride with friends from Skopart) whenever we need to pick up a few things. I know we’ll eat out a few more times eventually, but I’m perfectly fine with eating in, shopping at the little market, and buying just what we really need for that day.

That seems to be the way they do things here.

 

 

 

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Mitch walking down to our apartment. 

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Right outside our door. Almost to the killer stairs… see next photo.

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A shot of the studios from down below on the stairs that descend all the way into Skopelos Chora. These stairs are killers. Wear good shoes. Walk slowly so your knees aren’t jarred with every step. You’ll get very fit just walking around Skopelos on a daily basis.

 


Thanks for reading! I thought it would be interesting to show our digs while we’re on Skopelos Island in Greece. The rates for lodging are highest in July-August; however, Greece is still relatively inexpensive compared to other locales. Click “like” if you found this interesting and feel free to leave a comment.  If you’ve stayed in Greece before, what was your experience like? 

Categories
Art & Architecture Greece (Skopelos)

A Visit to Rodios Pottery in Skopelos

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A Greek pottery master continues a family legacy

Yes, you can call Nikos Rodios a Greek pottery legend, but you can also call him the juggler of Skopelos. When we arrived at his studio Saturday morning in Skopelos Town, Rodios was waiting for a large bowl to dry on his “extra” potters wheel. (He uses a traditional kickwheel for the majority of his work. ) The bowl was slowly acquiring the malleability needed to remove it from the wheel without collapsing. It wouldn’t be long. The mild Aegean breeze flowing through the open doors of the studio would see to that.

At the same time, Rodios was also polishing and finishing a load of pottery that had been unloaded earlier from his brick kiln (it burns olive tree wood) that stands just outside the door behind his studio. The pieces were arranged on a counter… an assortment of vases, animal figures, and bowls. And then some visitors walked in: us. See what I mean when I use the term juggler?

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Jill Somer, associate director of Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, and Mitch talk with Nikos Rodios about a vase made by his grandfather.

But juggling is the nature of ceramics… it’s a busy, start-and-stop process that requires both flexibility in one’s routine, and a keen eye for scheduling and working a medium that waits for no one and simultaneously takes its own time. The Rodios family knows this routine very well.

Our visit had been arranged by Jill Somer, associate director of the island’s Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, also known as Skopart. Somer interpreted conversations about techniques, clay bodies, and terra sigilattas (slip-like liquids) between Rodios and my husband, Mitch, who is serving an artist’s residency at Skopart.

Rodios and Mitch are each testing the practicability of using terra sigillatas with both Skopart’s red earthenware clay, which Mitch is using during his residency, and Rodios’ proprietary claybody.

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The family has printed this brochure in both Greek and English.

Fans of ceramics in general and contemporary Greek pottery in particular revere Nikos Rodios for carrying on a tradition begun by his grandfather, Nikolaos Rodios. In the early 1900s, Nikolaos focused on producing decorative forms reminiscent of classical Greek pottery.

At the same time, he desired that his work feature a permanent, bold black surface. After experimenting to find the precise combination of clay bodies, colorants, and firing temperatures—potters are chemists in disguise, if you didn’t know—Nikolaos was awarded a patent for his technique in 1930. You can view the patent certificate, assigned the number 2981, on display in the workshop.

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Rodios inspects some pieces from his most recent firing. On the wall near the door, you can see the patent certificate awarded to Nikolaos Rodios in 1930.

As the years continued, Nikolaos passed the family secret to his son, who in turn passed it down to today’s Nikos Rodios.

After we spent a short while admiring Rodios’ newly fired pottery, he led us to a large wooden display case hanging on another wall.

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This case contains pottery made by Nikos Rodios’ grandfather and father.

It contains a diverse collection of pottery made by the previous two generations of Rodios. Vases of all heights are on display. Some are short and bulbous, others are elongated and elegant. Each alludes to classical Greek forms.

It’s humbling to witness the current members of a family respect the hard work and innovation accomplished by their ancestors. It’s also gratifying to know that the next generation, Nikos’ daughter Magda, is building on the legacy left to her.

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Magda spends time in the studio alongside her father, Nikos.

At a workbench near the sunny back window, Magda helped her father polish some of the items from the kiln.  She adds her own creative flair to the family business with bright, colorful earthenware mugs, serving pieces, jewelry, and decor items.

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Mitch shares images from his Instagram accouint with Maria, Rodios’ wife.

After greetings us, Magda took a break from her work to retrieve a plastic water bottle that she had filled recently with a mixture of water and a local black clay. She explained that she hopes the mixture will someday soon yield an interesting clay. She brushed a bit of it onto a pottery shard. The watery part of the mixture instantly soaked into the shard and left a gritty residue on the surface.

Who knows? With time and attention, the sludgy, gritty solution may indeed transform itself into a native Skopelos clay.

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Art enthusiasts will find their own Rodios creation in the gallery.

We then walked across the street to the pottery shop that bears the Rodios name. The shop carries a wide variety of both decorative and functional ware, from wall hangings to coffee mugs and jewelry.

Inside, Maria, Rodios’ wife greeted us and spoke briefly with her husband about the wares he had carried over from his studio. He added a few pieces to the stone-and-glass shelving units, and agreed to motor over to Skopart in a few days for a quick visit with Jill and the artists working there (students from Gulf Coast State College, painter Victoria Phillips from Macon, Georgia, and Mitch).

Then he said his goodbyes and sauntered back to his studio across the street. He had some more juggling to do.

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The Greek letters spell out “Rodios Pottery” on the front of the family-run gallery.


Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this interesting and click “follow” for daily posts from our “workation” in Greece. After the residency concludes, we’ll be continuing our visit on the mainland and south to Crete (we think).