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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

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy (Venice)

Photo Friday: A Venetian mosaic

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Photo: Katherine Yung

The travel is in the details

This unexpected mosaic tucked into a corridor in the San Marco sestiere of Venice, Italy will take your breath away. Even the wrought iron barrier is beautiful and provides a contrasting frame for this photo taken by my daughter in June 2019.

The design reminds me of a beautiful painting by the Venetian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini  that you’ll find hanging inside the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The basilica is located adjacent to the Venetian hospital Ospedale Civile.

The image on both the painting and the mosaic depicts the Christ child being carried by the patron saint of travelers Saint Christopher, a 3rd-century church martyr.


Thanks for reading! I plan to post a photo every Friday. Click “like” and become a follower to catch my next post and pictures! And don’t forget: the travel is in the details.

Categories
Art & Architecture Italy

Sins of the flash in Torcello, Italy

The quiet rebellion of women who take pictures anyway

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Photo: Joel Valve on Unsplash

When you visit the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon, you observe a sign inside the basilica that forbids photography. Ugh, you think. But it’s so beautiful. Inside, the apse—a half-dome of sorts—is encrusted in gold mosaic. The Virgin Mary resides in its center, alone, regal, royal. It’s graphically arresting and elegant in its simplicity; it contrasts with the opposite wall, a riot of colors, shapes, lines… Biblical scenes of the Last Judgment.

The cathedral is exquisite. One simply must have pictures to remember. So you plan to purchase them in the form of postcards from the adjacent gift shop when you leave. Problem solved.

Why then, the click? Why then is that woman over there snapping away? Lost in thought, she roams the chapel, gazing at the art, studying the expressive scenes, recording her visit on her sleek 35mm Canon.

Your immediate thought: she must have special permission. She must be a researcher working on a project. You explain as much to your husband. No, he says, she’s just ignoring the sign. His nonchalance startles you. As if this is just what people do, and in this case, a woman.

Oh, you reply, secretly envying this woman’s quiet rebellion that allows her a certain freedom that you will never claim. Disobey a sign that clearly states no photos? You shake your head. It’s right there in 96-point Times New Roman even. You roll your eyes at her audacity. This disregard for convention and rules astounds you.

You wonder how much inevitable damage each click does to the Byzantine masterpieces. Over the decades, who knows? She could be causing irreparable harm, you think. This should go down on her permanent record, wherever those are.

You ask your husband about the inevitable damage. Probably doesn’t hurt the art at all, he explains, adding something he read reported most cameras have filters that limit or remove UV waves.  Doesn’t damage a thing, he says.

Here I’ve been, you think, following all the rules all this time.

You continue to stare at this renegade designing her destiny, staking her claim with a few flashes that you still cannot bear to sneak on your measly iPhone. It’s true, you think, this woman has shown you to be the fool that you are.

She clicks another shot and checks the tiny screen. It must have been good, you think.

Her crimes finally and fully committed, the woman strides purposefully across the nave, stuffing her camera into a turquoise canvas tote bag. On the side of the bag is a design: two kitschy, feathery angel wings protruding from behind a shield. The design is cliché and you abhor that about things.


Thanks for reading! This is another story generated by a week-long trip to Italy I took in 2017. There are more stories on the way. Feel free to leave a comment and click follow for more.

Categories
Reviews of Books/Music/Films

Kin Types reveals one way to understand your family history more fully

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“She can’t keep going, but she does. She and the fire column in movement, she forward. It spins upward a hallucinatory dance. The neighbor and her children have forgotten motion; their screams have left them behind

swirling

charging

the tin ceiling

Did she take note here?

This is the moment my life changes. I can’t finish the dishes, wash my unmentionables, get dinner ready for Dirk and the children before it’s too late. It’s going to happen. It’s happening now.”

This is an excerpt from “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought off Dutch Pete,” one of nineteen chapters from Kin Types, a 30-page book of prose and poems by author and fellow blogger Luanne Castle. Follow her blogs here:  The Family Kalamazoo and Entering the Pale. 

With Kin Types, Castle enters the lives of her ancestors by exploring their pasts through genealogy and the family stories, photographs, and ephemera that reveal that genealogy. Just take a look at Luanne’s blogs to see her comprehensive family explorations.

However, because the past is often defined by what little we know of our ancestors, that knowledge can be scanty. That’s my situation.

So I ordered Luanne’s book to gather ideas for my own family history writing project about a 1930 barnstorming airplane crash that killed my grandmother’s two younger brothers.  (Read this post for more about the accident.)

All I have left of the tragedy are photographs, letters of sympathy, yellowed newspaper clippings, locks of hair. How can I ever understand this history fully? Perhaps by doing what Luanne did, that is, entering the lives of her ancestors via genealogy, photographs and ephemera.

Kin Types will inspire you if you wish to research your own family history or simply desire to connect with your ancestors through the power of writing.


 

If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so others may find it more easily. Follow this blog for more articles and updates on my project regarding the 1930 airplane crash. If you are a middle school teacher, check out my teaching blog.