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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
Greece (Crete)

I say Heraklion, you say Iraklio

At first, Crete’s largest city threw us for a loop

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Central Heraklion from the top of the Venetian fortress in the harbor.

The arrivals terminals at Crete’s airport may disappoint you.

First, it’s curiously dim. I remember telling my husband it felt like a Walmart store. Its cold LED lighting cast a cool glow on the blue and gray interior.

Second, the ladies bathroom was a mess. Forget toilet seats. Apparently, they were deemed unnecessary. And the hand dryers seemed pointless also. That’s because they blew a softer gale than the one outside. Shaking the excess water from my hands, I left the bathroom and joined my husband to explore our ground transportation options.

As we walked, I asked myself, This is Heraklion? My preconceived ideas of a sunny, bright and sparkling Crete had quickly evaporated and we weren’t even outside yet.

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We flew to Crete on Volotea Airlines, a regional carrier based in Madrid.

But that would change soon enough. After fielding a taxi to our AirBnb, checking in with our host, picking up some groceries at the small corner market, things improved.

Yes, Heraklion, the largest city on Crete with a population of 174,000 and Greece’s fourth largest city threw us for a loop at first. However, it took just overnight for us to become more accustomed to our corner of Greek life in Heraklion’s Fortetsa neighborhood.

Over the next five days, we explored much of Heraklion’s major attractions, navigated its bus lines, and took a daytrip into the countryside south of Heraklion to the Phaistos archaeological site.

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We sat down and surveyed the ground transportation options before deciding to take a taxi to the Fortetsa neighborhood. Our driver had a difficult time finding it. Apparently, the neighborhood is not a regular stop for tourists.
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At the top of Crete’s historical attractions is the Knossos Palace, the center of Minoan culture; read my post for more information. This is the oldest city in Europe and dates from 1380-1100 BC.
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This strolling Greek band was loud and persuasive. The man on the left approached out table and held out his tambourine for a 2 Euro donation.
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If you look deep into this photo, you can see several tavernas and restaurants ready to snag tourists with cappuccinos and gyros.
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This is part of the Venetian shipyards, erected during the Venetian occupation of the port and the island in general, which in those days was known as Candia.
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This sign will fill you in on basic Heraklion history, including a history of Crete in general.
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This portion of the Venetian wall extends into Heraklion.
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This fountain is another relic of the Venetian period.
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Pedestrians pass under and through the Venetian wall on foot or in vehicles. They can walk up the stairs beyond the tree on the right-hand side of the photo and walk on top of the wall.
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This portion of the Venetian fortress extends into the harbor. It protected the city from invaders. Notice the symbol of Venice, the lion, in the relief sculpture at left. For scale, also notice people between the crenellations along the top of the wall.
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I just couldn’t get over the blue-green waters of the Sea of Crete north of Heraklion.
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We walked inside the Venetian Fortress Museum. It was well worth the 2 Euro ticket price to learn a little history along the way.
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This is Morosini Fountain in city center Heraklion. It’s a remnant of the city’s glory days under Venetian influence and rule.

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This is the sunny plaza at noontime just outside the Church of San Minas.
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This statue of Eleftherios Venizelos stands near a downtown plaza. Venizelos is “Considered by most as the greatest Greek of modern times, he is the man whose name you’ll encounter almost everywhere: from the Athens International Airport to hundreds of streets all over the country. Born in Ottoman occupied Crete, he studied law in Athens, took part in several revolutions and fought for the independence and union of Crete with Greece (1913).
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The front entrance to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in the center of the city.
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Cathedral of Saint Minas
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The interior of the Church of Saint Minas
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Adjacent to the Church of Saint Minas is the Church of Saint Katherine Museum of Christian Art. It showcases a collection of Greek Orthodox artwork, including murals, tapestries, metallurgy, and, of course, incredible icons.
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A detail from a painting inside the Museum of Christian Art. This painting is called
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We rested inside this shady park situated next to a portion of the Venetian wall.
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This outdoor mural in inspired by the “Ladies in Blue,” a fresco originally found at Knossos. The original fragments are displayed inside the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
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Scooters everywhere!
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Snack kiosks such as this one are ubiquitous in Heraklion. Some of these also sell city bus tickets.
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This is a popular retail district in Heraklion. Notice the brilliant blue of the ocean in the distance.

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The harbor at Heraklion with the Venetian fortress on the left.
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Pottery found at Phaistos, which we visited one day when we took a daytrip south. A post on this daytrip is forthcoming. Stay tuned! Check out this post for how to get to Phaistos by bus.
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The front door of our AirBnb in the Fortetsa neighborhood of Heraklion.
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The street outside our AirBnb. Our taxi driver seemed a little surprised that we were staying here. I guess it’s not the expected tourist neighborhood; however, it was safe and quiet. We felt like we were getting to see the real Heraklion that many tourists may not be privy to.
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We stayed in Fortetsa. Notice the Greek spelling above the Roman or Latin letters.
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Greece held elections on July 7. All 300 seats in the Hellenic Parliament were in play, including president. Posters were plastered in bus stops and in other public areas throughout the city.
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I took this photo while sitting in the bus stop looking up into our Fortetsa neighborhood. We were getting ready to board a bus downtown.
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We stopped in at this market a few times during our stay in Heraklion. The melons were perfectly sweet.
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The living room of our AirBnb in Heraklion.
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Another photo of our AirBnB.
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The ceiling in the departures terminal of the Heraklion airport (above) is quite a dramatic difference from the arrivals terminal. The arrivals area was stark and uninviting  in comparison.

Thanks for reading! My husband and I are in the process of moving out of the house we’ve lived in for 25 years. It’s been a job accomplishing the move and writing more about our trip this summer to Greece. I plan to add several more posts over the end of summer and fall. That’s my plan; however, with a new teaching job starting in a little over a week, it will be a challenge.