Chapter Thirty-Four March 24, 2007- May 1, 2007
We bid a fond farewell to our friends in Mykonos on April 1st. And headed for
Syros, just 18 nm away where Seraphim rested for the winter. We spent exactly
four weeks preparing the boat for the season, record time, in fact. Fortunately,
we were able to do some of the more difficult jobs while in
Mykonos in the fall. The work was hard and
steady but we launched as planned to the day!
Of course, John never seems to think he’s done; here he is still painting the
bottom as the tractor pulls the boat away.
We did take out two days while in Syros to explore. One experience was to
celebrate the festivities around Easter which were wonderful. Easter is the
biggest holiday of the year here in Greece, far more important than Christmas.
Emphasis is placed on the Resurrection rather than on the Crucifixion, so it is
a joyous occasion. The festival begins on Good Friday when a representation of
Christ’s funeral is carried through the streets to the local church. In Syros
three churches converged in the town square. The Town Hall was bathed in purple
light for the occasion.
The moving candlelit procession is conducted in villages throughout the country.
The Resurrection Mass begins at 11 P.M. on Saturday evening. At midnight, packed
churches are plunged into darkness to symbolize Christ’s passing. The ceremony
of the lighting of the candles that follows is the most significant moment in
the Orthodox year. The flame has been brought from the “mother church” in
Constantinople (the Greeks still refer to Istanbul as “Constantinople”). The
celebration ends in fireworks which seemed most appropriate, although somewhat
dangerous. (There were small explosions all around us.) The Lenten fast ends on
Easter Sunday with the cracking of red-dyed Easter eggs and an outdoor feast of
roast lamb followed by Greek dancing. On our bus ride to the coast for our
Easter dinner we saw dozens of lambs being roasted on their spits. Easter in
Syros was charming.
Our second “day off” was to enjoy the countryside. We made friends with, Henk, a
fellow sailor from Belgium. Henk introduced us to the countryside via motorcycle
one late afternoon while on our way to use his washing machine. That gave us the
itch to explore further. So we rented a car and ventured out. The rolling hills,
ancient walls, stone houses scattered throughout the hills and grazing animals
were pristine and delightful. We meandered through the hills and even followed
the tracks of a bee-keeper for part of the afternoon. Fortunately we were able
to dodge the strays. Lunch was in a small, local taverna with spectacular views
of the sea.
Syros is a lovely island in the center of the Cyclades. Here we met wonderful
people, as we have everywhere in Greece. John made friends with our chandler who
led to evening dinners and good camaraderie. The wonderful thing about Syros is
that it is a year-round island, unlike Mykonos. It has 20,000 inhabitants and a
very active community. This was a welcome change from our winter home and we
enjoyed the scurry of activity. Syros was once the ship building capital of the
world back in the mid 1830s. The industry flourished and attracted expert
builders and captains from ports all over the world. This benefited trade and
brought about other important industries including tanning, iron and even
insurance. This peak period of prosperity and economic growth is reflected in
the magnificent neoclassical mansions in the heart of town overlooking the sea.
These are large stately homes, usually three floors to catch the views with
magnificent detail including wrought iron windows and balconies. Unfortunately,
most are crumbling from neglect but slowly courageous Greeks are purchasing them
for ridiculously low prices with hopes of saving them. Our friend, Manoulis,
recently purchased one consisting of 18 rooms. He says he has to wait to afford
the reconstruction but he really wanted to save this beautiful house.
Syros consists of two tall “pyramid type” hills located just above the port. One
is the Catholic hill, the other is the Orthodox hill. To reach the top of Ano
Syra, the Catholic community, one must climb 870 wide cobbled steps. There are
no cars on the hill, just winding narrow backstreets, twisting each and every
way to give a full view of the city below. Walking along the intricate network
of alleyways, you have the feeling that you’ve walked “back in time”. There are
tunnels built of stone, common areas, miniscule backyards and you’re often
confused with what’s public and what’s not. But it all adds to the character.
Take a look.
Then there’s the people…..
What we found most interesting about Syros is the dichotomy of lifestyles. While
touring through the countryside we encountered a simplicity and almost primitive
lifestyle which was very enticing. There are still people here who travel via
donkey and live off the vast barren land without electricity and running water.
Their homes are often two rooms built of solid stone surrounded by rugged
Our friend Henk’s house has been expanded in the last several decades, but parts
of his home are 900 years old!
Conversely, walking through downtown Syros is as modern an experience as almost
any American town, with people attached to their cell phones. Adding spice to
the experience is the magnificent difference between each island. Each has its
own style, its own personality and much to enjoy. There is tremendous rivalry
between them too, which adds even more flavor!
Food has been a fun experience here in Greece, too. Pork, of course, is a
staple. But the Easter season introduces many rituals. Every morsel is laced
with symbolism. Carnival refers to the three weeks of indulgence when you can
smell the grills cooking meat everywhere. The forty days of Lent are the best
time to eat vegetarian fare, with special dishes that have no meat or dairy
products, or even oil if you go strictly by the book. “Tsoureki”, a brioche
style bread is a favorite. Sharon has mastered “tzatziki”, a traditional “side”
served at almost every meal. It is yoghurt heavily laced with garlic, cucumber,
oil and oregano served with a chunk of bread. Yum. The hills are full of thyme
and sage everywhere. We grabbed as much as we could use while walking.
Now that we’ve seen Syros and Seraphim is sparkling, we’re ready to move on. We
will greet our first guest in early May for a three week tour of the Northern
Greek islands. Jon is a long time friend from New York and an avid sailor. We
expect to show him Evia, Skiathos, Skyros, Pigueri and eventually Thessaloniki.
We are really looking forward to a leisurely summer. Following Jon’s departure
we will welcome our 16 year old niece who will spend six weeks with us enjoying
the Northeastern Aegean Islands. Sarah has never been out of the United States
so it would be fair to say we may surprise and delight her with a few
experiences this summer! By the end of July, we will tuck Seraphim in a marina
in Marmaris, Turkey before we fly home for a family wedding. But a lot will
happen in between! Until next time,