Chapter Forty Eight   August-September 2009

 

Our Summer to Remember has ended but it was a carefree, stress-free magical time with no schedule, few mechanical problems and spectacular explorations.

 

We were still in Turkey mid-August when we stopped at a place called Siğaςik, an old walled village with a small fort. And a walk back in time. You could imagine what life was like about the year 1940 when everything was slow and simple. People sitting on their doorsteps greeting you and watching the world go by. There was local produce in the street markets, home baked goods for sale, narrow alleyways and no cars allowed. It was a real treat.

 

Time was up on our Turkish tourist visas so we signed out and headed for Greece where we would spend a month visiting some “off the beaten track” islands. Our first stop was discovered quite by accident. We pulled into a small bay off the southern coast of Samos called Posidonian. What a place. It was a little bit of heaven with one tiny market, two tavernas and not much else.  Other than a couple dozen private summer homes that looked as though they had been built about a hundred years ago. Small, simple, colorful and 100% serenity. We stayed for three days and even that didn’t seem enough.

 

   

 

Our next stop on the island of Samos was a place we had been before:  Pythagoria. This seemed like the big city compared to where we had come from, with multilingual menus, over-priced cafes and yachts squished into the packed harbor. But the cobbled back streets are lined with red hibiscus and pink oleander and we soon warmed into the action. We visited with friends and settled into some heavy duty nightlife, dining out and comparing notes with friends aboard nearby yachts. We also discovered a gorge which we hiked twice. It was a four-hour trek with lots of rushing streams, some major wading and even some swimming. There were three slippery rock climbs which looked a little daunting but we both made it with the help of a rope!

 

                                          

 

We rented a car with friends and had a fantastic tour of this scenic island. Mentioned in our guide book were a couple of hillside villages which we explored. Exquisite. Ampelos is known as the balcony of Samos and it sits in the midst of pine and deciduous trees. This makes it rich in bird life whose chirpings are heard through the steep old streets. But the best part was when Mary invited us in for coffee. Mary was born in Ampelos but married an American. She still maintains a home here and is always hungry for some American visitors. She fed us hot feta pies, Greek coffee and shared wonderful stories about her village. The one we loved the best was the story of her cousin who was proud to say he had never left the island in 75 years. Illness forced him to leave recently when he spent about two months in Athens. Mary complained that after his time in Athens all he does now is play video games on his computer! Amazing what one visit to civilization can do!

 

             

 

We visited the Temple of Hera which was remarkable. As the wife of Zeus, Hera deserved a significant sanctuary and this one was built in the 6th century B.C. on swampy land where the river enters the sea. We anchored off the grounds which are lit up at night.  Seeing the magnitude of the ancient column that still stands was quite extraordinary. By the way, there were once 155 of these columns. How did they do that????

 

      

 

Our tour book describes Samos as the jewel of the Dodecanese. We couldn’t agree more. Have a look at some of the spots our driving tour brought us to. Pretty spectacular, don’t you think?

 

                                                        

     

Our next stop was on a tiny island called Agathonisi, a sun-bleached, often-ignored speck of strategic rock. The island has 158 inhabitants and offers nothing more than plain peace and quiet. There are three settlements on the island and numerous hiking paths which we explored daily. Our particular anchorage happened to attract several nude sun worshippers every day and that was the most interesting thing that happened the entire time we were there. Night-time was memorable: pitch blackness, the distant sound of sheep bells and us. Just the way we like it.

 

                  

 

We dashed back to the Turkish coastline to seek shelter from a passing gale in a place called Cukurcuk. This proved to be a memorable experience, too. John had to get to town (a good 4-5 mile hike) while Sharon stayed with the boat. As soon as he stepped ashore a man was waiting at the curb-side asking if he would like a ride into town. Not only did he get a ride, he had a full escort service with stops to the local gas station for camping gas, the fruit market, post office and phone store. He was back within two hours and had now made a new friend. Within our anchorage was a private swimming club to which we were invited. We sat and enjoyed a drink with newfound friends and took in all the local gossip. It was great. We even toured the home of a local fisherman who collects sea relics from marble columns to antique amphora. Amazing where a “walk to town” will take you!

 

In the same anchorage we made friends with a local fisherman and his wife who surrounded us with nets every evening and retrieved them every morning. Well, except for the last morning when we retrieved it for them. Our reward was, of course, fresh fish! A wonderful sight!

 

                          

 

Back to Greece, foul weather behind and new discoveries ahead. Lipsi. Big place. 650 inhabitants! Pristine, quaint, charming. Here we found more solitude. Well almost. Every morning the local cowboy chased his three wild horses through town and it was like walking into a John Wayne movie. It was wonderfully funny and quite entertaining anticipating his grand tumultuous entrance, when you weren’t worrying about being mowed down, that is. We also walked some wonderful trails around the seaside bays.

 

               

 

 

On Sunday morning our trail ended in town where we were greeted by the youthful portion of a wedding party, bride and groom included. The tradition here is that following the celebration the fortunate youth (or in this case unfortunate) jump into the sea, fully clad in wedding attire. Any unwilling guests are pushed! And the only ones exempt are the bride and groom. This groom was, however, unlucky and celebrated with the party. Sharon, outfitted in a sundress, nearly made it in, too, but she held tight to the stop sign nearby. It was great fun.

 

   

 

And if it seems as though it couldn’t get much better, guess what? It did. We arrived in Nisyros, a small round island with it’s very own 40,000-year-old volcano. Its craggy peaks and rolling hillsides are stunning. We, of course, spent a day exploring the volcano (which still stinks, by the way). The cliffs which rear up with their ravaged twisted points create spectacular coloring on the crest. Check it out.

 

                                                       

 

But the best part of Nisyros is Mike, owner and operator of the Eagle’s Nest Car Rental. Anything you want, Mike will provide. Internet service, phone availability, personal photos of the ever-evolving volcano, colorful local stories and even a CD for your day of touring. Mike left the island at age 17 and lived 33 years in Astoria, Queens. He has returned to his native Nisyros to retire. His accent was a great reminder of home! He holds America close to his heart and couldn’t do enough for us. What a life!

 

We decided that if ever we needed a house on a Greek island it would be in Nikea, the larger of the two villages on the island. The photos will make you see why we feel the way we do! A dreamy place.

 

                

 

 

As if four gorgeous islands over one course of one summer wasn’t enough! Make it five. Truth. Add Symi. Symi stands between Rhodes and the Turkish coast, thrust up like a pitted mountain out of the sea. It has an extraordinarily scenic rocky center with pine and cypress woods. It has a deeply indented coast with precipitous cliffs and small bays. We experienced all this on a well-worn scooter, scared to death, both of us, 100% of the time. We did it because we wanted to drive through the pine forest that leads to the spectacular Monastery of Michael the Archangel in the bay of Panormitis. The monastery houses an intricately carved icon that appeared miraculously where the monastery now stands. (We anchored in this bay the previous week, but wanted to see what it was like when approached by land.) Picture the buoyant sunshine ricocheting off the grey peaks, an ornate Italianate 18th century tower, white stucco loggia, the grand ballistrated monastery, the echo of 200 chanting monks and the scent of burning incense. That’s what we found on this particular Sunday morning. Sunday services which were as chaotic as usual with discontent children, chatting tourists and seemingly uninterested participants. The spell was broken but it didn’t matter. We will forever remember the magic of this place.

 

            

 

To add to the beauty of the place the monastery operates a bakery with fresh baked goods daily. The spinach pie is simply the best here. And the chief baker is pretty sweet too.

 

       

 

One more story on the monastery. As we were leaving, in came a privately-hired ferry and 200 guests to witness the baptism of Nicola Vasili Thera, a full-time resident of Rhodes. Pappa had a few extra bucks to spare so family and friends were ferried to the Monastery for this great occasion. The balloon sculptures and antics made it appear to be more a wedding than a baptism but we were highly entertained.

 

 

We settled in for a few days in the bay of Pedi, a small town north of the monastery. The mornings are cooler now so Sharon added her morning walk to the agenda. It is here that she met Maria and husband, Iaonnis. We made new friends and were even invited to join the family on a Sunday afternoon when their daughter (Sharon’s age) was visiting from Rhodes. We had a wonderful time and heard lots of stories about the people of Symi. Maria told us about the island’s first triplets, and Irini, a spry 100-year-old who has never lived anywhere else.

 

The architecture is clean and crisp and like no other. We did a morning walk to the church on the top of the hill and meandered through the seemingly-endless staircases that brought us, through many a perilous zigzag, to the turquoise sea below. Here are some of our favorite spots.

 

                                 

 

October is here and we expect to putter around the Turkish coast until the end of the month or until the cold sends us into our new marina. The new marina is located on the southern coast of Turkey about 50 miles east of our previous two winters. We are looking forward to new scenery and new people. Not sure if it can get any better than this, but we’ve been wrong before!