Saturday, July 9, 2011

Island of Syros

As I mentioned in the previous posting, we are now moored on the town quay in the village of Finicke (a/k/a Finikas) on the southwestern side of the island of Syros waiting out another blow of meltimi winds.  This is a nice place for this purpose.  Shelter from the wind is very good, especially docked where we are.  BeBe is being blown directly away from the dock.  The quay turns at an sharp angle and boats moored farther down the wall are being blown almost directly sideways.  Boats on the other side of the quay (inside the actual marina area) are being blown stern into the wall.  We have the best location for when northerly winds are blowing, as is expected for the next 4 or 5 days.

There are at least 3 beaches nearby, only 1 of which is accessible by walking.  The other 2 require a dinghy for access so we probably won't be visiting those.  Our dinghy is stored upside down on the mizzen deck and that is probably where it will remain during our stay.  There is a small supermarket, a nice bakery, a meat market and a produce market all within walking distance.  And more than a half-dozen restaurants nearby.  Everything one might want except a chandlery, and we have no need of anything boat related at the moment.  Plus, there is a chandlery or 2 just a short bus ride away should a need arise.

Blue domed church on hill
Drinks on the quay
Yesterday we took the bus to Ermoupoulis (a/k/a Hermoupolis), the main city on Syros.  Ermoupoulis is located on the eastern side about 2/3 up the island.  There is a lovely large town quay located there but it is far too exposed during northerly winds.  
Big Ferries!
Another major detracting factor to this very nice quay located in the heart of restaurants and shopping is that a major ferry port is also located on that same quay.  These ferries are quite large and have very large engines and powerful thrusters that churn the water to a dangerous level.  There is no way we would moor our yacht against that concrete wall.  The ferries would cause it to be beaten up.  During the few hours we were in the quay area of Ermoupoulis we saw 3 yachts tie up; each very briefly to exchange passengers or for someone to jump off and go shopping; then these yachts quickly departed.  What a shame that this nice quay cannot be utilized by yachts because of the ferries.

We enjoyed leisurely drinks beneath umbrellas on the quay.  Then off for a bit of shopping.  Shopping is NOT something I enjoy.  But Elisabeth said she needed to shop for 2 things.  
Shopping district
She had lost her earrings on the flights from Houston to Athens, and she wanted to buy a souvenir charm for her charm bracelet.   We walked down one of the narrow alleyway streets perpendicular to the quay area and discovered a shopper's paradise.  It was exactly how one might imagine a Greek town to be.  Narrow stone streets and sidewalks with brightly colored bougounvilla and other flowers hanging down in places.  Very narrow side alleyways heading off those streets leading to small cafes and restaurants.  Steep steps up hillsides.  Truly a lovely place.  I might not enjoy shopping but I certainly enjoyed the surroundings.

Blue domed church on hill
Shopping Queen
Elisabeth found some earrings that were acceptable to her, but Bill walked in and told her not to buy them until she looked at another shop down the street.  We walked down to the other shop and she found exactly what she wanted -- a pair of rose-shaped earrings that were the exact color as the blue-domed churches we have seen around Greece.  She thought having something this color blue would be a good remembrance of her trip to Greece.  She also found a small turtle for her charm bracelet.  The shop clerk added a small gift when she wrapped the package -- another tiny charm of an eye.  This reminded me of all the eyes one sees in Turkey.  Something about having an eye to ward off evil eyes.   Unfortunately, neither of these charms can be added to her charm bracelet because the openings are soldered closed.  She will need some sort of tiny circle with an opening or something to attach each charm to her bracelet.  I have never seen charms that don't have an opening for attaching to a bracelet or necklace.  Wonder how these are intended to be attached?

Ermoupoulis town quay
After the shopping expedition we read restaurant menus posted on the sidewalks until we found a place that served pizza.  Elisabeth really wanted pizza.  We found only one place serving pizza.  It was on the town quay.  It was really nice sitting beneath the umbrella in such a lovely place.   After lunch we found a kiosk selling ice cream.  If you are going to eat junk food, do it up right.  

Cousins horsing around
We walked back to the bus stop, where we waited a half hour or so for the correct bus returning to Finikas.  I enjoyed watching people while we waited.  The kids spent their time horsing around.  Zachary found he can pick up his cousin and then hold her up with only 1 arm.  He out weighs her by quite a bit and is 4-inches taller, yet they wear the same size shoes.  Totally different children, both physically and tempermentally. 

Each of us enjoyed our little day visit to town.  I had really wanted to see Ano Syros but we did not see a way to get up there.  While waiting for our return bus we saw a small bus offering Island Tours but by then it was too late to go to Ano Syros.  Guess this is just one of those things I will have to miss.  Can't see everything.

Ano Syros is a centuries old Catholic settlement, rather than the usual Greek Orthodox.  According to the tourist brochures, during the 6th century A.D., when piracy devastated commerce on Syros, the old coastal city fell into decline.  A settlement which came to be known as Ano Syros was founded up on the hill of Mesovouni.  Entrance to the settlement was through 7 Portares (large doors).  The 7 Portares were closed each night for protection of the residents, making it like a walled city.  Some of these doors are still in place.   Supposedly there are beautiful views overlooking Ermoupoulis and the sea.  Ano Syros was little influenced by the Ottoman Rule.  The Catholic Diocese of San Georgios is on the highest point of the hill, including the Bishop's residence and offices and historical study center and archives.  The Diocese's archives are on micro-film for those who wish to research.  Next to San Yiorgis (St. George's) is the Santa Claras' Monastery, formerly the Jesuit Monastery 1743-2000.   Throughout Ano Syros are picturesque small alleys, far too narrow for motorized vehicles.  I regret we were unable to visit this place.  But, hey, as I said earlier, we can't see it all.

Geography and history
Syros means "a rock cast into the sea."  It is located nearly in the center of the Cyclades.  From the hillsides on Syros one can see many of the surrounding Cyclades islands.  Homer sang of Syros and praised the island's beauty and agricultural bounty.  The hills we see around us appear rocky and barren, but the small valleys between the hills are filled with growing vegetables and fruit trees.   The name Syros was first recorded in 6th century B.C.

The tourist brochure claims that the first inhabitants occupied this island around 2800 B.C.  However, other literature claims that recently excavated human remains and artifacts date back to at least 4000 B.C.  The current excavations have shed much light on the prehistoric period.  The northeastern region being excavated includes many graves with their burial goods, ceramic vessels, stone compasses, statuettes, intact skeletons and ancient ruins, including the remains of a former Acropolis (fortified hilltop site) and watch tower.   

During the 8th century B.C. the Phonecians arrived on the island.  Then the island followed the typical history of the region:  Persian Wars; 4th century B.C. ruled by Macedonia; 1st century B.C. ruled by Romans.  The acme of civilization on Syros occurred during the Roman rule; then a severe decline followed.  The island was always overshadowed by its eastern neighbor, Sacred Delos (where we hope to visit soon).  Syros became almost unknown during the Christian and Byzatine periods.  The traditional Greek mythological gods and demi-gods relinquished their places to Christ and His Church.  During 7th and 8th century A.D. Syros was raided by Arab pirates, resulting in castrophe and the great plague.

Then the Venetians arrived; followed by the Ottomans (Turks).  The island declined into extreme poverty.    Thousands starved to death.  Finally, in 1821 there was a revolution (under French protection); and the island became a refuge for persecuted Greeks fleeing from every corner of their struggling land.  During this wave of immigrants the harbor town Hermoupolis was created, the commercial capital of Greece during the 19th century.  Hermoupolis was named in homor of Hermes, considered by some to be the old Greek god of commerce.  In 1861 the Greek Steamship Company opened its steam-powered foundry and dry dock.  Syros succeeded in becoming the central marketplace of Greece, supplying merchandise throughout Greece as well as to Egypt, Syria and Turkey for more than 50 years.  Then Athens replaced Syros for this title, and Syros again began to decline economically.  

Today has seen a resugence of economy.  More than half the population of all the Cyclades islands reside on the island of Syros.  This has become a very popular place to own property.   The shipyard and dry dock still operate.  And resorts are blossoming all around the island.  Tourism is very much alive and well in Syros.

BTW, just down the quay from us is a boat owned by a couple from Corpus Christi.   They noticed our Texas flag flying beneath the port spreader.  They are also flying a Texas flag.  Again we notice that Texans fly their state flag on their yachts; whereas, very few people from other states bother to fly their state flags.  These fellow Texans have very definitely taken the road less traveled.  They purchased their Bavaria yacht new and had it delivered to Slovenia.  (Wonder if that is outside the EU and therefore a way to avoid the ridiculously high VAT?)  They picked it up in Slovenia and sailed down through the Suez Canal and into the Gulf of Aqaba.  They lived in Jordan for several years and kept the boat there.  They said the Gulf of Aqaba is very limiting in areas to sail.  Basically, they could only sail 23 kilometers and turn around.  One cannot sail into Israeli waters in the Gulf of Aqaba nor into Saudi Arabian waters.  That leaves only 23 kilometers of Jordanian coast where they could sail.   They have now left Jordan and are sailing the Greek isles, with plans to participate in the ARC this year.  So they will be in the Caribbean in December.  These are the only people we have ever met who have sailed in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Shopping Queen is also DS Queen
Conquerer of the World
After our outing into town, both kids immediately retired to their respectives ends of the boats with their electronic toys.  Elisabeth to our aft cabin to play her DS (wearing her new blue earrings).  She enjoys animal games (wants to be a vet when she grows up).  And Zachary to the foreward cabin to play Civilization on his laptop.  I know nothing about this game but he sure enjoys conquering countries.  For several days he battled against Alexander the Great.  On this day he was proud that he had gotten his country's capital up to level 50.  The goal is to increase the capital's economy, happiness, production and food.  
Playing Civilization
He eventually topped out at level 57, which he tells me is an extemely high score.

As usual, click on any photo for a larger image.

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