Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our day trip to Ano Syros and San Michalis

Note the blue domed church on hilltop

As the winds were howling preventing us from sailing, we rented a car for the day and took off to explore the island of Syros.   

Looking WAY down on that blue domed church
We did not want to miss seeing the unique 'city' of Ano Syros.  

Plus, we also just wanted off the boat for a change of pace.

Winding steep steps in Ano Syros
As I wrote in an earlier posting, Ano Syros is a centuries old Roman 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.  Residents fled to the hills trying to get away from the Arabic pirates.  A settlement which came to be known as Ano Syros was founded high on the hill of Mesovouni.  

Entrance to the settlement was through 7 Portares (large arched opening with very heavy wooden doors).  The 7 Portares were closed each night for protection of the residents, making it like a walled city.  

Ano Syros was little influenced by the Ottoman Rule.  This is shocking to me because the Ottomans usually were not tolerant of Christianity.  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. 

Very old windmill near monastery
Unknown bust
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.  This is a fascinating little community.

2/3 way up to the church at Ano Syros

Supposedly 2 of the portares are still in place, although the doors themselves are long gone.  The tourist brochures stated that we should enter Ano Syros through one of these portares;  the woman at the car rental desk also told us that it is not possible to drive a car up to Ano Syros and that we should park the car and enter through one of the portares.  We searched high and low and could not find either of the 2 remaining portares.  Finally, Bill parked the car at a level that had to be the closest one could get to Ano Syros (because the road headed out across the mountains away from all buildings at that point); and we began walking.

Narrow streets Ano Syros
More narrow streets Ano Syros
To further confuse us, a hand-painted sign pointed the way to St. Nickalas rather than to St. George's.  Okay, which is the correct name of this cathedral/church?  We only found one up there; and, of course, there was no name on the church itself.  We assumed this was St. George's because it was very large (considering the space available on which to build on this mountaintop).  It was impossible to see much of the exterior of the church due to the narrowness of the alleyway "streets" and how steeply the mountaintop rose.  It interior, however, was more elaborate than we had anticipated, considering its age and location.  This church is still active today.
Interior St. George's on top of mountain

St. George's
Bill, being the only Catholic among us, lit a candle in St. George's.  Neither of our grandkids were familiar with this custom.  Neither of them is familiar with the Catholic religion and practices and I believe this was the first time either of them had been inside a Catholic church.  I explained the kneelers and the confessional, holy water containers (whatever those are called), and the baptismal font.  

Getting religion?
Irreverent as little heathens, they each kneeled as if in prayer.  They weren't fooling us.  We knew they were just kidding around.  

Bless me, Father.......
Elisabeth (THE BeBe) just had to pretend she was confessing, including "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned" -- although she forgot to make the sign of the Cross.  I don't think she does this in her Lutheran church at home or in her Episcopalian school.   Wonder where she learned that?  Surely from either books or movies.

We continued through the nave of the church out into a courtyard of sorts.  The views overlooking the opposite mountainsides and the city of Ermoupoulis and the sea were gorgeous.  The views were worth the hike up all those steep narrow alleyways.  

Old water fountain
In a corner there was a water fountain on a wall, and Zachary felt compelled to sample the water.  Elisabeth declined.  

At somewhat lower level at Ano Syros
Upon leaving the church Bill and Zachary headed off in the direction from which we had arrived.  Elisabeth and I watched them.  They never even turned around and obviously assumed we would follow like sheep.  So I turned in the opposite direction, with Elisabeth following.  We were not finished exploring yet.  Also wanted to see just how long it would take the boys to realize that the female sheep weren't following in their footsteps.

We girls wound around steep stairways and narrow alleyways -- first one direction and then another.  It is very easy to get disoriented in there!  I have an excellent sense of direction; a trait not shared by my husband.  I wondered how easily he would find his way out.

Lost wandering in Ano Syros
Elisabeth and I eventually came upon some workmen.  They were picking up their buckets and tools so we decided to follow them, thinking they probably knew the way out.  Nope; they led us into the monastery.  Backtracked a bit and then turned left down more steep steps, followed a winding stone path along the outside edge of some stone buildings, and then back up more steep stone steps where we found another stone walkway with the white stone markings down the center.  Those white stone markings down the center of certain alleyways apparently indicated a "major" street in this odd little town.  Follow one of those and you probably would eventually find the way out.  We did.  And we did.

Soon we were waiting at the spot where we had first entered Ano Syros.  About 15 minutes later Bill and Zachary arrived.  Don't know what took them so long.

Memorial for 2 soldiers

I loved this unique town.  Almost all of the tiny homes are still occupied.  Often during our walk we saw through open shutters into tiny bedrooms and sitting rooms or kitchens.  At one spot there was what was obviously a memorial to 2 men who had died.   it was a simple ledge with an urn to one side and a stone marker in the center. There was a plaque on the wall off to the left with an image of the 2 men.  Based upon the appearance of the uniforms it appeared they died during World War I.  

Everything in this town was so clean!  Almost every building was freshly painted and very well maintained.  There were very few empty or neglected buildings.  I would imagine the real estate here maintains value well.  

Entering San Michalis area
Now that all 4 of us were reunited, we piled into the car to search out our next destination -- San Michalis.  Don't really know much about San Michalis except that it is recommended as a lunch destination for tourists.  San Michalis is located on a mountaintop near the northern end of the island.   This is another place where you must park the car and walk up because the "streets" are too narrow for vehicles.  There were ruins of old stone buildings that formed a settlement in the very distant past.  We could see that at one time these buildings were plastered on the outside and were pink, then later white.  Now they are crumbling stone.

Inside tiny San Michalis Church

At the very top of the old stone settlement there was a relatively large home plastered yellow and in good condition.  There also stood the very tine San Michalis Church, which is also well maintained.  Behind the tiny church was one of the original stone buildings that is still occupied by an elderly man.  There was a mailbox on his stone wall, so mail must still be delivered here sometimes.  He came out into his yard and spoke to us in a friendly manner, but we don't know a single word of Greek so communication was impossible.

San Michalis candles
Bill lit another candle in San Michalis.  Guess he had not read the guide book to learn that this is a Greek Orthodox church, not Roman Catholic.  The kids did not feel compelled to pretend-pray in this church as they had at St. George's.   They wanted to light candles but we were out of small denomination currency.

Stone paths at San Michalis
Stone paths at San Michalis

We walked back along the stone path winding through the crumbling stone buildings to find a restaurant for lunch.  We found one receiving a beer delivery, but they were not yet open for business.  The Greeks eat lunch rather late in the day.  It was 12:30 and the kids were hungry.  A woman walked by and managed to convey to us that the restaurant would open in half an hour, maybe less.  So we decided to sit in the little arbor area and wait.  It was much cooler beneath the grape vines than out in the full sun.

Grape arbor at San Michalis
Sure enough, about 20 minutes later a man and a young woman arrived and opened the restaurant.  We gave them a few minutes to get set up for the day, then we found a table overlooking the mountainside and the sea.  Spectacular view.   We each ordered something different.  Three of the meals were delicious.  Zachary ordered grilled pork chops and that was disappointing. 
Lunch up at San Michalis
The pork chops did not resemble any pork chops we have ever seen -- very thin and mostly bones.  But there was more than enough food to share between the 4 of us.  We could not decide which was better -- the Greek style pork with thyme or the Greek style pork simmered in wine with the local San Michalis cheese.

During our drive back to Ermoupoulis the kids wanted to stop at a cave.  We had seen a sign for this cave as we were driving northward to San Michalis.  Unfortunately, there was no sign for southbound traffic.  By the time we realized where to turn for the cave, we were already past the turn-off.  The mountain road was much too narrow to turn around, so we missed spelunking.  

After we passed Ano Syros and drove 2 switch-backs on our return trip down the mountain, I asked Bill to stop at a market so I could buy a bottle of water.  Everyone waited in the air-conditioned car while I went in to buy the water.  Lo and behold, right next to the little market was one of the portares to enter into Ano Syros!   Apparently, tourists are expected to enter at this lower level and walk up many flights of steps to get to the church.  We entered about half-way up from this portare level.  Glad we cheated because our legs were trembling from these steep stone alleyways without that additional exertion.

In Ermoupoulis we stopped at a very nice produce market and loaded up.  The produce at the supermarket in Finikas where we are docked was very limited.  This market had almost anything one might want in the way of fresh veggies and fruits.  Next we found a kiosk to buy more internet top-up cards and ice cream for the kids.  Finally, on the the way out of Ermoupoulis we stopped at a large supermarket so I could stock up on things not usually found in smaller towns.  Figured we should take advantage of having the rent car to load up on heavy items like soft drinks, beer and 8 months of laundry detergent.  

Back on the boat Bill discovered that the top-ups we bought for internet usage were wrong.  These worked only for cell phones.  So the next morning he made another trip to town and found the right top-ups.  No refunds allowed (even though we specifically asked for internet top-ups), so it cost another 40 Euro.  Now we have 40 Euro on the cell phone that we will never use.  Hey, grandkids; want to call your parents?  The car rental lady was nice enough to let Bill use the car to return to town to correct the phone/internet issue and did not charge him for the extra 2 hours.  How very nice of her!

Winds are still howling but it looks like things will die down and we might be able to leave here in another 2 to 4 days.  Have no idea where to head next.

(As always, click on any image for larger view.)

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