At first light on the Saturday morning Nicholas set off on an exploratory run, up the kalderimi (traditional stone-paved donkey path) through the trees to Chora on the hill top. The path was well-maintained, although slippery with moss and weeds in places. There is a policy in place to replace the fire-prone alien eucalyptus trees with indigenous conifers and in between the scorched trunks of eucalyptus there were new saplings, protected by mesh and connected to an irrigation network. Once again, absolutely no litter, not even in the water courses.
After breakfast at the hotel we went up to Chora together. The monastery gates open at 8.30 and we got there about an hour later. There was not a soul to be seen but the door was open so we went in. As we stood in the main courtyard, looking round, a chap of about 40 came up to us inquisitively. It subsequently transpired that his name was Andoni, that he has learning difficulties of some sort and that he was in sole charge that day. He was not expecting to see tourists and it was just as well that Nicholas speaks good Greek as he was slightly intimidating. Eventually he left us alone to explore, only occasionally popping up from a random doorway or tunnel to check that we weren’t committing sacrilege. One drawback of visiting in the winter is that the museum, treasury and museum shop are closed, although this is not mentioned in any of the guide books and the locals, when we asked later down in the harbour, seemed surprised. A phone call from our hotelier established that these days there are so few tourists in the off season that it is no longer worth paying staff to open up these facilities between October and April. Hence Andoni, no doubt.
An advantage, on the other hand, was that we could wander about and soak up the atmosphere without too many obvious 21st century intrusions. Speaking of 21st century intrusions, the public toilets were open and immaculate, not just in the monastery but also the municipal facilities. Symi, take note!
As you can see the views from the rooftops are fantastic. In my next instalment I will share with you some photographs of the windmills as well as the lanes we walked through to reach them.
By the way, we weren’t the only foreign visitors on the island that weekend. There was also a young man from South Korea and a middle-aged woman from Croatia. More about them later!
Our visit to Patmos coincided with the January full moon, as you can see from the above photographs. The featured image at the top is the view from our hotel room. Whatever time of the day I tried to photograph it, the light was in the wrong place but you get the general idea!
Although Patmos is very rugged and hilly it is no where near as steep and arid as Symi. There are many valleys and watercourses, some of which have formed lagoons. Apparently in earlier times these lagoons were used for salt harvesting. These days they are more likely to be used as beaches in the summer months, with tamarisk trees planted in rows along the sand bars.
The gentler gradients mean larger terraces and a lot more agricultural activity. Unfortunately it has also encouraged much more building all over the island so there is very little untouched landscape. The rich and famous, including the Aga Khan, have big estates on the island. There is none of the hedonistic party vibe associated with Mykonos and although Patmos has some pretty beaches and great sunsets they are not as photogenic as Santorini so the focal point of tourism on Patmos tends to be religious rather than the usual tourist scene. This means that the wealthy enjoy a degree of privacy and seclusion.
It also means that there are some very upmarket shops, spas and boutiques down in Skala as well as a branch of AB Supermarket, one of Greece’s oldest surviving supermarket chains. There is also a tiny branch of Jumbo, the well-known Greek toy and housewares chain, every bit as cluttered as the diabolical maze of the Rhodes branch but on a much smaller scale.
Patmos has a permanent population of around 3000 so not dissimilar to Symi. The island was spotlessly clean and there were recycling bins absolutely everywhere. Wherever there were refuse bins there were recycling bins so locals did not have to go anywhere special or do anything inconvenient to participate. On inspection we noticed that they were being used correctly and although we drove from one end of the island to the other, we did not see a single plastic bag stuck in a sage bush or a trail of litter marking the location of a landfill. Another thing we noticed is that the power station, located on the waterfront in the bay we walked around on arrival, is practically silent and unobtrusive as it is seawater cooled.
This is the year we Shums turn 60. First Nicholas in January and then myself in June. To celebrate this milestone we decided to play tourist and go to Patmos, an island that has been on our wish list for some time. As luck would have it, the week of Nicholas’ birthday coincided with some seriously bad weather so our original plan, to go up on the Wednesday evening Blue Star and come back on the Sunday Dodecanese Seaways catamaran was thrown into disarray. Instead we wound up taking the Friday morning Dodecanese Seaways up and coming back on the Sunday one, giving us effectively 48 hours on Patmos.
We stayed at the Villa Zacharo, one of the few places open on the island in the dead of winter. The hotelier was happy to oblige our frequent changes of program and met us off the boat when we arrived in Skala, the only ferry port on Patmos. The hotel was just up the drag, on the main road, if one can call it that, that connects Skala with Chora, the old fortified hilltop town around the Christodoulos monastery. Probably a noisy location in the summer with the tourist buses rattling past but perfect in the winter.
We were given Room 1, which turned out to be a highly desirable corner room with views of Chora above and the hotel’s orchard and vegetable garden below. As on Symi, we awoke to cockerels crowing! As this hotel is open all year round they have proper central heating with radiators in all the rooms as well as wood panelling in the public areas. A sign that winters last longer the further north you go!
To make the most of the remaining daylight on our arrival and to stretch our legs after the 4 hour ferry journey we walked around the bay from Skala to the opposite shore. Unlike Pedi and Yialos, Patmos bay has a bit of a kink to it so it is not exposed to pounding seas in rough weather. This means that all manner of rickety wooden jetties can survive, as you can see from the photographs.
After a late lunch of Patmos cheese pies and Choriatiki (Greek salad to the rest of the world), we picked up our hire car from Asterix car rentals opposite the hotel and went for a sunset drive down the southern end of the island. I will share those photographs with you in part 2 🙂