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!