The windmills at Chora on Patmos have been restored, initially by private initiative but now with some kind of grant. One of them is fully functional and is, apparently, used to mill wheat in the summer.
The furthest one has a bronze Russian double-eagle over the door. At first glance it looks like the Byzantine eagle used by the Greek Orthodox church in the Dodecanese but it differs in that it has a small crown above it, making it the emblem for the Russian royal family. Interesting.
Apart from the Korean and Croatian tourists mentioned previously we did not see a soul on our walk from the monastery across to the windmills and back to the car park. We did, however, see quite a few cats, of which more later.
Patmian architecture is very different to Symi’s. The houses are flat-roofed stone structures with small windows and quirky doors within doors. There are many tunnels across the lanes, supported by strong reeds and wooden beams to support the stone above. The flat roofs are also made of reeds, wood and plaster which may be covered with gravel as insulation. Walls are painted white and woodwork is in muted shades of grey, eau de nil and verdigris. Very elegant. I took more photographs on the Sunday morning so you still have those to look forward to.
After our morning explorations we then drove to the northern part of the island in search of a traditional wooden boat yard mentioned in a guidebook and met a lot of goats, but that is tomorrow’s instalment.
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 🙂
December in Greece is a merry go round of storms rolling in from the west, interrupted by incredible calms and fantastic visibility. So far this winter the neighbouring island of Rhodes has taken the brunt of the weather in the region with destructive downpours, gale force winds and hail. Symi has got off lightly so far with little significant damage. Long may it last. The next round is expected to reach us on Sunday evening with a southerly gale and 100% chance of rain, turning into a strong northerly wind and showers for Christmas day. Temperatures are expected to fall dramatically and there may be overnight ice at high altitudes.
Temperatures at the moment are in the low teens. It feels colder as there is heavy drenching dew every night and the houses are also dripping condensation inside, particularly the newer ones with cement and brick construction rather than thick stone walls. Peeling whitewash is still a more picturesque look than acrylic emulsion covered in black mould…
The schedule for the Blue Star Patmos has been rearranged to take into account the Christmas Day and New Year’s Day holidays. The usual Monday and Wednesday routes have been replaced by Sunday and Tuesday for the two holiday weeks. As the main shops are open for Sunday trading on the Sundays before Christmas and New Year, Symiots can take their chances with the weather for a spot of Sunday shopping at Lidl, M&S and Jumbo. The Dodecanese Seaways schedule is unaffected except possibly by the wind.
The municipality put up the official Christmas decorations a couple of weeks ago. I will post photos separately of the town nativity scene at the War Memorial. By and large Christmas is not the big commercial extravaganza that it has become in the west and the shops on Symi are fairly low key in comparison to what you may be used to. Big centres like Rhodes put on more of a show and Athens is like any other major European city over the festive season. On Symi a few imported chocolate Santa Clauses and boxes of Panetonne share supermarket shelf space with boxes of melamakaronia (honey and walnut cookies) and kourabiedes (Greek shortbread). Vassilopita, a kind of round cake with the date of the new year embossed on it and a coin hidden in it for luck, is traditionally cut on 1 January, St Basil’s Day. There is no traditional Christmas dinner menu here although turkeys have become available in recent years and the expat population has had sufficient influence to ensure the availability of fresh parsnips and Brussels sprouts in a couple of local grocers. The locals are more likely to tuck into pork for their Christmas meal and roast suckling pig has been the midwinter feast meat for generations in this part of the world.
A team of professional tree-fellers is working around Chorio and Pedi at the moment, lopping the many eucalyptus trees that line the roads. Planted mostly during the Italian occupation between the two World Wars, eucalyptus are not indigenous to the region and although fast growing cause a lot of problems with their brittle branches and loose bark. They have to be cut back to avoid branches falling on the power lines and roads in the winter storms. There is a program of planned tree planting going on in various areas including Pedi and around the Kastro, putting in slower growing native species that are better suited to the climate and terrain.
The bus is switching to its winter schedule with no evening service and a limited service on Sundays. There are very few people wanting to go anywhere as there is not much open and it is not unusual for the bus to be replaced by one of the hire cars if too few people turn up at the stop to make it worth running the big yellow bus.
Have a good weekend and I will put up some photographs of Symi Christmas decorations next week.
The Panormitis Festival is now a week-long affair of stalls and fast-food outlets. Thousands of visitors came from Rhodes and further afield and apart from the Blue Star which is too big, all the other ferries serving Symi operated in and out of Panormitis for the duration. The actual religious event was Thursday evening and Friday morning but the quest for 1 euro squeezy dinosaurs and gold plastic tablecloths knows no such boundaries. Amidst the designer-rip-off handbags and the global Chinese tat there were also monks from Mount Athos selling blessed crucifixes on bits of cord, a stall selling some wonderful artisanal cooking tools including big terracotta casserole dishes and another selling some charming wooden gifts, handmade by a local carpenter and his wife. It would be lovely to see more of the latter and rather less of the former. In the interests of commerce part of the monastery garden has been concreted over to provide extra space for the food vendors and a large formal car park has been built at the head of the bay, before the entrance. A security firm directs the traffic into the car park. If you are catching a ferry and have to off-load luggage, you hand your driver’s license to the guard at the gate and he only gives it back to you when you leave. The carpet sellers and basket makers who used to be a feature of the entrance road have all disappeared – presumably no longer allowed as they would not have been paying ground rent being outside the gates. Apart from the Panorama cantina and the souvlaki stall manned by the Symi high school pupils, all the other food outlets were from Rhodes, including the Diva pancake, doughnut and ice cream bar.
The last boat leaves Panormitis today 12 November and from here on we are on the winter ferry time table for both the Blue Star and Dodecanese Seaways. I am leaving myself on the Dodecanese Pride this afternoon for a short trip to the UK. The Panagia Skiadeni has been moth-balled for the winter
After some glorious autumn weather more rain is on the cards, starting on Wednesday this week with a cycle of thunderstorms, showers, rainy days and occasional downpours. Let us not forget that it was on 13 November 2017 that Symi was hit by a cataclysmic weather event that changed the landscape in many places and caused hundreds of thousands of euros worth of damage. These days everyone is a bit twitchy when the long range forecast shows stormy weather ahead.
Down in Pedi both tavernas are now closed for the winter. Costas Mavroukos has closed his mini-market on the seafront and has moved around the corner into his old kiosk for the duration. The Katsaras mini-market stays open through the winter and sells hot coffee to the odd walker and fisherman. The bus service has scaled down considerably too. We won’t see much life down here again until April at the earliest. Time to hibernate!