The warm southern location and it’s role as a major hub of the Greek Island ferry system had attracted us to Syros, but by luck we chose a jewel; it is not by chance that this is where Greek shipping magnates retire. The port town is a major centre with a university, and the near treeless landscape of the surrounding countryside has a certain charm.
We arrived in Syros in the dark in a rain storm, and quickly found a bed for the night. If the weather had been kinder, we would have been aware of the key aspect of this port city: it is formed by two hills each with a church on top. What makes this remarkable is that one is a Roman Catholic Church and the other a Greek Orthodox Church, and the two live in harmony… if on different hills. Quite by accident we, arrived in time for St Nicholas Day and we viewed this very ecumenical community celebration first hand.
On the first day, we moved from our harbour front hotel to a self catering apartment with a large shared balcony. As we are out of season, we had the balcony to ourselves. The first thing I noticed was that there were swimmers in the waters below, and we soon dispatched ourselves to the dock so Margo could have a swim. At the swimming dock we met Alexandra, a lady slightly younger than us, who became our friend and guide in the the following days. Alexandra seemed to know everyone in town, and walking around town with her was slow as there were constant interruptions of greetings by friends.
Alexandra lives on the Catholic hill, and I can well understand why: it is a labyrinth of narrow steep alleys lined by whitewashed interleaved stone houses. Very picturesque, and I fell in love with it immediately. But as Alexandra explained it is also rather impractical: if you buy some furniture for your house your next action must be to hire a donkey for delivery! This is leading to a decline in the area as house maintenance is prohibitively expensive, so you see mainly old people in this hill town. While nearing Alexandra’s house, an old lady came up with her Christmas baking and we all enjoyed a small sampling. Alexandra’s home offered fabulous views and we stopped for an early supper. This included a salad made from wild plants she had collected from the surrounding hills, and all the food had a known local origin. Life here is tough, the economic downturn has hit hard, but communities thrive nonetheless, and we have a lot to learn about how to live from them.
Another day, Margo and I walked up the Orthodox hill. These houses were built after the era of attacks from the sea, so no remains of fortifications and no labyrinth of lanes to confuse invaders. Rather, streets are wide enough for mopeds or small cars. Practical but rather mundane, compared to Alexandra’s hill village.
We spent a pleasant day cycling around the island with Alexandra and a couple of her friends. We passed through a number of pretty port villages and admired old mansions of shipping magnates. Most of the villages were quite closed down because this is not summer season, but we stopped in one village at tavern and had coffee and a light lunch of cheese, olives, and fresh baked bread. Returning to town we went to a concert at the main Orthodox church.
While being a little small to be a island of much interest to long distance bike tourists, this is a jewel of an island to relax and enjoy meeting the locals… and the cats.