originally published in our Newsletter 16, June 2004
May turned out to be such a quiet month that Michael and I decided to fulfill one of our desires… to visit one of the other Cycladic Islands. From Paros we can see Syros, Tinos, Mykonos, Naxos, Ios, Folegandros, and Siknos. So which one to choose? After a little internet research a delightful and informative web page about Tinos made me want to go there and learn more. So, Tinos here we come!
We wanted to take our scooters, to save money renting them, but the ferry from Paros this time of year (May) is the SeaJet2 which does not take cars or scooters. We left at 11:00 AM, leaving our scooters at the port being reassured they would be safe for the few days we were gone. The crossing was nice but a little windy, only a short time of bouncing around on the waves after stopping to let passengers off and on at Mykonos.
My first impression of Mykonos from the window was: I am glad we did not decide to go here. It is a strange looking island, seems to be a lot of houses, but totally boring. I think that is because there are not many mountains, or something? The only thing that Mykonos has for itself is Delos, the small island quite close that was the center of the known universe eons ago. Enough about Mykonos–the ferry left and out the window on the other side was Tinos. Quite close to Mykonos. In fact, we were amazed how close all the islands really are… it took only 1 1/2 hours to get to Tinos, and that included the stop at Mykonos.
When we arrived, my heart soared. I felt very exhilarated even before getting off the ferry! Sailing into the little harbour with the mountains in the distance, the busy Hora, and the Tinos architecture was like arriving someplace other than any other island I have been to. It felt Spanish, or Italian. The different colours of yellows and ochres on the buildings I found to be quite nice and refreshing. The breezes were cooling, the sea sparkling, and the best of all was that not many tourists got off the boat.
I read that Tinos was a ‘religious’ island and looked around straightaway for the church. There it was, on the hill top overlooking the town, with a wide marble road going straight up to it! Even from the distance, it looked magnificent and important.
The first thing we did was to find a bookstore and get a map. The second thing was find a taverna overlooking the sea, and drink an ouzo and have lunch. That helps us to settle in and give the map a once over. Also, we had to decide whether or not to rent a car or a scooter. Michael favoured a car, I preferred a scooter. I know he likes scooters also, but the constant wind in his face, plus any “extra wind” blowing from the North, makes him uncomfortable. I prefer a scooter because I feel so close to nature, and it is so easy just to pull over and experience a view without worrying if the car is in the way of any traffic. Plus often you want to take a track where a car cannot go. We talked it over, and I won! Michael was OK with it, but I must admit Day 2, he probably wondered why he agreed to it! (The North wind blew quite strong….)
We found two nice scooters, and after a few near misses in traffic and figuring out if it stops quickly or not, we felt quite at home. We decided to look at the church first, and then go out of town, hoping in the evening to find a nice hotel/guest house on a beach or in a mountain village. The church was a wonder to behold. I did not fully understand just what I was seeing the first go around, but all was explained to me by a kind young man, who’s English was very good, on my second trip. He told me that people come from all over the world to visit this church called ‘Evangelistria’ because of a miracle that happened there in the 1800’s. A nun in a nearby Convent had a dream that a lost icon from many many years before her time was buried in a field (where this church now stands). Where the icon was found there had been a church 800 years before completely lost under dirt. She did not want to tell anyone about her dream, because she felt afraid people would laugh. But the dream came again, so she went to the local priest, and he accepted her belief that the icon was indeed buried in the spot she designated. He also knew of a supposed old church that had once stood on this spot.
The miracle was that after a lot of searching, they did indeed find a very lovely (and still intact) icon of the Virgin Mary! After that, people honoured it, and believed Mary would perform miracles through Jesus. And apparently those miracles still go on. People come there for healings, drink the water of a well, take some of the dirt that was around the icon, etc. Upstairs in the proper church, built over the site, are silver votive candles hanging by the hundreds from the ceiling. Under each candle is an emblem that tells what particular miracle happened. One such story is about a ship that was going to sink in a storm. The people prayed feverishly to the Virgin, and their prayers were answered, they did not sink. When they came into port, they found the hole and a large fish was wedged in it! So, under the candle those people gave the church was a ship with sails and a fish stuck into the hole with just it’s tail hanging out! Lots of emblems of hands, feet, houses, hearts, whatever the Virgin Mary helped to heal. All these are in minted silver.
The best however, is the icon itself. Today it is encrusted with so many jewels that people have given Her, that you cannot see the Virgin very well. It is beyond amazing – the necklaces, bracelets, and rings that have been given! We even saw pilgrims walking on hands and knees up the entire marble road and into the church. The road leading up to the church has a strip about a car’s width going up one side for these people. The steps leading into the church (and there are many) are also carpeted. Just to show you how ignorant I am, on the way up, I thought to myself: marble is very slippery when wet, I bet the carpet is for scooters to climb the hill! (not thinking of how cars might get up!). I felt really dumb when I saw a man on his hands and knees, going to the Virgin for a blessing!!!!!
So you can see the church is a big factor in this town, and for all Greece. In fact, I had a friend in Aloha, Oregon (happens she was Greek) way back in the 1970’s when Greece was nothing more than a name on a map to me, and I really had not thought much about where it was in relationship to the rest of the world. This lady, Irene, (such a GOOD Greek name!) had a brain tumor. She quit work, had an operation, and then her family sent her to ‘some place in Greece’ which was TINOS for a healing. And now I not only know where Greece is, but am standing at this very same church she put all her faith in… such a small world, really.
After spending a great deal of time at the church we then headed for the hills! Such lovely winding roads, up and up and up. At each turn, we saw more and more of Mykonos, Syros and Paros in the distance. The sea got further and further down, as we went higher and higher! We felt like birds… with the breezes carrying us as if we were gliding on wings!!!!!! Such a lovely and freeing experience. You could just feel the baggage float off… meaning all the cares of the world.
The mountain villages are numerous… if you stood still and looked all around you, you would see small clusters of white houses in ravines, hanging on mountain sides, all calling out to come and visit them! Where to go, which ones to see? We consulted our map and decided to explore the middle and Eastern side that day, and then the next day we would do the rest, meaning more North with a couple side trips down to coves and beaches. Since the weather was not hot, we did not feel the need to go swimming or wading, so decided the mountains would do for most of our exploring.
Our first stop was at the Convent where the Nun had her vision. That was a self contained city! All buildings were inside a wall, with room after room after room. I guess they call them cells. This is where the nuns lived, and I might add not with much luxury! We looked into one of the cells, and all that was there was a bed covered with a horsehair blanket, a built in stone sink with one faucet, a very small window, and a chair. But the view….oh my! So close to heaven… with nothing but sea breezes, birds chirping, the wind whispering in the trees, and so so peaceful. We saw very few nuns, their appeared to be lay people living there also. In Greece Nuns still wear long black habits with veils. There were many pots of geraniums in bloom, and a productive looking garden. I enjoyed being there and am glad we made the short side trip to see it.
Our next stop was looking for a route to a particular town we thought we might enjoy stopping at for a drink or snack, but in our looking we went through many other small villages that we had not intended to. We sailed past a road sign that said “Exobourgo Castle” which excited me, but Michael was too far ahead for me to tell him I wanted to stop. We had also been told about an area full of unusual rock that we would find very interesting. Sure enough, just past the exit sign to the Castle we came around a bend in the road and instantly the scenery changed! What had been rough, but plowable land suddenly became strewn with gigantic round boulders for miles! Nestled down in the middle of all the boulders was the tiny village of Volax.
Again, we decided to not go there as it was far enough off the road and did not seem so interesting. Michael suggested stopping at a taverna in one of the villages because he needed to get out of the sun for awhile. Besides, each village was so quaint, it is hard to not want to stop at a taverna and sit with a cup of coffee or an ouzo. We were not having any luck, because it was the time of day that the Greeks typically shut up shop and take a few hours off. We did however find a restaurant in the lovely village of Skalados that was over looking at least 4 – 5 other villages. We sat on the patio and enjoyed an ouzo served by the sons of the owner who were minding the shop. They were school age youngsters and liked practicing their English with us.
Now refreshed, our next destination was Kolymbithra, a seaside village on a large cove. On the way, we went up and down, around and through many quaint mountain villages, each one so quiet and serene and full of flowers. It was at this point that I had to stop my scooter, and let tears flow… which is something that completely amazed me, because very rarely, if ever, have I been so turned on to beauty and scenery to that extent. For the first time, I was glad Michael was so far ahead, because I think he would not have understood my joy. Even I could not explain my emotional state of mind.
We got to Kolymbithra, and felt a bit disappointed. It was a very small community, and nothing was open, although a few people were on the beach. Actually, we had hoped to find a hotel and restaurant away from Tinos town, because we preferred to be in the quiet countryside. Alas, it was not going to happen. One thing we also noticed was that each village did not have a community of restaurants, tavernas as we know them on Paros. I believe that is because most people just go back to the Hora. Or perhaps in the summer months when more tourists are around, more hotels are open. We did not see grocery stores, restaurants, or even petrol stations in the villages. I am glad we were forewarned to buy petrol before going up in the mountains.
So, because the hour was getting late, we decided to head back to the Hora and get a hotel there. Once back we started to feel a bit concerned, because we realized we were not seeing anything to our liking, or the ones we liked were not open yet! We did find one hotel by the church, but upon looking at the rooms did not like it. How lucky we felt when Michael spotted a sign that said Vincenzo’s Hotel, Rooms that are Different. So we went to take a look and from the outside, it did not look particularly different let alone special. But once inside, it was beautiful. We looked at 3 rooms, of which two were 50.00 Euro, and one was 40.00. One of the 50.00 Euro had a huge bathroom and shower, which excited me to no end because ours on Paros is teensy tiny. So we got that room. It did have twin beds, but… the interior was very nice. We had our own private sitting space and table on a patio complete with cushions, where we were given a welcoming lemonade and a lovely candle was put on our outside table at night. Breakfast was included in the price; we ate downstairs in the back garden. The breakfast was served very nicely on blue and white checkered tablecloths… different kinds of breads, local goat cheese, cake, coffee of our choice, juice and a soft boiled egg.
That evening, I did a bit of shopping and discovered a few streets that had lovely shops, most being religious articles. One shop had very artsy religious articles and very expensive–And beautiful.
That night we went to dinner at the harbour. We felt we did not have very many choices of restaurants to choose from. Again, it might be that time of year, or maybe Tinos just does not have many. We chose one however, that served local wine. We did not try it though, because it was white and we prefer red. Our dinner was good but nothing to write home about.
The next day, we got up early enough to get a good start for a long day. We planned to take another road this time, and go to the North end of the island. The unfortunate thing is that I wanted to go back to the Castle and Volax, and while Michael was OK with that, it meant going out of our way.
The castle was so high up and really just ruins. It looked to be a very long hike and the day was very windy so we just looked at it from below. We were curious about it but found information hard to come by. We met a Dutch couple who spoke with a heavy accent, and the man said it was “Phoenician” or was it ” Venetian”? We just laughed and said, “Either way, it is OLD!” There is a Catholic Church on the premises as well, with a long history. I picked up a booklet hoping to find out something about the castle, but the English was poor and they were only interested in telling about the church, which also had a very old history. One thing I find interesting is that there are a lot of Catholic Churches on Tinos, which makes that island unique and also it tells you that the people of Tinos are open minded! However, I did read that the only concession the Catholics made that is different to Rome was to celebrate Easter the same day as the Greek Orthodox! Also the town of Loutra, was until recently, an active Jesuit and Ursuline school where a lot of kids from Athens went to school!
Volax was the other place we missed on our first day. I am glad we went back… what a discovery! A really quaint, clean, unique, special, interesting village! As we sauntered through the village, we spotted an open door, peeked in and saw a little old man making baskets. I asked to enter, he motioned me in, and we watched him cut and weave with reeds. I wanted to buy on the spot, but Michael suggested we look around a bit more, and then come back. As we continued walking through the town, we noticed that house doors and windows had a marble fan over it, each being a different design. These fans are unique to Tinos as well, coming from a local marble quarry that is still being used. So I just HAD to walk through the village taking lots of pictures! The village was really small and only paths going between the houses, no roads, no cars. Michael discovered another open door, with another little old man weaving reeds, this time around bottles. I bought one from him, because it would definitely be smaller to pack, although, one day I will go back and purchase a basket; they are different in that they have lids.
Now we were ready for the part of the trip we had originally planned for the day…so we we went back to the road we wanted and headed North. Michael planned our trip so that we would eat lunch in Pyrgos, a village almost at the end. Our road literally hung on the side of the mountain, with the sea a LONG ways below us. Most villages were either way above us or way below us, so it was not too tempting to explore any of them. However, I spotted a few coves with lovely looking beaches and hotels and thought perhaps we should try to get down there, but on looking at the winding and twisting dirt roads, I had second thoughts. I did see some trucks using better roads, but had no clue how or where to find them. Besides Michael was hell bent on getting to lunch, so figured we could do it on the way back. While driving along it was hard to keep your eyes on the road and the curves, because Syros and Andros were just a hop, skip and a jump across the sea, and even Paros was visible….and one starts to feel so free, it becomes intoxicating! (and could be dangerous!) The sea was blue below us, the sky blue above us, and everything sparkled in the sun. I found it hard to keep from stopping a million times and just staring out at it all.
One village we passed was very interesting and is called Isternia. The main road did not go through the village, you had to take a very steep climb up, and then the town was built on the side of the hill. Each row of houses was above the next! I wanted to stop for lunch there as I was hungry, but Michael wanted Pyrgos!
I was also told to be sure and stop in the town Kardiani, that it was gorgeous. We saw the sign but no town! When we stopped, and looked over the edge of the road, there it was, DOWN a steep road and hanging to the sides of the mountain. I definitely wanted to explore Kardiani, so planned to stop on our way back. Also, at this bend in the road, we went through a very lush and tropical feeling ravine complete with a waterfall! I felt I was in Oregon some place! Trees with branches hanging clear out over the road, water, bushes, vines hanging from trees!. Five seconds later we were back to the sun and dryness! I might add, that Tinos is covered and I mean literally covered with stone terraces. Every mountain side is nothing but terraces. I read where they were made a long time ago when the island was heavily populated. They were made as a conservation method allowing the farmers to farm the hillside without erosion. Those people really did work hard… in fact, seeing the mountain villages makes one realize just how hard life was for them… all the steps the people had to go up and down just to get to a well for drinking water, or do the laundry or get to work! They must have been very fit people.
At last! we came to Pyrgos. The hills surrounding Pyrgos have a lot of windmills, but not being used, and most in ruins! This area is where the marble quarries are still active. In fact, Pyrgos is an artists community… sculpture being the most popular, and other forms of art as well. Pyrgos was a very welcome sight because the North wind was blowing up a gale, and we were constantly being battered by it. Thankfully, Pyrgos is nestled down in a ravine, so it was sheltered. We were very hungry and immediately headed for the main square where we had a delicious meal of marinated aubergine and local sausage. The square is sheltered from the sun by a huge plane tree. It was a very quiet square however, and I had the uncanny feeling the restaurant owner just stayed open for us…which probably is not true. Again, it is not tourist season, so I am sure business is just slow.
We walked around Pyrgos and discovered a remarkable graveyard. Greek grave sites are quite interesting. They have pictures of the departed, a small shrine with a candle continuously burning , a bottle of olive oil, and sometimes a cigarette, or a package of Kleenex, flowers or whatever each individual’s needs might be! These little shrines have an opening in front like a little window. The entire thing is carved in the local marble.
Pyrgos also has elaborate marble fan decorations over their doors and windows. The village was so quiet after lunch, being Greek quiet time, we tip-toed out and back to our scooters, which I hated to start, feeling the noise was disruptive. I really fell in love with Pyrgos, and under certain circumstances could fancy myself spending a summer or a year there.
From Pyrgos it is only a 5 minute ride to Panormos, the beach at the Northern End of Tinos (you can go further North a bit on a very rough road, but we were satisfied with ending our adventure in Panormos). This village had several tavernas, all open. We went on a bit further to a secluded beach area and walked along a very very dirty beach. All I can think is that the winter storms had not been cleared off the beach yet.
The hour was getting late so we decided to head back so we would have time to stop at Kardiani. At first it appeared to be a village that was dirty and under repair. But once we got down into it, (and you have to park above and walk down) it became quite apparent that it was indeed unique in that it was not modernized as much as the others. That made walking through quite interesting. We heard water running, and discovered the original stone laundry! A series of two rooms, one where the water flowed from a waterfall on the mountain into a half round fountain, and the other room had two huge tubs where women could do laundry, maybe wash in one, and rinse in the other. Then we went outside to find very steep steps and discovered the water running next to the steps in a trough to fall again, far below. I walked down to see what next I would discover, but the steps got quite old and rickety. I did see some lovely flowered courtyards belonging to antique houses and very beautiful.
It was all amazing and wonderful. We found a grocery, where all the goods are brought in to it by wheelbarrow. The steps leading to the parking were filled temporarily with flat stones so that the boys could get the wheelbarrow up and down!!!!!! What a LOT of hard work!! Countless lovely old shutters and fans and grille work on old old doors. People still living in the old houses. We found a group of locals sitting in a square in front of a church that was overlooking the mountainside with the entire world beyond!!!!!!! At 6:00 PM, one of the women got up, and walked to the church door, grabbed a rope and rang the Angelus. Everyone was busy crossing themselves! I felt I had stepped back into time. To think this has gone on for years and years and will continue for years and years! I felt privileged to observe that tradition.
We were eager now to get back to the hotel and have an ouzo and rest before dinner. Going to the beaches below lost it’s appeal… We stopped at the supermarket just outside of the Hora and bought a small bottle of local ouzo and blue cheese. I discovered most food prices on Tinos are less than prices on Paros. Hmmm. I think it is because Tinos is not a tourist island and Paros is.
That evening for dinner we tried the “other” restaurant and enjoyed that meal as well. None of the meals were sensational, but good. Before retiring, we rode our scooters up to a monument that overlooks the harbour. It was a beautiful night with all the lights, and we could see the twinkling lights of the villages high in the mountains, and cars coming down into the town. We saw the lights of Mykonos and Syros twinkling across the sea, the stars twinkling in the sky. It was total magic.
In the morning, I got up early and took a few photos. Then we took the scooters back and went on to the port to wait for our SeaJet 2 taking us back to Mykonos and then to Paros. The day was perfect, hardly a ripple on the sea which always makes for a nice crossing. About 5 minutes before the ferry was due, I discovered I had left my library book back in the hotel. I knew I was in trouble… and just as I was wondering WHAT to do, there was Anna from the hotel in her car! She saw me, and held up my book! How nice of her!
So that was our trip to Tinos. I have decided that one day I will definitely return, and I hope that time is soon. For those of you who want to see another island, I strongly recommend Tinos. Now you might get the idea that I do not like Paros. No, I love Paros. I love the beaches, tavernas, and the lovely communities that are here on this island. I love our unique church, and the fact that this island is easy to maneuver on a scooter. So, please come visit both… one is not better than the other; they are just different from each other.