Syros - Aegean Sea - Cyclades Islands - Greece
Tuesday 2nd - 6th August 2016
School holidays again and after a brutal term in school now able to head off to the blazing August heat. The first stop was Athens where I transferred to overnight accommodation before catching the plane to Syros the next day – early morning flight. On arrival at the tiny airport, I grabbed a taxi and headed for the holiday accommodation in Finikas – the west and opposite side of the island from the airport which was just outside the island capital of Hermoupolis.
Just prior to this holiday I had been contacted by a friend Xanthi who had decided to jump ship in Athens and join me for a few days on Syros. She had arrived by ferry the day before and got accommodation just around the corner from my apartment.
The owner Maria met me and I was swiftly shown to the apartment which afforded fantastic views out over the sea and across the valley and a lovely terrace at the front for eating breakfast. Before I had a chance to unpack my cases Xanthi was ringing to say she was on her way round – HELP!! So the start of my anticipated relaxed holiday was starting with an action-packed few days with a hyperactive friend!
We wandered into the village to buy provisions, water, etc and after a quick phone call, our lovely host came to pick us up in her car to take us back uphill to the apartment. We spent the rest of the day on the local beach – which was rather small and sunbeds at a premium. We managed to find some rather grotty beds and umbrella literally with the front legs in the sea which were owned by an equally weather-worn Greek guy with a small cage on the beachside. At least his iced coffees were good!
In the evening, we meandered into the village to eat at one of the local Tavernas. I had tried to find a hire car which proved to be a bit of a problem due to the time of year and availability. So the next day was also spent chilling on the aforementioned sunbeds, with Xanthi warding off the owner who had clearly decided his luck might be in – wrong!!
Friday and at last I have wheels!! So off we drive to discover what the island had to offer. The first stop was Vari beach – lovely cove and day spent chilling/swimming. Saturday spent in the same way.
Sunday 7th August 2016
Sunday saw us driving back across the island to the east coast and onto the highest hilltop overlooking the capital Hermoupolis to visit the beautiful Ano Syros – the ancient capitol of Syros and as is typical with Greek villages built up in the hills to prevent being pillaged by pirates. Ano Syros is authentic and quiet with plenty of old houses, cobbled streets, stairs (which cannot be avoided), small churches and a few places where you can have a refreshment or something to eat. No vehicles are permitted – the narrow cobbled streets are not exactly traffic friendly – and all deliveries are made via an ass saddled up with a wooden contraption designed to carry provisions, etc through the narrow streets to the cafes, restaurants, and shops. The views from the village down over the Bay and Hermoupolis are spectacular. Xanthi left me at a taverna to explored further around the backstreets, of which there are many, each turn affording another whitewashed dwelling or tiny church, together with a collection of the local languishing cats, clearly posing for visitors. The heat was intense in Anno Syros and we made our way back to the port of Hermoupolis for coffee and to await the arrival of Xanthi's ferry back to Piraeus then on to Athens for her flight to Salonika to meet up with her boyfriend.
After goodbys, I left the car to be picked up by the car hire company and had the rest of the day to spend sightseeing before picking up another car from another car hire place for the remainder of the holiday. Hermoupolis, the capital of the Cyclades, looks nothing like the other Greek harbours in the Cyclades. On the left side of the harbour are tankers and high cranes needed for the ships in the dry-docks there to be cleaned up. Most of these are former ferries from distant countries, which are in this capital to get a lick of paint and a new carpet before they set sail again around the Greek islands. There is plenty of activity in the port and on the quay where the ferries arrive, and cars drive off and on.
Hermoupolis is not a typical Cycladic town with white cubic houses, but instead, you find a lot of large houses of the nineteenth century all painted a variety of pastel hues, pinks, yellows, grey and blue looking very much like the colours of Greek Delight. If you want to go to one of the two churches on the hills be prepared to climb many stairs. The views you get as a reward are great. I walked along the coast north of the town amongst the huge old Venetian buildings, a remnant from the past to when Syros and Hermoupolis was the primary port of Greece. Back from the waterfront is Miaouli square with the large Town Hall from 1898, where you are reminded just how important the city has been in the nineteenth century. The stately building is flanked by huge palm trees and has the grandeur of a palace.
After picking up car number two I headed back to Finikas for the evening. I decided to eat in and visited the local supermarket to shop for salad stuff, feta cheese, and some local wine. Oh! And a beer or two.
Monday 8th - 11th August 2016
The next morning (Monday) bright and early I popped down to the bakery to buy some koulouri bread before they had all been sold. I took these with me to the beach as a snack with my morning frape. This Monday saw me heading towards Galissas Beach to the north of Finikas. When I arrived after a fifteen-minute drive I found that it was a resort catering for foreign tourists and it was wall to wall people. I managed to park away from the front and walked down for my morning coffee. I decided to go further north to Kini Beach because there was no way I was going to find any shade on the beach. Kini Beach was a large beach of which three-quarters was free to pitch up your own sun umbrella while the other quarter had cool sunbeds and umbrellas which had to be paid for with a drink. At the back of the beach which was not that wide were two tavernas. I managed to find a free sunbed and stayed at the beach swimming and sunbathing until late in the afternoon. That evening I again ate on the veranda.
On Tuesday morning, I decided to explore the hills of Syros. After purchasing my daily Koulouri I set off exploring the island. Instead of taking the coastal roads around the island which were the major roads I took the B-roads in the hinterland and visited Vissas, Parakopi, Perdiki, Chroussa and Old Fanoromeni. The journey offered some fantastic views of the island and offered the opportunity to pick figs to my heart's delight from the hundreds of fig trees that lined the road. At one stage, I came across a very small church and as I walked to open the door to look inside I heard a plaintive mew and there was a tiny ginger kitten. He was well nourished so I figured he belonged to the priest of the church. After spending some minutes playing and photographing the kitty another ginger kitten appeared which was obviously the brother and wanted caressing too. I eventually tore myself away and continued to explore the island.
On Wednesday, I decided to go back to Vari Beach again. The volleyball tournament had long since finished so there were plenty of sunbeds available on the beach this time. I stayed at the beach all day only breaking from sunning myself with a lunch of Greek salad and spicy Syros sausage. On the way, back to the apartment, I looked at a couple of secluded beaches near Megas Yialos. Both were lovely but packed with people.
Thursday saw me going to a new beach which was on the road that traversed the south-eastern part of the island. This beach was called Azolimnos and was situated in a small cove with a row of cafes, restaurants, and tavernas along the road at the back of the beach. Although the beach offered plenty of shade under some large trees and there were sunbeds available, the swimming wasn’t very good as the wind was blowing in towards the beach and the sea was rough. That evening instead of eating in the apartment I walked down to Finikas and ate at Ambela taverna on the seafront before going onto another taverna that had live music. It was a nice relaxed evening.
Friday 12th - 17th August 2016
On Friday, I visited Possidonia beach which was only a short drive along the coast from Finikas. The parking was a tad problematic here as the only official car park was on the side of a hill and quite steep so it wasn’t easy to park. This beach had a nice taverna which served up delicious Greek fare. After a day of sunbathing, I headed back towards Finikas and that evening ate at a very nice restaurant which was facing a small harbour.
On Saturday, I decided not to visit any beaches and headed for the main town of Hermoupolis and Ano Syros. I drove up to the upper levels of Ano Syros parked the car and then walked down through the winding cobblestone streets and alleyways taking photographs of the traditional small houses, the churches and the lovely displays of bougainvillea climbing walls and verandas. After a coffee, I took the car and headed north over quite desolate hills to explore the northern part of the island. The roads were bad here and there was nothing to see of any significance. I returned to Hermoupolis, parked up the car and decided to walk along the sea front away from the port area to look at St. Johns church. Before driving back to Finikas I drove further along the coast to take photos of St Dimitrios church. That evening I ate at the Meltemi restaurant.
Sunday was another hot day as it had been all the holiday and I decided to spend the day at Vari beach after first visiting the local bakery and buying warm koulouri to go with my morning coffee. After the beach, I headed back to the supermarket and bought some provisions for eating at the apartment.
Monday saw me heading out to Possidonia beach again where I spent a full day sunbathing and swimming. In the evening, I headed back to the apartment and finished off the provisions I had bought the day before.
Tuesday was my last full day on Syros and I spent the morning at Vari beach before going back to Finikas to have some lunch. I then went back to the apartment to pack. That evening I went to Iliovasilima restaurant to enjoy my last meal of the holiday.
On Wednesday after an early flight to Athens, I found myself at the airport for the day waiting for my evening flight back to Stanstead. I decided to ditch my luggage and catch the train to Kifissia one of the most expensive northern suburbs of Athens.
After searching through the streets I eventually found Varsos bakery and cafe, a relic from a bygone age with huge dining area for sitting reading the paper and gorging on one of their many renowned pastries. The cakes and pastries are baked in house and served in one of the dining rooms. There were very few people there and I can see that the future does not look good for this establishment, which is a great shame, although on reflection the one positive outcome would be a reduction in calorie intake for the local community and visitors!!
Varsos was established in 1892 in central Athens, but it is the wonderfully old-fashioned Kifisia location, to which the patisserie moved in 1932, that has made the venue famous. At the beginning of the 20th century, Kifisia was a holiday destination for rich Athenians, and their stately summer mansions still dot this beautiful yet ever-expanding northern suburb.
Despite the changes in the surrounding area, Varsos seems to be stuck in a comforting time bubble. With its decorative high ceilings and beautiful mosaic floors framed with pink marble, the interior feels nothing less than grand. The huge main room, which buzzes with activity at all times, is home to a bunch of ancient, industrial-sized fridges trademarked with brand names that haven’t been produced for over 50 years. The employees, old-timers themselves who have been working here for ages, are each assigned to a specific section, whether whipped cream, meringues, pastries, tsoureki or cakes. The purchasing system is equally old-fashioned: You tell the person behind the counter what you want, they note the price on a slip of paper, you pay at the cash register and then you are handed your goodies.
Filled to satisfaction and trying not to calculate the number of calories I had just consumed, I returned to the station via a leisurely walk through a small park to my train to return to the airport and back to Stanstead. A great relaxed holiday on a small unique island, if a little expensive and crowded with Greek holidaymakers.