Archive for October, 2018

Syros is an island about 4 hours by ferry from Athens. It is what they call a Medieval island that fell in the hands of Venetians and French. I am not exactly great with history, so I am going to skip the historical details and leave it at that. 

I came to syros on the recommendation of my friend, Alex Papadopoulos. I met Alex last year because he is the Race Director for Tammany 10, a race a few friends did. This year, I met him again at the same race when I volunteered. Somehow along those hours, he found out I was planning to come to Greece to spectate at Spartathlon, when my friend, Otto, runs. Fast forward to months after, we started talking about how he was going to help me plan my trip to Greece. My criteria were: No touristy islands and cheap. 

Fast forward now to Syros.

I arrived in Syros via Blue Star Ferries in the port of Piraeus in Athens. Paid €30-something and I got an economy seat (no need to get Business Class, ok?). It was an accomodation enough for the ride. The boat is reminiscent of the trip from Finland to Estonia— minus the bountiful liquor they sold in that Finnish ferry. It has quite a bit of amenities and shopping. 

The son of the hotel owner, Stratis. I’ve never been picked up with a name card before.

I booked a hotel in Syros through “trust,” because I skipped, where I normally do my reservations. Trust because I had Facebook-friended one of the owners, as suggested to me by Julio, a Filipino based in Athens, who I friended and crewed with at Spartathlon. At Atlantis Syros Hotel, my €50/day covered my room, breakfast, and on arrival and departure, shuttle from and to the port (or in my case, to Ano Syros). The hotel was about 8 kilometers (do the math for miles) from Ermoupoli, the Center town of the island. It is owned by a family but as I would learn, owning a hotel doesn’t necessarily mean you own the  building in Greece. The mom told me, they aim to own the place, thus, they have to work harder. 

Anyway, the hotel is about a few steps from the beach. The thing about Greece is I have yet to find a beachfront that is not open to public so finding a place to swim is never a problem. 

Day 1, I spent it on the beach. I arrived at around noon and headed to the sea where I could actually wade or swim! It was quite unlike the US, where I constantly fear for my life because of huge waves and I can barely swim. In Greece, including the islands, the waters are calm. It almost is like being in a bay or whatever that is called, where you don’t get crazy waves.

At the beach, I spent a good amount of hours— 2, maybe— and just laid there, trying to even out my tan without going topless. I did wish  could. 

Lunch with traditional Greek drink, Ouzo. Pretty strong alcohol.

It was 3-something in the afternoon by then and because I had late dinner and drinks with the wonderful Irishmen the night before, I didn’t have much an appetite til then. 

On the beach there is a restaurant. Slightly pricey (I guess because they sold dishes by kilos, mostly), but I had a serving of an “island” food which had fava in it (dish suggested for the weather by the owner) and, yes, a glass of the Greek drink, Ouzo. I paid €9.40, which was not exactly bad. 

From there, I headed to the hotel and passed out for an hour. Some spam call from the US woke me up. (I thought it was Trump’s text.) Then I went for a run to discover some trails by the coast.

I needed that 5k to unload all the beer I drank in Athens. I called it a night early.

Non-technical trails that lead you to this magnificent view.

Day 2: I spent most energy on this day. I was bent on running to Galissas, where there is, supposedly, a church on a cave by the cliff above the sea water. Because I am stubborn, I disobeyed the clear instruction of the hotel owner to take the main roads to run and hit the next town to take the bus from. As I had said on my Facebook post, if you need to find walking directions in Greece, especially the islands, you are better off taking the driving the directions because walking directions will get you to back roads that don’t exist. Also beware of drivers there. Even on narrow roads, they drive fast and they talk on the phone while driving manual vehicles. Also, just because you are the pedestrian doesn’t mean you always get the right of way. Reminds me of how runners ran at Spartathlon.

Anway, it was humid during my run and those 9 miles took a toll on my sodium reserves as I saw so much salt from on my skin on to my bag. Two hours something after, I reached Galissas Beach, took a quick swim, and then hiked up a mountain (or hill?) for 2 miles more to Agios Stefanos— the church cave.

The hike up and down the cave church, Agios Stefanos.

I was alone in that hike up and down the cave and I really wished my mom didn’t call me out again.

It was an exhausting climb and I had just about 50ml of water left because all stores had gone into their siesta. I had to tell Alex that I was there, in case I fell and died or dehydrated and died. No one knew where I was except him. Not even my family. But I figured I couldn’t possibly die from dehydration because I do have some water reserves in my fat pads. A lot. 

So I came and conquered and saw this simple yet magnificent sight before me. I got emotional and cried some. There is a notebook there, where visitors left their names and the dates they came to visit. I signed and left a message, hoping all else I held heavy in my heart at the time would be heard by the saints and Gods and angels that dwell in the place.

Somehow, the climb back up the rocky section was not bad at that point. 

View of the church from the top.

I raced against time to beat sunset and hit Galissas soon, only to not find a cab. I must’ve been an aweful sight that an elderly woman offered to take me back to the Center town of Ermoupoli. I swear I was gonna fall and break my head because I didn’t have a helmet. Syros has rolling terrain and at times on those uphills, I would try to “lighten” myself in an almost-Kegel-like movement and I knew that didn’t really help.

Me, hanging on the the lady. Stupid idea to photograph this but this was something unexpected.

I had to send a message to Alex to actually ask if I needed to pay the lady but she didn’t speak English and she took off when she and her dog (yes, a dog was also on the scooter) dropped me at a corner. 

In my wet clothes, I had dinner at a restaurant by the pier and had 2 glasses of red wine (again, so much for saying ‘’No more alcohol when I leave the Irish.”) o

The main commercial center with all its restaurants and souvenir shops.

After dinner, I strolled on Ermoupolis, which would have been Louisa Lam’s thing with all the shopping there was. At past 9, most shops were closed. I do have an affinity for European buildings and even crazier obsession with alleys and walkways so I took a ton of pictures of them. 

The town capital building. But it was the church behind and above me that captivated me.

At around 10-ish, I headed back to hotel and the lovely owners were still up so I gave them a run-down of how my day went. It was almost like talking to family. 

Ano Syros, the Catholic settlement area. Built since the 1200s.

Day 3: I woke up so early, restless from my sunburn itch. So I got up and had breakfast— one that I would not forget because that was just genuine hospitality from the hotel. The owner cooked me so much food I nearly threw up. 

At past 9am, Stratis, the owners’ son, took me to Ano Syros, where many Greek Catholics reside. It sits atop Syros and has most of its structures are still from the 13th century. There are churches there, including the church of St. George (I honestly didn’t know George is a saint’s name til today). 

The church has a key that you can open yourself.

On a side note, if I had gotten to Ano Syros post-siesta, the place would have been more vibrant with all the shops and cafes open.

I walked down the town steps, past beautiful Venetian-inspired houses on to the main road that took me back to the port of Syros. I thought I was going to take forever with my backpack and all and miss my ferry but I thought I only lived once and ferries will come and go. It is what it is. 

The other church, St. George.

Narrow path, down and out of the village.

Soon enough, I was back at port, ready to get on the next ferry. I have not many take-aways from this trip in the island, except to say, I love Greek island hospitality. And that, if for any reason I missed some spots and failed to take some photographs, it is all because as Joe Schmo once quite said, sometimes, you just have to take it all in.

Also, I don’t know where I am going with this but I left my heart in that cave church. A feeling I may not ever have again but can only be thankful it happened. That being said, it, sorts of, reminds me of how the great Irish, Anthony Lee, described a boy we saw while we were all eating in Athens, “wisely” said in these exact words “That boy will not have the same feeling again, you know?” And, yes, I may never have the same feeling ever again. But it did happen and all that, was witnessed solely by that silence up above that sea, inside the cave.

More goods for sale.

Restaurants that abound the port.

Loofah: Just among the things you can buy in this seaport town.

The hotel owners. They were so wonderful and treated me like family.