Monday, October 19, 2009

Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 2: Naxos

Quote of the Day:
After a day's walk everything has twice its usual value. ~George Macauley Trevelyan

In mid-September, we decided to leave the woods north of New York City for the sunny isles of Greece. Still committed to walking our 10,000 steps a day, we joined up in Athens with a two-week hiking tour that took us to five islands in the Cyclades.

After spending 2 days exploring Athens and it's antiquities, we took ferries to Tinos, Naxos, Amorgos, Santorini, then Mykonos.

Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 1: Tinos
Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 2: Naxos
Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 3: Amorgos
Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 4: Santorini
Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 5: Mykonos

Many thanks to Lindsay Mackenzie for the more artistic of the photos in our Hiking the Greek Island posts.

Naxos is the largest and the most fertile of the Cyclades islands. The local tomatoes are delicious, and one of many agricultural products. Its terrain is mountainous, with Mount Zas, or Zeus, being the highest peak in the archipelago at 3,ooo feet. Population: 18,000.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus was raised in Naxos on Mt. Zeus (Zas), and Dionysus, god of wine, grew up on the island as well. Could that explain the island's wines and famous liqueur, kitron?

Walking along the port, we saw the catch of the day. The octopus is served grilled with olive oil and onions.

A walk up from the port takes us through Naxos Town, or Chora, unique in all of Greece for its stone-walled castle crowning its heights. The Kastro, or Castle, was built by the Venetians who invaded and ruled this island from 1207 until 1566. Some residents of the castle today claim lineage from these first Venetians.

When the Turks conquered Naxos in 1566, they collected taxes, but allowed the Venetians to continue their administration of the island. The streets of Chora are narrow and steep with alleys and dead ends planned for defense.

A Venetian 13th century Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Lush bougainvillea plants add to the natural beauty of all the Greek islands, gorgeously flashing deep pinks against white walls and bluest skies and sea.

All streets lead down from castle to port.

A turn at the end of the ferry quay took us to a causeway over to Palatia Island and the unfinished Temple of Apollo, known as The Portara.

Our group makes its way up to the monument.

The Temple of Apollo was built in 522 B.C., but never finished. Legend says that Theseus abandoned Ariadne here when he passed through Naxos after slaying the minotaur on the island of Crete. Throughout the centuries, the stones have been pillaged and used for local building.

We shot this view looking back at Chora, from Apollo's Arch. You can see the Kastro at the top.

Dinner was at The Flamingo Restaurant. Entertainment came first, ...

... and then the red snapper and the red mullet. After removing heads and bones, one of us liked it.

The next morning, we were dropped by taxi in Milanes, which is roughly in the island's center, to see the famous Naxos kouros, pre-classical statues of male youths. This door handle, a Venetian influence on the island, reminded us of Dante adorned with a laurel wreath. Many other door handles were bronze, ringed hands.

On the way to the Kouros statues and marble quarries, we came across this roadside shrine. It contained icons of holy figures, photos, and a coke bottle holding oil for the candles.

We were happy to see a sign, but we weren't headed for any of these places.

There were many step-stone trails like these. For some, the ups were easier than the downs.

This rose-like cactus sprouted right through the stones.

The prickly pear plants were a perky touch.

Almost an hour into the trail, we reached the kouros.

This statue dates from the first half of the 6th century B.C. It was left as a reject due to a fault in the marble, which is apparent in the cracked leg, and has remained a silent witness to its defect all these thousands of years.

Local transport of goods. Ti orea!

A moment of tranquility on the reeded path led us to Ano Potamia, where we stopped for lunch at the Pigi Taverna.

We continued down through Mesa Potamia to Kato Potamia, stopping on the way to explore an abandoned Venetian-era tower house.

Inside the tower house, walls were peeling back through centuries of paint.

Guess the Venetians were a bit shorter than some of us six footers.

There was a brass bed frame up on the second floor, but no rest for us; we had to trudge on to our dinner back in Paliopirgos, almost at the southern tip of the island.

Our third day in Naxos started with a stroll through the village of Aperanthos in the eastern center of the island.

Undaunted, we viewed our destination, Mount Fanari, the third highest peak, nearly 3,000 feet high. In the distance stands Mount Zas (Zeus), the highest on the island.
Mid climb, during one of our breaks for water and fearless leader's cookies, we met a tourist who recognized us from dining at sea level the night before.

We had managed to scale rock walls and prickly bush on our way to the top.

At a last pause, we viewed the pinnacle ...

... and then up!!


Lunch was back in Aperanthos.

After lunch, we took a bus to the village of Chalki, our final stop for the day to visit the Kitron distillery, Vallindras, with its ancient jars and coppers stills.

Juice from this citrus, the kitron, is distilled into three different flavors of liqueur. We found the green to be the tastiest, the amber - whew! - resembling grappa, and right in the middle, the clear is a stiff okay. We purchased a tiny 3-bottle set for 9 euros.

We had looked forward to seeing this 10th-century Byzantine church which promised beautiful frescoes and a marvelous iconostasis (alter screen). Unfortunately, the church, as usual we are told, was locked.

Dinner was on the rooftops of Naxos below the Kastro, at The Oniro, Greek for dream.

After dinner, we went to a traditional music concert originally scheduled to be outdoors, but held in the basement of a 13th-century tower house, The Della Rocca-Barozzi Venetian Museum, because of the Meltemi, a very wickedly fierce wind that can knock you off your feet. Admission to the concert included all the kitron, raki and wine you could drink. The cinnamon raki was delicious and a big help when it was the audience's turn to get up and spin about with the dancers.

The next morning was free and we drank our Greek coffees and sampled many pastries before meeting the group for the 3 P.M. ferry for Amorgos on The Express Skopelitis, one of the very little, older vessels still in use, and anything but an express. In store, a 5 hour sail on rough seas...

Next post, Amorgos.