Monday, November 16, 2009

Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 3: Amorgos

Quote of the Day:
There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast. ~Paul Scott Mowrer,
The House of Europe

Amorgos was our 3rd island on our September hiking get-away in Greece, after Tinos and Naxos.
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

Amorgos, population only 1,873, is sometimes called "the jewel in the Cycladic crown". Its craggy, mountainous coasts are gorgeous against the very bluest of seas, and we loved the low key approach to tourism. The movie, The Big Blue, was filmed here, and so, apparently, was this video called Big Blue. Watch for a cameo appearance of the infamous Express Skopelitis.

Unfortunately, Amorgos is difficult to get to because of infrequent and indirect ferry connections. We had the bad luck to have been on high seas for 5 hours in the small Express Skopelitis. One of us was not able to eat dinner on arrival at the hotel that night. The other received "the blue bag" award for holding forth the sea-sickness bag clinging to life topside long after dark, suffering soaking, crashing sea sprays and cold winds. We found this video online that gives a riotous idea of the ups and downs before it even leaves the dock. Imagine what these passenger are in for on the open sea.

(Many thanks to Lindsay Mackenzie, our fearless leader, for the more artistic of the photos in our Hiking the Greek Islands posts.)

Thankfully, morning brought a full recovery, all signs of sea legs gone. For our first walk, we were driven from our hotel on the coast to the village of Tholaria. From there, we walked up a cobbled donkey route to the traditional village of Langada.

This was the first wooden donkey saddle we had ever seen.

At the end of the walk, we visited a new Langada herbal distillery and sampled some of the essential oils. Amorgos is famous for its wonderful scent of herbs. People have been gathering and distributing them for the past 20 years.

We had lunch, which for us meant the usual...

We vowed we wouldn't take any more picture of "pretty", but who can resist?

Back at the Hotel Aegialis for a little R&R. Some opted for facials at the spa. There, they discovered another group of guests, The Mama Mia tour. It was: "Hiker Dudes meet The Pamper-Me Ladies," but a fun time was had by all. For the two of us who didn't go to the spa, there was a Mama Mia belly dancing class to watch poolside while sipping our frappes.

That night we were treated to a cooking demonstration and wine tasting.

The chef prepared heavenly pumpkin puffs, drunken cheese pie, and halva. We thought our samples were to be dinner, but were surprised to find a full meal followed.

The pumpkin puffs were delicate and delicious, but the method seemed a bit intimidating, so we have not attempted them yet. (They were quite a different genre from the tough, scorched, inedible balls recommended in our guidebook as a typical Greek island dish that we had the misfortune to try at the port in Naxos.)

But, we did make the halva back home. Yum!
Wish we could find the Tria Podia wine we liked, but no luck so far. BTW, we've been to two Greek restaurants in NYC, and they don't come close to most of the food we had in Greece.

The next day's destination was the Chozoviotissa Monastery, embedded in a high cliff on the southeastern coast of the island.

We were driven to the parking lot near the monastery and headed out on foot up the 300 steps to its perch.

This monastery, founded in 1099 A.D., is home to the revered icon of the Virgin. It is said that the icon was found in the sea below the monastery, having arrived here unaided from either Asia Minor, Cyprus or Jerusalem.

With most of the 300 steps behind us, we climbed on for our reward: a glass of the fiery liqueur, Kitron, a cool glass of water, and a piece of Turkish Delight.

Finally, from inside, looking out.

The views down are stupendous.

Men, remember your long pants, and ladies, your below-the-knee skirts. So attractive over hiking pants and boots!

Back down the 300 steps to plan our walk to Chora.

The stepped hills are fertile since there is plenty of rain and produce is delicious. Some of the area mountains are high enough for snow in the winter and play with the air currents to cause the precipitation. Residents still keep tanks to collect rain water, since fresh water supplies are scarce in all the Cyclades. Desalinization plants have been developed here to alleviate the problem.

An occasional four-footed friend came to say hello as we made our way toward Chora, the island capital, visible below.

How many rewards can you possibly have in one day? Here in Chora, we savored the local pastry.

Dinner at the hotel included live, traditional music.

Farewell to Amorgos. We were on the dock waiting for the 7 A.M. ferry to Santorini. Would you believe another 5 hour ride on the Express Skopelitis, aka Vomit Comet, and Barf Bucket? This time, we took our Dramamine and ginger tabs. Survived!

Next post, Santorini!