Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hiking the Greek Islands, Part 1: Tinos

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

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.

We spent 2 days exploring Athens and it's antiquities during which we had our first Greek salad and nescafe frappe -- which became our lunch almost every day.

From Athens, 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, our fearless leader, for the more artistic of the photos in our Hiking the Greek Islands posts. Lindsay's blog, thegoodguide, is a great source for travelers and for every one else with a curiosity for the most interesting places and perspectives in this world. The onthego photo link in the blog header will reveal her great photographic eye.)

Our first stop was Tinos, one of the largest of the Cyclades and close to its geographical center. It is only 15 minutes from Mykonos by fast boat. Population: 8,574.

Exposure to the Greek ferry system shocked some of our group since there is a pitch near hysteria when the crew practically pushes some dazed travelers down the gang plank in order to load up the boarding ones, as well as cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles, all within the 10 minutes or so they are allowed in port.

Tinos fisherman work daily to supply sardines.

On our way to dinner at the port, we walked up the hill to Tinos's main attraction, the Panagia Evangelistria Church. Its miraculous icon is one of Greece's most famous.

This Church is Greece's most important pilgrimage center for the Greek Orthodox.

Every year on August 15th, pilgrims from all over Greece demonstrate their piety by crawling on their hands and knees almost half a mile from the main waterfront square up the hill to the church. It is to Greece what Lourdes is to France. Note the carpeted strip.

After dinner, we retired early to be up in time for our first hike.

We took taxis to the village of Falatados where the four-hour hike started. In the distance you can see our destination, Mount Exombourgo, rising 1,814 feet.

We turned off the road at the marker and hit the trail. The dry-stone walls are everywhere.

Good thing we were in shape. That's the road ahead.

We were greeted by plenty of animals, like this gal here...

These hobbled billy goats got our sympathy.

This little friend took a break from rooting to greet us as we passed by.

As we approached the peak, we came across the remains of a Venetian fountain house. There was an extensive aqueduct and watering system during the Venetian period, 1207 - 1715. Even today, Tinos has no natural water supply and maintains irrigation systems including miles of hoses which are repaired with cane.

We stop for a final appraisal of what lies ahead...

The group coming down seems to have survived the climb, so up we went.

We reached the summit! Note the meteorological station competing with the cross for dominance of the hill.

The view from the summit to the port and our hotel.

Just below the summit is this tower from which the Venetians defended the island until 1715 when the Turks invaded and devastated the town. The Turks used this same vantage point to rule the surrounding Aegean Islands. Tinos is strategic because it is the geographic center of the Cyclades Islands.

Our guide showed us this mysterious structure; some think it was used for washing and bathing.

After our descent, we continued along to the village of Volax, Greek for Boulder. This village is almost hidden in the middle of rounded, granite boulders, a geological phenomenon that sets it apart from the rest of Greece.

Donkeys are the local transportation because they can get up and down the steep hiills and streets.

One nice man with a grape-bearing donkey gave us some of his grapes that he was going to make into retsina, a wine that you must taste to believe -- if you like the taste of resin.

Leaving Volax, we came across this threshing floor, an old time kind of mill where grain used to be laid out for donkeys or oxen to trample.

Tinos is famous for its dovecotes built long ago for pigeons whose feathers were once used for down, the meat for food and the manure for fertilizer. The building in the distance that appears to have six windows actually is fitted with pigeon coups. One thing our guide kept pointing out was that the young people don't want to do the traditional work, and the elders are too tired to keep up the old ways.

The village of Agapi, Greek for love, was the finishing point of today's hike. This house is typical of the Greek islands in that it has 2 stories, and steps leading up to the roof, so that in days of yore, the earthen roofs could be rolled with a steam-roller-like gizmo to squeeze out the rain water before it could seep through to the house.
Another feature of the houses are holes in the exterior walls to allow their cats to go in and out at will and kill the snakes and mice.

Sunset on the pebbly black almost-sand beach opposite our hotel.

Naxos will be our next stop.