Eight Shots From Ermoupoli

One aspect of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge that I’ve really enjoyed so far is that it’s provided a good opportunity to revisit photos that I haven’t looked at for quite some time. These photos of Ermoupoli are but one example of several that were hidden away on dusty external hard drives and in forgotten corners of my flickr account that will be resurfacing over the course of the rest of the month.

I posted from and about Ermoupoli (post 1 and post 2) and the island of Syros during my visit there in November of 2008, my first visit to the Cyclades so there’s no need to repeat most of that here. Only this, to give you a general idea about the city:

As the region’s capital and with its busy port, Ermoupoli (Hermoupolis) never seems to be out of season. It’s a clean, pleasant, and lively town of some 13,000, defined by its neoclassical, and primarily western European, architecture. Until 1860, its port was more important than its mainland brother at Piraeus. There’s a thriving café culture, and enough museums, galleries, shops and clubs in which to while away the time. The narrow streets of cobblestone and marble are fun to explore. Overall, Certainly worth more than a day trip.

I remember it mainly as an extremely relaxing getaway and break, one that’s only been matched since by another visit to a Greek Island (Paros) the following year. Off-season has a very distinct charm. Do you notice a trend, too?

Not every franchise works out

The eight pictures here are a part of a set of 43 from Syros that I’m making available via Creative Commons license for non-commercial use to anyone who’d like to use them on their non-commercial blogs, sites, etc. Just credit please as is listed with each photo on its corresponding page on flickr.


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If you haven’t guessed,
E is for Ermoupoli
in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge 2012.
Check out more participants here.

My explanation for this is here.

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These snaps are also this week’s contribution for Travel Photo Thursday (#TPThursday on twitter) hosted by Nancie on her website, Budget Travelers Sandbox. When you have few minutes to browse, check out Nancie’s photos and those of others who take part. You’ll see some great photos and visit some wonderful places. The direct link this week is here.

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Piran Café will be inaugurating a free monthly newsletter in May. It’ll be loaded with travel tips and wine reviews, updates on CC licensed free-to-use photos, musings on my obsessions of the day, plus an exclusive FREE giveaway EACH month available to subscribers ONLY. Giveaway No. 1:  Sign up now and you’ll be automatically entered to win a FREE major publishing house travel guide of your choice. Drawing is on 1 May, so do it now!

Athens Ashes

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You won’t find these in brochures from the Greek National Tourism Board.

Received these pics today from my friend Valia in Athens, shot over the past few days in the Exarcheia neighborhood, the heart of the current unrest.  The city’s a mess. (This is her car on Sunday, below. Can someone give her a tow?)

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The Greek capital’s been on fire since police killed Alexis Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old schoolboy on Saturday, whose death was the catalyst for daily demonstrations, clashes with the police, storms of molotov cocktails, showers of tear gas. Today was Day 5 and there is no end in sight. This looks more like Beirut than the city that hosted the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.

Demonstrations, general strikes, and clashes with the cops aren’t anything new in Greece, but even many Greeks are admitting they haven’t seen anything quite like this in more than a generation, if ever. But the problems run much deeper than a single police killing.

One target is the right wing government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, whose New Democracy Party holds a narrow one-seat advantage in parliament. Corrupt and incompetent are generally used to describe his tenure.

The other is simple economics. One-fifth of Greek workers life below the poverty line. Young people –a few of whom are throwing those molotovs– are particularly hard-hit. Greece has the highest unemployment rate among college graduates and post-graduates in the EU. Living on their own, even into their 30s, is generally not an option. Global recession isn’t helping.

Via EuroTopics:

Greek Daily Ta Nea, sees the riots as an expression of the desperation in Greek society: “The death of the student was only the catalyst. It was the fuse for the great explosion. The explosion conceals a compressed desperation. … Many young people live with the unbearable knowledge that there is no future, that the future is a bricked-up window. Somewhere out there a blind fury is lurking. … Not violence, but desperation appears to be the origin of our story.”

Italy’s left-liberal La Repubblica ascribes the riots in Athens to the economic crisis, and warns of renewed violence. “The storm of riots that has convulsed Greece for the past two days is the first violent reaction in the West to the economic crisis and the inadequacy of government measures to combat it. … The tragic episode on Saturday … must be seen in the context of the crisis and the fears it has stoked among weaker segments of society.

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late Sunday night

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Happy holidays!

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both late Sunday

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Tuesday afternoon – a photographer’s paradise

By the way, today is the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 60th birthday of Greek guitarist Stamatis Spanoudakis. Put down your molotovs and tear gas canisters, for just a few moments, to celebrate, ok?

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November pic(k)s

What do you think about when staring out into the open sea?

This was taken on the Hellenic Seaways Nissos Chios, heading from Syros to Piraeus, one of about a dozen personal favorites shot in November. The rest of the set, shot on the island of Syros, Athens, Monte Carlo and Trieste, Italy, are here.

Previous pic(k)s of the month from 2008: [Oct 08] [Sep 08] [Aug 08] [July 08] [June 08] [May 08] [March 08] [February 08] [January 08]

Piraeus 04, originally uploaded by pirano.

Off Season: Syros Notebook II

Last Tuesday, The Guardian reported that the incoming president of The Maldives will implement a plan through which a portion of the Islands’ tourism revenue will be diverted into a fund set aside for the purchase of a new homeland should the archipelago disappear because of global warming. The threat is obvious, real, and immediate. Not counting the palm trees that line the beaches of the popular getaway, the highest point on The Maldives is just 2.4m (just under 8 feet) above sea level, with most of the land swimming just 1.5m (about 5 ft) above the surface of the Indian Ocean. According to the UN, oceans are expected to rise another 59 cm (about 2 feet) by the end of this century. Said president elect Mohamed Nasheed:

We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades.

It felt a little jarring reading that while sitting at a port-side café on an island. It’s not that Syros, the administrative center for the Cyclades, is in danger of sinking any time soon. This 85 sq km chunk of rock, already a submerged mountain peak, is primarily hilly, ascents that begin as little as 100 meters inland from the point where you step off the ship that ferried you here. But looking out towards the horizon over the Aegean, you can get at least a modest sense of that isolating desperation Nasheed hopes to prepare for. Outside of the relative bustle of Ermoupoli, the off season melancholy here further underscores that isolation.

[For more on the 41-year-old Nasheed, the first democratically-elected president of this Moslem country, who was jailed 23 times, tortured and locked in solitary confinement for 18 months by the man he is succeeding, try here. The Economist also has more on his land-buying scheme.]

Off season

The preferred British term is out of season, a notion that to my ear suggests hard-to-get fruit or the absence of freshly-picked vegetables. Not the presently shuttered hotels that line the tiny beaches here, and the closed bars and tavernas that line the narrow streets and alleyways en route to those in-season shelters. The colors, shades of off green and various hues of brown, are out of season. The relaxed, carefree faces of the locals, those walking home from a small grocery store, those patching a broken window, those sweeping leaves from their courtyards or picking up their children at bus stops, are off season.

Off season has its distinct charm. (If you like to avoid crowds, it’s the perfect time to visit and roam.) Save a few small convenience stores, everything’s closed, and as cliché as it sounds, time does tend to stand still. Besides a stray cat or perhaps a local out for a stroll, the beaches are yours. Just a few kilometers out of Ermoupoli, the roads will be mainly yours as well.

The village of Gallisas, on the opposite side of the island from Ermoupoli, is among the have-to stops. The south edge of the picturesque Gallisas Bay is divided by a hill; on one side is the attractive tranquil eponymous inlet and on the other is Armeo Beach (pic at top), set aside for nudists. Perched atop the hill and looking down over both sides is Ayia Pakou, The Church of the Holy Submission. Remains of on old Akropolis have been found here. You can reach Armeo –by far the nicest beach on the island, and I did investigate virtually all of them– by walking up the hill and descending near the church, or you can walk around the hill along a marginally marked path. It’s not a difficult walk, but some careful climbing is involved. A hike up the hill to the south of Armeo, with a bountiful carpet of wildflowers, is worth the effort as well.

Poseidonia, or Dellagrazia, with its well-maintained villas and manor houses, is perhaps the island’s most charming village. Kini, exactly due west of Ermoupoli, affords nice westward views towards Kythnos and Kea. Overlooking the Bay of Kini is the Ayia Varvara (St. Barbara) Monastery. Kini has its own beach, but a nicer spot is at Delfini Bay, a short drive along a dirt road from Kini. Nice westward views from a hilltop road here as well.

It’s off season, so it’s impossible to gauge precisely how busy the beaches at Syros are during the summer months; according to locals the island isn’t nearly as overrun as the more popular islands, an aspect that certainly has an appeal of its own.

Ermoupoli

As the region’s capital and with its busy port, Ermoupoli (Hermoupolis) never seems to be out of season. It’s a clean, pleasant, and lively town of some 13,000, defined by its neoclassical, and primarily western European, architecture. Until 1860, its port was more important than its mainland brother at Piraeus. There’s a thriving café culture, and enough museums, galleries, shops and clubs in which to while away the time. The narrow streets of cobblestone and marble are fun to explore. Overall, Certainly worth more than a day trip.

Practical matters

- It’s not particularly difficult to casually comb over the entire island –in all, about 22 km long– over the course of a late morning and afternoon. Cars and motorbikes are available from a slew of travel offices along the port. I negotiated and picked up a car for 20 EUR for the day, certainly the most laid back rental transaction I’ve ever experienced. It’s a no-brainer but I’ll say it anyway: once outside of Ermoupoli, the roads are extremely narrow at times. In some cases, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a road and a driveway.

- Several other lines besides the BlueStar operate to/from here. I returned via the Hellenic Seaways Nissos Chios –the only early afternoon departure back to Piraeus– which was a much nicer and more comfortable ferry than the BlueStar’s SuperFerry II. 28 EUR.

[More pics from Syros here.] [Previous Syros-related post here.]

Syros 030, originally uploaded by pirano.

30 Second Cheap Hotel Advisor – Athens

Attalos
29 Athinas
Athens, Greece

This is the view from the rooftop bar of the Hotel Attalos, just a few steps up from the sixth floor. Nice, no?

As big cities go, the 48 EUR/night price is right. It’s two stars, which are enough if you don’t spend too much time in your room. There is free wi-fi in the first floor reading room, along with a couple of computer terminals, an extremely nice touch. Breakfast not included.

But best about the Attalos is the location. Just a couple hundred meters from the Monastiraki underground stop, there’s plenty in the immediate area to keep you thoroughly amused and on your feet for the duration of your stay: the Plaka, the flea market, scores of museums, ruins and parks.

FYI, Monastiraki is roughly 30 minutes from Port at Piraeus, and 40-50 minutes to the airport, no change required for either.

I’ll definitely return. Soon.

acropolis, originally uploaded by pirano.

30 Second Cheap Hotel Advisor – Syros

Paradise
Omirou 3
Ermoupolis, Syros, Greece

There are plenty of accommodations similar to this in Ermoupolis, so little need to devote 30 seconds to Paradise. It’s a good rule to always be wary of a hotel that describes itself so immodestly, but to be fair, this was perfectly acceptable, simple and clean. I was told that I could have done better in the off-season for 35 EUR/night [through Venere].

Just a five minute stroll from the Ermoupolis port exit, but on arrival it’s a little difficult to find. Once you navigate through the few alleys that lead you there, it’s easy to get oriented. Very close to everything in Ermoupolis, mainly because everything is close to everything in Ermoupoli. Simple breakfast included, but I took my morning coffees from various cafes along the port.

Syros 001 – Paradise, originally uploaded by pirano.

Cats, Sick Bags and Paradise: Syros Notebook

Ermoupoli, Syros, Greece — During a ride from Athens Airport to Mati, near Marathon, on Friday, I passed by several smallish packs of what appeared to be wild dogs. They were roaming aimlessly and lazily, on small patches of land, ignored plots of overgrown grass and dry brush that apparently double as informal garbage dumps, between the four lane highway constructed just before the 2004 Olympics and local two lane roads. On Monday afternoon in Ermoupoli I got the impression that stray cats outnumber the population of the Cyclades Islands capital of 13,000 by at least two to one.

They’re everywhere and they’re viciously loud; they wail violently, as if they’re fighting off the evils unleashed from Pandora’s Box. The strong swirling winds accentuate it. At first, I though the painful yelps echoing through the narrow streets were coming from the mouth of a desperately ill child. Less than 15 minutes after I checked into my hotel, at least a dozen, in groups of four, were taking turns aggressively scratching at my balcony door. Why? According to an informal survey of five bartenders, the people of Syros are cat people.  They simply hate dogs. That clearly shows in the long faces of a few dogs I’ve seen.

The celebration continues

The world is still rejoicing. There was an entertainment awards ceremony on one of the Greek networks last night, with little satirical and musical skits interspersed between the presentations. One singer/comic followed up his John Belushi/Blues Brothers thing with an Abba musical ditty, singing, Obama Mia. Like the Michael Stipe lyric that tops the list of things I wish I had written –I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music– I really wish I could have come up with that.

I’m still amazed at how last Tuesday’s election result has managed to reach and impact even relatively remote corners of the world like this one. Yesterday three people on the morning ferry were wearing Obama t-shirts. Everywhere I stopped and hung out for a bit yesterday afternoon and evening, people were asking me about Obama. Several bookstores had a Greek translation of Audacity of Hope figuring prominently in their window displays.

Getting (t)here

In the off-season, the only mainland departures are from Piraeus. This morning’s 07:35 BlueStar Super Ferry II (one way, about four and-a-half hours) was a fairly bumpy cruise part of the way, rough enough to make two women who flanked me on both sides, some three meters away, spend about 30 minutes with their faces buried in sick bags. I hope it wasn’t me. I’ve offended people in the past, but not to that extent.

There were more passengers than I expected, although I really had no reasonable idea whatsoever of what to expect. Some read, some chatted, but most dozed. I did as well for about an hour before a scratchy ringtone of a nearby co-day sleeper roused me with an Elvis song that’s been following me around since: ‘Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help…”

Greece remains one of the few last great refuges in Europe for smokers. The second class level was split down the middle to accommodate smokers and non; the smokers, at least this morning, outnumbered the others. One thing can be said about Greeks: they’re apparently not quitters.

26 EUR/one way. Warning: don’t necessarily believe the generic timetables in booking websites. Departure times can vary wildly, particularly in the off-season.

Paradise

My hotel is called Paradise. Always be wary of hotels whose impression of self is characterized in such glorious terms.

World Music Café

I ducked into about half a dozen cafes and pubs yesterday and this was the only one I returned to. The musical vibe, primarily north and west African along with a peppering of catchy Euro/Arab/African fusion, fits the Mediterranean. At least to me. It’s like my home stereo, but with an immeasurably better sound system. Comfortable, laid back and a very friendly staff. Highly recommended. Tell Nadil that Slovenia sent you. Just a few blocks south of the city hall square.

NOTE: I intended to post this last night, but was sidetracked by a birthday party at this café. Happy birthday Topis!

More pics here.

Syros 012, originally uploaded by pirano.