Kids’ Homeschooling: 3hr Bikram Yoga Series completed: once Rain: once Books read: 0 Parks visited: 5 Favourite local dish so far: giant prawns Local food now sick of eating: goat’s cheese/yoghurt Average adult one-on-one time spent per day: 2 minutes Number of steps required to descend/ascend from our Syros dwelling to the edge of town: 275 Number of times we have had to carry moaning children up them: every single time Total number of Greek words learnt and used: 10 Number of cheap pairs of sunglasses bought and damaged before I had to resort to a decent (ie. expensive) pair (despite leaving my three expensive pairs at home so that they didn’t get damaged/stolen during our trip): 2 Item of packing I definitely didn't need to include: hairdryer
3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD
POST 3: 14th September 2016, Ano Syros, Greece.
Living like locals is all very well but sometimes a girl needs a little bit of glamour. Especially on her birthday. The older I get, the more I feel it necessary to ‘go away’ in order to feel sufficiently special. (Demanding? Moi?) So having weighed up various options, including Amorgos (almost purely because it is where my favourite film ever, Le Grand Bleu, with its formerly swoonsome lead actor Jean-Marc Barr, is filmed) and Mykonos (dismissed as too Ibiza-chic for our current parents-of-three-under-seven status – it would just get frustrating not being able to join in with the parteeee) we settled for an injection of sophistication and busyness from the nearby island of Syros. Its bustling main town, Ermopoulis, is the capital of the Cyclades group of islands and is home to the Aegean university, immigration office and even a casino. It offered the perfect antidote to the stupor induced by seven days on the rural idyll of Ikaria. That said, the island is actually pretty tiny; it took only ten minutes to cross over to a beach on the opposite side and you could probably explore the whole thing in a day.
Unlike Ikaria, which mostly consists of barren rock rising steeply out of the ocean, with its main road circling at least 50 meters above this, on Syros most of the road network is at sea level itself. This has made for a blissfully welcome change because going to the beach no longer demands we assume the qualities of both goat (balancing precariously on tiny outcrops whilst scaling down a rock face) and donkey (carrying towels, body boards, water, snacks, towels, wallet etc) at the same time. That missing adrenalin rush has been transferred instead to the place in which we are staying - largely because there are no internal stairs. These have been added as part of a renovation and since railings wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the (very arty, tasteful, minimalist) decor, there are none. We tried to ban the children from using these vertiginous death-traps joining each of the house’s four floors by themselves but that only lasted about an hour. Now I’m just crossing my fingers.
Photo caption: narrow medieval streets with overhanging balconies (left); our scary, internal stairs (top right); multi-coloured wood contrasts with white-washed walls, green cacti and mottled stone pavings (bottom right)
Otherwise the house (found on AirBnB) is pretty awesome. It is part of the original medieval settlement of Ano Syros founded by the Venetians in the 13th Century. Crammed higgledy-piggledy on top of one another, as well as scattered on either side of a steep hill, the stocky, thick-walled dwellings slightly resemble a giant’s unsuccessful Jenga game, all of which is ring-fenced below by a crumbling, brick-lined moat. Counter to expectations, crowning the hill-top is not a castle but a huge Catholic cathedral, the latest (and fifth version of a religious monument erected on the site) built in the 19th Century. So, sitting proudly atop the opposite hill (no rivalry intended of course), is an equally huge Greek Orthodox church built at exactly the same time.
Narrow, winding steps criss-cross over the steep mound that is the old town, both connecting as well as separating inhabitants from each other. Our house boasts no less than three doors onto street level, each of which is at a different height. Our windows look almost directly into our neighbour’s about a metre away on each side. It is both comforting as well as disconcerting.
Photo caption: he timeless back-streets of Hermoupolis
As glamour goes, Syros is not particularly so. We’re not talking designer Mykonos. But there are funky shops, majestic Venetian mansions, shady outdoor restaurants and a few cool-looking wine bars. The scene feels both timelessly Greek as well as up-and-coming; authentic as well as swanky. This balance was beautifully exemplified by Ono: a cool beach bar/restaurant sufficiently in tune with the scene to consider itself not merely an eatery but a ‘concept’, adorned with pre-requisite sunset loungers shaded by crocheted parasols, outdoor and indoor massage areas accompanying the in-house spa (which I did sample), Crystal champagne at 400 euros a bottle on the wine menu (which we didn’t sample), a designer clothing and eyewear shop, and anthemic beats. Unbeknownst to us before choosing it as the venue for my birthday celebrations, it has already featured on Vogue’s list of ‘under the radar’ must-visit Greek island bars. So as a true Bobomama, I did.
Photo caption: BoboMama loves a bit of Champagne (top); sunset at Ono concept (bottom)
As for the nitty gritty of travel, I am already bored of all of my clothes. In fact, I was fed up after about 5 days and my daily selection hasn’t got any larger (apart from a sneaky pair of sandals and some jewellery). I am also most definitely over doing the laundry. Rather sadly (as it is so mundane), this is proving to be the second biggest challenge of the trip so far. Not surprisingly the kids are not producing any less for me to wash than they did at home and yet here I am equipped with only two paltry tubes of travel wash and a miniature travel washing line (pegless though – pretty nifty actually) which hangs only half a load at the best of times.
Past outsourcing experiences have not been entirely positive: our old hostel in Ikaria managed to re-categorise everything that would formerly have been considered ‘light’ into a new ‘shade-of-blue’ category (despite my having pre-divided the load before submitting it - clearly they thought I was being fussy and just bunged it all in together); and they then managed to shrink Andrew’s t-shirts in the tumble drier. These shouldn’t be allowed on the island at all frankly, given its searing temperatures and its famous meltemi summer winds, but it was exactly because of the latter and the staff’s fear that our clothes would be blown off-shore by them that they resorted to using one (at least that was their excuse).
Unfortunately for Andrew however, when you are 6ft 5 with a long body, not one millimetre of t-shirt material can be spared; his resulting crop tops had to be ‘let go’ of. In Syros, I do now have my own machine but the spin cycle doesn’t work so everything comes out weighing a ton and needs individual hand-wringing before being hoisted up the gravity-defying, rail-less stairs onto the roof terrace to be scorched of all colour (I have at least learnt this – clothes must be dried inside out here).
Photo caption: the 19th Century Greek Orthodox church of Syros. There is something about the unabashed gawdiness of these that I just love. They always have a great atmosphere and feel very warm and inviting (left); I'd never seen this before but I'm assuming this was the fashion at one point? It's not a great one. Tiny spaces are left for the head of the painting to poke through; the rest has been "adorned" with silver. Presumably because it was thought to be more precious at the time and therefore more of a tribute to God? Unfortunately all of the paintings in this church had been covered in this way (right)
The biggest challenge of all however has been carving out adult together/alone time. As we are now in a house as opposed to spread over two hotel rooms, this has meant we can share a room instead of being divided up amongst the children (good). Unfortunately however, this has not meant that we have actually spoken together for longer than 5 minutes without either being interrupted or falling asleep with exhaustion (bad).
At the moment we are still being very active and like to go out for most if not all of the day to explore our destination. This is exciting and fun but does not leave much time for anything else. The time left over has to be spent on eating, food shopping, pharmacy visits, homeschooling or catching up on work, which doesn’t really leave any space for reflection, self-reflection or adult conversation. I am finding this quite frustrating, but know that we will get better at this the longer we are abroad and the more we are able to stay in one place.
Photo caption: The warden of the church had been looking after it for no less than 45 years. Prior to that he had sold fish and chips on Manley Beach, Australia. He couldn't wait to sneak out into the vestry to play his harmonica and show the children a little jig. You can never judge a book by its cover! (left); My birthday "cake" Greek style. The most honey-drenched baklava you can imagine alongside orange and honey-drenched polenta (?) cake. Luckily the kids didn't really like it so I had to have their portions too (right)
I have nonetheless managed two bouts of solo exercise even though this freedom came with a price to pay: yoga on the beach (I felt like a pretentious numpty doing it in the first place but even more so when the whole of the local Greek population stared me through the sequence) and a brisk walk to the nearby village in the dead of night (the only time I could squeeze this in was between 10.45 to 11.45pm). The positives on both occasions were serene, beautiful surroundings and in the latter case, nothing other than the moon and starlight to lead the way. It was pretty special.
Other travel perils to note so far have included a horrible, poisonous anemone sting for Xanthe which has metamorphosed over the last week from what resembled a large burn, to a criss cross of varicose vein-coloured lines and finally to an itchy host of slightly oozing, pitted scratches. I had no idea anemones were poisonous. Luckily at the time I had some Anthisan with me on the otherwise deserted beach which, I was later told by a pharmacist, made all the difference. We will now be avoiding all rocks with any form of sea vegetation on them just to be safe!
Photo caption: school lunch time entertainment Greek-style. Having popped to the park we heard whistles and shouting so I rushed the children down to the port to see the street "carnival". It turned out it was just the kids on their school lunch break. Hoards of them playing in the square surrounded by mothers sipping coffees in the cafes surrounding it. There were about 15 of these electric cars doing a loop round some trees. Irrisistable (left); on our walk into the port one evening we came across this 7 year old boy putting on a puppet show for passers-by. His grandfather in the room behind had proudly made it for him based on his favourite boytime activity. The "soundtrack" to the puppet show was blaring with granny and a friend sat on little wooden chairs showing encouragement. It was so lovely (right)
What I am loving on the other hand, is meeting so many new people, each with their own story and intrigue: a Bulgarian/American couple in their 60s from San Francisco tracking down every centenarian on Ikaria as part of their quest for the secret elixir of life; a ceramicist from the Acropolis museum (we have already lined up a family pottery day); a renowned Turkish director; an aspiring Greek actor/director and his wife who founded the quirky This Famous Tiny Circus Theatre Group; a half-Indian/half-Italian (just think of the food delights he must have sampled growing up) former New Dehli B&B owner who will shortly be returning with his lovely French/Swiss/German girlfriend to set up and run a new one this autumn (he has inspired us to re-route our travels in order to go and visit them), the French host of a residential 5 Rythmns dance group and a beguiling young man who I met on the deck of the ferry leaving Ikaria who had been staying, along with various other urban hippies, in part of a controversial "camp" located on the beach of Nas. I had already learnt from our former hostel owners that these were somewhat pejoratively referred to as ‘river dwellers’ (since they merely sleep in the gorge at night but enjoy the creature comforts of the restaurants above the rest of the time). Half way through our esoteric conversation he let slip that his father is an eminent politician. I do love a fellow Bourgeois Bohemian.
Certainly we must seem above-averagely fascinating for once with our family-of-5-taking-12-months-off-to-travel-the-world tale, and perhaps this is bringing out the best in others. Or maybe we are just being exposed to the more laid-back, off-season travel crew. Either way, the world does definitely seem like a more open, exciting place once you’ve committed to exploring it!
Did you enjoy this post? Let me know in the comments or by sharing it with other social media! Don’t forget to use the sign up form to receive my latest posts via e-mail. You can also follow me on facebook, youtube, twitter, instagram & pinterest!