Archive for the 'Naxos' Category

Oct 25 2007

Naxos, our Greek Islands Finale

Published by under Greece,Naxos

Monday morning in Naxos brought more bad weather — frequent downpours, gusty winds and cool temperatures. Being the hard-headedest people you’ll ever meet, Ben and I decided not to postpone our visit to Naxian villages, so we started our day by trudging through the mud to the bus station.

Our first stop was Halki, a small village notable for containing the oldest kitron distillery on Naxos and one of the oldest Byzantine churches. Our efforts to visit the church were thwarted when what I can only assume used to be a road leading to the church had become a raging river. Our spirits were lightened when we discovered a small bakery, where we found decent donuts! (The Greeks typically do not do donuts well.) At this same bakery, we were unable to resist buying cookies made from grape juice.

Our next destination was the legendary cave of Mt. Zas. The operator of the distillery was reluctant to give us directions, and warned us that it would be extremely unwise to attempt to climb the mountain in such weather. But our stubborn streak preserved and we set off towards Filoti, the small village at the base of Mt. Zas. We were determined to see what we’d come to see, even if it meant walking three kilometers in the rain to see it!

According to mythology, Zeus, great ruler of the gods, grew up in a cave of a particular mountain on Naxos. Zeus was hidden in this cave from his father, Kronos, who had the annoying habit of eating all of his children. It was also supposedly atop this mountain that Zeus received the gift of thunder from an eagle.

Not actually Mt. Zas (which we were unable to
photograph thanks to the pouring rain), but
captures the effect.

As we slowly approached the village, a dark, craggy mountain began to emerge out of the mist ahead of us. Sheets of rain ricocheted off the jagged cliffs, spraying in all directions; gusts of wind grew stronger, making walking uphill increasingly difficult. Black, stormy clouds swirled furiously around the peak. It seemed as if the mighty hand of Zeus himself would reach out of the storm and squash any feeble backpacker who foolishly attempted to climb the God of Thunder’s mountain.

We may be stubborn, but we don’t have death wishes, so we reluctantly abandoned our quest, went home and partook in our favorite Greek tradition: the siesta.

Ben goes full throttleThe next day began with an equally foolhardy idea: let’s rent a scooter! We decided that in order to fully immerse ourselves in Greek culture, we had to experience driving around an island on scooter. Scooters are the preferred form of transportation for many Greeks, who drive them on any flat surface they are able to reach, even if that surface is definitely NOT a road — for instance, the aisle of a supermarket. Since neither of us had ever driven any sort of motorbike before, and apparently it requires some sort of “balancing” skill, Tony of Tony’s Bikes recommended we rent a four-wheeler instead. Although not quite as ubiquitous as the scooter (since it’s unable to squeeze through ridiculously tight spaces that no motor vehicle should ever attempt to pass through), the 4×4 is also a prevalent mode of transport on the islands.

So we shakily set off with no idea where to go, Ben at the helm of a machine he’d never operated before, me clutching desperately to his waist and both of us wearing ridiculous mushroom-like helmets. After navigating Naxos Town, figuring out how to fill the thing up with petrol, and getting honked at a lot, we started to strive inland.

We decided to locate the island’s abandoned kouros. Kouroi are ancient Greek statues of young men. Many were carved out of Naxian marble – the sculptor would begin to carve the statue in the marble quarries before it would be transported to its final destination for the detailed carving. During the moving process, many statues would break and be abandoned on the spot. So, centuries later, island locals discovered 3,000 year old unfinished statues in their olive groves.

While Ben likes to call our hunt for the kouros an Epic Quest, I call it Hey Dummy Follow the Signs. He shot videos:
(We upload in four parts for quicker download. Part 1 is included below. Follow the links for more!)

Quest for the Kouros, part 1 on Vimeo & YouTube
Quest for the Kouros, part 2 on Vimeo & YouTube
Quest for the Kouros, part 3 on Vimeo & YouTube
Quest for the Kouros, part 4 on Vimeo & YouTube

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring marble quarries and citron groves and enjoying our rental – that is, until we started heading home. As we descended the mountains, Zeus decided to have one last laugh by sending a monster thunderstorm our way. Pretty much the only thing that could’ve made the image of us riding a four-wheeler any more hilarious was doing so through the pouring rain, getting completely drenched.

And thus ends our Greek islands adventures and phase one of our trip! We have arrived in Athens, where we will stay for about a week to recoup before heading on to Italy.

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Oct 23 2007

Naxos Town means dancing!

Published by under Greece,Naxos

Hello from the island of Naxos, our final Greek island destination! We’ve actually been here since Friday, but it turns out that getting reliable internet access is difficult on this island. It seems like we just got to Naxos, but we will be hopping our next ferry tomorrow morning (Wednesday) for our return trip to Athens. But that’s for later… there is much to say about Naxos!

Naxos is the largest of the Cycladic islands, and like all the rest, it is basically a giant mountain rising up out of the sea. We have been staying in the main town (chora), known simply as Naxos Town. There’s no longer any doubt that we’re in the low tourist season. Many restaurants and shops are now closed for the winter, and the rest seem to only open after 6pm.

We’re also finally starting to get hit by wind and rain, after almost two months of not seeing a drop. The upside is that, for the first time, we’re able to walk along a Greek island waterfront without being harassed by restaurant greeters! Unless you count the mysterious old man at the port yesterday, who called to us from the distance: “Hello, my friends, yes!” But I don’t think you do.

Naxos Temple of Apollo (Portara)Upon arriving by ferry in Naxos Town, the first thing you see is the island’s most famous monument: the Temple of Apollo. All that stands today is its doorway – a giant arch known locally as the Portara. According to Greek mythology, this is the spot where Theseus abandoned Ariadne, and I suppose this is why every third hotel you come across in Naxos Town is creatively called “The Ariadne.” The Temple may be little more than a door today, but it’s a really big door!

Sunday afternoon, we decided to explore an Old Venetian castle in town. While clambering around its inner walls, we saw a sign advertising “traditional Greek night” at a local museum. It promised live Greek music and dancing, a proposition that quickly sold Brittany. So, we put on some of our “nice clothes” and hit the town in style (“nice clothes” = shirt that’s been worn the least number of times since the last time I did laundry + Febreeze).

I’m happy to report on two pieces of good news:

1. I was not denied entry to the museum based on my concept of nice clothes.
2. Traditional Greek night did not disappoint!

Like a bagpipe, but made of inside-out goatThe small band consisted of a lute, a fiddle (we don’t have violins in Virginia), a drum, and an instrument that’s a lot like a bagpipe, but made out of an inside-out goat. We listened to songs about sailing, fishing, and love that go back in the island’s history as far as 4000 years. Of course, it’s difficult to fully appreciate the songs’ lyrics when you don’t speak Greek, but that’s where the open bar came in! All songs were accompanied by Naxos-produced wine, raki, and a Naxian specialty, kitron.

Selection of wine, raki, and kitronKitron is a liqueur made by distilling raki with the leaves of a fruit known as the citron. I’d never heard of a citron before coming to Naxos, but think of a cross between a lemon and grapefruit. Now multiply its size by 5, and its ugliness by 400. The citron isn’t much to look at, and everyone says that its raw fruit is so nasty as to be inedible, but somewhere in history, a resourceful wino figured out that it makes for some fine drinkin’. The human spirit always perseveres!

We even got to join in the Greek dancing toward the end of the show, and I showed my enthusiasm by shouting out the only lyric in the chorus that I could understand: “Opa!”

In other news, we’ve been trying to unravel the hidden island location of a giant statue of a stone man (pictures to come if we succeed!), and it’s become indisputable that I really need a haircut. Opa!

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