Tinos – A Revelation!

A young lady taxi driver picks me up at he Daidalos Hotel.  Together we managed to heave my suitcase into the boot. The conversation begins with her asking me if this is my first time on Ikaria to which I reply that I had stayed in Therma a few years ago. “Ah, so now you know which is the best side of the islands” she says. I tell her yes – but Therma has magic water! to which she agreed.  In fact, she told me – some of her favourite beaches were on that side of the island.  She had lived on Ikaria all her life but was still discovering new things about the island.

About 20 – 25 minutes later we arrive at the port of Evdilos – quite an attractive town for a port. Most of the cafe’s are full, mainly other travellers waiting for the ferry but some locals also. At the port I seek shelter in the shade of Nikos the lorry driver. I know his name by various people shouting ‘Yia’ to him. With very little shade at the port, the shadow cast by Niko’s lorry is a Godsend.

The Blue Star Paros is one of my favourite ships having sailed on her many times before. She is a little late but a group of people standing on the harbour wall send out a shout that she is here. Let’s see if this is as chaotic as the Blue Star Chios was.

The luggage racks are clearly marked for the island of disembarkation – that bit is easy. The first officer I come to asks me for a document. He asks me in Greek and I don’t understand which document he needs. The ones I can see being collected in bear no resemblance to the papers I have which are my Covid vaccination certificate, my health questionnaire and my passenger locator form for arrival in Greece. It seems it is none of these and he points me towards another more senior looking officer. I display all three documents for him to look at and impatiently he shakes his head and then whips out my passenger locator form and waves me through.

I don’t think that’s the one he should have taken – I’m pretty sure he should have taken the health questionnaire.  It seems to be a completely different experience each time you board from 1) no papers 2) some papers 3) I’ve no idea papers. 

I know the regulations changed on Monday mandating that everyone travelling by whatever form of transport needs to have a vaccination certificate or a Covid test certificate.  Anyway, I’m glad he didn’t whip my vaccination certificate away as it has been handy having the printed documents to hand rather than juggling multiple apps on the phone. This from my observations seems to invoke a lot of head shaking and impatience from the officers.

Up onto the lower deck I go and soon we are underway.  After sailing along the coastline of Ikaria, she soon fades into the sea mist – all of her secrets still in tact.

It is choppy between Ikaria and Mykonos because we are out in open water but nothing that this work horse of the sea can’t handle.  We call into Mykonos at that very non-descript new port. I do wonder if it’s worth taking a look at Little Venice at least whilst I’m in the vacinity. It would be very easy to go for a day from Tinos but somehow I think Tinos will have a lot to offer.

I arrive at Tinos at sunset.  As soon as I head out of the port I get a good feeling about the place.  It’s lively and bustling and just feels so full of vibrancy.  Although I have loved exploring the lesser known islands of Greece over the years such as Kasos, Arki, Agathonisi etc. and also after being quite isolated in the places that I’ve stayed on this trip so far, it feels good to be back on a mainstream island hopping route.  It takes me back to thirty years ago when I first started island hopping around the Greek islands – primarily the Cyclades.  From here both Syros and Mykonos feel like they’re in touching distance.  Just a little further beyond there is Naxos and Paros and then Sifnos and Serifos. In this part of the Cyclades island hopping is easy with a regular flow of ferries coming into the port.  Yes – I can do easy for a little while!

My host George had sent me very detailed instructions on how to find the apartment. Google Maps helps me to navigate my way to Alpha Bank and from there I am to look for a an entrance next to a book shop and then take the lift up to the third floor.   Mary, George’s mum was waiting.  She tells me that she lives on the third floor and the apartment is on the second floor so I take the lift down one level where Mary meets me.  She shows me into the apartment and opens  the doors to the sunset view of the port.  I’m immediately sold!

It’s not just the sunset views and the location – (I do love a good port as I am bit of a ferry Geek)  The apartment is fantastic.  It is all newly refurbished and immaculate.  It has everything I can possibly need from sewing kit, santisiser,  coffee machine with the pods to go with it (shame I don’t drink coffee) and oh luxury of luxuries – a kettle!  I feel so well catered for here that I think that I could live here!

Mary tells me to keep an eye on the windows and doors as the wind can pick up out of nowhere here on Tinos  There is a booklet with information about the apartment and the island.  First things first, washing is done and hung out on balcony.  I shower and change and make a half hearted attempt to have a look around. I can see the church of Evangelistria glowing on the hill above the town where it dominates the skyline.  The taverna’s are full and bustling with life.  However, I know when to call it quits – I’m exhausted so I buy some pastries from a bakery just to the corner of the apartment and I return to my little balcony to eat with a cup of tea. Such is my rock and roll lifestyle!

I have absolutely the best night’s sleep of my trip. A very comfortable mattress and the softest of soft pillows – so unlike th rocks I’ve had at previous accommodations. Having had a memory foam mattress for many years, anything else is just torture and definitely contributes to my cumulative tiredness.

My first mission is to check out the bus service.  A new timetable has just been published as the season begins to wind down.  I want to go to Pyrgos as it had been recommended by friends.  My colleague Claire who knows the island well sent me a list of places that I should visit. She is surprised that I’m staying in the port and assumed that I’d be driving and staying in one of the villages. She finds the port rather lacking in character and says the island can often be dismissed on this basis.  Yes car rental places are everywhere you look, giving an indication that it is crucial to drive to get about. But this I discover isn’t the case.  Even as the season is coming to an end there is a bus service that will get you to Pyrgos and Panormos and everything in between on that route.  Other buses will take you to the beaches. I think the port is going to be the perfect place for me and the comings and goings of the ferries will satisfy the inner ferry geek in me! The only disappointment is that the day tours have finished for the season. I’ll have to make the most of the existing bus service. To have some public transport is going to be a real bonus. I think I’m going to like being back on the popular island hopping trail.

I have a bit of time before the bus departs for Pyrgos so I walk up to Evangelistria church via the pilgrim street – the street the pilgrims ascend to the church on hands and knees. Very considerately a carpet has been laid in the street to make the ascent a little kinder on the knees.  The walk up the steep hill is challenging enough – I can’t imagine doing it by crawling.

When I arrive at the church there are several members of staff sweeping and hoovering the access to the church.    There is a sign by the entrance requesting that all visitors are appropriately dressed. Wearing a sleeveless linen dress with bare legs I decide to come back another time. 

I walk back down the parallel street which is full of souvenir shops selling all manner of religious tat that is probably mass produced in China.  Huge candles are one of the primary items along with little plastic bottles with which to fill with holy water.

I noticed that the painting around the stones on the pavements have been gloss painted instead of the traditional lime paint – it looks very strange. The bourgainvillea trees also caught my attention – they looked a little odd. Upon closer inspection I see they are plastic. Bloody plastic!  Yes I’ll say it again – bloody plastic in a place that can grow bougainvillea – the real stuff very easily.  Crazy.

Anyway, this must be what my colleague Claire calls the Mykonosisation of Tinos.  Let’s hope not. Which gets me thinking – in close proximity you have two islands – Mykonos and Tinos.  One known practically forever as being the island of hedonism and excess and the other for its religion and piety.  How do two island so close to each other form such differing identities?  Where and how did that all begin?  I know I’m looking at this very simplistically and as an outsider and I’m sure these things are very complex – but it did get me wondering.

Still with a bit of time before the bus departs I have time for breakfast – bougatsa and tea in a cafe come bakery close to the port.  I treat my inner geek to a bit of ferry spotting whilst waiting. 

Back at the bus station I find the staff there very helpful by asking everyone where they are going and pointing them towards the appropriate bus. The bus fare to Pyrgos is 3.80€ . 

I’m following the route on Google maps to try and identify the villages that I have been told about.  The bus makes a steady ascent to the top of the island passing clusters of whitewashed hamlets scattered across the yellow ochre and burnt umber valleys. It seems as though almost every hillside has been terraced. 

Tinos is a rocky island – it’s marble quarries or the remains of them can be seen in various parts of the island like scars on the landscape. Terracing was made to retain what soil there is on the island and although not agriculturally self sustaining, the main crop now grown on the island is artichoke. Tinos does also lack it’s own water supply and is reliant on a desalinated water supply making water a precious commodity. 

You will not miss the conical rocky hill Exombourgo jutting out on the skyline, the location of the now destroyed Kastro where the Venetians rules the island for 508 years.

You can’t help but notice the dovecotes dotted around the landscape.  I had read that there are around 1200 dovecotes on Tinos. These beautifully ornate structures were introduced to the island under Venetian rule and served as a place to store tools whilst the top was the ideal place for pigeons to nest. Each dovecote has it’s own unique design, a design which the pigeons recognise. Pigeons were once an island delicacy but they are no longer reared for food.

Google maps tells me there is a place called turtle head coming up and sure enough as we turn the corner I can make out a shape in the rocks that does indeed look like a turtles head – and maybe one with a wonky shell! Please excuse the quickly snapped phone photo through the bus window. 

We reach the pinnacle of the mountain and slowly begin to descend the other side.  You can’t see Pyrgos until you are practically on top of it and you are presented with a hamlet of whitewashed houses with several church spires peaking out above the rooves and where two larger domed churches dominate.

We are dropped at the entrance to the village. I try to go in the opposite direction to the other tourists and managed to find plenty of quiet, empty streets. I just take a slow amble around the alleyways with no particular plan. I have around 3 hours here so there is no rush.

Pyrgos has been described as one of the prettiest villages in the Cyclades and it certainly has an abundance of charm.  In the centre you will find a square where several taverna’s and cafe’s intersect, but if you take any of the sets of steps or alleyways that lead off this square you will discover charming little corners, several churches and houses with very unique architecture. You see they do bougainvillea very well – the real stuff that is!

The first thing I notice is the fanlights built over windows and doorways. They all seem to have their own individual designs and I wish I’d had chance to read up on this beforehand so I could begin to decipher them. Some like the crosses and the ships are self explanatory.

I stop in a cafe bar to rehydrate myself and whilst there I do a bit of online research to find out more about the island and what the key highlights are. A website called Get your Guide popped up advertising a day tour of Tinos.  I had used Get Your Guide before in Bilbao to book a tour of Gaztelugatxe and Geurnika and found them very good.

The only problem is, is that this is a guided tour from Mykonos. However, I don’t let that deter me and send them a Whatsapp message explaining that I am already on Tinos and ask if it possible to join the tour. They reply immediately and ask me to explain the situation again. The person I was speaking to hadn’t come across this scenario before but said that she would phone the local tour company and ask the question.

Before I even had chance to finish my Cola, they had confirmed that I cold join the tour and it would be 10€ less than the advertised price because I wouldn’t require the ferry tickets or hotel transfers. I’m not sure that costing makes sense but I’m just thrilled to be able to get on this trip. I’m told to look for the guide called Valentina at the port at 13.45 when the boat from Mykonos comes in. They tell me to look for the sign of Tinos Tours. You see with a little bit of curiosity and tenacity you can make things happen!

Although I’ve spent 3 hours at Pyrgos I don’t think I’ve actually learnt very much about the village. Not to worry – there will be another opportunity tomorrow. The bus arrives at 3pmand carries on down to Panormos. I get a glimpse of this little seaside town thorugh the bus window and it looks like a nice place to hang out on the beach for the day. I can see a small stretch of beach and a cluster of taverna’s – perfect! I must see if I can fit it in..

I ask the bus conductor if I can be dropped off by the windmills close to the intersection above Tinos town and he says – yes sure.  On the way up I’d noticed some unusual looking pigeon towers that I wanted to look at. He forgets and we sail past.  When I get off I say thank you and tell him that next time we will stop at the windmills!

I don’t think I’d have had the energy to walk down anyway – the heat has begun to get to me. I just about summon up the energy to shower, change and haul myself to eat at one of the taverna’s no further than 50 metres from the apartment. Skordalia, Dakos and Tinian sausage which has a distinct flavour of fennel – so nice! That’s it for today. I hit the hay!

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