The Caves of Antiparos have a surprise for us!

This morning we have decided to take a trip to the Caves of Antiparos.  I visited the caves on my first trip nearly 20 years ago but I didn’t make it on my second visit.  We are told that we can either take the local bus which leaves at 11.30am or we can take the tourist bus that leaves at 11.00am.  The tickets are 1.60 euros each way on the tourist bus so we decided to take this.  We have a bit of time before the bus leaves so we walk to the top of the main street until we reach the bakery.  There is a lovely selection of artisan shops here. I’ve had this overwhelming craving for some Galaktobouriko so we order one of these with a spinach and feta pie – what a great breakfast!

The tickets to the Cave of Antiparos are 1.60 euros each way.  You have about an hour at the cave but you can stay longer and catch the next one back if you wish – 1 hour is ample.  See the bus timetable below which was correct as of 9th July 2013

We make our way to the bus stop by the square and eat our pies.  Shortly after the driver boards the bus, opens his window and lights a cigarette.  A Greek lady with two friends asks if she can get on – I take it from his expression that the answer was no!  As he starts up the engine to the bus we see a large party of people approaching – most of them sporting Viper tshirts and baseball caps.  These are Greeks on holiday and must be here for the festival.  The driver gesticulates for us to get on the bus and before long the bus is full without a seat to spare.

The bus slowly spirals up the scrub covered hillside, past windmills and pretty white villas. We arrive at the cave bus stop but there is still about 100 metre walk up to the mouth of the cave and the Agios Giannis Spiliotis church so we take our time and take in the spectacular views over the bay.

We purchase our entry tickets and make our way into the mouth of the cave where we see signs of holy communion about to take place.

During the summer season the cave is open between 10.45 – 15.45.  Tickets are 3.50 euros each

The priest isn’t here and we start making our way towards the steps down to the cave.  A man who appears to be a tour leader with the large party calls to a couple of Greeks who are also walking towards the steps – as we turn to hear what he is saying he tells us “not you” and shoos us forward with his arms.

We don’t get down very far before I begin to feel the vertigo kicking in.   20 years ago this wasn’t as much of a problem – well I made the 100 meters down to the bottom even if I did have to cling on to the handrails.  This condition is clearly becoming more acute the older I get!  I am reminded of the time when I got stuck at the top of the castle of Chrisoxerias on Kalymnos.  I managed to make it up there (just about) but then absolutely freaked out at the thought of going back down.  I had asked my boyfriend at the time if he could ask the police to send a rescue helicopter for me (I was deadly serious – but panic-stricken!) Once I realised that I had no choice, I made the descent mostly on my bottom, one step at a time!  But that’s another story!

As I turn to go back, a lady who is part of the Viper party asks if Peter will take her photograph which he does obligingly.  She offers to take ours too and this is to remind me that I barely made it past the first set of steps!

As the lady hands back our camera we hear the sound of the priest beginning holy communion.  She waves her hand as if to say that she won’t bother with it and starts heading down into the cave.  Peter and I stay where we are and listen to the chanting which resonates around the walls of the cave, into its mouth, past the oesophagus and deep down into its belly.

If the video appears a little shaky – it’s because my knees had turned to jelly!  Peter makes his way down the 360 or so steps into the cave.  Because I have been before I’m not too disappointed. Anyway, because I got a case of the eebiejeebies I was able to see the holy communion in the cave.

The cave of Antiparos has the most amazing stalagmites and stalactites, the oldest stalagmite which is located in the entrance is believed to be 45 million years old.  According to  ” As findings from the Geometric and Classical Era have shown, it was initially used as a refuge and then as a worship place. Macedonian generals also used the cave in the 4th century B.C. as a refuge after their conspiracy against Alexander the Great.

The interior of the cave was explored in the 15th century A.D. There, in 1673, the French ambassador in Constantinople Marquis de Nouadel performed a Christmas Mass on top of a stalagmite resembling an altar. Since then, the stalagmite was named “Holy Table” and an inscription was placed beneath it to commemorate the incident.”

Archilochos  a poet from Paros was said to have visited the cave in 728-650 BC.  However, during the Russian occupation of 1770-74, Russian officers cut off many stalactites that can be seen today at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.  The cave was also damaged by the German soldiers during the second world war who used it for rifle practice.  Graffiti can be found all over the cave including scribblings from famous ‘vandals’ such as King Otho of Greece and Lord Byron.

The service is a wonderful and unexpected surprise and I’m glad that we decided to come on this particular day.  Blessed bread is shared with the congregation, tourists and all.

After the service has finished I venture out into the midday heat to have a short wander by the church.  Two ladies help the priest wrap the remaining bread in large cloths which is taken back inside the church.  Shortly after I see the priest leave with his assistant.  I take a few photographs of the view over the bay and then walk into the shade of the cave entrance to wait for Peter.

It is nearly time for the bus so Peter and I make our way down and sit in the shade of the bus shelter.  The bus is a little late but it soon arrives and more tourists disembark and make the climb up the hill. Peter and I are the only ones on the bus but despite it being late the driver waits until the Viper party arrive.  

They are in good spirits and on the way back down the mountain one of the group takes out his guitar and strikes up a rousing song.  All the Greeks join in the chorus – an amazing accompaniment to the wonderful scenery that flies past the window.  I’m not going to lie – a tear was brought to my eye.  The exuberant singing continues until we are back in the square by the port – what a fantastic morning!

We decide to head to the beach to spend another relaxing afternoon.  After a couple of hours of doing nothing in particular, we take a slow walk back past the harbour, stopping to watch the car ferry come into port.  We then make our way back up through the pretty streets of the town.

Before we reach Villa Harmonia we see a sign for a restaurant called Klimataria.  We take a left turn off the main street to look at it (location is almost everything!) and decide that this is where we will eat tonight.

It’s straight back to the room for a shower and we then sit on our little bougainvillea covered terrace for a Pimms and lemonade – a great way to spend time waiting for my hair to dry!

It is less than a five minute walk to the restaurant.  It is fairly quiet (how we like it) and after perusing the menu we order dolmades, garlic sauce and Greek salad to start.  I have stuffed tomatoes and Peter has dog fish – we both have dry white wine

As we are sitting in Restaurant Kalamataria I see children walking down the alleyway carrying garlands.  Many children walking excitedly so it is clear there is going to be more festivities that evening!

We finish our meal which was very delicious.  We like the quiet location but the staff weren’t as welcoming as Maria and Giorgios at T’ageri – I think we’ve been spoilt!  Nonetheless we enjoyed the meal.  Now it’s time to walk back towards the square and see what the night brings.

As we reach the tiny harbour we immediately see a small bonfire on the little patch of beach on the front.  As we approach we see children taking it in turns to jump over the fire.  This is the festival of St John.   I don’t think this would sit quite well in the health and safety-obsessed UK but here young children leaping through flames seems perfectly normal!

After watching for a short while we decide to go to one of the cafe bars on the harbour front for ice cream.  We order waffles and ice cream with Belgian chocolate sauce. In the cafe bar next to us we hear people singing and we see that the group is being led by the musician from the bus this morning.  I love the exuberance of the Greeks!

 “The custom:

Since antiquity, the Greeks welcomed the spring with flower wreaths from their gardens and fields. The wreaths were hung on the front door of each house up to the eve of St. John, 23rd June. On that day, each household took the wreath that is called “protomagiatiko” (May Day garland). After the sunset all the people gathered to light a big fire to burn the wreaths. 

Young people and especially children jumped over the flames with hidden wishes about health, happiness in their mind. Rhodes used to say it is the feast of St. John the “Kalafouniari”. The passage over the fire, meant to exorcise bad evil and give them health and happiness, as the fire was cathartic power.”

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