Syros, Greece: From stop over to revelation
I was standing on the deck of the big Greek ferry which was to carry me from the island of Naxos to Samos near the Turkish coast. Syros was a mere stop over along the way, but when I watched the port of Ermoupolis approach, I knew I had arrived at a very different Greek island and decided, on the spot, to stay longer and explore.
We all have seen the many pictures of Greek islands, dominated by the ever present whitewashed stone houses and orthodox chapels with their brilliant blue roofs and white trims. By contrast, Ermoupolis looks majestic. Three and four story buildings climb up the hillside, topped with a rather cathedral-like church on each side.
Syros: A New Greek Island
Exploring SyrosThe town houses, many of which are today hotels like the wonderful Diogenis Hotel, have often been commissioned by European architects. After a few hundred meters along the promenade, you can turn left, walk up Eleftheriou Venezelou and reach Miaouli Square to admire the town hall, build by Austrian architect Ernst Ziller and one of the most imposing buildings of the island. Another one is the Apollon Theatre although it's in need of restoration. The opening of the theatre was the pride and joy of the island, a unique institution which attracted famous performers not only from Greece but also from abroad. Syros and its citizens can also lay claim to have been among the first in the whole of Greece to have established the following industries and institutions: steam ship company, chamber of commerce, ship building, high schools and colleges and the famous social club 'Hellas' to name but a few. An industrial museum as advertised on one of the boats moored in port, bears witness to this past. In fact the people of Syros love dance, music, opera, performances and fashion. In the early 20th century the ladies of Ermopulis were considered the most elegant in Greece. I had the good fortune to have arrived on a Saturday afternoon and could experience first hand that this jolly lifestyle is alive and thriving to this day.
Doing the PromenadeAfter a wonderful meal in one of the many restaurants along the promenade I resumed my walk. As darkness fell, the coast road was closed to traffic and life music was set up in front of some cafes. People, all beautifully turned out and made up for a night on the tiles, streamed in and promenaded up and down, stopping to great their friends and neighbours, enjoying an ouzo and listening to the music. Due to the fact that this island is not one of your typical Greek island tour destinations, few tourists were around and a stop in Syros gives you the chance to observe and participate in purely Greek entertainment at its best. Other places to visit during daylight are the Ajios Nikolaos church with its beautiful blue cupola and the bell tower and of course, if you are up to it, climb the 900 steps (!!) to Ano Syros which was once built to escape the never ending pirate attacks which plagued the island. Syros specialities are loukoumia and thyme honey which are offered in many quaint shops along the waterfront and also on the Piatsa of Ano Syros which are open till late. Of course, there is more to the island than just the capital. Inland in sheltered valleys farms and green houses are to be found which produce the best vegetables which are exported to the rest of Greece and beyond.
You can book several island tours which are round trips, i.e.: south of Ermoupoli to Vari, Achladia and Megas, or south west to Pagos and Galissas or north to Chalandriani. Each tour provides new aspects of this island and information and booking can easily be arranged in one of the many agencies which are to be found near the ferry dock. I went on the south trip the next day, but you can also hire a car and drive around yourself.
Born in Germany, Inka Piegsa-Quischotte has lived and worked as an international attorney in Spain, Switzerland and the UK for many years. Two years ago she turned novelist and travel writer and now lives between Miami and Istanbul as basis for her many journeys either West or East. Her articles have been published in GoNomad, The Expeditioner, Literary Traveler, Travel with a Challenge, Europe up Close, Neos Kosmos newspaper, Lighthouse Digest and In The Know Traveler among others. She contributes regularly to Europe a la carte and is the Beirut expert for NileGuide. Her personal travel blog is called GlamourGrannyTravels.com