Greece – Syros

Syros first rose to commercial power as a Phoenician seaport, and later the 13th century Venetians turned it into a trading capital. Steamships and the rise of Piraeus as the modern national port, however, ended Syros’s glory days, until the last 20 years, when the shipbuilding industry has helped Syros regain its economic footing. Now, Syros is home to almost half of the Cyclades’s permanent residents. Tons of Greek families have made their home in the seaside villages, and visitors are treated to an uncommonly bustling island lifestyle and the medieval settlement of Ano Syros, high on one of Syros’s two peaks. Syros is home to Ermoupolis, the most handsome of all Cycladic towns. If you break the lightest of laws anywhere in the Cyclades, you will be whisked off to court in Syros. It’s probably best to make your visit to Syros voluntary instead.

18 Sep: We were originally supposed to pull into Folegandros today. But at around 0800, the captain made an announcement over the loudspeaker informing us that due to the inclement weather, our cruise would be unable to pull into the port of Folegandros. Instead, he had made the command decision of diverting us to Syros. Rather than being upset, we were elated as we had been struggling to put together an agenda for Folegandros, and figured it’d be much of a “do nothing” day.

Syros sounded really interesting, and we were quite keen to see what this handsome Cycladic Island had to offer. After a quick glance at our Greek Island guidebooks, we opted to forego renting mopeds, and calculated that we’d be able to find plenty to entertain us at Ermoupolis, the Cyclades largest city and capital (named in honor of the winged messenger “Hermes”, the god of commerce, communication, and travel).

As we were pulling into the harbor, we could easily see how beautiful Ermoupolis is…the eclectic Greek, Italian, and Bavarian architectural designs combined with pastel colors and wrought-iron balconies lent a certain romantic atmosphere to the entire city. We disembarked the cruise and strolled along the waterfront, admiring the scenic views. Right away it became obvious to us that our main goal for the day would be to climb up to the two dominant lookout points for a panoramic view overlooking the city. The first lookout point was the Greek Orthodox Church Anastasis, and it stood on a promontory that was almost a vertical shot from the gorgeous Plateia Miaouli, one of the greatest squares in the Cyclades.

The city square was full of pigeons, and every time something or someone startled them, the pigeons would congregate in a flock and swarm the skies, leaving us to dodge their droppings. The north side of the Plateia Miaouli was dominated by a neoclassical town hall, and adjacent to the town hall were a set of stairs leading uphill. We climbed the steep steps in the midday sun, and were drenched with sweat before we reached the very top. The shaded benches of the Orthodox Church were a welcome sight, and we sank wearily into them and chugged a liter of water. Bob and Ann were perfectly content with sitting under the shady tree for a bit, while we wanted to hike onward towards Ano Syros. So we agreed to meet back down in the harbor, alongside the waterfront cafes in a few hours.

The pinnacle of the Venetian settlement of Ano Syros is the Catholic Church Agios Giorgos. To get to Ano Syros from Anastasis, we had to first backtrack down a set of stairs to reach the base of Ano Syros. After that, it was a steep set of stairs that led to the heart of this medieval settlement. Ano Syros definitely has a lot of character, with quaint whitewashed houses and narrow alleyways that all seemed to lead up to Agios Giorgos. Once we reached the church, we had a vast panorama of Ermoupolis and the coast below.

On our return trip from Ano Syros, we chanced upon the Markos Vamvakaris Museum. We didn’t know who Vamvakaris was, but found out from his shrine that he was the famous rembetika (Greek blues) singer who was born in Ano Syros. His hometown is evidently still very proud of him, and a loving memorial remains to this day.

Our stair stepper workout helped us work up an appetite for lunch, so we headed back down to Ermoupolis, and looked for Bob and Ann at the waterfront. After linking up with them, we scoped out several eateries. We were in the mood for something cheap and filling, and found a popular restaurant at the far end of the harbor. A couple liters of beer helped us down our delicious gyros and souvakli meal, after which we were all ready for naptime.

Becky and Ann did want to scope out the shopping opportunities in Syros, but most stores were already closed for their afternoon siesta. A quick glance was all they needed to determine that Naxos was definitely the better shoppers’ paradise, with a larger selection of stores and merchandise. No excuses not to partake in naptime…it was great to wander right back onto our cruise to join the locals in the afternoon tradition of siesta.

Our dinner plans were pretty flexible, but we all decided seafood would be our choice for this evening. While gathered up in Bob and Ann’s party cabin, we heard the Easy Cruise announcement that the boat would be relocating in 30 minutes and no one would be allowed to disembark or embark during this time. Not wanting to be trapped on the boat, we joined several other passengers in the rush downstairs only to find out that no one was allowed to disembark the vessel because it was actually relocating right at that moment. So much for the heads up announcement! We drowned our sorrows with some red wine, so that by the time we finally were allowed to disembark, everyone was feeling pretty good.

We also had finally decided upon a restaurant for the evening. Our plan was to make our way back to the main plaza, find Souri Street and follow it to the very end. This was based on our guidebook’s recommendation of dinner at Thalami Ouzeri Psarotaverna, “which is a stylish restaurant that occupies an old waterside mansion on Agios Nikolaos Bay. The sea serenades you, the fish dishes are prepared with style. Reasonably priced treats, such as mussels in wine sauce, or kakavia (local soup of fish, onions and tomatoes) are only part of the excellent menu.” Sounded like a winner to us, and dinner ended up being very tasty with a romantic view to boot. After dinner, we checked out the interior of the mansion-cum-restaurant, which surprised us with its 20 foot high ceilings, and gorgeous interior.

A session of salsa dancing lessons on the fifth deck at the Sun/Moon bar led by Dario rounded out the rest of our evening. Lessons started just before midnight, and surprisingly, almost everybody mastered the basic steps (forward basic, backward basic, and side step). After teaching us the basics, Dario told us that the ladies only had to remember the backward basic, while the men would be responsible for the forward basic and side step. By evening’s end, everyone was doing some semblance of a salsa dance on the dance floor, and it looked like folks were having a great time.

Syros was a very nice surprise amendment to our itinerary, and we didn’t spent too much time lamenting the missed opportunity to visit Folegandros.

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