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Vail Daily travel story: A Cycladic voyage

Raymond Bleesz
Special to the Daily

Having a degree in history and extensive graduate study experience in ancient Greece, as well as the Roman empire, a vacation to that Aegean World fulfilled a bucket list desire I had wished for since my collegiate days. Greek names, places, events, dates, contributions to civilized man and more flooded my memories. My wife, Faith, and I were going to Greece to see living history. In preparation, I sought out unique historical readings, and devoured those books on ancient Greek history. My memory was tested and refreshed.

Arriving in Athens on May 28, we did a whirlwind tour of the mainland, visiting the Temple of Delphi outside of Athens and the major sites of Athens itself, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Plaka district, the Acropolis Museum and across from our boutique hotel, the Athens Gate Hotel, Hadrian’s Arch and The Temple of Olympic Zeus. I would recommend the hotel, as it was nice and centrally located, within walking distance to the above sites, and had a very nice restaurant with outstanding views of the Acropolis and Hadrian’s Arch and Temple.

But our time was to be spent in the Aegean Sea as we had booked a catamaran for a week of sailing in the Cycladic Islands. These islands were but just one group of islands in the Aegean Sea, all with significant history. The term Cycladic means “circle” or cycle. The ancient Greeks, a sea faring peoples as they are today, would sail their trade routes from island to island and complete a cycle, a specific group of islands.

Boating on this catamaran was unique because the two other couples who were supposed to accompany us on the sailing trip abruptly cancelled their trip to Greece on short notice. So Faith and I were the only passengers on our 42-foot catamaran, captained by Nikos and Daniela Malarakis. The harbor of Lavrio, a cruise and yacht harbor, not far from Athens and the nearby historic site, The Temple of Poseidon, was our starting point. Faith deposited her luggage in one compartment, and I took the aft compartment. Within a short period of time, Nikos cast off for our first island, Kithnos, while Daniela prepared food and drinks.

The first three islands

Kithnos is a small, quiet fishing village, which offered us our first view of white painted and plastered buildings against the mountainside, accentuated with blue painted windows and doors. In the morning, after a delightful breakfast prepared by Daniela, we set off to explore. Camera, tripod and binoculars in hand, we toured the village and harbor. We encountered Daniela buying fish from a local fisherman who had just returned from a night of fishing. Nikos and Daniela were introducing us to the Grecian way of life. Upon departure, I took note of a ship, which had docked in the night, a large wooden schooner of Greek registry. Looking at the other flags flying (something I learned from Nikos), I determined that the schooner was a bike ship, cyclists from the U.S., Germany, Brittain, Switzerland and Austria were unloading for a bike excursions on the island of Kithnos. Mid-day we anchored off a beach not far from Kithnos and spent the majority of the day swimming, eating lunch and talking with Nikos and Daniela.

Raising anchor, we were off to the next island, called Serifos. Serifos was a likewise small, quiet, pleasing island with white Orthodox churches high on a mountaintop. We spent the following morning hiking up to the “Hora,” “Chora,” the central village of the island based around the main church. The hike was well marked with white-washed steps leading up to the Hora. Atop the mountain, a small white chapel welcomed us with a panoramic view of the harbor and village below.

The next island was Paros, our third night. It was a bigger island, more sophisticated, and rich in history. Our Lady of a Hundred Doors, a historical church, was a major site of interest and holy worship. There was a major museum of antiquities. Paros is world famous for its translucent marble, which was used by the ancients to build temples, including the Parthenon, and Paros marble was used for Napoleon’s tomb. We liked Paros, as did Nikos and Daniela. Nikos said he would reside in Paros if he had to choose an island. We learned more about Daniela and Nikos as the days passed. They had four kids, age 12 to 18, and while at sea, their grandmother took care of the kids. Nikos was a pilot with Olympic Air Lines and had trained in Fort Worth, but the sea offered him more pleasure. He had already captained major ships across the Atlantic numerous times. Their business, Brama Yachts (www.bramayachts.com) was somewhat unusual as there were very few catamaran rental operations in Lavrio. Most rentals or bare boat rentals were regular yachts. We would learn later that Nikos and Daniela owned a fleet of regular yachts, which they had sold, and invested the money into their four catamarans with intentions of expanding their fleet at a later date. Nikos, in explaining his business moves, stated that catamarans were easier to sail and made for a more pleasurable tourist sailing experience.

A historical sanctuary

Delos was a mythological, historical, archeological site of epic proportions. It is a national historic site with major restrictions. We did not allocate enough time on Delos. Delos, for more than 1,000 years, was the political and religious center of the Aegean. Philosophical, intellectual thought was paramount here. People from all over the Aegean came to this sanctuary. This island was also centered on commerce due to its proximity to Constantinople, and the cult of Apollo was paramount. Monumental temples, buildings and sculptures dot the small island. Historically, much later, Delos and its evolvement into the League or union of city-states, mainly Sparta and Athens, became a central issue of the Peloponnesian Wars. The museum was outstanding. There are no inhabitants, only researchers and archeologists. French archeologists have a strong presence here and on other islands as well. We underestimated the time needed to view archeological treasures on this island.

My traveling photographic kit consisted of three lenses on a 4/3 mirrorless camera system and a tripod. I had left my primary DSLR system at home. Entering the Delos entrance, the attendant said no tripods.

After Delos, we stopped at Rinia, near Delos, and found a nice beach for swimming, lunch and a stroll on this very barren island. We immediately encountered stonewalls, which hindered our stroll. Nearing the top, goats streamed out of the shady stone dwellings. The goats were tethered front foot to rear by rope to limit their travels. The landscape was sparse, yet suitable for goats. Nikos said later that the goats were able to drink seawater as well as fresh water. I thought that was interesting as the Aegean Sea is very salty and buoyant. On the way back to the beach, I straddled the last stonewall and as I shifted my weight, the wall crumbled beneath me. Catching myself, I cut my left palm on a rock, which opened a significant wound. Poseidon was giving me a warning, and a wound. Poseidon, the god of the sea, would again come upon me. I submerged my hand in the salty Aegean Sea. Later, when we docked at Tinos, Daniela led me to a pharmacy along the wharf.

Poseidon’s revenge and making amends

We visited Tinos, another unique island, for our fourth night. Small, yet full of vitality, Tinos is the Lourdes of Greece with a major church atop the harbor hill, or hora. The church, with multiple walls and catacombs, was a fortress as well. It was the last island to fall to the Turks in 1723. Pilgrimage for the Greek faithful was evident. Tinos was a very important Venetian trading outpost and its architecture stood out.. The next morning a funeral procession wound along the wharf and proceeded up Main Street towards the church at the pinnacle. A black robed priest, in his distinct Orthodox hat, led the funeral procession.

We spent the fifth night at Siros, a significant island with very Venetian architecture. Siros, one of the largest islands, is also the capital of the Cycladic islands. Siros was also Embassy Row, with magnificent buildings that housed various embassies. It’s also the most fertile island, having the most rainfall and a self-sufficient agricultural basis. Its potatoes are well known. Cats were common and numerous. Siros is a definite tourist destination. Faith and I were enjoying the Cycladic islands.

In looking at the Mazarakis logbook, we noticed a good number of Colorado people who had signed in. Kea was our last island. Rather close to Athens, and with its suitable environment, Kea attracted developers. Oak and almond trees provided shade. We explored Kea’s nice beach. In the back of my mind, I had a hunch that Poseidon still had it in for me. Nikos’s inflatable raft was at the beach to take us back to the catamaran. Boarding the raft, my camera bag took a swim in the Aegean Sea. The images on the flash card were saved, however. Poseidon had his revenge for my accidental crumbling of his stonewall.

That night in Kea, Nikos and Daniela treated us to a very nice dinner in town. In the morning, Nikos anchored off a point not far from Lavrio so we could hike up to the Temple of Poseidon. I had to make amends to Poseidon. High on a mountainous point at Attica at Cape Sounion is the Temple of Poseidon. This point was strategic in the history of the ancient Greeks, and became a sanctuary as well as a fortified, walled site. Here, the Greeks built Poseidon’s temple. Archeology is ongoing, and the site is a national park. The temple is impressive with its commanding views of the sea. I treaded lightly around Poseidon’s temple and took note of the singular olive tree growing under its shadows, my acknowledgement to Poseidon. We descended to the beach, boarded the dingy and the catamaran and headed into the homeport of Lavrio. The Cycladic voyage had come full circle.

Raymond Bleesz lives in Edwards. Email comments about this story to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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