We were up early — before dawn in fact — cameras at the ready we strode purposefully out into the Mykonos pre-dawn. A bright waning moon tumbled from the sky, bidding the sun to make its appearance as we zigzagged up the hill behind us, trying to get bearings on the famous windmills. Everyone that comes has pictures of them, perhaps a strange fascination for non-Europeans and I was about to add to their ranks.
Lorraine, refreshed from a good night’s sleep, clicked eagerly away as we descended again to the main road and headed north-west towards Hora, the main part of town. This is a name commonly used throughout the Greek Islands for the central business district.
As we got closer we lost sight of the windmills and a sentence kept bouncing around in my brain that I had read in virtualtourist, “You will get lost in Mykonos”. The streets narrowed as we wound our way up a small incline, turning left at the first major intersection and flowing into the maze of Mykonos City.
There’s conjecture that the word ‘labyrinth’ originated in Greece; fumbling through the alleyways of Mykonos I’m in no doubt about that. The bizarre pattern of lanes speaks volumes for the culture of Greece. No strong organisation, willy nilly development, rubbish everywhere and yet somehow everything looks alright with a coat of whitewash.
As a footnote to that, 30 years ago the mayor of Mykonos decreed that the women of the town should whitewash their doors and front steps every Saturday. Couldn’t see that working in Sydney but hey, it works here.
We were like two kids in a fantasy land of cobbled streets, shops displaying their wonderful variety of wares; here some lace work, there delightfully coloured clothing, jewellery tucked away in a corner, cafes rattling tables as they commenced business for the day and the wafting odour of a bakery that taunted me for two blocks.
An hour passed and still no sign of the windmills so I started navigating seriously, working out the east from the sun’s tenuous rays and moving accordingly towards the west. It all sounds good in theory but the twists and beguiling turns defy logic and one wondrous laneway after another taunts your eye and beckons you to saunter from your moments of clarity once again into the puzzle.
Then, suddenly, after another half hour, we chanced (and I use the word advisedly) upon the windmills. We were later to realise that we’d never been further than about 500m from them and mostly less than 200m. Indeed, one passage had been only about 30m away yet they’d remained invisible.
Two Chinese ladies, who requested my assistance in taking some happy snaps of their holiday in front of the windmills, were shocked to learn that we’d already been up for an hour and a half. I wasn’t surprised that they would approach an attractive debonair Australian such as me to take their photo though it is also fair to suggest that I was the only person there as Lorraine was around the back.
Finally sated with our wanderings, we returned for breakfast.
It was almost hot at times on the way back. Pockets of windless streets bathed in sunlight had us removing clothing, only to be wearing them minutes later when a cloud came over and we were exposed to the cool breezes.
We had a total pig out at breakfast, sampling up to 20 different items each and comparing notes as we gorged and gazed through the picture windows across to Syros, a large island about 15km distant. This was living, Greek Islands’ style.
It was time to go and rent a bike. We’d had a chat with a Kiwi couple at breakfast and he was recommending the quad bikes because he worked on a farm where he used motorcycles and he loved the change. I rented a scooter against their advice; though he had warned us they’re only 50cc, the maximum allowed on the island. I wouldn’t say they’re underpowered, but, with two up on a steep hill, walking becomes a considered option.
Lorraine didn’t take to the bike really well at all. The wide spread of the seating position didn’t suit her physique and the bumps, when transmitted to her already in-pain back, made life a misery. We managed to get to Panaga and Paradiso beaches, the latter a bit of a misnomer if ever there was one. A long-disused bar, neglected carpark and assorted bits of rubbish lying around didn’t endear it to either of us. Perhaps we should have aimed for Super Paradiso, the next beach along; it’s gay and nudist; that might have at least had something to offer the eye.
We passed by church after church, mostly family chapels, many of them used as ossuaries, all with only two colours, white and red. There are around 500 on this small island with 80 in the city alone.
We pulled up at Hora and spent more time in the magical cobbled whitewash fantasyland, eventually dining at a restaurant in Little Venice, where a row of buildings meet the sea, literally. For atmosphere and food, the place was a delight, with splendid artworks, soothing music and a view beyond compare to make you even happier.
Lorraine was exhausted by the time I dropped her off and ready for an afternoon at the computer. Thus released, I headed off to another point on the island before switching back on a ridge line and heading across to the other side. My goal was an architectural site and whatever else I might come across.
“Whatever else” happened to be an artist’s house that immediately rocketed into my top 10 all time extraordinary residences that I’ve viewed. Apparently all houses are supposed to be blue and white but this person bucked the trend big time with a plethora of hues and shapes. An amazing garden comes with the residence, far and away the standout of Mykonos. And I thought artists were supposed to be poor!
I was looking to turn left to visit a bay where a Neolithic site is but, not having found the turn, went right instead, heading uphill a little to a possible view. The road, so called, eventually deteriorated and narrowed even further if that was possible but I plunged on and came to another leading down to a beach. Since it was even more obscure than the disappointing ones we’d already visited I turned around and went looking for a historical site, finding one not far from where I’d turned off previously.
As I later found out, it dates back to Byzantine times but there’s almost nothing left except the remains of a tower or two. I was on a high point called Paleokastro and right at the apex was, you guessed it, another church.
Fate intervened here. I’d left the scooter resting on its side stand; a car went by extremely close and the resulting movement of air caused the scooter to topple over and, as my helmet rattled across the pavement, I had visions of a trashed vehicle and having to explain it all to the rental company. Rushing back down the hill in despair I reached the bike and propped it up again, expecting the worst. It transpired that the tip of the brake lever had snapped off and a rear vision mirror was flapping in the breeze; other than that, it appeared rideable.
I returned to the mount and its splendid views over the countryside and Aegean Sea and ventured inside the chapel on this windswept mount to see votive offerings in memory of the departed and soak up some of the atmosphere of such a place, remote even on this small island. I thought of what a different experience it was to the throngs in the back streets of Hora.
I judged I had time for one more exploit and so headed off to an obscure place called Fokos, which was beyond a lake. I turned off onto a narrow lane that progressively became narrower, then became dirt, then became pot-holed dirt. As I slowly trolled past the man-made lake I wondered why it was out at this dead end place that soon became more dead end when I reached Fokos. Here was a smattering of half a dozen houses and an advertised taverna that obviously hadn’t been opened for some time, yet the setting was a delight. A lovely coarse grained sandy beach and crystal clear waters with a rocky arch jutting out of the sea on the headland seemed like a nice place to get away from it all.
I tarried awhile before swinging my leg over again and heading back to base, or so I thought, for just 100 metres up the first hill the motor cut out and refused to restart. I pushed it to the top of the hill, unsure why when I could have stayed where I was but it seemed more comfortable on the flat by the dam wall.
Uncertainty crept into my thoughts. Lorraine would be in a panic if I didn’t return on time and I had no phone and had been warned there might not be reception in remote areas like this; no motorised vehicle had passed this way for half an hour. A storm cloud was rising in the west; my darkest day was nigh when suddenly a Mercedes loaded with six people arrived and I waved furiously. Salvation was at hand and as one of the crew rang the hire company I rejoiced in the fact that the phone rang at the other end and help was promised immediately.
My profuse thanks were uttered as they drove off and said they would pick me up on the way back if help hadn’t arrived. Help did arrive about one minute before they did and, after checking a few things, located the problem in a hidden location; it was an electrical connection and I was under way again, chasing the Mercedes and the repair vehicle along the potholed road as they had to continually slow.
Riding back was decidedly uncomfortable; doing 60 downhill into a 60 kph wind was a decidedly unpleasant experience on the little motor scooter.
Returning it to the hirer was unpleasant as well; after I got him to ring the hotel to let Lorraine know I was okay he brusquely enquired as to what I was doing out at Fokos in the first place. I said the map indicated a secondary road and a lake so I went there; no one warned me what a forlorn place it was. I was about to tell him about the lever but he clearly didn’t want to know so I walked off back to the hotel and pondered what an eventful day it had been; it became even more eventful when I got back to the room and discovered Lorraine hadn’t been notified.
Still, we got to finish off in the Mykonos Bay Hotel with yet another splendid meal served by the most helpful staff we’d ever come across. We can’t speak highly enough about their attitude and the works of art they have decorated the place with are truly amazing.