Friday, August 6, 2021

August 6th – Blessed Are The Cheesemakers in Mykonos

Mykonos is famous for its gorgeous beaches, its hedonistic clubs, and its upmarket restaurants, but today we were finding out about another less famous side of this pleasure island – its cheese. Because, as we found out today, there’s a long tradition of cheesemaking on the island, that its Jet-Set visitors probably know nothing about.

We joined another SALT tour (thanks Leandro!) that paid a visit to “Myknonos Farmers” a small-scale enterprise that’s trying to re-introduce traditional island methods into their cheesemaking. The enthusiastic owner Giorgios Syrianos explained that he wanted to replicate what his Grandmother and Mother had done before him, using the best locally-grown produce without any chemicals or additives. He made it sound delightfully simple, and he showed us that simple really is best when it comes to producing tasty and distinctive cheese.

He told us that he wouldn’t produce feta – “you can find that anywhere in Greece, I want something truly local”, so he showed us how he made a ricotta-like cheese, a hard and crumbly one, a gruyere-like one, a boiled cheese, and a distinctively tangy fermented one. Unfortunately I can’t spell or pronounce any of them, so just take my word for it that each one was lovely in its own way.

We thought we were just going for a tasting, but it turned into a full-blown meal, as he rustled up some handmade cheesy-onion ravioli, some hearty pastitsio (the Greek version of lasagne made with long pasta), and a crunchy pastry dessert. All wonderful.

It feels like we’ve been eating non-stop for the last month, so it was appropriate that our final day in the Greek Islands was a day of glorious gluttony. Blessed indeed are the Cheesemakers.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

August 5th – Meeting the Minoans in Heraklion

It was too hot for us to pay a visit to the amazing Palace of Knossos just outside Heraklion (in fact, the site has been shut for a couple of days because of the extreme heat that’s currently roasting Greece), so today we did the next best thing and visited Heraklion’s wonderful Archaeological Museum, which did a great job of filling in the gaps behind the mysterious Minoan civilisation (in the air-conditioned cool too).

As we walked around the exhibits of delicate jewellery, exquisite statues and detailed frescoes from the Minoan era, you constantly had to remind yourself that what we were looking at was at least 3,500 years old. While most of the rest of Europe was living in the stone age (Stonehenge was probably built a couple of hundred years before the Palace of Knossos), here was the first flourishing of western art in Europe’s first ever urban culture.

As we perused the exhibits, we saw echoes of so many designs that were to follow thousands of years later – Picasso’s pottery, Matisse’s cut-outs, Cartier’s jewellery – it all went to show that there’s not much that’s new in the art world, just clever recycling and re-imagining. 

It was fascinating to see that once the Minoan Golden Age had disintegrated (around 1450 BC – from a combination of in-fighting and the effects of the massive eruption at Santorini, the biggest explosion in recorded history), how far backwards the culture went. Unless you have a prosperous and well-organised society, you just don’t have the luxury of time to decorate your pots, or develop artwork.

In fact, as we progressed through the museum, it was obvious that western civilisation had gone into a severe decline for about the next 900 years – it was like we were going backwards through time. Then, of course, the classical period of Ancient Greece started, and the world (and the arts) started going forwards again. This is definitely in the Top 5 Museums in Greece.

The rest of our day was spent enjoying the pleasant atmosphere of modern Heraklion, a town that has a busy buzz, but one that hasn’t given itself over to the tourist trade. To me, this is the most pleasant urban environment in Greece – vibrant streets, good shopping, historic buildings, great restaurants, and….. a wonderful museum.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

August 3rd – Wining and Dining In Cyprus

When it’s 100F again, it is essential that you keep hydrated. So, fortunately I was joining a tour (on Silversea’s new SALT Programme – Sea and Land Taste), to one of Cyprus’s best wineries to do some sampling of the island’s under-rated wine scene with local expert Florentia Kythreotou.

As we headed up into the hills, it seemed like these parched landscapes would never be able to sustain a wine industry; but, once we’d climbed up to about 800m above sea level, we started to see terraces of green vines. The winery itself – the Oenou Yi Winery in Omodos – was stunning – its white limestone building looking sleek and modern, with amazing views over the valley below.

It was immediately obvious that no expense had been spared on this place – the building was cool and stylish, and the winery equipment all brand-new and state-of-the-art – an investment that showed the owner’s ambition to put Cyprus’s unheralded wine scene on the map. We were greeted by our unbelievably enthusiastic host, Mikhail, who made sure that we had a full wine glass in our hands within seconds of us entering the building. Who cares if it wasn’t even 10am?

Cyprus has been growing vines for hundreds of years; in fact, it was one of the few places in Europe to escape the phylloxera vine pandemic that pretty much wiped out the rest of the continent’s vineyards in the late 19th century. But, until the 1990s, the emphasis had been on quantity not quality, and little importance had been placed on accentuating the unique qualities of the local vines – endemic vines which are able to cope with the island’s extreme heat.

It was fascinating to chat to the vineyard’s young, female wine maker who explained that producing wine is part science, part art – you have to trust the climate, soil and grapes to produce something special, but you use every available piece of science to give it the best chance. From our tastings, they seem to have got that combination spot on.

For me, the ros̩ and the white were the best Рdelicate but packing a punch; while the dark red would have been great with a hearty, meaty meal. Every element of this winery showed their enthusiasm to continually improve, and their passion for their business. In fact, it felt like more than a business Рit felt like visiting a family proud of its offspring.

By 12pm, we had tasted 5 delicious wines and 1 stupefying zivania, and we were now feeling a little giddy, so it was time to head down into Omodos Village to get some food into our stomachs to soak up all that wine. On the way, we had a demonstration of how they make a local dessert speciality called “Palouze”, a rather gelatinous and sugary mixture that didn’t seem to suit everyone’s tastes. However, the lunch itself was great – loads of different mezze that just kept on coming. It didn’t come as a surprise that it was a pretty quiet coach ride back, as everyone slept off the over-indulgence.

This was a really excellent tour that has made me look at Cypriot wine in a different way – not much gets exported, but it’s worth looking out for.


Sunday, August 1, 2021

August 1st – If You Can’t Stand The Heat In Rhodes…..

…..get into the water. 

Phewee it was hot today – 100F for most of the day. Any breezes blowing were hot and a little smoke-tinged (from fires raging on the Turkish coast – only 11 miles away, just visible through the haze). 

Our idea was to find a museum we had heard about, that supposedly displayed an amazing ancient navigational tool that was well ahead of its time. Unfortunately, no-one had heard of this mythical museum, and it was getting too hot to continue our search – if anyone has heard of it, let me know.

As we walked through the sultry medieval streets of the atmospheric Old Town, we were wondering where all the people had gone – surely it couldn’t just be the pandemic (especially when we know that tourist numbers here are on the rise from our last visit)? But, as we got to Elli Beach (just a 15-minute walk from the ship), it was obvious where all the people were – they'd had the same idea as us, to head to the waters. Actually, most people had a slightly different idea from us, roasting themselves on their sunbeds on the beach, whilst we sheltered in the shade of a bar.

We had headed to a trendy beach bar called Baia whose chilled-out music got steadily more thumping as the day wore on. It was full of attractive, tanned young people, so a couple of deathly-white middle-aged old codgers hardly stood out at all! But, the service was impeccable, the food was good, and the over-priced drinks were cold, and every time the temperature got too hot it was just a short walk to the incredibly turquoise waters to cool down. Bliss!

We’re not normally beach people, but it’s the only place to go on a scorcher like today. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

July 31st - Enjoying the Quieter Patmos-phere

If Paros yesterday felt like it was getting packed with tourists, then quiet Patmos was the perfect antidote to that. The “Island of the Apocalypse” isn’t on the main ferry routes and doesn’t have an airport, and while its narrow beaches are pleasant enough it’s not really a beach destination. In my book, none of that is a negative – this is a place for discerning travellers who love Greek island life, without the tourist frenzy.

On a boiling hot day, we were glad that we had made the arduous trek up to St John’s Monastery last time we were here, because this was a day for gentle strolling and quiet relaxation. Even that was a struggle in this heat – sunglasses that were on the table in the shade, felt like they’d been left in the oven; while cold water bottles turned warm within an hour.

On an island of tranquil monasteries and a low-key restaurants, Patmos is a place to just slow down and relax. In this heat it was difficult to do anything else.


July 30th – Paros is Marble-lous

Back in ancient times the island of Paros was the chief source of marble for the best of ancient Greek sculpture – the Venus de Milo and the Winged Nike of Samothrace were both created from Parian marble. And even if there’s nothing ancient left standing on the island today, you don’t have to look hard to find traces of Paros’s marble-lous past. Facing Parikia’s waterfront, the walls of the old Venetian castle are made up a jumble of old marble columns, blocks and pediments – so many that you think that the temple they were taken from must have been pretty impressive.

And, walking around town, you notice that so many of the houses have blocks of ancient carved marble or columns set into their walls or used as window frames. Those picturesque narrow streets were lined with shop after shop selling floaty dresses and sandals – it was a commercialised atmosphere, but more low-key and less high-end than Mykonos.

Actually, they always used to say that Paros is like Mykonos used to be 30 years ago. But, Paros is definitely on the same path as Mykonos – you just had to look at the hordes of young people piling off the ferries that were arriving fairly constantly, to know that word has got out about this lovely island. I was surprised at just how busy those packed ferries were – not much room for social distancing in the queues to get on and off. 

In fact, seeing those crowds of carefree (and probably unvaccinated) youngsters made us cancel our plans to catch the bus to Naoussa, so we limited our exploring to Parikia instead. Surprisingly, the town wasn’t massively busy (the hordes just dissipated to their beach resorts around the island), so it was fun just to wander the maze of picturesque streets and see what we came across next.

We called in at the Archaeological Museum to see its collection of marble sculptures. Of course, the best sculptures from Parian marble were sent off all around the Ancient Greek world (Paros wasn’t really a centre for sculpture at all), but there were a few interesting pieces to look at -  my favourite being a fearsome looking Gorgon from the 6th century BC.

We also called in at the Church of Our Lady of 100 Doors – an intriguing complex of interlocked religious buildings that dates back to the 6th century AD, making it one of the oldest functioning churches in the world.  

By now, it was getting super-hot, so we retreated back to the ship until things cooled down a little. We waited until the sun was going down before heading to the town’s small beach for a swim. Paros is famous for its fabulous sandy beaches, and while the town beach isn’t a patch on the island’s more famous ones (it’s a little rocky underfoot as you walk in), it still felt pretty idyllic as the light turned golden and you could lie in the warm sun without being roasted alive.

The perfect way to finish another wonderful day in the Greek Islands.