17th - 21st September
Niki's parents were keen to take us on a cruise (something that I found out is very popular among Cypriots). We boarded the Princessa Marissa on the Monday and headed off into the Aegean sea to visit 5 of the Greek Islands.
In the 4 days, we visited 5 islands, first Patmos, then Tinos, followed by Paros, then by Simi, and finally Rhodes. When all was said and done, I have to confess that if I wanted to see the Greek islands, an island hopping cruise would not be the way I would choose to do it. At each island we had between 5 and 7 hours before we had to be back on board. The lovely people on the ship had already confiscated our passports, holding them as ransom, just in case we got any ideas about staying on one of the islands. Even as small as some of the Greek islands are, 5 - 7 hours doesn't really give you a lot of opportunity to explore. In fact it barely gives you enough time to walk past the streets of tacky tourist souvenir shops that are conveniently located directly in front of where you get off the ship. We made an effort on every island to wonder off away from the "tourist strip", to get a glimpse of the daily life of the people who live there, and so I didn't have to write the phrase, "if you go to [insert island name here] you just have to check out the tourist shops". On some islands it was more difficult than others.
The legendary island where St John wrote the book of Revelations. Once you got away from all the tourist shops, we found the labyrinthine streets rising into the mountain a fantastic place to get lost amongst the white washed houses, each of which was completely unique having to adapt to the contours of its surroundings.
The church at Tinos was apparently very famous, and apparently a pilgrimage site for many Greek Orthodox. There were the standard icons that everyone insisted on kissing, but then there was also a tap that lots of people were frantically filling up bottles from. Niki's father explained to me that the icons were found buried there near the natural mountain springs, and as such the springs were considered in some way holy. His attitude was somewhat more pragmatic, telling me that at one point in the early church there was a division over the the icons one group claiming that of certain members pertaining to the icons was tantamount to idolatry, probably true enough, but of course in true religious style, persecution ensued, and the people who liked the icons fled, and set up communities near water supplies and buried the icons so that they wouldn't be discovered and destroyed by the persecutors. Of course the church makes money by selling this water bottled to people claiming that it has healing properties, a practice that Varnavas calls out right exploitation, and I couldn't agree more.
One thing in Tinos that really bothered me was an old woman I saw on the steep road to the hill. She was crawling slowly along the roadside, inch by inch up the quite steep hill that led to the church. It was obvious she'd been doing this since the bottom of the hill which was quite some way down below us, and she still had a fair way to go. I found it quite difficult to imagine the line of logic that this woman has swallowed to cause her to think that in her old age that she should perform this supplication in order to twist Gods arm into hearing her prayers, and struggled to come to terms with what it might be she wanted so badly from this sadistic God that required this kind of penance.
Also there were a lot of shops selling candles that you could take to the church and light as you said a prayer. What bothered me was the different sizes of candles, ranging from the fairly small to the massive, (and with the associated price scale). I sarcastically said to Varnavas that the idea is the probability of having your prayers answered was proportional to the size of the candle you purchased.
I think Paros was probably my favourite, probably because we actually decided to go on one of the (overpriced) shore tours where they take you around to various places and teach you a bit about the local area. We went to 2 churches (there are just so many churches everywhere), and a vineyard. I also learnt that Paros is famous for it's marble, which was perfect for sculptures.
Apparently Simi has a population of about 1200 people, so it is one of the smaller Greek Islands. Loved the houses build into the mountain side, and the enormous stair cases to get to them.
Rhodes was a very busy place, lots of castles and other ancient structures.
More than the actual islands I actually enjoyed the cruise itself. It was a good opportunity to get away from everything, and be forced to relax. There was not internet connection on the ship (or at least I chose not to search one out). There was no phone reception when you were between islands. All your meals were taken care of, literally nothing to do. So we read, we played backgammon, we played cards we walked around the ship, we slept, we ate, we drank, we watched really tacky cabaret etc....
One evil thought did occur to me while on board. I realised why Cyprus doesn't really have a culture of aged care institutions. It seemed to me just from the sheer volume of elderly people blocking the stairs every time I needed to go between decks, and sitting around in the lounges or out on the deck, that the cruise ships were essentially floating old peoples homes.