Aside from love, few activities seem to promise us as much happiness as going travelling; taking off for somewhere else, somewhere far from home, a place with more interesting weather, customs and landscapes ……… So says Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel
WHY IOS? For all the above reasons – and the food and romance. It was our 40th wedding anniversary and we were doing our usual thing in Greece of wanting to explore an island we had, so far, never visited. There are over 300 Greek Islands and we had ticked off about thirty and Ios just happened to be on the ferry route back from Crete – our previous port of call on this trip.
ONE OF THE MARVELLOUS THINGS ABOUT THE GREEK ISLANDS is that they are all unique and a joy to explore – and, if they are not to your liking, you just go to another one. You may be tempted to hop off an interisland ferry into a glittering whitewashed harbour – only to find that this island may not be charming at all; well, not what you are looking for. So, you do as we have often done – sail away the next day to a different one and see what happens? Sometimes you can be totally surprised. This is how we ended up on Ios.
OUR RELUCTANCE TO VISIT IOS WAS ITS REPUTATION AS A PARTY ISLAND – a magnate for the young, buffed, beautiful and drunk – hence the reason why we had never hopped off a ferry before when we were on the Cycladic run from Athens, although the pretty harbour of Ormos always looked tempting. But me mate reassured me that we could mostly avoid them by travelling across the island to Mylopotas Beach – a sweeping sandy bay that is said to be the finest in Greece (“you can do your laps there Nanma“), beautiful hotel Dionysos (“it’s too expensive for the rabble”) and local bus service all around the island (“you wait and see – there’s something special?”). Michael was right on all counts. Greece was also in the middle of its crippling financial crisis and it was pretty quiet everywhere.
IOS is a really beautiful small island in the Cyclades group – halfway between Naxos and Santorini – which are both clearly visible from any vantage point on the island. It has a handful of stunning sandy beaches and several small peaks topped with blue-domed churches, matchbox white-washed villages and many ancient windmills – that were just begging for the sketch book to come out. Ios also reflects its typically Greek rich history of invasion reaching back into antiquity – from the Minoans, Phoenicians, Romans, Turks and Venetians and not forgetting marauding pirates and its German occupation during WW2 – hence the hilltop fortifications. Walking around these villages you find yourself doing a double-take thinking that a marble column, that is holding up a house, looks like something from a Roman temple – and you would not be wrong – pieces of pilfered architectural antiquity have been used with ingenuity by the locals.
I BELIEVE THE ART OF TRAVEL IS TO GO FULLY PREPARED, BUT WITHOUT PRECONCEPTION. I know that this sounds like a contradiction but it works for me. What I mean is that it helps to understand something about the geography, history, culture, and customs of the place, but not to have every day planned – and be prepared to go off the beaten track because you never know what you might find? That’s when we bumped into Homer on Ios – this was Michael’s ‘something special” for me.
WE HAD TAKEN THE BUS UP TO THE CHORA – THE MAIN VILLAGE – full of stairs, cobbled pathways, no cars, typical white-washed Cycladic houses and chocker-block full of bars, boutiques and discotheques – now peacefully quiet in the morning. We carried on walking up to the KASTRO – the highest fortified peak – and then higher into the herb-scented hillside. That’s when we bumped into donkey man who pointed to himself and indicated that his name was Homer – not a surprise in Greece because we had already met many Aristotles and Socrates‘. Then, with his stick, he pointed further up the path and indicated that we should go – and so we did. The views were glorious – across the stained glass blue Aegean to the surrounding islands with the smell of crushed thyme underfoot.
THE PATH BECAME A WORK OF ART with drystone walls, flagging and intermittent stone signs – all in Greek – with elaborately etched little pictures surrounding the script. That’s when me mate let me into his secret – this path lead to HOMER’S TOMB. He knew that I loved the epic Homeric tales of the Odyssey and Iliad – which started when I studied them at school (as a way of getting out of physics and chemistry) – so I was duly blown away, but a little sceptical because controversy has always raged over whether Homer was a real person or merely part of the whole Greek construct of myths and legends. But, just for today, I could believe it was real.
THE SIGN AT THE TOMB WAS THANKFULLY IN ENGLISH with wonderful information from Greek scholars as to the veracity of latest research into the HOMERIC story. This is an overview for anyone who is interested (via the British Library website) – otherwise you can skip this bit and get to the romance part.
- Homer is often depicted as being blind and this was certainly a myth invented to account for the fact that the Homeric poems originally evolved orally, before the development of writing in Greece, by being performed and passed down from bard to bard.
- The Tales of the Trojan War and parts of the story and characters in the Odyssey were well known 400 years before they were attributed to Homer and are a chronological jumble. He was probably the scribe that pulled them together and added bits of his own prose?
- Homer is said to have come from Smyrna – the coast of present day Turkey and just south of Troy, and one of the compelling facts that link him to these epic poems are direct references and language in the texts referring to the place where he was supposedly born and grew up.
- Homer apparently died on Ios (his mother was born there) after ignoring a warning from the Oracle at Delphi that sealed his fate – this was sometime in the 8th century BC? (The miserable predictions of ‘The Oracle’ never surprised me after I went to Delphi and saw where she sat, year in year out, on top of a very uncomfortable tripod!)
SO, THIS WAS THE END TO A VERY MEMORABLE 40th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY. Michael had been carrying around a bottle of Moet and we wandered up to a lovely taverna nestled under a cliff at the end of the beach. So it was champagne with some delicious barbecued fish looking over the sparkling sea and bobbing fishing boats. At the end of the meal the staff came out carrying dessert with sparklers in it saying “Oh you must be the Australians staying at the Dionysus and it is your 40th wedding anniversary – congratulations – this is from us” Greek Islands, the Greeks – I love them.
In loving memory of my dear husband Michael. 25/9/46-25/11/21
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