Early morning, people leaving the Athens area for the Easter weekend
Wake-up call at 5:00 a.m., and bags out at 5:30. Quick breakfast, to be on the bus by 6:00. All this to arrive at the ferry about an hour ahead of its 7:30 departure.
The ferry is crowded because people are going home for Easter – to Paros in our ferry. Although the ferry is very large with nice lounges, today people are stuffed everywhere, including along the hallways in stacking chairs. Fortunately, we are in first class with comfortable chairs. Except I spent the first 1 ½ hours outdoors at the back with the smokers to counteract sea motion. The engine obliterates sway. But, now, because we have moved away from land, the wind is stronger and chillier, so I am back in our comfortable lounge, ignoring the motion.
Shortly after writing the above, the swells got larger, and I headed quickly to the outdoors, chewing Travel Gum. This seems to be a topical anesthetic that numbs nerves in the mouth and stomach and perhaps the Eustachian tubes. For the remaining hour or so I watched the horizon and the decorative spume from the ferry’s wake and tried (unsuccessfully) to think of something besides my seasickness. This makes
The blue Aegean - cold and windy!
me worry for the rest of the trip – a feeling that diminished as soon as we slowed down in Paros harbour.
During lunch our guide found out that the owner-operator of our boat to Delos and Mykonos had just died of a heart attack and the only substitute was a short, small boat ride to Anti-Paros for a look around and lunch. Most of us were sympathetic but disappointed, which later led to a confab and further discussion with Kriton. There are no other options because ferries don’t operate across these islands until summer (end of May).
Our lunch was certainly welcomed by me, whose stomach wanted filling. The starter was cooked zucchini, tomato and potato in a delicious sauce. Then a fresh tomato-cucumber salad – the tomatoes were tough but deliciously sweet. Main course was chicken kebabs with fries – a bit dry but tasty. Dessert for the others was “milk pie” – looked like filo pastry and pudding – and for me the almond “cake”, like yesterday.
We had a short drive to
Beautiful relief - the island and town of Paros
the Eri Hotel – the image of a Greek place – white plastered blocks, wooden shutters giving onto a small balcony, blue and white furnishings overlooking green dusty land and the blue sea. Only it’s cold here! After a refreshing nap I made my way to the veranda, seeking some warmth from the sun. That effort was short-lived because it was time for our lecture - a most interesting run through Greek history from pre-history to the end of the Mycenaean era, punctuated for me by many cups of hot water. That eventually returned me to a reasonable temperature and finally diluted the muzzy after-effects of Travel Gum.
Again before dinner we “sun bathed” with all our clothes on, as one tour participant phrased it. Then during our salad course, the sun put on a beautiful orange display in setting. Dinner was excellent: chicken-rice-lemon soup, a delicious green salad with a robust kind of lettuce cut chiffonade and green onions, and a large slice of white fish with non-entity mixed frozen vegetables. I added two glasses of white wine.
We met up again at 10:30 p.m. and walked into town, about ten minutes. Crowds were in the main
A holy aura near midnight
square, and we moved through to the thick throng of people in the cathedral. Our lecturer had told us this was the world’s oldest church, because Constantine built it the year after his Edict of Milan freeing all religions. Until then, the lecturer said, no one built a church in case Christianity fell once again into disfavor. Justinian added the second storey, and the church has never been rebuilt, remodeled or expanded since.
The church is relatively small, in the shape of an x-type cross, i.e., nave not much longer than the transepts. The walls and the second level (balconies) are heavy grey stone. For Easter the flower-decorated “epitaph”, the bier of Christ, dominates the centre. Everyone in the congregation, which slowly heaves with people coming and going, stands shoulder to shoulder, tightly packed. As we entered and inserted ourselves into the crowd, the younger people were crouching low to pass under the epitaph, a fertility ritual according to this afternoon’s lecturer.
The archbishop, in a gold embroidered white hat, and three priests in black hats, all with golden damask copes, were circling the epitaph, chanting with the cantor. The congregation was singing softly and then at certain
Dazzling light from the chandelier
times everyone sang a hymn, presumably, with the priests and cantor. Our lecturer said it was the same hymn sung over and over. Fairly regularly, the priests paraded in a cloverleaf pattern through the crowd, causing more organic heaves as everyone squished even closer together to let them pass. I received puffs of incense/ holy smoke three times, and towards the end, two sprinkles of holy water. Near the end came a shower of rose petals.
When boys came from somewhere near the altar and paraded symbols out the door, I followed them into the courtyard where many more people waited. Surprisingly, I found a place beside one line of boys and by a low stone fence. After waiting longer than expected, I was rewarded with an excellent view of the procession of the chanting priests, the flower-covered epitaph, the icon, and other symbols. The crowd (and I) surged into the procession down to the windmill that marks the city centre. Here two other church processions met ours and more chanting/singing celebrated this massive congregation. This procession continued further, but I broke off, afraid of not find the church again.
Finding the church was easy, but finding the
Beginning the procession through town
road to the hotel was difficult. Neither of the two roads seemed correct when I walked down them a bit. Finally I worked up the courage to say, “Parakalo. Eri Hotel?”, to some passersby. They turned out to be French people who spoke excellent English! But they didn’t confidently know the way to my hotel. They suggested asking in a shop, but they were all closed – after midnight. But I realized that the nearby café could help. The young woman at the bar didn’t know the hotel at all; so I did what Kriton suggested early on our trip and asked if they could call his cell-phone. She went into the back and came out with a rather exasperated chef/waiter(?) who told me to go to the white building and go straight. Almost every building is white here! When I asked another confused question, he marched me out and pointed to a building in the opposite direction! This worked – in moment I recognized the road, and it took only twelve minutes to walk briskly along the road to the hotel. Missing sidewalks were a bit challenging, but traffic was light.
Not true. It was endowed by Constantine’s mother on her pilgrimage to the holy land and endured hard times through the many wars in Greece.
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