Postcards from Patmos

I got invited to a family friend’s Greek wedding earlier this year, and by Greek I mean taking place in Greece, specifically Patmos. I didn’t know the island at all, but I naturally wondered whether we’d be headed to the same chapel on the hill where Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan once said their not-so-final goodbyes to The winner takes it all….well of course not, but it did end up being the first ever beach wedding on the island, richly layered with historically holy stories. An Aside: the island that was the location of Mama Mia was Skopelos in the Western Aegean Sea, a place I doubt is as peaceful as it once was. Patmos on the other hand was perfectly peaceful and pretty as a postcard.

Getting to Patmos was easy enough, but an incredibly long and draining journey from Cape Town since I had to go via Dubai (or somewhere else), and because I was booked so late, I only had a choice of a 7 hour lay-over. But this only made sure that by the time my feet set themselves on the island, I was in dire need of Patmos’s pleasures more than ever. The Greece leg of the trip was a flight from Athens to Kos and then a 3 hour ferry to Patmos, which was totally bearable and incredibly scenic for my virginal eyes.

I especially loved the ferry and I would highly recommend it as means of travel between islands, especially if you’re a mild fan of Titanic and get giddy off a mile long tunnel of cabin doors. It’s a well orchestrated affair, with over night cabins, loads of space, lounging areas and most importantly a bar. It’s the closest I’ve come to a cruise liner, and features those nostalgic muted-toned textile chairs and couches associated for me with many hotels of the 90s.

Our arrival at the port in Patmos, was warmly greeted by a festive Patmos evening, which is the norm that time of year in Skala. I was immediately taken by the perfect perched white houses covering the hillsides – perhaps I was going to get my childhood Santorini dream after all.

Our hotel was a 2 minute walk from the port, and neatly named Skala Hotel. The bourgenvilia adorned hotel was chosen because of a connection to the bride and groom and despite having no choice in the matter, as my mom and I were following the wedding party, I was beyond pleasantly surprised.

The hotel was everything we needed and more. A 70s-styled marble laden lobby with dark wood finishes, a huge salt water pool attached to a circular bar with adjacent deck chairs and a new litter of kittens, air con, breakfast, and as I said purple bourgeonvilla in every view of the hotel. It was nothing short of perfect and just a few steps from the sea.

The first description I heard of Patmos was about its holiness, and variety of great beaches, hence the beach wedding! It’s earned it’s prominence as a destinations for Christians, as it is where the writings on St John’s book of revelations took place. We visited the exact cave where his spiritual awakenings were said to have occurred, and where he etched his visions and communications with God into the stone cave walls.


– Psili Amos beach – 

We also visited the famous Monestary of St John, perched at the top of a hill and the nunnery near by- this was truly fascinating. The monastery sits in the area of Chora and date sback to 1088, making it a world heritage site today. Today around 40 monks reside there.

It was a swelteringly hot day, the hottest of the entire trip, and this coincided with a very holy Sunday, the specifics of which fail me now. The nunnery was first, the nuns dressed head to toe in black, starting with veils and ending with black fabric brushing the ankles. The outfits reminded me of burkas. Some nuns were kneeling, others standing and this went on for ages in the intense heat.

 

A 10 minute walk up in about 35 degree heat was slightly less than pleasant but an ice lolly saw me through the worst of it. At the top I realised the monastery is not something I could’ve missed out on. You hear the singing as you enter through the ancient white wall surrounding the complex. No photos are allowed whatsoever. I embarrassingly understood the seriousness of this when I tried to snap a photo of a monk and his son arriving on a scooter. It was just the back of them but I was instantly scowled at and made sure I hid the camera for the duration, besides some discrete shots of the building.

In the main chapel the singing or rather chanting was incredibly moving, and something I felt really fortunate to have witnessed. The ornate, gold embellished interior of the tiny chapel was filled with men draped in black, huddled together devoutly serenading their God. Microphones lie near them to allow their voices to be heard outside where everyone respectfully watches and listens and snacks on the basket of sweet bread offered by the monks.

Our tour guide told us that the area surrounding the monastery is the most expensive bit of real estate per square metre in the whole of Europe. I am still struggling to find any information to back this up so perhaps he meant the whole of Greece, or the whole of Patmos.

Real estate is an element of the island that stood out prominently, mostly in the from of half built houses. I saw so many concrete slabs supporting concrete pillars with rebar jutting out, dotted around the island, some managing to make it to a second level. The reason behind this is the housing bubble that occurred in 2008 but also another reason is that legally, when Greeks enter into the building of a home, they are exempt from certain tax, so some are quite happy leaving their half built home.

There was something quite beautiful about these forgotten houses. They were like sculptures that had become integrated with the mountains they sit on, casting bold shadows on Greece’s dry earth, and becoming connected with the surrounding fauna.

The rest of the trip will be shown in photos. There’s a pass through Kos, which was a very different Greece to Patmos. Kos really felt the devastation of the migrant crisis on the economy,  mostly in the loss of tourism. Restaurants and shops were desperate and the streets were bare, noticeable even to a first-timer on the islands.


– Agios Focus beach club, Kos – 


– Abandoned hotel in Kos, Albatross Beach Hotel – 

Other photos are from Athens which really surprised me. I hadn’t realised just how exceptional this city is, never feeling a pull to visit. But the experience was so enriching and I long to go back to explore the city more having only had 2 days there. I was struck by the vast amount of architecturally proud apartment blocks, as well as the juxtaposing environments both rough and polished, and also the prominant historical and cultural facets that lie compactly next to a a newer, vibrant, energetic city.

   

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