Our Mediterranean Adventure Part Four: The Mysterious and Enchanting Island of Mykonos

Leaving the grandiose spectacle of the wondrous ancient city of Athens, we set sail that evening, arriving the next morning at Mykonos, an island Southeast of the Greek mainland. This island, nestled in the sparkling blue waters of the Aegean Sea, was a strikingly barren and rocky terrain. Its mountains and hillsides were towering granite cathedrals, scraggy and jagged and textured. The scorched and craggy earth gave an almost hostile yet engrossing feeling, like visiting the surface of another planet. This rugged, arid landscape coupled with the pristine clear, blue-green waters of the Aegean was a meshing of worlds that was uncanny and bewildering, like finding some hidden oasis paradise on the surface of Mars.

The legend goes that the island was formed by the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules. As I thought about this, I realized it was a most fitting mythos for the character of this place. Many of the bare granite mountains bowed and bent in such a way as to almost resemble the arched backs of toppled over ancient giants, struck down from some grand and dramatic battle. White washed houses blanketed many of these petrified hills. The beaming whiteness of the houses against the reds and greys of the granite and clays reminded me of exposed bits of bone and vertebrae poking out from the bodies of these fallen giants. It was an astounding place to let the imagination run rampant.

The island consists of 10,000 inhabitants scattered about its various villages. One of the villages we visited was Ano Mera. This was a quaint, homey little village with narrow cobblestone streets winding through cafes, shops, bakeries, and taverns. Many of these stops had outside terraces for sitting and basking in the hot, sunny late spring weather. We sat down briefly at one of these cafes and enjoyed a light snack of hummus spread, falafels, assorted vegetables, and olives. We were also told to try the local Ouzo, an anise-flavored white opaque liquor popular in the area. It is usually diluted with water, as it is very strong and biting on its own. The drink was alluring and aromatic, with a strong licorice flavor along with other flavors that were utterly foreign to me but pleasant and inviting. The bite of the drink was an assault on the mouth, as our samples seemed minimally diluted, but the warming spirit of the drink was still like a charming hug from the people of the island.

Local families met at the cafes and taverns for lunch, their jovial communion permeating the air. Kids played football in the central public square, yelling and laughing with the fervent energy of youth. Cats walked casually about the square and cobblestone alleyways, social and welcoming to the bustle of strangers eager to pet them. I remember petting an orange cat who immediately laid down and ignored me as it was time for their midday bath. “A cat is a cat anywhere” I thought amusingly to myself with a small smirk, having been reminded of our cats back home.

Despite the sounds of the families and kids playing and the droves of tourists wandering through the shops and restaurants, the village gave off a quiet, peaceful air. The quietness was in a way its own sound and presence and superseded all of the rumble of the humans occupying it. I remember walking to the outskirts of the village by myself at one point while my wife shopped. There the quiet could be fully experienced. There were sectioned fields of both green and dried grasses, separated by small, stone walls. The gentle wind ran its fingers through these fields, making the landscape seem to dance with a vivacious spirit that I found profoundly peaceful. Beyond the fields, white rectangular houses dotted the distant hills, surrounded by dense shrubbery as the landscape slopped upwards, reaching for the sky. Past the houses and standing high atop the slopping hills were giant, steep mounds of granite that dwarfed the houses below. These gargantuan hunks of rock seemed to loom over the community below with a power and dominance that was felt to the core. I remember standing there enthralled at a landscape so other-worldly, enticing, and contradictory in the feelings it invoked, but ultimately culminating into a deep sense of calmness and serenity. Amidst the hustle and bustle and stress that can come with traveling, there staring out, I felt a stillness that I haven’t been able to capture in a long time. I took a deep breath in this timeless moment and walked back to the village square.

Standing tall above the village square was a 16th century monastery, the Panaqia Tourliani. This was the obvious focal point of the village, with its marble façade and belltower hanging over the square with a glorified dignity. There were chiseled images of religious figures and intricate woven patterns on the outer surface of the bell tower leading the eye up to the stacked columns and arches making up the top. The bells could be partially seen through the space created by the arches, hanging like songbirds in an elevated cage, waiting to bellow out their songs and chants to the masses below.

The interior of the monastery was even more striking. Golden chandeliers hung from the ceiling with equal parts beauty and complexity, interspersed with hanging bouquets of flowers beaming with different shades of purple. Taking up the entire back wall of the monastery were wood-carved depictions of saints and apostles interwoven with cherubs, bowls of fruit, flowers, and fauna. The dome in the middle of the space had an Eastern Orthodox style depiction of Jesus, gazing down at his flock with a daunting aura. The glowing golden and reddish-brown hues of the inner dome surrounding Jesus gave the sense of the ethereal, like the dome was an actual access point between heaven and earth. The separation of the mundane and the holy created from this illusion filled me with both adoration and unease.

The monastery gave off a firm sense of place, echoing and anchoring the history and religious beliefs of the people who have shared this island together through the centuries. It echoed the overall feeling that the island of Mykonos gave me. It gave me a strong sense of family and comradery. It felt like a tight-knit community of people. It felt like time screeched to a crawl here, leaving room for intimacy and breath. It was such a noticeable difference from the hustle and bustle of American life. I couldn’t help but to be overcome with a sense of envy and longing. This placed preached from the soft air surrounding us on the fundamental things we lack in our individualized, overloaded culture back home. The calming and stillness of this place and the neighborly nature of its people gifted me with something to prioritize in my own life. With this renewed energy, we made our way back to the ship in the late afternoon, eager for the journey ahead.

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