Syros, Greece: The Hard Way to Learn Greek

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Syros, Greece: The Hard Way to Learn Greek

I flew from Australia to Greece via Switzerland. This was a relaxing way to arrive in Europe. After some time in Zurich and Italy on Lake Como, I took a direct flight from Milan Malpensa to Athens, then a tiny little plane to Syros Island, Greece.

You see, I had a reason to visit Greece, and Syros in particular. I was learning Greek. “Why is an Australian girl going all the way to a Greek Island to learn Greek?” You ask. “Love,” I smile. Yes, it is true, I fell in love with a Greek-Australian man, and that, as they say, is another story…

Arriving in Syros on the tiny little plane, I reveled in the mellifluous Greek spoken over the loud speakers, I loved watching the alarmingly beautiful stewardess sit and file her nails at the top of the isle in a sexy, desultory, relaxed Greek way. I cannot imagine a Qantas stewardess doing that. Somehow, it fitted with the modern Greek attitude. All her body language said “look at me, I am glamorous, I have a cushy job, and I can do exactly what I want.”

Arriving in Syros

Taking a taxi from the airport to the tiny little beachside village of Azolimnos, I found Irini at the corner taverna, who took me to my apartment. She was young and friendly and overworked, she looked like she needed a holiday, not me. As it was September, she had probably just worked 24/7 throughout the summer serving breakfast, lunch and dinner by the bay.

Still, she had time to ask me where I was from and kindly spoke slowly in Greek with me as I stumbled through my explanation, “Yes, my partner is Greek, he is back in Australia, yes he runs a café with his brother, so he couldn’t get away, yes I understand what it is like to be tied to the café every day.” Smiles. Two smiles of recognition.

Evenings were for long dinners, a visit to the theatre and drinks until late at one of the many café-bars lining the bay. We talked for hours, unraveling the problems of the world, sometimes untying knots, sometimes creating more tangles with our very different world views.

KL

Walking half a block behind the taverna and about 300 metres from the beach, Irini showed me upstairs to the third floor of a very basic, concrete, modern apartment block. These belonged to her family, and “yes they had experienced a very good, busy summer.” Irini kindly showed me all around the one-bedroom apartment with its little kitchen and big wide balcony that looked over empty fields and, you might have guessed, more basic, concrete, modern apartment blocks, with a diagonal view to the sparkling Mediterranean from the eastern side. Just a small, quiet slice of heaven.

The fields were dry and parched, there were no trees or gardens, just stony, rocky hills and the occasional bougainvillea to decorate a new concrete wall. It was quiet and lifeless in the middle of the day. I could hear the long grass crackling in the vacant field next to my balcony.

Time to go to town. I took a bus from in front of the Gecko café, near the entry to the beach. No time yet for sitting on the beach and enjoying the inviting little bay lined with tamarisk trees, the pull of Ermoupolis was calling to me.

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Ermoupolis on Syros. PIC: KL

Ermoupolis is the capital of Syros Island, located in the centre of the Cyclades Island group, which in turn is located pretty much in the centre of the Greek Islands. These islands are home to some of the most well-known Greek beauties, like Santorini and Mykonos. The smaller islands are just as beautiful and, indeed, frequented by Greeks themselves on holiday. Syros especially attracts locals on their holidays, and is well-served with ferries and flights. The flight from Athens takes 35 minutes, the ferry takes three and a half hours from Pireaus.

Ermoupolis is a beautiful, stylish and very Greek town with a large harbour ringed with cafés, from the sea level the town quickly rises up steep hills to the crown above the large dome of the Catholic cathedral, in a mixture of modern and neo-classical architecture.

The harbour was dotted with yachts and pleasure craft when I arrived in the middle of a bright sunny day in September. It was love at first sight. On that day, there happened to be two tall-masted wooden ships in port, they looked striking docked in front of the old court house buildings, with date palms lining the docks. The scene took my breath away.

I needed a coffee.

One of my annoying habits when arriving in a new town, anywhere in the world, is to walk it. Day pack on, check, walking shoes on, check, water bottle, check, nowhere to be, check, no curfew, check, no household chores, no work tomorrow, check, check, check. I love to walk in a new country, in a new town, without a map, without knowing which way is ‘trendy’ or which neighbourhood is ‘upbeat.’ I like to get to know the town on its own terms, just walking and watching. On this day, my walk around the whole harbour of Syros was one of pure joy. There is something about the light in Greece that is so totally different, so unique, as to defy description. The colours of the harbour side, the water, the reflections in the hulls of the craft, the sparkles on the bay, had me enthralled.

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Ermoupolis Harbour Syros. PIC: KL

At the end of the bay, as I sat for a coffee with a view back all the way along the limani, I thought “Surely this is one of the prettiest harbours in Greece?” My two weeks in Syros confirmed this, as every day I walked along the esplanade, and every day I was captivated by the beauty there. My walks took me all over Ermoupolis. I discovered many of her beautiful corners, nooks and crannies, yet I returned to the harbour every day.

Learning Greek the Hard Way

My Greek language and culture course commenced in a laid-back classroom at Azolimnos Beach the very next day. For four hours a day, I was forced into delightful conversations with life-loving teachers and philhellenes from all over the world. I met new friends of all ages, my favourite being a tall, gangly, fun guy from Switzerland who was half Greek and half Swiss. He and three other journalists became my new parea. The dinner on the first evening was a kaleidoscope of Greek, English, German, Italian, Spanish and French as thirty or more language students of all shapes and sizes got to know one another over dinner at, you guessed it, Irini’s taverna.

As you can imagine, my morning ritual became a stressed out, freaked out, rushed one, much like my days commuting to my stressed out, freaked out, rushed corporate job in Sydney city. I ate my self-catered breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Med, took a refreshing swim in the clear waters of Azolimnos Beach, followed by a Greek coffee under the tamarisk trees, a quick review of my books, then a stroll of about a minute to my Greek class. Hard to take. Life was tough.

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Azolimnos In Syros Early Morning. PIC: KL

Our post-lesson ritual was even more difficult, now with our vocal chords well warmed up, we gathered at Irini’s taverna for a nice long taverna lunch or headed into Ermoupolis for lunch at one of the back street tavernas. We enjoyed mezedes of dolmades and skordalia, home-made patates, fresh seafood including my favourite, saganaki prawns. Evenings were for long dinners, a visit to the theatre and drinks until late at one of the many café-bars lining the bay. We talked for hours, unraveling the problems of the world, sometimes untying knots, sometimes creating more tangles with our very different world views.

Syros Highlights

Some of the top spots and best memories were the boat trip off Galissas Beach; the historic walk through Ano Syros (Upper Syros) and dinner at a taverna overlooking the town; entering the beautiful theatre (a smaller version of La Scala) to enjoy a modern play; discovering stylish Internet cafés all over the town; sipping Italian or Greek coffee and writing long emails to my Greek lover back in Sydney; happening upon Vaporia, a historic seaside neighbourhood of Ermoupolis; enjoying the pulse of life on the huge plateia in front of the impressive town hall; and strolling along the smooth marble streets of town, with the locals, every evening.

My final memory was a romantic evening with my new Swiss friend, who despite the imagination of everyone in our class, was decidedly gay, on a marble balcony of a luxury hotel in Vaporia, which we discovered accidentally whilst trying to find a view of the full moon over the water. After strolling onto the balcony and discovering we were, in fact, in a bar the quality of a Bond film, we ordered champagne and sat right above the water, watching the moonlight dance on the sea, giggling like teenagers, thanking Syros and Greece for her enticing ways, and thanking our own lucky stars for being drawn to Greece in September to speak the language of philosophers.

Then I took the ferry from Syros to Athens…ah Athens…but that, as they say, is another story…

Katia Luz

Katia Luz

Katia has travelled since she was in her mother’s womb, has lived and worked all over the world and now writes from her atelier in a cottage in a forest just outside Noosa in Queensland, Australia. When not travelling, she writes escapist travel fiction and a travel website about Crete in Greece.

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