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Amazing Mykonos February 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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The soft strains of the guitar and the bouzouki thrummed across the pool deck of our ship. The rhythm slowly built up to the stirring high of Zorba the Greek as two young Greek men, flanked by an older but equally agile man dressed in a white shirt and black trousers with a cummerbund and a peaked cap that shaded a furrowed face, started to dance.

Arms resting on each other’s shoulders, they whirled, twirled and threw their legs up, always in unison, seemingly caught up in the pounding swirling beat, which had the audience on the ship’s pool deck roaring their approval.

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The Greek night, complete with local delicacies and unlimited ouzo, gave us a sneak preview of Greece before our ship cast anchor the next day at Mykonos, the most popular of the Cyclades Islands situated in the Aegean, 14 miles from the historic isle of Delos.

We disembarked the next morning at sun-dried Mykonos, and felt assaulted by the bewitching light that reflected off the freshly whitewashed churches and houses. A swarthy old sea dog hawking sea shells on the pier gladly posed for our cameras. He wore a knotted black cap set over a face marked with deep lines and a day’s growth of beard. He seemed as old and solidly built as his peeling little boat moored nearby.

Mykonos, the smallest island in the Cyclades group, has a resident population of 5,000, woefully outnumbered by the 900,000 visitors who swarm ashore annually! We became a part of the drove that explored the island’s narrow cobblestone alleys called the Hora that wound around the island town.

The streets led into glittering designer boutiques, selling everything from exquisite jewellery to touristy kitsch, or simple local shops where wizened women sat at looms weaving traditional shawls. The confusing maze of streets was to deter pirates who preyed on Mykonos’ legendary wealth in the old days and this enabled villagers to ambush them.

It was summer and the chic bistros and designer bars wedged between the shops were full; yet Mykonos seemed placid and unhurried. We strayed into the simple confines of a Greek Orthodox Church crowned with a typical blue glittering dome where a long-bearded, elaborately robed priest prayed silently. We lit a candle and the frescoes on the wall and on the domed roof glowed with an ethereal light.

Further ahead, on a once-fortified spit of land, stood Panagia Paraportiani, probably the most photographed church in Greece. It is, in fact a cluster of five chapels fused into what has been described as “an organic masterpiece of accidental architecture,” and is a Byzantine jewel.

One of the chapels on the ground floor is open to visitors and we stepped into the dim interior where there was no altar and very little adornment reminding us of Christianity’s beginnings. When we stepped out, golden sunshine fell on white-washed homes around us and all was simplicity, romance and charm.

Despite the proliferation of eateries, craft shops and hotels, Mykonos was not drained of colour. The lilt of the bouzouki was everywhere and life in summer is lived mostly outside on the beaches, in the bars and taverns. Food served in the restaurants is of a high standard and draws a faithful clientele. Katrine’s for example was a favourite of Aristotle Onassis who would sail there in his yacht when he felt the urge to sample some of its delicacies.

Little Venice is a charming area where homes with sun-lit patios, cantilevered over the ocean, have now been converted into restaurants. We stepped into one that languished under a Grecian arbour, beyond which unravelled the sea dotted with fishing boats. A friendly waiter recommended we try a salad with local cheese.

In a corner sat a quartet of Greek men playing “tavli” backgammon while one clicked his worry beads. Around us rose homes built in the Cyclades style with slatted windows in blue, green and grey against startling white facades over which trailed blood-red bougainvillea and clouds of other blooms. As we sipped foamy beer and watched the bluest of blue seas, the surreally glassy Aegean, rubicund tourists in shorts sat around us, proudly displaying and comparing tans recently acquired on Mykonos’ beaches.

Indeed the beaches of Mykonos have distinctive personalities, someone mentioned, and all you have to do is find the one that suits your mood or taste. If you crave solitude, choose those furthest from Mykonos town: Kalo Livadi, Lia, or Panormos. For topless or nude sunbathing, there is Paradise with its dusk to dawn clubs and Super Paradise. There are family beaches too and others where one can enjoy active adventure sports.

Stroll wherever possible in Mykonos for this island has the gift of surprise. A garden is filled with multi-level gazebos where children climb about like acrobats; as one rounds a corner, a lady on an upper floor carefully lowers a red wicker basket in which someone deposits a dozen oranges. One can do splendidly without a car here since everything including the iconic windmills, which have now been converted into houses and museums are within easy reach.

As the sun set on the glassy Aegean with a kind of flagrant abandon, and the shadows gathered, we were quiet in the manner of people who have eaten and drunk too much. But Mykonos had one last surprise in store for us before we headed back to our ship. As the lights came on, the island seemed decked in a sequined gown, seductive yet coy. At night this fabled Greek island acquires another persona, that of a party animal.

Indeed Mykonos is the ultimate “party destination” and the international vagabonds head for Hotel Phillipi and Alefkandra. The Alefkandra section has an abundance of night spots, bars, and tavernas, and it is here that you can “taverna hop” with ease.

A popular place is The Mykonos Bar, famous for Rhembetika music and where one can watch spontaneous, Greek dancing. At night, Mykonos comes out of the closet and reclaims its title of being a hot spot for gays who cruise around its bars and tavernas looking for fun, as they put it.

We, however, headed back for our floating home, dazzled by Mykonos, marooned like a jewel in an azure sea, its mix of sophistication and unspoilt seclusion and movie star good looks tempting us to go back another time.

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