Saturday, September 29, 2018

An Unexpected Holiday on the Island of Syros


On Monday, Barbara and I went to Syros, the capital island of the Cyclades, about an hour west of Mykonos by boat. For one brief moment in the 1800s Syros’ capital city of Ermoupoli (and the actual capital of the Cyclades) also served as the capital of Greece.

Phoenicians were the first known inhabitants of Syros, naming the island from their word for “wealth,” and later occupiers, pirates, and Syriots seeking precisely that same prize brought boom and bust times to the millennia that followed.  Syros’ last great aristocratic run, as Greece's Nineteenth Century shipbuilding and repair center (the first shipyards in Greece were established there), ended at the close of that century with the opening of the Corinth Canal and the harbor and shipyards at Athens’ port city of Piraeus.

Syros still has its stunning neoclassical buildings, streets paved with marble, treasured opera house––some say the first in Greece–– and a decided Bohemian-artsy presence, but there’s no question the glory has faded. The number of the island's twenty thousand residents still working in its shipyards measures in the hundreds, though there is talk of a revival under hoped for new ownership.  Though it has tourism and agriculture, the island’s main role now is as the political center of the Cyclades.

We went there not for romance or tourism, but for the mundane tasks of getting my car inspected and renewing my residency permit. There is no vehicle inspection station on Mykonos despite having perhaps the heaviest populated summertime vehicular presence in the Cyclades.  Instead, Mykonos vehicles that miss the brief (and barely publicized) springtime visit to Mykonos of a mobile inspection station, must travel to Syros for inspection, a virtually impossible task to complete without an overnight stay.

But that’s to be expected.

What wasn’t expected were typhoon-level winds that kept boats tied up in the Syros harbor for days, until a brief window on Friday dropped the winds to below gale force, giving a few boats—including our ferry—the opportunity of scrambling to make it to a different port.

Rather than railing at the gods, we decided to make the best of it. After all, we had a great room in a wonderful little hotel on the harbor (the Diogenes) with a staff that graciously extended our stay for as long as we needed.

In past years, I generally spent a day or so each summer on Syros, but I never paid much attention to what the island had to offer.  Sure, I’d walk around the town enjoying its wonderful open market streets filled with fresh produce, fish, farm raised meats, candies, and I’d admire its mesmerizing architecture and winding marble streets. How could you not?  Parts of Syros are as if you’re in old Rome. 

But I’d never left Ermoupoli.  This time we had a car, so we covered the island. And were we ever pleasantly surprised.  I’ll let the photos I’m posting (the best taken by Barbara) speak to the beauty of the place, and let the smile on my face attest to how inexpensive life is on Syros compared to NYC or MYK.

I’ve come away from those five days with a new appreciation of Syros, and a very warm one at that. I sense a community committed to remaining rooted to its history.  In part I attribute that impression to the traditional Greek Rebetiko music that permeates so much of the island, but more so to what I saw as the Syriot’s take on the essential question confronting us all: prioritizing what matters most in the brief time we share on this earth— earning or living.

For example, during tourist season shops on Syros follow the traditional hours of operation: closed for the day at 3PM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; closed at 2:30 PM and reopened between 6-9 PM on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; and closed all day Sundays. 

On Mykonos, shops run closer to a 24/7 schedule.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. 

It all depends on what you’re looking for.  May these photos help you decide what matters most to you. 

Now on to a trip to a small bit of the Syros countryside.


Friday, September 28, 2018


After Bouchercon we headed up to Indian Rocks which is on the part of the island chain known as Pinellas. As we were heading up, something more deadly was heading down.

We thought we were doing well. Hurricane Florence was moving northwards to do her damage. Helene had turned back to Europe as we were still in the USA and Isaac had decided to turn south towards the BVI.  Ali was at home, waiting for us but while he brought a few trees down in and around our area, there was no sense of anything other than it being ‘a bit blowy’. Down south had it much worse than us. 


Hurricane Ali did give our local red top the opportunity of a headline that they must have been waiting for, a once in a lifetime chance. And they took it. The headline said

 ‘Super Ali went ballistic. High winds are atrocious.’

(if in doubt sing it!)

Well done them.


As we were saying hello to Bob and Miho at our accommodation, he told us that the red tide was a few miles up the beach. We looked blank and he explained that they had a ‘whole ton of dead fish right up on the beach’. He explained it was a natural phenomenon (I was ready to get all environmental as is my tendency),  it happens every few years but this one was a bad one, and it was tenacious. They didn’t think it was going to get as far as Indian Rocks but I could sense some concern. Of course it now has and the local economy has taken a huge hit. 

We arrived on the Wednesday. On Thursday, I found one dead fish on the beach, on the Friday there was a dead fish every four feet or so. We went back to photograph the sunset on the Friday night as had become our habit. Bob had provided a trolley and an umbrella, seats and a cool box. We sat on the beach for 90 minutes watching the sun going down and taking a few thousand photographs of spectacular cloud formations which, I was told by a patient who was a meteorologist, might have been the result of Florence doing her stuff over to the east/north ??

There was the usual thunder and lightning. Thursday night we had sheet lightening which all Scots are allergic to so we picked up our stuff and ran for it. HWMBI didn’t even put his socks on and got really bad blisters in his run for safety. For twenty minutes maybe half an hour, it was like living in a black and white film, all movement was staccato and monochrome. I thought it would be a great time to commit a murder.

By Friday night, on the beach looking at the dead fish under the sunset, I was moaning that my contact lenses were being irritated by the sun. So was HWMBI, and he doesn’t wear them. Then I asked for my inhaler as I started wheezing, so did he and he’s not asthmatic, then we noticed our fellow sunset worshippers were coughing and covering their faces. The smog of the red tide was rolling up the beach.It seems that the Florida Department Of Health had recommended people should steer clear of the beach and those living near the shore (i.e. up to a mile inland) should close windows and run their air conditioners with a high quality filter.

It is unheard of here, but Americans seem to be familiar with it. The red algae bloom kills just about everything. We did notice that the birds were not touching the dead bodies of the fish, but no doubt the live fish they were plucking out the sea were affected in some way and so the devastation works its way up the food chain.

The southwest coast of Florida has now been affected by the algae kareniabrevis( short Karen?) for 10 months. It has been of the coast of Florida since October 2017, and this bloom is the most persistent seen in a decade.

The problem seems to be when the conditions are favourable for the algae, it blooms to an extent that it cuts off all oxygen to any other life and then the production of a toxin that harms the nervous system of fish really starts to get hold.

The algae and the toxin produce a marine environmentwhere sea turtles and manatees getconfused and can eat contaminated sea grass.  Then they too fall prey.

There are many heart breaking sights in the world but not many are worse than the sight of a washed up carcass of a manatee. (92 have died since Feb 2018, 800 in 2013 and 50 in 2017).

There are good people doing rescue programmes esp. for the sea turtles. It can take two months to get the toxin out of a turtles’ system.
And why does it happen. Let me climb onto my environmental soapbox here. Red tide has been around since the late 1600’s in documentation.  It seems to be growing quicker, more frequently and more concentrated as CO2 in the atmosphere increase… so that will be global warming then.

What a depressing blog.


Here’s nice sunset  to finish with.

Caro Ramsay