A WALKING HOLIDAY IN NAXOS

Some years ago I partook of a wonderful holiday in Naxos, the largest but least touristic island of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, where with some friends we walked the ancient Donkey trails. And because of it being spring time, the whole of the island was covered in the blooms of wild flowers and herbs, a wonderful sight to behold! The fragrance of Oregano, Thyme, Chamomile, Lavender, and Melissa were a daily delight.

The island is also very rich in archaeological finds and remains as it has been lived on constantly for the past 3000 years.
Simple but beautiful Byzantine churches and monasteries are to be found all over the island, many containing icons of great artistic value, covered in gold leaf and intricate painting, some are also half covered in silver to protect the paintings. The architecture of these churches, while simple, I found very graceful and atheistically pleasing, painted in brilliant white with some of the domes in Greek blue, and the older ones, of which we saw quite a few, are built in natural stone, even the roofs are.

The highest mountain on the island is called Zas and is 1004 metres high; I only ever saw it with its head in the clouds. Some people believe that Zeus was born here while others think that he was born on Crete and grew up here. Naxos is supposed to be the island where Theseus left behind the Cretan princess Ariadne after she helped him escape from the labyrinth where he had killed the Minotaur. Ariadne is then supposed to have fallen in love with Dionysus. Mythology abounds in the Greek islands and it was just lovely to see with my own eyes things that I would have read about long ago.

Gosh, the food was marvellous and I enjoyed eating every Greek dish. So I had lots of salads made with organic and sun ripened tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers and covered in the most delicious local feta cheese and olive oil. Then there were the goat and lamb dishes, the bean and tomato dishes, absolutely mouth watering, and always the fried potatoes.
People are fond there too of sweet things, lots of honey and sesame seeds and almonds, all this baked scrumptiously wrapped in filo pastry and served with strong Greek coffee in tiny cups. My favourite was some sort of sweetmeat covered in powdered icing sugar and with a delicate flavour of pure rose essence. Not to forget the drinks, the Ozo I found overrated and did not take to, but there is another drink, a liquor made from the leaves of a tree, a hybrid between lemon and grapefruit, it is called Citron and pronounced Kitron, they come in three different colours, supposed to be three different strengths but the Naxiots were unclear which colour was the strongest! I fancied them all as this drink gave me a nice gentle sense of lightness of being.

The meal that I can remember as being the most wonderful, we ate at a tavern in a remote village after a long strenuous walk through the mountains. Rosemarie, our guide, knew the people and we were all welcomed with open arms. The nice woman of the house served us a lovely goats stew flavoured with the sort of aromatic herbs we had been walking through, there were long, podgy, green beans in a tomato sauce, potatoes fried in olive oil and rice wrapped in olive leaves and tasting real good. This same lady happen to be very fond of roses and not only did she have lovely old scented roses in vases all over the place, they were also on the napkins and tablecloths.

The town of Naxos or Hora as it is called and where we had our accommodation is built on a hill forming a natural acropolis, on top of which is a fortress, dating from the occupation by the Venetians. Along the sides is a labyrinth of streets, narrow and stepped, the houses are a brilliant white and the doors and windows blue, arches are everywhere and some are very low so that even I had to bend down to pass through them. Here and there geraniums and bougainvillea flowers throw a lovely dash of added colour making the whole a beautiful place full of photo opportunities. Word has it that the town was built in this way to fool the pirates and give the town folk the chance to escape when being attacked, apparently the arches connected from house to house, who knows. It is a delightful town and I got lost several times in the labyrinth but enjoyed finding my way out again eventually.

One of the first days we passed the main Greek orthodox cathedral, built on the site of an earlier small church (Zoodochos Pighi), it took its present form in 1780-7, and it is dedicated to St.Nicodemus the Athonite and to St.Nektarios. Large quantities of materials from ancient temples were used in its construction! Its solid granite pillars are supposed to have come from the ruins of Delos. Anyway, we were curious as to what was going on inside as we could hear the singing of a low male voice. At our entrance we were invited in to take part of the baptism of a child. The priest, with a long white beard, was singing and doing his rituals. There was the scent of incense, and candles were lit all over the place. The child was totally undressed as it would then be dressed in a whole set of elaborate new clothes. The church looked interesting; it was covered in icons some of which were exquisite art.

Along the promenade there were the many restaurants, most of them for the tourists but some were clearly the haunts of the locals, mainly the men sitting drinking their Ozo and talking, or is it philosophising, while overhead the octopus were hanging to dry on wooden sticks in the sun.

The walks took us over hills and rocks and through meadows and even over a small river in one valley. The views were magnificent, especially the white villages hugging the mountainsides, Filotis being one of the nicest and nearest to Mount Zas. We passed the olive groves along the valleys. And went along the rocky mountain paths were we would come across herds of goats, we also saw ducks and a lone turkey. We noticed that there are very few cattle here on the island.
There was a lot more that we were delighted to see; there was the Kouros, an ancient statue never fully erected and still lying in its ancient quarry. The marble quarries and the emery and obsidian stone. The ruins of the temple to Demetre. The colour of the deep blue of the Aegean Sea. The interesting looking moths, butterflies, lizards and beetles. The beautiful sunsets. The lovely little shops full of copies of artefacts, some of which I saw in the local archaeological museum, very ancient remnants of life in Naxos and the Cyclades.

I came home very energised and happy, and with lots of photos and some stone samples. On our way back we stopped for one day in Athens and visited the Acropolis. I must say that I was surprised at the effect it had on me, I was very impressed. We also saw the change of the guards which I thought was very funny! We saw the remains of the temple to Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. Our hotel was very close to this area and the evening of our arrival we hung out in the colourful Plaka district, little streets, some paved in marble, full of life, shops looking vibrant and lively and very full of all sorts of souvenirs but also local produce and stunning Greek tunics and other clothing and jewellery, they were pulsating with the laughter of Greeks and tourists alike all of whom seemed excited to be alive! There was music, and in line with Greek tradition, carnations thrown all over the place.
There is lovely architecture to be seen here too in the houses, so this is a great place for an evening walk.

This visit to Naxos and Athens took place many years ago but I still have great memories of the beauty and the sheer delight of seeing some of the monuments that I had read about. It is another one of these places where I can go in my mind and be delighted.

DELIGHTFUL CLIFFS

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Xlendi, is a village on the South-West coast of Gozo, it is surrounded by steep cliffs to one side, they look very impressive from every angle.  One can climb them via stairs that lead one to the Caroline cave, this walk gives lovely views over the bay, the clear water, sometimes blue, sometimes green.  It is of great interest to people that are interested in the rocks and flora that grows in the crevices.  Beautiful!  So one day we walked, or rather climbed this delightful hike and I like to share some of what we found.

20161221_134732The limestone rocks along the walk. 20161221_135022The rocks are amazing, full of fossils, beautifully light in colour.

And finally one goes down to the Caroline Cave where the water laps against the weathered rocks.

Some of the flora along the walk, amazing how the plants grow out of the crevices of the rocks, and look so healthy and fresh!

Back down at the sea front. Xlendi is actually a fishing village, though a lot of it’s income these days comes from tourism too.  We always love going to Xlendi, it was the first place we stayed in last spring, we get there by bus in about five minutes from here and because there are more and other beautiful cliff walks to be found there we never get bored, always we come across something new, a plant, an insect, always something interesting to see.  I also love the trees in the square, there are some old Tamarisk trees, which look like old men riddled with arthritis, but they are beautiful too.

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I guess I will never, no matter how small the island of Gozo is, find at a loss of what to go and explore, so much to see and do, in fact a great place to live.

 

XAGHRA VILLAGE IS PEACEFUL

For some days now I’ve been saying that I should visit the village that we can see from our walk on the outskirts of Victoria, high up on the hillside it towers above the countryside. I was intrigued to know more about it. On the map I could see that the village is called Xaghra (pronounced shara with the ‘SH’ of Schindler) Its population is around the 5000! Seeing that the Ġgantija megalithic temples, as well as a stone circle are found there – it must be one of the earliest areas on Gozo of human habitation.

I found the village very peaceful, the little streets picturesque, and the ambience friendly. On this visit I did not go into the temples, nor visited the windmill which, by the way, dates back to 1725. That, as well as the caves with its stalactites and stalagmites, is planned for a visit in the near future. I started off by visiting the church (our Lady of Victories) always curious about what the magnificent Baroque façade will reveal on the inside. It was well worth it too, though too ornamental for my taste. After that I walked for a long time along the narrow streets, just enjoying the limestone houses, some really old and brittle, some quite new. I eventually ended up at a museum of toys where I was shown around all the amazing things of the past, a very interesting place and very nice people to welcome you.

One very interesting building I came across, and will talk about this further down among the photos of it.

I walked for hours (my workout for the day) and took the bus home to Victoria which drove there in 5minutes, I still cannot believe how close together all the places are here.
A wonderful day it was!
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Below are the photos of the building I wanted to talk about.  Though I know nothing about it actually, only what I can see and deduct.  Both the older and the newer building are literary built on rough rock, I just wonder how this is possible, it looked as if the buildings were just plunked loosely on top, but I am sure that cannot be the case.  Also the grey rock seems different material to the regular limestone that is used here as building material.  It’s killing me and I just have to find out more about it.  The last two pictures I took to the side of the older building, there seems something going on with the cement (not sure what type of cement it is)  it gives an interesting and lovely design in the last photo.  I did see this sort of thing also on some of the other buildings in the village.  On my next visit I will go to the town council and try and find out more.  The limestone of the Maltese islands has me totally bewitched.

The lady at the toy museum is a goldmine of information, she showed me so many of the toys, explaining all about them.

BETWEEN MOON RISING AND SUN SETTING

This evening we took a walk along the cliffs at Xlendi.  It had been a hot day and the evening cool was nice and refreshing.  Where the path leaves the road it becomes interesting and I found many wild plants and flowers growing here.  The landscape was beautifully lit by the setting sun, which throws a special warm light over the earth.  Higher up along the cliffs there is an amazing array of terraced walls in the local stone, the walls are dry, stones just left on top of one another.  It looks like they are terraced agriculture land but they are actually a pathway winding its way up to the top of the cliff, towards the tower, we did not get that far this time but are planning another walk and pick-nick soon up there.  The moon was rising at the same time, full moon it seems too, it is so very beautiful here, photos just don’t do it justice.

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