Syros — Before the Adventure

Patio / courtyard of Dendrinos' Rooms, Galissas

Following my experience of Sunday worship, lunch, some reading, snacking on leftovers from lunch and taking a stroll, I talked with Father Marty in the States at about 8:30pm (1:30pm in Indiana) to get some questions answered — mostly the when, who, and where kind — so that I could better navigate the remainder of my week here.

Most of Monday and Tuesday were spent rather simply – walking, going to the beach, reading, eating, and enjoying the breezes off the Aegean.  It was somewhat of a solitary existence which I didn’t mind.  But amidst the solitude, there were memorable moments.

Map of Syros at bus stop, Galissas

Monday morning, armed with Marty’s information, I successfully found my way to the local bus stop just 100 yards from my room.   Wanting to travel into Ermoupolis, the port city and capital of both this island and the whole of the Cyclades, I paid the 1.60 Euro (about $ 2.30) directly to the bus driver (who had one of those change machines loaded with euro cents of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 1 and 2 euro coins for change, reminding me of high school days riding a city bus and helping my younger brother and older sister with their paper routes!)  The bus (a Mercedes Benz tourist-type, very comfortable, nothing like the ramshacle buses one might see in movies) retraced the same twisting and winding road of Saturday’s journey; many landmarks were recognizable, which added to my “tourist in a foreign country” comfort level. 

Port of Ermoupolis, Syros

All passengers disembarked in the port area near the ferry landing.  My sole purpose for coming into town was to find an ATM to replenish my supply of Euros, a task easily accomplished as many banks are situated on the thoroughfare passing along the port area. 

Wending my way along the port, I took a few pictures before being purposeful.  Following a painless experience at the ATM (the machine offered a large array of language choices!), I retraced a few steps to enjoy a gelato (double chocolate with almonds – rich and creamy!)  Consuming this treat as I ambled toward to the bus stop and negotiating the volume of vehicular traffic intersecting with human traffic proved a challenge.  One must look both ways before stepping from the curb!

Church on a hill, Ermoupolis


Ferry receving passengers, Ermoupolis, Syros


The bus back to Galissas was the same as before, driver included.  However the route was the longer route, cutting along the southern coast of the island.  Here there were more curves, climbings, stops, and sites than before – twice as many for twice the amount of travel time.  I was mildly surprised when I saw the sign for Galissas Beach – the town did not readily reveal itself from this new perspective!

It was time to try a restaurant other than Nikos’.  Lunch was at Savvos, owned by a Roman Catholic family and managed by their oldest son, Giorgios.  A young man with two children and a wife, he was very friendly and talkative.  The food was very good, a Greek salad with bread and a half liter of wine; but as I had come to know the portion was just too much!  I took some back to the room, placing it in the small refrigerator for later consumption. 

Fr. Rick and Giorgios, at Savvas Restaurant, Galissas, Syros

Now the beach beckoned.  Donning the appropriate attire (especially a white t-shirt to keep the sun off my pale upper body), I walked the 3 or 4 blocks to the sandy, curved Galissas Beach.  I lounged on a towel upon the sand under a wicker umbrella, reading about the Letter to the Romans and St. Paul’s understanding of his mission, as well as a novel.  Setting aside the books, I waded into the water, cool but pleasant.  The “bay” is very shallow, allowing one to wade a great distance from shore without being totally immersed; the 1 foot waves were gentle as they swelled.  Now wet, it was back to the books.  But soon I wandered the beach north, to see the base of the north ridge which flanks Galissas Beach and Bay.  There appeared somewhat of a demarkation dividing two beaches — larger bushes jutting to toward the sands, and pebbles and sharp rocks which hurt the feet!  This demarkation, natural in one way, was used as a barrier lest those who chose to sunbathe nude be noticed!  I had been made aware that there were such secluded beaches on Syros; I came to find out that there are those who see seclusion in a different light!  Well, I found that access to the foot of the ridge was barred by stones and walls; with eyes toward the bay I retraced the beach (ouch! to the pebbles once again) and found my towel, books and sandals still under my wicker umbrella.  I was soon to the room.

Palms, south edge of Galissas Beach

The Aegean, south edge of Galissas Bay

Galissas Beach

The remainder of the day and most of Tuesday was consumed by rest, simple meals, reading and writing blog entries.  I was able to post two; others would follow before I departed on Friday.

Around 6:30pm, Mike and Kelli, and their friend Joanie, arrived by car (Nikos’ son Leonardos as driver) from Ermoupolis.  Friends of Father Marty, they had just arrived from Santorini, a part of their vacation in the Greek Islands.  In the late 1980’s, Mike and Kelli were members of St. Mary, Richmond, where I served as pastor.  We have remained in touch through Christmas card / letter exchanges,k and a periodic unexpected encounter.  It was good to see them and to meet Joanie. 

Kelli, Mike and Joanie, on veranda, Galissas, Syros

Their arrival was a joy to Nana and Takis, leading us all to gather around a patio table with some wine, snacks, and lengthy / ranging conversation until 9:00pm.  At that, I excused myself from a dinner invitation (too late for me to eat — I’m so NOT Greek), climbed the stairs to my room, and retired.

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Syros Sunday

Early morning sun on the north slope, Galissas, Syros

I awoke to roosters greeting the early dawn, followed by a glorious sunrise painted upon the mountains (north of the beach) and the sterling white houses.   God is good in his creation and the relative quiet of this place at dawn.

 Not long after breaking my fast, Nana came for my laundry.  She was enthusiastic about doing this for me, wanting to please and to be of service.  She and Takis are not churchgoers, and so this task was not going to interfere with her usual Sunday.  I thanked her three times after she went through instructions three times!

A warm shower and shave brought me to a presentable condition for Sunday Church.  The walk was an adventure, as I believe many walks to sought destinations will be on the island.  Nikos’ directions were correct; however, what islanders would call a road appeared more like a driveway to a cluster of houses!  No street sign (typical of the island), and so I continued on past until, able to see the facade of the church through the houses nestled on the road under my feet, I began the ascent by way of steps between the houses.  Stone steps dissolved into a dirt pathway etched into the hill, which was soon enough replaced by a winding set of concrete steps.  It was these which placed me upon the mystery road.  And there was the church! 

Road, looking toward Church of the Sacred Heart, center, highest building

Road continues, now bound by walls, reeds, and a Sunday vehicle


White / blue of the Cyclades Islands; just beyond were stairs


Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart, Galissas, Syros

(Most people associate the Greek Orthodox Church with Greece!  How is it that a Roman Catholic Church would find such a prominent place in a Greek village?  Father Marty Peter explains: “Syros used to be called “The Pope’s Island ” because the Venetians had conquered it and sent Jesuits and Franciscans there and practically the whole island was Catholic until some repositioning of Greeks and Turks in the early part of the 20th century, resulting now in the island being about half Catholic and half Greek Orthodox.  In the port city of Ermoupolis when you come in by ferry, you will notice that there are churches on the 2 tall hills–1 Catholic and 1 Orthodox–with good relations between the 2 churches.  Syros is atypical of Greece which is about 99% Orthodox.“)

Slightly dusty and winded, I was greeted on the steps of Sacred Heart by two tourists who spoke English, but who subsequently disappeared (not churchgoers, I surmised).  The next to speak was a Greek gentleman who spoke in French “Bonjour”.  My English accented reply led to the inevitable “Parlais vous, Francais?”  Alas, I had to declaim I did not.  He nodded, and said he did not speak English.  There was a sadness behind his very black, horn-rimmed glasses; we both entered the church.

 It was well-lit, very clean, and filled with women!   All the men, save the priest, the French-speaking fellow, and the lector, were still outdoors enjoying the sun and conversation.  The place was very familiar – a Catholic church for sure.  I felt immediately at home, and after checking out the  bulletins (all in Greek), I found a seat in the second row from the back (being conspicuous was not my desire at this point).  At five minutes before eleven, a lady two rows ahead, after consulting her seat mates, announced a song, and began to lead it – it was a song of Mary – the beginning, it appeared, of pre-Mass devotions (I felt transported to my very young years as a child).  Very intent upon the singing, I failed to notice than the priest and 3 servers had appeared at their seats (having come from the sacristy to the right).  Even as the song continued, the priest cut in with a greeting, the music abruptly ceased, and Mass began in its usual manner with the sign of the cross.  So much for a smooth transition from personal, devotional prayer to communal!

In the next minutes, mostly unintelligible but ritually familiar, our prayer as “ecclesia” unfolded.  I recognized a small collection of words: Kyrie, eleison; Christe eleison; Amen (pronounced “ah-meen”); Kyrios; Logos; Evangelion.  Regrettably I did not have an English Missal with me (one of those victims of not completely thinking ahead when packing more 3 weeks prior).  I simply noticed gestures, rituals, movements and the liturgical space. 

 What did I notice as a familiar?  Large paintings of Mary and Joseph to the sides (on the outer walls); the altar forward with two candles upon it and a crucifix to the right; the tabernacle embedded in the wall behind the presider’s chair ; the sanctuary light (which I had originally missed because it was so small, inconspicuous, and electric on the side!)   The pews had fixed, unpadded kneelers, used only before Mass, during the consecration (from the laying on of hands through the elevation of the chalice) and after communion by those who received.  

Interior, Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Galissas, Syros

Enclosed Shrine to the Sacred Heart, right and to the rear of the church

Painting of St. Joseph, left wall of church, just before sanctuary

Painting of Mary and Child, right wall of church, just before sanctuary

Ambo (pulpit), with Credence (servers') table in background, to the right of church sanctuary

Baptismal Font and Paschal Candle, to the left, church sanctuary

Painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with tabernacle just below, main sanctuary of church

Altar, with crucifx to right, main sanctuary of church

The liturgy had all the elements to which we are accustomed, including the servers (3 boys) looking from time to time disinterested or detached (familiar behaviors, it would appear, of any adolescent; or in brief conversations with each other when the priest was attentive to his role). We did sing one of the familiar, simple Latin chant for the Gospel Acclamation Alleluia.

At the Preparation of the Gifts, the same lady who began the hymn before Mass began intoned another – Immaculate Mary!  What a surprise to me, and a happy one, as I was able to sing the refrain in English, though I kept wondering why we were singing a Marian hymn (Lourdes) at this point in the liturgy when none of this Sunday in Ordinary Time indicated such. 

There were bells at the consecration (curiously, at the elevations and when the presider genuflected!)   And there was the sign of peace exchanged quietly and with or without words (I believe the ladies around me realized I was not Greek…  could it have been my blonde hair?)

Reception of communion reminded me of older days when everyone just got out of their seat as they wished, front and back, and formed a line.  Not all processed to receive; the French-speaking man and I were the only two men, other than the Lector, to receive; and a few ladies did not as well.  Reception was of both sacred host and precious blood, but with the priest holding both small bowl and chalice, and intincting (dipping) the host and, after inviting response in Greek, placing the dipped host upon the receiver’s tongue.  This practice harkened me back to my experience of the Melkite Rite when a student at Notre Dame (one of the churches in communion with Rome).  I was pleased to be able to receive both species, even as I was mildly surprised by the way in which they were offered (ah, a lesson of the variety of our church throughout the world, it’s most important gifts to us and the different ways we encounter those gifts).

 The end of mass brought announcements (really!), and the sending forth.   The closing hymn was unfamiliar (Kyrios  — Lord – began the verses).  The priest and servers exited to the sacristy (as in the days of pre-Vatican liturgies), a loss for me in thanking the priest for presiding, and possibly an indicator of the distance between priest and people.

I left feeling very connected as member of the Body of Christ.  The differences were less cultural than I had expected, and mostly related to the options in the liturgy and the rootedness in this community (at least the women) for personal devotion.  One cultural aspect with which I was not familiar: the women sat on the left to the rear, and on the right.  The men sat on the left in a group – except me, who sat amidst the women in the left rear!  It would seem that my attempt to be inconspicuous only made me more so!

The walk back to the room was again a wonder of colors and sites for future photos.  The highlight: one of the altar servers barreled by on his bike and greeted me with a “Hi” which sounded more like a “Eieee”.  He had noticed, and I was thankful for his greeting.

The Aegean, seen from the plaza of the Church of the Sacred Heart

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Syros, Day One — Something New

Saturday morning was bright and blue as the concierge greeted me in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel, Athens.  His courteous assistance rapidly brought a taxi which would take me to the port of Piraeus.  There for the first time in my life I boarded an ocean-going ferry, the Nissos Mykanos, which plies the Cyclades on a daily basis, delivering humans, pets, semi-trailers, lorries, tour buses, vans and automobiles to their destinations.  The journey from Piraeus to Syros takes approximately 3 hours, 25 minutes, and this day we were on time! 

The Aegean Sea was very smooth, accompanied by blue sky and a brisk wind, the latter not only the product of the passage of the ship through the water and air but of a strong wind upon the sea (which was very evident on Syros upon arrival).

The ship was clean and relatively crowded with folks on its decks.  Many remained tucked in comfortable airline-type seats, sheltered well from the sun and stiff wind.  These two decks afforded ample food and bar service; first class provided even more.  This being my first ferry “cruise”, I spent the majority of my time on the next to upper deck, mostly in the relative shelter of the fantail composed of a large open area with plastic chairs, food and drink.  The length of the journey did prompt some roaming, resulting in some interesting sights.

The Three Dolphins on the stack of the Nissos Mikanos

Fantail, upper deck, Nissos Mikanos

Outer deck: note one sunbather, one slumberer

Just aft of the bridge, starboard side, wind in my face

Between reading, a few notes, and some lunch, time passed well.  At one point a fellow sitting next to me struck up a conversation (his wife had watched my belongings when I ventured to the head).   A native of Greece, having survived World War II and its aftermath, he and his wife were on holiday, traveling to the more remote island of Anafi to enjoy the natural springs available.  Formerly an owner of an automotive service station in Toronto, Canada (where he met his wife and raised his children initially), he and his family later repatriated to Greece to continue his profession with his sons; they now run the business, and he enjoys his retirement — but not without concerns about the condition of the Greek economy and resentments (shared by many Greeks) of the control that other countries (especially Germany and France) now seem to have over its future.  He and his wife wished me well, going inside out of the wind to rest for a while (their journey would extend five hours beyond mine!)

In time I too repaired to the interior, finding an unoccupied airline type seat into which I poured myself for a short nap, which would soon enough be interrupted by our arrival at Syros.

The port of Ermoupolis was glistening with light and blue sky as we rumbled to our berth, aft first.  Once the gangway was lowered and onboard vehicles disembarked, those aboard began to pour out, lugging their luggage (I wonder which word spawned which?).  As one with them, I stepped through a sea of other folks into the receiving area, an open area which emptied almost directly onto a very busy thoroughfare. 

Amongst the colors, buildings, and many signs beckoning customers, I looked about for someone looking for me, as promised.  That one, Petros, stepped forward and queried: “Father Rick?” with a thick Greek accent.  Mildly relieved, I responded. 

Petros Kapellas, son of Nikos, Galissas, Syros

Petros was somewhat shy, but pleased to find me.  He noted quickly his English was “not so good”; but it did well to move us to his car, a small, white, dusty Toyota.   My luggage loaded, he drove us through Ermoupolis into the countryside toward Galissas.  The streets in Eurmopolis are narrow, clean, and busy with traffic.  The buildings are mostly white (very bright in the sun), some with blue doors (a custom in this part of the world); some are pastel colors, none are garish.  Most are well-kept, neat, and lived in.  A few are declining, a handful are abandoned. 

The ride to Galissas was somewhat leisurely, demanding of Petros keen attention due to the hills, curves and switchbacks.  (It was nothing like the flying cab ride from the hotel to the ship this morning in Athens!).  Minimal conversation (Petros was hesitant to speak poor English to this “Father” he was ferrying), allowed my taking-in the road, twisting, turning, narrow by our standards and climbing, ever climbing until our descent into Galissas.

Map of Syros. Light blue lines denote connecting roads

Galissas is a small town; its industry is tourism.  There are many houses which boast of rooms to let, small hotels and a couple of upscale hotels (one gives itself four stars!)  There are many places to eat, with a variety of cost and variety of price.  All serve the Greek favorites, especially souvlaki, gyros, calamari, Greek salad (the best I have ever tasted), and of course, that flaky pastry, baklava. 

In sight of a cove on the Aegean, Petros brought me to the apartment which a priest friend, Marty, owns.  From the pebble parking area we climbed two flights of stone-flagged stairs to “Father Martin’s room” (as Petros called it).  On the second landing a screen door whose interior door stood open welcomed us.  We stepped into the room, luggage in hand. 

The room, basically 14 by 14, with a corner cut out for the bathroom about 4 x 4, is painted white.  There are 2 twin beds, a sofa, plastic table and chairs, a bureau, and a small kitchen area with refrigerator, hot plate, microwave and coffee maker (ah, home!)  Windows abound facing the Aegean: there is a small  balcony proper to the room, and there is access through a common door to the larger veranda which is just outside of the windows facing the Aegean.

Stairwell to The Room

The Room, looking west

The Room, looking east

View from balcony, The Room

Petros quickly but awkwardly left.  I wasn’t sure if it was the handshake which should have been a double kiss (both cheeks as is the Greek custom), or if there was a need for some exchange of money for the petrol consumed (I will find out later that would have been insulting).   My initial guess was the correct one.

Unpacking was the first order, “taming the space”, as always.  Sitting down to work on entering receipts of the past 24 hours (second order) was just underway when a knock came at the door.  It was Nana.  She is the owner of the remainder of the building which is her home (along with Takis, her husband) and which contains other rooms for let.  She sounded a bit in wonderment that I was there –  for her husband had been waiting and watching carefully for a taxi or the local bus to arrive.  Quickly laughing and delighted that I was there safely, she called for Takis to come up.  Kisses were exchanged, smiles abounded, and quickly the tale was told of their waiting and my arrival quietly through the largess of Petros (whose father, Nikos, had sent him).  

Takis, Petros, and Nana, on patio of Nana's, Galissas, Syros

The tale told, Nana sent Takis to their rooms, and then began the “instruction” by Nana of every detail about the apartment – and I mean every detail.  She was mildly surprised to find that I was safely unpacked and that I had figured out how to plug in my laptop and adapter.  I listened carefully to her rather good English as she made sure that I understood everything (she at one point called me a clever fellow!).  When she was sure I had it all understood and had stepped into each area (bathroom, balcony, and veranda) and knew how to use the phone (free to the States!), she left.  Moments later she reappeared with the bus schedule (I had mentioned wanting to go to Ermoupolis to get some Euro from the ATM).  This was my lesson in the immediacy of response to any need I spoke.  She went over the schedule four times, and left.  Soon she was back to go over the Sunday schedule with me!  She is delightfully helpful, to say the least.

I chose to go for a walk after an aborted attempt at a nap, which I really didn’t need after having comfortably napped on the ferry, but this introvert needs his down time after interacting with strangers, even friendly ones!  I walked toward the sea to find the beaches, then through the town center to discover the locations of restaurants and mini-markets (of which both Father Marty and Nana had spoken), and tried to find the Catholic Church upon the hill.  I could see it; I just couldn’t get there!  The twisting of the streets amidst the hilly terrain made finding the exact road-up deceptive.  I literally walked nearly the entire town before I decided to return to the center to find Nikos’ tavern for supper. 

Three shops under the trellis; the farthest is Nikos and Sons

Finding the taberna was difficult; there were so many!  And though Nikos, Father Marty, Nana and another earlier visitor had tried to tell me its location and name, none of them had the same name for it!  (If I had looked low to the street level, to a small red sign with white print, I would have seen “Nikos and Sons”!)  Fumbling to find it, I broke down and asked a waiter sweeping at a restaurant if he knew where Nikos’ taberna was; I had to add his two son’s names, Petros and Leonardos, to clarify.  He excused himself, went to ask two fellow employees, and returned to guide me to the right spot.  When I walked in, there was Petros!  Greetings followed, I chose a table facing the road, and the menu was brought.   My study lead to ordering, and the meal slowing commenced (nothing is rushed in the Mediterranean, except traffic in the large cities!)  

It was a quiet meal for the most part.  For a time I was the only diner (I was on my time, not Greek time, for supper.  I would learn.).  Eventually a couple took a table nearby.  I thought at first they were from Germany, mostly by appearance and by what I believed I heard to be German.  Their conversation and ordering eventually revealed them to be English-speaking (how the eye and the ear can influence one’s misconceptions!)   As my meal was complete, they heard Leonardos call me Father Rick, and my reply cued them that I was English-speaking.  Thus ensued a lengthy cross table conversation about our origins (Manchester, England; Terre Haute, Indiana, USA), and the wonders of traveling the Mediterranean / Aegean / Greece / Turkey.  This couple soon proved to be frequent travelers who enjoyed holidays in many parts of the world, including the USA, about which they marveled at its vastness and variety.  By the end we were both delighted to have met, and will probably see one another again in the next week (we actually did, on our mutual last night on Syros).

Settling my bill, I then met Nikos (he was cooking in the back room of the kitchen).  Warm greetings were followed by instructions in finding the correct road to the church.  Goodnights were shared with Nikos and Petros.  A walk of 100 yards returned me to the Room for the night.

Nikos Kapellas, in kitchen of his restaurant, Galissas, Syros

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One might wonder why up to this point no photographic evidence has been forthcoming of the MV Cristal, our home for 7 nights and 8 days.  Well, other than periodic references to routine, meals, and personal moments aboard, such evidence seemed a distraction from the larger story, the Pilgrimage and the pilgrims’ activities as such.

In previous posts, I have noted the excellent atmosphere, service, and accommodations we experienced.  If you are an ardent reader, you found such in the entries — To Athens and Beyond, Istanbul, and The Jewel of Santorini.

What follows here are select shots (from among the few I have) of the ship we experienced.  (If others become available through our group’s various photo blogs, I may add some in the future to this entry).

Departure, Port of Piraeus

Fr.Rick, Monteen Elliott, Safety Drill (first hour aboard!)

Looking aft over covered pool toward stack

Making waves, the wake of the MV Louis Cristal

Sunrise from Deck Seven, port side, opposite Gallipoli

Tom (asleep), Steve and Sharon Richardt, lounging on Deck 8

Mast, MV Louis Cristal

MV Louis Cristal, our ship, in Kusadasi Harbor

Flaming Baked Alaska, Caruso Dining Room, Tuesday

Deck Five, starboard, MV Louis Cristal


Deck Five, forward / starboard, MV Louis Cristal


Deck Seven, passenger area, MV Louis Cristal

My home for the days at sea was Room 7121, a double occupancy (I had to myself) interior stateroom.  It was quite adequate to my needs, and would have been a challenge for two!

Home Sweet Home


Stateroom 7121, MV Louis Cristal


The Loo, with all the comforts of home, 4 x 4, max!

Our cabin attendants provided us with not only excellent service, but some entertainment as well through “towel art”.  Each afternoon or evening, whichever was our first opportunity to return to our room, we would find a wonderful creation, virtually ‘origami’ in towels.  Sadly, the first day’s offering, a crane resting upon a lagoon of blue, fell victim to my ignorance; thus there is no picture.  The following, though, are worthy examples.

Towel Art #2, my steward's daily greeting


Towel Art #3


Towel Art #4


Towel Art #5

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With Paul at Corinth

The sun having set upon the Jewel of Santorini, our ship cruised through the many islands of the Cyclades in return to the port of Athens, Piraeus.  Our docking, we were told, was at 4:30am; our disembarking was at 7:00am.  Each of us for the last time walked the gangway with our carry-ons in tow and memories in hand of the wonderful crew and amenities of MV Louis Cristal.

We found our larger luggage, which we had placed outside our staterooms the night before, under a large tent-like structure grouped by deck.  Only one of our group had to search for his — with the gracious help of a crew member.  With all luggage in hand, we moved toward our bus, loaded up, and were quickly heading into the melee of Athens’ morning traffic, our destination, Ancient Corinth.

Ancient Greece, First Century A.D.

Some history: “Corinth’s commanding position on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow strip of land that separates the Peloponnese from northern Greece, was the primary basis of its importance. Corinth controlled the “diolkos” (Greek for “haul across”), the 6th-century BC stone-paved roadway that connected the Saronic Gulf [Aegean Sea] with the Gulf of Corinth [Ionian Sea}. This overland route was highly valuable in that it allowed passengers and cargo to avoid the difficult and time-consuming trip around the southern end of the Peloponnese.

“Being a leading naval power as well as a rich commercial city enabled ancient Corinth to establish colonies in Syracuse on the island of Sicily and on Corcyra (modern Corfu). These colonies served as trading posts for the richly ornamental bronze works, textiles, and pottery that Corinth produced.

“Beginning in 582 BC, in the spring of every second year the Isthmian Games were celebrated in honor of the sea-god Poseidon. The Doric Temple of Apollo, one of Corinth’s major landmarks, was constructed in 550 BC at the height of the city’s wealth.

“Corinth was conquered by Philip II of Macedon in 338 BC, but it was named the meeting place of Philip’s new Hellenic confederacy. After Philip was assassinated, Alexander the Great immediately came to Corinth to meet with the confederacy, confirm his leadership, and forestall any thoughts of rebellion. At the Isthmian Games of 336 BC, the Greeks chose Alexander the Great to lead them in war against the Persians.

“Corinth was partially destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, but in 44 BC it was rebuilt as a Roman city under Julius Caesar. Roman Corinth prospered more than ever before and may have had as many as 800,000 inhabitants by the time of Paul. It was the capital of Roman Greece, equally devoted to business and pleasure, and was mostly populated by freedmen and Jews.

“The Apostle Paul[, according to the writings of Luke (Acts) and Paul], visited Corinth in the 50s AD[.   The New Testament reflects his writing of] two letters to the Christian community at Corinth (1 and 2 Corinthians[the latter may be a compilation of no less than three letters]). When Paul first visited the city (51 or 52 AD), Gallio, the brother of Seneca, was proconsul of Corinth.

“[According to Acts 18:1-18] Paul lived in Corinth for 18 months, working as a tent-maker and converting as many… pagans as he could. Here he first became acquainted with Aquila and Priscilla, who became his fellow-workers.

“Although Paul intended to pass through Corinth a second time before he visited Macedonia, circumstances were such that he first went from Troas to Macedonia before stopping at Corinth for a “second benefit” (2 Corinthians 1:15). This time [according to Acts 20:3] he stayed in Corinth for three months.

“Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, [purportedly] written from Ephesus, reflects the difficulties of maintaining a Christian community in such a cosmopolitan city.

“A canal through the isthmus of Corinth was begun under the emperor Nero in 67 AD. Wielding a gold shovel, Nero himself was first to break ground, but the canal was not completed. Up to the 12th century, ships were dragged on rollers across the isthmus.

“In 1893 [the] 4-mile (6-km) Corinth canal was finally completed, providing an essential shipping route between the Ionian and Aegean seas [the loan from France to build the canal was paid off 100 years later]. Like its ancient predecessor, modern (or New) Corinth is the center of commerce between northern and southern Greece. Today, it has a population of about 30,000.

“Systematic archaeological excavations of the area, initiated by the American School of Classical Studies in 1896, are still continuing today (see photo below) and have brought to light the agora, temples, fountains, shops, porticoes, baths and various other monuments. The finds are exhibited in the on-site Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth”.  (Source of history: [  ] my own, based on Father Eugene Hensell’s excellent pilgrimage talks aboard ship, and our guide of the day).

Our day: New (modern) Corinth lies about 48 miles southwest of modern Athens.  Our journey took us over modern highways (once we were free of Athenian morning traffic!)    We skirted the seacoast a number of times, arriving at our first stop, a roadside cafe within easy walking distance of a bridge over the modern canal noted in the history.

Canal linking Aegean and Ionian Seas, looking to Ionian

Pilgrims enjoying breakfast on our first stop

Once all had their turn at taking in the canal and breakfast, we embarked toward Ancient Corinth.  Wending our way, our guide spoke of many “Corinths” — acropolitan Corinth (upon the acropolis), the Corinths up to Roman Corinth, the devastation of Roman Corinth by earthquake and conquering armies, the 19th century devastation of successor Corinth, and the modern or “new Corinth” now sitting on the edge of the Ionian Sea and serving as a minor port city.

View looking north over ancient and modern Corinth, with the Gulf of Corinth in the distance. Photo ©

Having entered Corinth proper, we wound our way (another very skilled driver) through the upper town near the ruins.  We passed the parish church of St. Paul, relatively new and a pride of the local folk.  The grounds, well-kept and pristine, were ready evidence of their pride.

Parish Church of St. Paul (Orthodox), Corinth

Outdoor mosaic, Parish Church of St. Paul (Orthodox), Corinth

Ever looming over the parish, town and ruins is the acropolis, the “city on the height”, or most ancient of Corinth’s embodiments.  We did not climb to its heights; if we had, we would have seen some ruins of temples (especially that of Aphrodite) and a medieval Christian fortification wall.  Little else remains.

Acropolis, viewed from Agora, Ancient Corinth

Acrocorinth, note walled gates (Source: Wikipedia, Ancient Corinth)

Under the gaze of the acropolis we arrived at Ancient Corinth.  Leaving our bus behind, we walked the short distance to the entry, lead by our guide.  Tickets procured and submitted, we traversed first sidewalk and then ancient stone pavers to stand in the midst of the ruins, the Temple of Apollo to our left, the ancient marketplace and shops to our right.  In this location, under the shade of local trees, we began as pilgrims are wont, with Eucharist.  Father Bob Mazolla presided, Father Eugene preached, and all filled the ancient grounds with the sweet sound of hymn, response and silence (Saint Paul would have recognized what we were about, especially that no one was going hungry or getting drunk — I Corinthians 11).

Father Bob Mazzola preparing to preside at Eucharist, Ancient Corinth

Father Eugene Hensell, OSB, preaching, Ancient Corinth

The Assembly (Ecclesia, the Church), Ancient Corinth

Filled so well by the Word and Eucharist, we went forth and took in the sprawling ruins.

Fountain of the Glauke to the West of the Temple of Apollo, Ancient Corinth

Temple of Apollo (6th Century B.C), Ancient Corinth (only Greek structure surviving)

Ruins of Agora (marketplace), Ancient Corinth

Plaza Area of Agora, Ancient Corinth

Shop ruins, Agora, Ancient Corinth

Statue of Unknown Goddess (Aphrodite?), Ancient Corinth

Bema (legal rostrum, noted in Acts -- Paul before proconsul Gallio, Ancient Corinth

Archaeologists at work in area of Bema, Ancient Corinth

Lower Peirene Fountain of the Agora, Ancient Corinth

Lechaion Road (port of ancient Corinth now silted in as witnessed at Ephesus), looking south, Ancient Corinth

Latrine, Ancient Corinth

West Shops, Agora, Ancient Corinth

Agora, with Temple of Apollo, looking south-east, Ancient Corinth

Temple of Octavia, elevated, west of Agora, Ancient Corinth

As we left the immediacy of the ruins, we came upon some displays of artifacts recovered during the excavations.   Both those outdoors and within the museum reveal the craftmanship of the ancient Romans.

Artifacts: in background - samples of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars with capitols; center -- samples of plinths, small cistern; foreground - bird bath and foundations, with ship's anchor (holed, cone-shaped)

Headless Goddess or Roman Lady, Ancient Corinth

Statue of Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Ancient Corinth

Statue of August Caeser, Ancient Corinth

Many female and male figures, Ancient Corinth

We took leave of site and museum with some reluctance.  Our time had been both a spiritual awakening and connecting to our ancient ancestors, especially those in the faith.

Our next stop was a shop which specialized in Corinthian pottery.  Below are three examples of such magnificent work, some ancient, some modern in origin.  (For a vast sampling for viewing, simple Google “Corinthian pottery”, and pages upon pages of photos of such are available).

Corinthian pottery, flagon

Corinthian pottery, bowl

Corinthian pottery, water flagon

The shop offered other items (including icons).  Few of us pilgrims left without something to take home (or shipped home).

A late lunch was to follow at an open cafe near the mouth of the Corinth canal (Aegean Sea).  We had hoped for a direct route to a parking lot with a walk across a bridge spanning the canal; alas, the bridge was down (literally!)  What ensued was a bus ride of some 3 miles to circumvent the obstacle.

As we sat at our tables, enjoying each other’s company, quaffing a local beer, wine, or water, we were taken in by the passing of yachts, and finally, the raising of the bridge (how resurrectional, as it dripped clear of the water in the canal!)  Fine entertainment, along with the Corinthian cat, as we dined well.

Drawbridge (?) submerged, Corinth Canal

Ship heading from Aegean to Ionian, Corinth Canal

Yacht swiftly moving from Ionian to Aegean Sea

A mythical brew

Bridge rising from the depths (a curious way to draw a bridge!)

Bridge carrying traffic once again

Corinthian Cat

Our guide, Alexandra, accompanied us back to our hotel, the Imperial.  She and our lodgings were to be, in one sense, the bookends of our journey, for they greeted us September 15 and sent most of us forth on September 24. 

Arriving at the hotel, we found the lobby a sea of people — local and otherwise — some tourists, some from around Greece attending a conference in the hotel, and still others locals on holiday.  Plowing through this sea of humanity we gained our keys, our rooms, and a few hours of rest.  Some went for walks; others napped; I went down the street to purchase a ferry ticket for Saturday’s noon ship to Syros.

Our evening meal, the last for us together, was delicious.  No one went away hungry.  All went to bed weary, awaiting a wake-up call for 4:00am.  My plan was to meet the group as it disembarked; I was so anxious to do so that I arrived in the lobby one our early (this would not be first time I arose earlier than needed!)  All did arrive on time to depart, carrying their luggage and most their box breakfast provided by the hotel (not all took theirs, and so I had a fine breaking of my fast in my room later!)  As the bus withdrew the curb for the airport, I waved, the gesture being returned by those not yet already asleep! 

As I turned to the lobby and thence to my room, a wave of aloneness washed gently over me.  37 people whose lives had intersected for 8 days were now away, I remaining.  The intersection was not as a passing at a highway juncture, but a connecting to lives.  The promised sharing of photos (already begun as of this writing), and of correspondence (again, begun) lessened the momentary loss. 

A once-in-a-lifetime experience is not lost, if one makes the effort to be tied to people, place, and shared memory.  ‘Tis the stuff of living; ’tis the stuff of the Gospel, and of shared faith.

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Cretans, too

It was a very early dawn which greeted us pilgrims at the port of Agios Nicolaos on the western tip of Crete.  Overcast skies loomed, with intermittent sunshine piercing through, as we were borne by our bus to the ancient ruins of Knossos, the capital of the bronze age (middle of the second millennium B.C. ) Minoan Civilization.

As seen on the map above, our destination was a good distance from the port, providing us with an immersion into the mountainous landscapes of the western part of the island of Crete (fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea).  Agriculture is the primary source of wealth on Crete  today, which has numerous natural springs and a number of rivers. 

Arriving at the bus parking lot, we disembarked and walked the short distance to the entry of the archaeological site.  It is a relatively modern one, first opened in the beginning of the 20th Century by Sir Arthur Evans.  It is his controversial restoration work which we were to witness.

Knossos was the main economic and political center of Minoan civilization, and is one of the foremost surviving Minoan sites.  Known in Greek mythology as the palace of the legendary king Minos, ruler of a large naval empire, it was here that Minos’s architect Daedalus was supposed to have constructed the labyrinth to house the Minotaur.

During the Minoan rule of Crete, the royal family and their attendants lived in richly frescoed palaces with modern drainage and lavish entertainment.  Their women wore make-up, jewels and fashionable clothes, bared their breasts, braided their hair and carried long jugs decorated with sophisticated patterns.  (Much of the factual information is from a handout provided courtesy of the Cruise office of MV Cristal).

Our guide, having purchased our tickets, lead us through the site for over an hour.  She related the facts (above) to what we were taking in.  Intermittent showers and the large number of tourists at times challenged our hearing and access to points of interest.  But we succeeded in getting a rather good grasp of the majority of the site.

Altar Pedestal for Sacrifice, Knossos

A grain silo, Knossos

Courtyard entry to main buildings, Knossos

Cyprus Trees soaring over Knossos

Foundation wall exposed, Knossos

Theatre, Knossos

Modern day agriculture, just outside of excavation area, Knossos

Ancient European Road known as "Royal Road", Knossos

Reconstruction of minotaur frieze, rear view, Knossos

Minotaur frieze, Knossos

Square support columns (for multiple stories), Knossos

Steps and more square pillar bases, Knossos


Underground drainage system (still functional), Knossos


Panorama view of site, Knossos


Magazine (storage) of the Pithoi, Knossos


Panorama view of remains of royal rooms, Knossos


Stairway to upper floors, Knossos


Foundations bases for upper floors, Knossos


Reconstruction of upper palace, Knossos


Reconstruction of wall art, Knossos


Olive orchards and fields above ruins, Knossos


Massive peak to the north of ruins, Knossos


Vine trees growing above walkway, entry and egress to ruins, Knossos

The showers abated as we proceeded to leave this overwhelming site of an ancient civilization, one of the oldest in Europe.  The pathway by which we had entered, and were now exiting, only now caught my attention: a natural canopy of vines trellised to afford shelter from rain and sun!  In effect, we entered and exited through an archaeological dig on the level of some of the original excavations!

Brother Maurus and Pastor Larry, exiting the site, Knossos

Gathering all of the “chickens” (pilgrims) in our group proved as challenging as ever, but all made it back to the bus in time for departure.  We retraced the highways of Crete through the mountains, returning safely to the Cristal in time for our 11:15am departure to our final excursion from the ship in the later afternoon, Santorini.
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The Jewel of Santorini

Some will immediately notice that a day is missing from my blog.  That would be Wednesday, September 22.  Overwhelmed by the experiences of the prior 4 days, a “day-off” was called; and so I sent word to Brother Maurus not to worry about my absence, but to go forth with the pilgrims to the Island of Rhodes.  And though within sight of this attractive city and island, I remained aboard to enjoy some reading, blogging, and the quiet which comes with the majority ashore, missing the city I could see just moments away.

Old Town, from above the harbor of Rhodes (

We sailed overnight from Rhodes to a coastal town of Crete, Agios Nicolaos.  It was here that we disembarked to Knossos, the capital of the ancient Minoan Civiliation (see entry “Cretans, too”).  By 11:15am we set sail for what many consider the jewel of the Cyclades, Santorini (officially Thira).  By 4:15pm the shipboard activities director, Elizabeth, was urging us to the upper decks to begin to admire the sparkle of this enchantment.

The Cyclades.  Note that Santorini (aka Thira) is southernmost.  (Source:

The jewel rose from the horizon, first ahead, then to port, and to starboard.  It rose from a hazy obscurity as a rocky fastness, yet soon began to reveal its many facets — layered rock, abrupt soaring height, topped by what appeared to be snow (but which proved to be houses!)  Many details emerged, as attested by the photos below.

Santorini, Main Island

Lighthouse near Akrotiri. Santorini

Highest point of the Island of Santorini

Drawing closer to the harbor, smaller craft began to appear — unique in design to the island — tourist punts prowling about with guides speaking of the volcanic nature of this Aegean jewel.  They would be telling their guests that 3600 years ago a massive eruption threw a major portion of the original single island into the atmosphere and buried the remainder under hundreds of feet of ash.  The ultimate results were two islands, with a natural harbor (lagoon) whose depth of 1300 feet accommodates all manner of seacraft.

As we slowed for harbor entry, the new caldera (mouth of the active volcano) rose to port of our ship; the lifeless black surface, a-jumble with lava rock, revealed the earth recreating itself even as the sea persists.

Our ship enters the lagoon, the old caldera, Santorini

Local tourist vessel, with new caldera in background, Santorini harbor

New caldera, Santorini Harbor

Distracted by scenes to port and starboard, one could easily miss that ahead lay the harbor proper.  From a distance earlier it appeared that one other cruise ship was in port, probably anchored over the one site (we had been told) where a ship could drop its anchor.  Any others arriving would need to maintain their positions by thrusters or, having debarked their passengers, cruise about the islands until such time as their passengers returned.   Visual distance can be deceptive, we all know.  Hold one’s thumb up to a distant object and it disappears behind flesh and nail; all the while one knows this is an allusion.  Thus so as our craft came into harbor: not one, but five other ships had preceded us, and to our port we could see a sixth sailing away!

And then there were five!

Smaller cruise ship sailing from Santorini Harbor

It may have occurred by now that getting ashore might not be with the ease of gangway and concrete pier.  The two landing points — known as old harbor and new harbor — are not really harbors as we had encountered thus far.  They are landing spots for smaller craft -tenders – leaving and receiving folks from the tourist bus lot (new harbor, destinations numerous), and Fira (old harbor).

Map of Islands of Santorini, Thira being the largest

Harbor Tender, Santorini Harbor

The harbor tenders rapidly came alongside in spite of their continual service to the other ships in harbor (evidence of great organization and experience).   Our wait on Deck 2 was not long, as the tenders were both to port and starboard.  Father Eugene and I gladly moved to the port side, were helped aboard the small craft, and witnessed the remainder of the boarding (all seats were taken before we sailed!)  The journey, brief with a minimum of choppiness, brought us to old harbor.  Kindly helped to the concrete pier, we stepped into a sea of tourists, shops and vendors at the base of the looming island!

Now, there are three means by which one may scale the “cliff”, or face, to attain Fira: gondola (skylift), mule/donkey, or as a pedestrian.  The gondolas dangle from shore to peak over the harsh layers of rock interspersed with intrepid trees and shrubs.  The mules/donkeys are skilled and numerous (as we discovered), ferrying the brave along in an ambling fashion.  The pedestrian faces two challenges: wear and tear upon the body (lungs, knees, calves and back), and mule droppings (moist) and dry (windblown).  For Father Eugene and I, the first was too easy, the second too scary (imagine straddling a mule, sitting higher than the pedestrian walls which separate the path of steps from the air and rocks below!), the third preferred.

The climb began — once we found our way through the shops to the actual ascent point!  I refrained from taking pictures of the mules or other tourists.  Rather, we both became fascinated by the vista along the way, as evidenced by the stops (for me, both photo-ops and breathing points!) revealed below.

Beginning the ascent to Fira

Second stop on the ascent

Third stop, ascent

Fourth stop on the ascent

Fifth stop on the ascent, view of the harbor

Nearing the summit, looking down upon the path up

Seventh stop: our alternate means of ascent. What were we thinking?

Summit attained! View of new caldera and harbor

At the summit the last 20 steps were numbered…ending in 988!  Goodness!  We knew that not all steps of the ascent were equal; but we made them all!  Imagine the life of the mules/donkeys and their owners. We spent a few moments admiring our accomplishment.  Then we stumbled along doing what two male tourists typically do — walk, gawk and talk without shopping OR buying.  There were shops for scarves, handbags, jewelry, statuary, pottery, handcrafted fabrics, trinkets (cups, shot glasses, spoons, t-shirts), fine clothing, rocks (really!), gelato; banks with the ubiquitous ATM, hotels both starred and not, churches, and of course, restaurants with their street maitre’d (hawker of wares and greeter).  We found little of interest for purchase, but enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells.  Once gain, as on Mykonos, the gelato was excellent!  Our wanderings did take us to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Candlemas (for Roman Catholics, February 2), the ancient end to the Christmas Season (4oth day), which celebrates the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple (see Gospel of Luke, Simeon and Anna).

A rare thing happened as we stepped from the Cathedral — it rained!  Stepping from the portico, it suddenly became apparent to me why all the other folk who had been in the Cathedral were loitering about on the porch!  It wasn’t a dousing rain; but it was enough to drive me back toward the ever-so-subtly smirking Father Eugene, whose wry wit greeted me with “Well, you figured it out”.  The winds began to seriously blow; it was cooling quickly with gusts lifting flag to salute and hats to soar or to be jealously grasped.  What seemed most appropriate was a fine dinner overlooking the harbor — a treat funded by a staff member who espoused the beauty of this jewel.  Don’t ask Father Eugene or I the name of the restaurant — neither introvert held it fast to memory.  However, ask upon what we dined, and both can readily attest: fine mineral water, a very fine Greek salad, warm bread, and fresh calamari (not deep-fried!).  The olives, feta and greens sang; the bread crunched and tore so fine; the wine (me) washed soothingly down both moresel and mouth-full; and the calamari — an aria to that which is of the sea!  Oh, heavens, it was good.

The afternoon was waning towards dusk as we departed the restaurant.  With little hesitation — knowing the hour, the ships sailing time, and our earlier ascent — we chose the Gondola to return us to the embarkation point to our ship.  As we stepped along, we found the evening unfolding in a robust and spectacular array of colors.

Eight euro (four apiece) bought us our fast descent (the ascent is just as rapid!) to the embarkation point.  Boarding proved a bit more challenging than from ship, as the winds were up and the harbor choppy.  The tender bore us quickly alongside the MV Louis Cristal onto which we lifted grateful legs for an end to our day. Father Eugene parted to his room and I to walk the deck to admire once again the visual wonders of Santorini.  Witnessing the last tender to arrive (the last of the tour bus folk, of whom some were our pilgrims), a short walk led to the aft Caruso bar, where a double Amaretto soothed me toward a night of slumber aboard our vessel, now steering for the Isle of Crete and evidence of the ancient Minoan civilization.

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