CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Another visit to Ermoupolis

Ermoupolis (which translates as the Town of Hermes), also known as "Queen of the Cyclades" or "The Noble Lady of the Aegean", is the cosmopolitan capital and port of the island of Syros in the Cyclades islands, Greece.

It’s also the administrative centre for that group of islands, so it has *real life* and relatively little tourist appeal. Most visitors are Greek or just passing through on their way to other islands or seaside villages on Syros.

As I said in a previous post, recounting my visit in 1985, “My impression of Ermoupolis was a slightly Venetian flavoured (complete with decaying grandeur) junior Paris Sur Mer, only Greek, of course. With Greek island weather.”

Venetian because Ano Syros, Syros’ second biggest town, was founded by the Venetians when they held the island in the 13th century and then there’s the Little Venice where the mansions meet the sea in the Vaporia district; un peu Parisienne not only because of it’s cosmopolitan air, but also because the island did enjoy French protection during the Greek revolution. And the island of Syros is authentic Greek, not the package-tour variety with no real soul.

Modern Ermoupolis is what Garachico might be like if it still had it's deep water harbour where the big ships tie up right alongside the buildings in the centre of town and it’s marble-paved streets and had been given La Orotava's town hall.

Yes, Garachico apparently had marble on one of it’s streets – that was covered in the eruption of 1706 – while Ermoupolis still has lots of them. The marble makes car tyres squeal and are a bugger to walk on in anything other than flat shoes with non-slip rubber soles, but that’s a small price to pay.

imageActually, the number of cars is the main thing I’ve noticed that is different between my fast fading 1985 images and those taken more recently (at least this century), but then that’s the same everywhere you go.

While we're making comparisons with Tenerife – since it's what I and many of my friends will understand - the entire island of Syros (102.4 km2) is a whisker bigger than the municipality of Icod de los Vinos (95.90 km²), with a population of a little less at 19,782 (in 2001), as opposed to Icod's 22,358 (2003).

In Ermoupolis, buses all conveniently start and stop next to where the ferries dock and there are regular bus services connecting Ermoupolis to many of the other towns and villages on the island, from around 7am to 10pm.

The buses are air-conditioned these days, which is probably a good thing, but I think I might still miss the type that were still running in the 1980’s, which bore a striking resemblance to this old Thornycroft and snaked chuggingly up and over the hills, 9km across the island to Kini. Their only concession to air-conditioned comfort was having the glass removed from the windows.

Ermoupolis has a wonderful market area where you can buy everyday supplies such as; fresh meat, fish, fruit & vegetables and freshly baked bread and cakes. Meanwhile, supermarkets advertise delivery services and, though it looks unlike any you’ve ever seen elsewhere, even boasts a Body Shop. (Sadly now closed.)

One of the things I miss most about Tenerife is the amazing fresh food; meat that actually tastes how it should do; fish that comes straight out of the sea; bananas from family plantations, vegetables straight from smallholdings where organic is the only way they’re grown & hand-made bread delivered to the door daily. Tenerife has a bus service that’s second to none and Icod de los Vinos warrants a bus station with space for around 10 buses, a shop and cafe.

Contrast these with another district with a similar population, New Milton, which is recorded as having a population of approximately 23,000 in 2001.

Here, there’s only one proper bus route, between Lymington and Bournemouth (the last bus from either end is about 6 pm). Where this crosses with the shopper services that ply the local areas, there’s no attempt to coordinate the timetable to make changes convenient for users, like they do in Tenerife, so one often has to wait around in the cold or rain – well, I don’t. There’s no bus station and there’s only even a proper shelter and one seat on one side of the road. This “terminus” area isn’t even right in the high street or next to the train station, which would at least make it more useable and convenient. And laughingly, the last bus out to this particular outlying area of the district leaves just after 2 pm!

Tenerife is, of course, never short of fiesta and the port of Ermoupolis is constantly bustling, while the harbour front is a near permanent carnival in the evenings, there are bars of every kind, folk promenade in Miaouli Square, eat in the small restaurants and tavernas in the side streets, visit the theatre.

Our theatre seats 150: it’s not the copy of La Scala that Ermoupolis has.

Here in the evening, if you don’t have a car, then there’s fuck all to do and fuck all public transport available to get to it.

There isn’t even a pub in walking distance and it wouldn’t be safe to do so.

When you compare the three, no matter what your views on this country, it’s pretty hard to avoid seeing how inadequate Britain’s services have become.

My opinion of this country is pretty transparent – it’s sucks, I hate it – but I did think it probably still did a few things better; more organized and professionally than in the relaxed “island time” cultures of the Mediterranean and beyond. Not so and it continues to shock and surprise me just how low it is sinking.

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