Posted by Julia
While Johnny was busy preparing for his captain duties and fixing important bits and bobs all over the boat I’ve been spending my mornings exploring the hills and mountains close to the marinas and anchorages.
Sometimes the route uphill was straight forward, sometimes not and I had to turn around at dead ends several times to find the right track to a good photo opportunity. These pics were often used to prove to Johnny that I had indeed been busy marching uphill rather than lounging with an ice coffee in my hand in a roadside café like a local.
During my hikes, most notable of which were; Vathi, Sami, Sivota and Kioni I've been discovering lots of local wonders. I can't really include Nydri as I ended up going no where as there was simply no way up – unless wading through rocks, thorns and millions of spiders and their webs, which is not really my thing :) ...despite mild attacks of arachnophobia, I started developing a sort of admiration for this greek micro culture (except spiders and mosquitoes of course). Along the way, I’ve been observing the roadside flora, which revealed a multitude of butterflies, bugs, beetles and various flying creatures:
My hikes were also full of cultural observations -such as the myriad of historic sights and sacred locations. The ancient Greeks, it seems, liked also to hike quite high up the hills while placing significant buildings and fortifications at respectable altitudes. Along the way this also included a plethora of miniature Greek Shrines looking like tiny replicas of full size Churches! These are scattered around everywhere and look meticulously cared for with a candle burning in each one and all sorts of Icons proudly displayed within.
Another curious element of Greek culture was this architectural feature, a palm symbol reoccurring throughout, which looked like this:
Mostly I found these to be used as roof ornaments but it happened that they also often accompany entrances to houses or building facades. They seemed to be consistently reappearing on each Ionian Island we visited so far. I became particularly aware of these motifs when a lovely couple Mary and Malcolm, from Scotland, who invited us for drinks on their yacht Lazy Days, kindly shared a book with us about Olympia. They strongly advised we take the time to visit. While flicking though the book, I noticed similar symbols to the one I have been spotting along the way through the Ionian and finally learned it was the “palmette” which has many varieties in Greek architecture and creates an enchanting air of mystery when observed out of context.
I learnt from Wikipedia that the "palmette is a motif in decorative art which, in its most characteristic expression, resembles the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree. It has a far-reaching history, originating in Ancient Egypt with a subsequent development through the art of most of Eurasia, often in forms that bear relatively little resemblance to the original. In Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman uses it is also known as the anthemion (from the Greek ανθέμιον, a flower). It is found in most artistic media, but especially as an architectural ornament, whether carved or painted, and painted on ceramics. It is very often a component of the design of a frieze or border. The complex evolution of the palmette was first traced by Alois Riegl in his Stilfragen of 1893. The half-palmette, bisected vertically, is also a very common motif, found in many mutated and vestigial forms, and especially important in the development of plant-based scroll ornament."
During my hikes, another breathtaking feature was of course the view once the top of the mountain is reached, no need for words, here is what I saw:
Of the historic sites I have to mention a couple which really stood out. Firstly in Lefkada, an Early Bronze Age Tumuli which appeared as rings made of stone located very tightly one next to another, which have been identified as 33 burial monuments. For more information on these artefacts a book by Christina Haywood "The Ionian Islands in the Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age" has lots of info.
The second fascinating find was the ruin of the Ancient town Sami on Cephalonia, which were quite a hike away from the marina. The original town and fortifications were built around 300 b.c by the native Greek people but then invaded and taken over by the Romans, which only became apparent with the finding of Roman concrete within the site. At the top I was lucky to meet a very nice man from Newcastle, called Allan, who kindly gave me a tour around the ruin and explained all about the history of the place and showed me some curious findings that he has discovered over the many years he has been visiting the site.
Last but not least of my ramblings was Paliochora situated high above the town of Vathi on Ithaka, which was not the oldest site but certainly the highest hike so far!
Lastly I wanted to mention the goats... they are very important out here as their footprint on Greek Islands is hard to miss - they are probably more numerous than humans - much like sheep in New Zealand! The islands also seem to be generously populated with ants and cats, making the most of all the restaurants and the al fresco dining.