Syros & Patmos

An unexpected stopover in Syros, the Cycladic capital, afforded us the pleasure of a swim around the city walls of Ermoupolis, overlooked by staggering neo-classical mansions, rather than the toasted marshmallow bodies of German nudists that so commonly dominate Greece’s beaches. From there we boarded a ferry to Patmos, our penultimate island destination before Turkey, and one of the raisons d’etre for my travel to Greece in the first place. For it was on Patmos St. John wrote The Book of Revelation, that most maddening and terrifyingly wonderful of texts. Has there ever been a more contested work of art? On what sort of island was created a text at once a source of spiritual comfort for the oppressed, yet also an intellectual weapon of mass destruction for the deluded and insane?

Moreover, which was I?

The ferry arrived in Skala, Patmos’ port town, many hours late. The seas, we were told, had been apocalyptically rough, a fact noticeable even in a boat that size. Our heads swimming, we stepped off the ferry at 3 am into a wind that nearly blew us into the sea. Could this really be the Lonely Planet’s “ideal Greek island destination”? As our hotel tout loaded us into his van, the wind doubled her assault, as with a scream a man came skidding round a corner on his motorcycle and flew right off, landing at our feet, before standing up, swooning, standing up again, then driving right away. Surely it was only a matter of time until the Four Horsemen followed?

The next morning was hardly less foul, and I kept hoping for another peacock to appear with the promise of fair weather. Although denied such reassurance, we made the most of our time, taking a long walk around the harbour, and climbing to the Monastery of St. John, all the while wondering what effect such strange weather might have had upon old John, already burdened with the yoke of Roman exile.

Salvation, of sorts, came the next day with the returning of the sun, and we spent the morning at the Cave of the Apocalypse, where John received his vision. Truth to the tale, or not, it was a place of haunting calm, affording a spectacular view of the Patmian countryside.

The afternoon, however, was spent on the northernmost tip of the island, on Lambi Beach, a place rich in coloured pebbles, and all but deserted, allowing me to satisfy a long-held fantasy of swimming naked around a Greek island. By far the quietest, the least pretentious, and the friendliest of all the islands we had visited, with nary a Roman gaoler in sight, Patmos would have to be the most glorious of our oppressions and revelations in Greece.

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