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.