Aug 30, 2015

Holidaying with the refugees in the Dodecanese

In the summer of 2015, Greece made it to headlines either for financial ruin or for refugees crisis. In the Dodecanese islands off the Turkish coast, you see less of the first and plenty of the second. After all, the Syrian war is not ending despite four years of devastating warfare and it is now the middle classes' turn to leave the country. As entering Europe is allowed only illegally, they therefore land in the closest Dodecanese Islands like Lesvos, Chios, Kos, Leros off the Turkish coast. Usually they loom at the harbour either waiting for ferries to take them to mainland Greece and beyond or at police stations on the side of the road while lining up for registration.

Hora on the top of Patmos island, Greece.

Travelmind is a family enterprise: my sister is posing in Hora.

Hora has many nice shops overlooking Patmos island.
One of the furthest islands off the Turkish coast, Patmos did not change much since I saw it ten years ago. Given the distance, it is not receiving refugees but many pilgrims that arrive by huge cruise lines on a daily basis. Indeed, Patmos' Hora is called the Jerusalem of the Aegean. It has been declared a UNESCO site as well as a "holy island" by the Greek Parliament for its religious significance. If you want a little peace and quiet in Hora, you should pick a day where a cruise won't be coming. After a tour at the top with excellent views, have dinner at Jimmy's with the best view of Skala and beyond. If it is a cruise day, just skip dinner in Hora and head down to Skala. Dinner either at Pandelis or Tsipouradikos by the sea are excellent options.

View from Jimmy's in Hora, Patmos.
A view of Skala from Jimmy's Balcony in Hora at Patmos island.

The best sunset in Patmos is on the road to Kampos.
At Tsipouradikos, the tables are set by the sea.
Patmos is a small island and transportation is easy with taxis but renting a car is also an option. We stayed to the north of Skala in Kampos. Although the Kampos beach can be crowded, it does not have that many buildings as other popular hotel areas like Grikos or Skala. Its village square up the road is very nice. Across the church, Aroma is a nice place to enjoy island food like goat and lamb, deliciously cooked. Other beautiful beaches include Agrio Livadi; Livadi Kalgiron (a must if you like the atmosphere of a fishermen's refuge); Lampi (another must) and Livadi Gerano.

At Kampos beach, enjoy Taverna Agnadi.

A farmer in Kampos, Patmos island.

Kampos beach, Patmos island.

Lampi beach on Patmos island.
While Patmos is relatively far from Turkey, Leros is much closer. It is also much bigger than Patmos and there is a lot to see. As we got off the ferry in Lakki, the refugees were hiding from the sun in the shadow of empty buildings and a park. It is indeed a sorry feeling to pass them by and head to your hotel. We stayed in Aya Marina at La Maison des Couleurs, a beautiful mansion with few rooms. When staying there, swimming in Panteli beach is an option but it can get crowded in its narrow strip. If you walk down to Aya Marina, dinner options at Taverna Bratsera or Mylos are highly recommended. In fact, the whole Aya Marina Bay is quite nice with cafes. Walking by the refugees filling the patio of the police station there in full evening do is an embaressment, at the same time, it is an opportunity to see their situation and face the consequences and delusions of European political decision making. An example is a restaurant owner's accussatory tone who said that they were coming to Leros from "us" ignoring the fact that "we" already had two millions of them in Turkey.

Vromolithos beach in Leros island.

Breakfast table at La Maison des Couleurs at Leros.
View from Mylos Restaurant towards Aya Marina, Leros island.

The famous wind mill at Mylos, Leros island.

In our short stay, we loved the Vromolithos beach. It was like Bodrum in the 1980s which gave us a sad feeling. In fact, walking by the beautiful summer houses in Leros, most of which are either for sale or empty and crumbling, one also sees opportunity in the economic crisis: it is possible to run away from the calamities across the border to here, not only for the refugees but also for us. Unlike them, I would rather stay, rent a place in a totally serene world, with pristine waters and an unspoilt coast. In fact, we are so lucky to have Greece to have in our immediate reach. All you have to do is to go to Bodrum and take the ferry.

The Lime Bar at Merikia, perfect spot to end the day.

The French playing petanque in Merikia Leros
right in front of the War Museum.

Italian architecture in Lakki, Leros island.
As with many of the Dodecanese Islands, Leros has an interesting history. Italy's occupation of the Islands left its mark not only in terms of Italian identity cards (see picture) but there is Italian architecture to be seen around especially in Lakki. In Merikia, close to Lakki, there is an interesting  museum from the Second World War that we could only see from the outside due to being open only half a day. Ironically for the European venture though, the French were playing petanque in its very vicinity.