There are worse places to be stranded for 5 hours than a Greek island - especially Samos. By the time we boarded our ferry to Fourni, we'd been utterly charmed by the place and wished we'd had more time. We arrived at noon and left at dusk, right as Samos slipped into her evening attire, dark and glittery. Our boat pulled away from the dock and the sun set behind the mountains as if the two were attached by a string.
It's an island used to these sorts of visits, a quick once over by travelers on their way to Ephesus in nearby Turkey, or other east Aegian islands. Samos is a ferry hub, neither close enough to mainland Greece to be a hotspot, nor far enough to be alluringly remote. When we arrived, this information board listed our next boat at 2:15 as opposed to the 6 oclock departure we'd been expecting. We were excited. Who likes a long layover? The woman inside informed us that the sign was old. "Another agency. Closed five years ago." She pointed to a luggage storage room, a welcome curve-ball. We'd be able to do more than sit at a cafe and stare at the sea after all.
Samos is one of the sunniest place in all of Europe with sunlight estimated at about 74% of the time. Well, we hit the other 26% - a mix of sun and clouds, as they say. Sunday's a fine day for that sort of thing, ducking into a cafe here or a museum there. Older women in black came back from church and joined their neighbors at a coffee shop. We followed the scent of bread and the tracks of a few loaf carrying men to find a bakery, hidden down a backstreet. Unable to find anything to really put on our sweet-smelling sesame roll, we treated ourselves to a more proper lunch. And this is where the series of pleasant surprises began.
12:30 is an unthinkable time to begin lunch in Greece, but we haven't quite acclimated to late feedings yet. So, we sat down at Kouros tavern, joining a trio of old men and a family with two young children. The Early Bird crowd. When shown the fish selection by a bemused young waiter, we asked for an order of each. Both the plump sardine and the thumb-sized red mullet could have dangled from a necklace, that's how beautiful they looked. Shiny silver and iridescent pink. The red mullet still shone bright pink through the light batter and was so tender, it fell off its barely visible bones. We've never seen or tasted anything like it. Their moist, delicate sweetness went perfectly alongside the meaty bitterness of the sardine (cooked in the same fashion). Truly awesome.
Oh, we'd also ordered a small carafe of "open" wine (meaning "house"), writing it off as a necessary cultural experience. Samian wine has been renowned since Classical Antiquity. Who are we to pass it up? While it was nothing exceptional, it gave us a midafternoon energy boost. Just when it began to rain again. These children in the main square didn't seem to mind, but everyone else huddled back indoors. We slipped up the stone staircase to Samos' Archaeological Museum, where we found a shuttered ticket booth and an open door. A woman turned the lights on for us and her grandson, noticing our bewildered looks, shouted: "It's free today!"
This part of the world is just so rich with ancient history, chock full of archeological findings. Still, Samos' collection was shocking. The island is the birth place of Hera, Zeus' wife. So, naturally, a massive temple was erected for her around the 8th century BC: The Ireon. Statues from the excavated site stand around the museum's first building. All intriguingly headless. One female was the twin of a statue on display in the Louvre. Another held a bird in her arms and had a long dedication inscribed in the folds of her dress. The pièce de résistance was the colossal kouros - the largest surviving kouros (male statue from the Archaic period) in Greece. Over 16 feet tall it was mind-blowing and, in a room of its own around a corner, popped up out of nowhere.
In awe, we were ushered out across the street to the second building. Here, the collection was focused on pottery, tools, trinkets for Hera and, as we like to call them, "ancient Precious Moments." There had to have been close to a thousand pieces in their "archaic sculpture collection," including a bronze pine cone and a bizarrely large number of bronze griffin heads that used to adorn cauldrons. Other griffin heads from the Ireon can be found in the MET. Birds, turtles, wooden figurines, the findings were the most diverse of any Archeological Museum I've been to. (I get a little sick of spearheads and nails to be honest). All from the island of Samos.
The Ireon site itself was too far for us to visit and make our ferry in the evening. Who knew we'd want our five hour layover to be longer. It is still being excavated, which I find fascinating. I would love to have seen the holes in the earth and the lone standing column. To imagine all the statues we'd seen whole and erected in the flower covered field. Instead, we just strolled back and forth on the waterfront until it was time to collect our bags at the ferry office and embark on our next leg.
Samos is the birthplace of Hera, Pythagoras (of theorem fame), Epicurus and the astronomer Aristarchus, who is the first person recorded to have suggested the Earth moved around the sun. We didn't know any of this when we arrived, not bothering to do much research on what we figured would just be a lunch stop and quick dilly dally. I feel like one of those people who say, "I found love as soon as I stopped looking." Travel is like that sometimes. The best stuff just kinda sneaks up on you.