19 March 2012

So Full o'Life

Back in October, while in the Alentejo region in Portugal, the British owner of our campground described one village as being 'like a museum' and another as being "so full o'life!" Said with such relish, the phrase stuck with us. Ever since then, we channel ole Gary- accent and all- anytime a place bursts with liveliness. On Andros, our final island, the expression was used time and again. From the wild flowers that covered the fields and the donkeys, sheep and goats that joined us for legs of our walkabouts to the schoolchildren, churchgoers and cafe dwellers, Andros was just so full o'life.
Andros is the northernmost of the Cyclades archipelago, which means it takes about a two hour ferry ride to reach Athens. This makes the island an obvious weekend destination for Greeks and an easy island hop for travelers. With no big name sights and a mostly mountainous terrain, it's meant for a certain type of tourist. One that's not necessarily looking for beach discos and grilled fish. (The island specialties are zucchini fritters and froutalia - a sausage omelet).
The port town of Gavrio gives a complicated first impression. There are cafes, tavernas and trinket stores lined up between the two ferry docks. On one end, a gorgeous little gourmet shop with a sign that reads "we support organic farmers" sells local products and an impressive array of cheese. On the other end, the businesses peter out and a few shabby buildings sit far back from the shore. We walked back and forth along the beach to pass the time, kicking at a single washed up flip flop and other summertime relics tossed ashore by the winter storms. Gavrio feels well worn and slightly worn down, a real port town - as opposed to a pretty little harbor.
On the other side of the island, a full hour by bus along a winding road with steep unwalled drops, is Hora (which literally means "main town.") It felt a world away from anything we'd seen on other Greek islands, with its marble paved pedestrian avenue and neo-classical mansions. The town, more commonly referred to simply as 'Andros,' felt downright regal to us. With a population of about 1,500, there were more people here than on all of Fourni island. Children ran around, teenagers sat on steps, everyone greeted everyone else along the promenade.
We came to Andros for the nature and the well-kept system of walking paths that allow you to explore it. Cypresses knife into the sky, stone walls cut across the hillsides. Green valleys give way to arid shrubs with no notice. Sheep and goats graze and donkeys stand around. It is beautiful. A sign here or there would point us toward a cobbled staircase or a chapel or a spring. Little lizards darted through grass and slinked along rock faces. Andros town sat piled up on its peninsula below.
Many restaurants were closed for the season and a number of storefronts, like this one, were undergoing some renovation. Paint fumes wafted out of open doorways on the breeze and voices echoed out of the empty spaces. It never felt sleepy, though. "This is the best time to be here," the beyond sweet owner of our pension said, nodding her head earnestly. A number of the houses in Andros are second homes and I wonder how the neighborhood changes when the fair-weather neighbors arrive.
These lampshades hung across the square right outside our window. They are one of the many artful little details all around Andros (which happens to be the unlikely home of a world renowned contemporary art museum). Also hanging around town, posters for upcoming events like "Mexican Fiesta" and "80s-90s dance party. Every evening, music would boom out a place called "Prive," until the wee hours. Every morning, the church bells made their own pretty racket and the pitter patter of heels on marble would put everyone in their rightful place for the morning.
For some, that was behind the counter of a clothing boutique, bakery or pharmacy (there were multiple locations of each). For this young boy, it was out with his fishing line. His mother and siblings yelled for him to come back in already, but he loudly refused. A group of similarly aged kids went around in circles in the water nearby - a sailing lesson. An old woman, all in black, sat alone on a rock staring out at the sea. That is, until her cell phone rang. In a lot of seaside towns, especially on the islands, the water feels like the key player. Here, with so much life brimming on dry land, the sea was simply the backdrop. Gary would have approved.

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