I remember meeting a woman several years ago who talked about her trip to Greece and how she visited the islands. I asked her which ones and she replied “All of them”. With a quizzical look on my face I asked, "you went to over 1000 islands?" As it turns out, I too, had understated the number of Greek islands. There are about 6000 of them, many of which are small and uninhabited, but islands still the same; way too many to visit in a lifetime. Each with its own unique character, each like a small country.
In my adult life I have visited about 21 of these, with the island of Samos as the most recent. Like most of the islands that I have visited, Samos is beautiful with amazing beaches, beautiful sunrises, colorful sunsets, breathtaking views, and delicious food. It is also an island steeped in history. It is after all, the island of Pythagoras.
We decided to avoid the crowds and to visit during the shoulder season when it would most likely be warm enough for a swim, but cool enough for a hike or a long walk. We stayed for 5 short days with a base in Kokkari, a beach town on the northeastern part of the island, very close to the Turkish mainland. One of the problems with a short stay is that if you have a few days of rain, your carefully crafted itinerary is out the window. I therefore recommend one-week with a rental car as there is a lot to see and plenty to do, especially if you like taking long walks up large hills with dramatic sea views.
The trip to Samos started with a flight from Thessaloniki, Greece on September 21, 2019. We rented a subcompact Suzuki Ignis, (anything larger would be difficult to navigate on the narrow roads) and headed for our bed and breakfast (pension) in Kokkari. Dina Kokkari was a very lovely place with warm and welcoming hosts, and a breakfast buffet that included among other things, delicious home-made (to die for) jams.. With ample parking this hotel afforded us the opportunity to travel around the island without worrying about finding a place to put our car.
Samos, a North Aegean island, is one mile from Asia Minor/Anotolia/Turkey; separated by the Mycale Strait.
Day 1: 9/21/2019
Our first stop on our 5-day trip was the Main Square of Pythagorean in the capital city of Samos/Vathi where we saw the Famous Lion created by the French artist Bouchet in 1930 to commemorate 100 years of Greek independence.
A short walk later we came to the Archeological Museum of Samos which is in two buildings; one built in 1912 along with a climate-controlled one that was built in 1987 and houses items of antiquity such as the colossal 4.75 meter (15.58 ft) statue of Isches Kouros, circa 580 BC.
We also saw some statues that we would come across later as reproductions at the actual archeological site. This was a great way to prepare for our next scheduled stop, the Temple of Hera.
Continuing our self-guided tour in lower Vathi/Samos the next building we came upon was το Δημαρχειο, the city hall.
As we walked around the island’s capital we came to the port and saw this embellished utility box.
Back to the Suzuki and on to our next destination. Along the way, we made a short stop in Aikos hoping to see wading birds in the wetlands. We heard this would be a place to see the flamingos and since it was on the way to the Archeological site we decided to take a look. Alas, they had not migrated from central Europe yet.
Looks a little dry for wading birds, even though it had rained earlier. As it turns out, most of the these birds don’t return until mid-October at the earliest when it rains a little more often and the temperatures come down.,,and something to actually wade in.
By the time we arrived at Hera the skies were crystal clear and the sun dried up all evidence of an earlier shower. We walked around and saw remnants of the once great Temple of Hera.
According to Greek Mythology, Hera, the goddess of women, marriage and fertility, was born near the river Imvrasos, Her sanctuary, the Temple of Hera, a World Heritage monument is located on the banks of this river.
Of the original 155 columns, this is the only one still standing.
After a few hours in the blazing sun at the Temple of Hera, our next stop is the town of
Pythagorean (Pythagoreio / Πυθαγόρειο), where some of what you are about to see, forms a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site with the Temple of Hera.
I remember renting a moped while visiting Zakynthos, where I soon learned that the red sign with the white dash across it meant one-way, do not enter. Believe it or not this narrow alleyway has vehicular traffic, one of the reasons why driving a small car is a good idea, and if you are an American watch out for those little red signs with a white horizontal line bisecting them or you'll only meet angry natives.
If you remember back to middle school mathematics, you will might recall that:
Well the Greek mathematician, Pythagoras from Samos, born in 580 BC, is responsible for that. Everything comes from the Greek.
The image below depicts the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ the Savior in the Castle of Lycourgos Logothetes which was built in 1831 in celebration of Lycourgos Logethetes' victory in the bid for Independence from the Ottoman Empire. No such luck though.
While the Castle of Logothetis and its tower are from the early 19th century the look and feel is much older, possibly because the building was constructed with the remains of archeological monuments.
Day 2: 9/22/2019
Our second day in Samos was a high intensity work-out day starting slowly with a drive to Karlovasi where we saw splendid architecture.
As we drove to Karlovasi we noticed a proliferation of super-realistic street art murals.
I love the way the artist used the building and all of its components as part of his canvas for this mural.
The painting is actually on a wall but from certain angles it looks like a young woman looking out of a window.
Our next stop was Potami where we visited another St Nicholas Church.
What appears as a blue line running across this photo is the sea. And from this vantage point, the view of the sea is spectacular. As you approach the white wall and look down, you will see one of Greece's gorgeous beaches.
After spending a few hours leisurely walking around two churches, we went to see a third, but this would be no leisurely walk. We drove to where we understood would be the best way to get to Metamorphosis Church, possibly the oldest churches on the island.
We heard that the old church was near the road that led to Potami Beach and so when we saw a sign, we decided to take a short walk.
Ahh... the rhythmic sound of waves, the scent of the salt air, the sea breeze across my face, how the crystal clear water draws me in...
We headed back up the hill in search for a path to a church. Eventually we found one and
started hiking up Mt Kerkis in search of the oldest church on the island. We walked past some olive trees.
And thinking we were on the correct path continued walking ...
Soon we came upon the chapel of Agia Parasekevi … could this have been the church that we were looking for? It was definitely old, but was it old enough?
After a short time at the church we headed back on the path
We got back in the car AGAIN and close to an hour later, found a sign pointing to the ancient chapel…
...and wouldn’t you know, after a few miles up and down the mountain, the actual place we were looking for was only about half a kilometer from the car. But we got our steps in. Yippee!
Sign pointing to the Byzantine Church Metamorphosis of the Lord, from the 11th century
So, after hiking close to 15,000+ steps (about 6 miles or 10 Kilometers) we were really hungry. We stopped at a cute village located midway between east and west near the north shore of Samos and at the foothills of White Rock Mount Karvouni called Manolates Village.
And yet another steep hill to climb….
On the way to dinner we passed some cats resting after eating some morsels that fell to the floor...
Some people take their vehicles up these narrow roads but if you are not a local its best to park below the village and walk up.
We picked a restaurant and sat down. Finally..
Stephan and Anna at the Taverna Kalista. A Greek village salad (horiatiki salata), tarama (carp-caviar salad), calamari, gigantes (giant beans cooked with tomato and olive oil), souvlaki and fish did the trick.
One last stop before our hotel in Upper Vathi for an obligatory ..
This is the first of a two-segment Samos blog.
Stay tuned for part 2