Category Archives: Travel

Burj Khalifa; At The Top Sky

This post is dedicated to Gerard Moore Junior (taku tama arohaina) whose generosity took me to the top.

From a distance, Burj Khalifa is alarmingly fragile. Up close it’s terrifyingly tall. At night, it’s a slender silhouette of gold light against the ink-black sky. In the daytime, it cuts like a giant blade of steel and glass into the blue.

 

For a while, I admired this stellar centrepiece of downtown Dubai from below. But, as mountains are to adventurers, so are towers to travellers. They compel us to climb them. From the Eureka to the Eiffel, I’ve conquered a few. In the end, I had to do the Burj Khalifa too.

Yet, I was nervous, as I waited with my fellow travellers for the At The Top Sky tour to the Burj Khalifa’s 148th floor. The couches, cushions, potted palms, Arabian coffee and platters of dates in the SKY Lounge did nothing to dispel the disturbing pictures haunting my thoughts. In one I was stranded in a lifeless elevator, deep in the burj’s concrete core. In another I clung to a flimsy ledge that tilted slowly into space. Was Burj Khalifa, a tower too many, too high?

Still, when the time came, I put my fears aside and followed our guide, Ahmed, into one of the burj’s 57 elevators.

As we soared skywards at an ear-popping 65 kilometers per hour, with the urgent drums of the Burj Khalifa’s dedicated elevator music beating ever faster, images of tall city landmarks streamed past.

Somewhere, up beyond the very tallest of them, we stopped for the Burj Khalifa’s story. It’s a bold tale and Ahmed told it with righteous pride. It began with a big dream – of a mighty burj, or tower, that would stand as an emblem of Dubai and as an iconic landmark to the world.

12,000 people, of 196 nationalities, from 149 countries, came together to build the dream. Chicago architect Adrian Smith designed it, taking inspiration from the ancient towers of Islam and the desert flower, hymenocallis, or spider lily. In 2004, construction began. 6 years, 22 million man-hours and 1.5 billion dollars later, it was completed. At 828 metres, the Burj Dubai was the world’s tallest building. On January 4, 2010, it opened, re-named as the Burj Khalifa, in honour of Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. That same year, it won the World Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s Global Icon Award. The dream had come true.

Now, here I was at the heart of that global icon, surrounded by world wonders. I was at the centre of the largest vertical city on earth, home to the world’s highest nightclub, library and mosque. I was heading for the highest outdoor viewing platform on the planet, 555 metres from the ground.      

With the music winding to a crescendo and with outlandish feats of celebrity daring playing out on the elevator walls, we soared up again. I stared, mesmerised and horrified, as a grinning Tom Cruise flapped around the burj’s spire while Spiderman inched up its sheer glass walls.     

…there were flowers

The lift delivered us to an oasis of quiet, calm, and stillness. There was soothing orchestral music. There were flowers. There were waiters with trays of drinks and petit fours. There were smiling hostesses to guide us around. There was soft carpet patterned with rippling sand. There were armchairs beside tall windows which curved out into the sky.

I sat and looked down. Below, Dubai fell into patterns. Buildings shaped into cylinders. City blocks formed squares, rectangles and triangles. Roads curved and cut between them, curled into petals and pointed in parallel rows towards the horizon. Parks and gardens became bands and circles of green.  Ponds, pools and streams turned into oblongs, ovals and wriggling snakes of blue. Then, defying the order of the built city, there were patches of parched dirt – some etched with the beginnings of future construction, others just fragments of desert.   

… the patterns of Dubai…

On the world’s highest viewing platform, safe behind a solid glass wall, I stood in the sky. I felt rushes of fear and exhilaration, of arrogance and awe. I could see all the way across the desert to the end of the earth. I could see where the sea dissolved into the sky. Below, the city was tiny and fragile. People were slow-moving specks. Big words, like omniscient and omnipotent came to mind.

…where the sea meets the sky…

In a dark theatrette, I waved my hand through a tube of light and watched myself take flight on giant screen.  Launching from the burj’s spire, I glided through space, circling around landmarks, swooping over rooftops, between buildings, through windows, into shops and houses, into the everyday lives of old Dubai. I peered over the shoulders of men smoking shisha and women stirring pots. I chased after children in the streets. Now I really felt superhuman.

I could have lingered on high forever, in this rarefied state, but in truth, I’m a mere mortal. I belong on earth. I need the noise, the sun and the warm air below.

“Leaving already?” asked the hostess at the elevator. I’d been there for hours but she seemed sorry to see me go.

Down on level 124 I was back in the busy real world. I was swept from the lift into a photo studio. There was a flash. Minutes later, a picture showed me smiling foolishly from a beam on the half-built burj. I joined the memorabilia hunters in the souvenir shop. Among mugs and key rings, I found something new and slightly unnerving – leftover burj bolts. I circled the deck. Below, the neat patterns of Dubai had disappeared.

One swift, silent elevator and a long, slow escalator took me down to earth.

The People who built the Burj Khalifa

I wandered alone in the quiet ground floor gallery where the At The Top Sky experience ends. Here, interactive stations tell the stories of the people who built the Burj Khalifa.

It’s a perfect finale. It is fitting that the last words on the greatest project in human history should come from the architects, engineers, contractors, artists, tradespeople, craftspeople and labourers who worked on it, shaping 330 cubic metres of concrete, 31,400 metric tons of steel, 103, 000 square metres of glass and 15, 500 square metres of embossed stainless steel into the world’s most iconic tower.  

Cost of the At The Top Sky Tour – 500 dirhams. Value – priceless.

 

 

Kia ora rawa atu, Gez

The colours of holidays

Green, blue, white, grey, yellow and rainbow – these are the colours of holidays! Whatever your preferred vacation destination – forest, seaside, mountain, desert, or mix of the lot – modern tourism has you colour coded!

A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand
A beach in Aotearoa New Zealand

Green Tourism, also known as rustic, country or agri-tourism, is motivated by the quest for nature and tranquillity. Green tourists seek renewal or rejuvenation in pristine forests or beside wooded rivers and lakes.

Blue Tourism centres on the sea, lakes, rivers, spas, springs and waterfalls. At heart, Blue tourists believe in the healing, restorative powers of water.

White Tourism leads to the purity and the cold of snow covered mountains in winter, but sometimes also in summer. The mountains, especially those which are covered in snow all year round, represent something enduring and reassuring in a constantly changing world.

Grey Tourism has the towns and the cities as its destination. Its object is the artificial rather than the authentic and culture rather than nature. . 

Yellow Tourism takes the holiday maker to the desert sands, with their solitude and their vast, arid emptiness.

Multi-coloured Tourism is the experience offered by organised tours. It races you through a mix of colours – the blue of the water, the green of the countryside, the white of the mountains, the grey of the cities and the yellow of the desert – the full rainbow of sensations.

So, what’s your favourite holiday hue?

 

What are you wearing on the plane?, a travel story

What are you wearing on the plane?  was first published in The Australian in August 2008.

Once upon a time, before mass travel made us all blasé, before rising fuel costs stole space and comfort from our aircraft and before terrorism ushered in tiresome security measures, plane travel was synonymous with elegance, glamour and sophistication.

The Tower of Big Ben
The Tower of Big Ben

The first to take flight from our street was an elegant fowl named Doreen. She was heading “home” to England. Doreen wasn’t English, so in fact, England wasn’t her home but that was what glamorous sophisticates called the place back then. The day before she left, neighbourhood aprons, slippers, hairnets and rollers gathered at her house, to bask one last time in her reflected glamour.

“What are you wearing on the plane, Doreen?” asked an eager hairnet.

“Go on, Dor, model it for us!” urged a floral apron.

Doreen didn’t need much persuasion and while she readied herself in her bedroom, aprons, hairnets, rollers and slippers closed in around the tea trolley. The kitchen seethed with whispered sour-grapes.

“Lucky thing” sighed some tartan slippers “I’d love to fly”

“New feathers would do me!” cackled a head full of rollers.

The door opened slowly. There was a collective screech as Doreen, a vision in a pale blue linen coat and pill-box hat, with immaculate white shoes, gloves and handbag stepped into the kitchen. She paused, flashed a smile, rocked from one pointy-toed, stilettoed foot to another, then, to chorus of squawks, sashayed across the lino. At the stove she turned, paused, preened, tossed her head and slowly peeled back the coat to uncover a coordinated, blue and white floral polished cotton sheath frock.

“Ta da!” she trilled, throwing her arms in the air, clouting a hairnet with the handbag and swiping an apron with the coat.

“Oh, Dor, you look gorgeous!” cooed the admiring apron “Where did you get it?”

“Marlene Modes!”

“You’ll need a girdle with that tummy, though” sniped the hair net.

“When are you having your hair set?’ inquired the rollers, scrutinising Doreen’s collapsing beehive though narrowed eyes.

“Tomorrow morning!”

“That pilot better look out, eh girls?” clucked the slippers.

Next afternoon, the whole street came out to wave Doreen off. Covetous eyes followed a quartet of nicotine-coloured bags into the boot of her dad’s Holden. There was a streamlined suitcase with piped leather edges and expandable catches, an elegant weekender, a sophisticated briefcase and a glamourous heart-shaped, quilted make-up case with a chic gold handle on top. Everyone stared in silence as the car carried Dor’s reconstructed beehive and regally waving glove away out of sight.

Whether it was the spell of Doreen’s ensemble, or the charm of her smile, she did bewitch a pilot somewhere en route. She never returned. From time to time, little red and blue edged envelopes would land in our letterboxes, addressed in Doreen’s elegant hand, with a deliciously foreign stamp in one corner and a mysterious “par avion” in the other. Then, tales of her glamorous life, at “home’, with her pilot, would speed along the street, over the teacups, from rollers to hairnet and from slippers to apron. For some years, Avion enjoyed great popularity as a name for neighbourhood newborns.

Times have changed.

Glamorous sophisticates, like Doreen, have all but disappeared from modern aircraft. The pre-flight coiffure has gone the way of the beehive, the hairnet and the roller. The hat and the glove have vanished like the girdle and the apron. Even in First and Business Class where some elegance survives, the frock/ coat ensemble has dropped out of sight. And “What are you wearing on the plane?” is pretty much an archaism.

Most 21st century travellers don’t dress to impress. They dress for convenience; wise to departure hall x-rays, metal detectors, strips and frisks, they’ve abandoned belts, buckles and stilettos for elastic waistbands and Velcro tab shoes. They dress for comfort; once bitten and now forever shy of the cramped, long-haul flight nightmare in constricting clothes, they’ve given up skirts, tights and even jeans for trackies and cargoes in soft, stretchy cloth. They dress for camouflage; survivors of meal-time turbulence spills, they’ve tossed out the whites and the pastels for black, wine reds and browns in tones of satay or stroganoff.

The odd streamlined suitcase still lands on the baggage carousel but most are a long way from Doreen’s tobacco tinted classic. More often than not, they’re reduced by security concerns to sinister shrink-wrapped hulks or by weight limits to bulging shapeless sacks. The technological age has bumped the brief-case for the computer bag and the back pack has usurped most weekenders. If any still linger, they’re speedsters on wheels, transformed for marathons through interminable terminal corridors. And in the interests of counter terrorism, the glamorous make-up case has given way to the miserable little plastic zip-lock bag.

These days the runway romance goes largely unnoticed. The cabin blind is raised only for some sensational celebrity scandal. Today we all call Australia home, yet we’re at home in England and most of the world. We all dash off emails and texts now, so the red and blue edged letter is rare. And now, since we all know that it’s just French for plane,  Avion, as a name, has fallen from favour.

Copyright Patricia Moore

 

Between Planes

The following article was published in the Travel and Indulgence section of The Australian in 2010

Is there anything worse than a long wait between planes?

You’ve come halfway round the world but you’re only half way home. You’ve zipped from day to day, night and sleep have vanished between time-zones, it’s too late for a hotel but too early for tours and anyway, you’re broke and exhausted. You’re suspended in airport purgatory and deliverance via your onward flight is an infinity of empty hours away.

Stanley Bay, Hong Kong

At 5 a.m. Hong Kong International Airport was dead. The departure lounges were deserted, the shutters were down on the shops and the corridors echoed with the creak of empty people movers. I had 19 hours before my midnight flight.

I killed the first hour in the restroom, alone but for one hovering cleaner, masked and gloved like a surgeon.

Outside, at 6 a.m the Travelex booth was ablaze with lights.  A morning-fresh face beamed from behind the counter.

“Would this be enough for a day at HKIA?” I asked, sliding my last euros across.

My words hung foolishly in a long silence.

“That depends,” said fresh-face finally “on what you want to do”

“Make friends, fall in love, build a monument, something like Tom Hanks in Terminal” I thought, gesturing vaguely down the concourse.

“Yes!” she snapped with conviction and counted out $500HK.

Behind us the shutters rattled up on the bookshop. Good! Nothing like a bookshop to fill time! An hour later with the store’s cheapest, fattest novel under my arm, I headed for the mezzanine café.

Newspapers and laptops opened around me as I sipped a slow latte with an extra shot. Below, benches filled with people, queues snaked backwards from desks, the trickle in the corridors swelled to a stream and buggies of uniforms zoomed to and fro. It was nine o’clock and the airport was wide awake.

I, however, was ready for sleep. I headed for some chaises longues I’d spotted earlier. Gone! As miffed as Baby Bear, I took in six slumbering forms. Then, like Goldilocks, I zig-zagged through the airport, trying chair after chair; first the red and yellow tubs – too low! next the leather buckets – too high!; then the blue benches – too narrow! Finally, I fell upon the loungers in the ‘resting area’. After an hour my spine was curled like question mark – Too hard!

I limped towards the distant duty free shops. I’d window-shop until I was impervious to low, high, narrow and hard – until I dropped.

The big fat book was dead weight now. An orchestra and chorus struck up in my head “On and on I walk at day break, I cannot touch the green, green grass of home” they screeched.

Ahead, on a poster, a woman smiled into a shower. “Travellers’ Lounge’ said the words below. I followed a trail of arrows to the left. Soon I was gazing through a glass wall at glowing lamps and deep armchairs where people dozed in stockinged feet. Beyond them others browsed at a buffet. With my last dollars I bought salvation – a shower and ten hours worth of unlimited buffet, internet and armchair.

At 11.am. I was that woman in the poster. At midday I was one of those browsers at the buffet. At 2pm I sank into one of those deep armchairs. It moulded itself around me. Sleep came swiftly.

It’s almost time to go now. My flight is at the top of the Departures Screen. Deliverance is at hand. And my advice to any other tortured soul trapped in that purgatory between planes, is, don’t suffer – buy your way into Travellers’ Lounge. It’s Heaven!

 

Crete, a bad beginning

Our Cretan holiday began with the classic traveller’s catastrophe – a missed flight. The 06.00 time printed so clearly on our tickets, meant six a.m. not six p.m. If it had meant 6.p.m., our tickets would have said 18.00. Of course, we knew that. We were shocked, surprised and embarrassed that we had made such stupid and basic mistake. After all we’d spent years now racing around the world with never a slip. We wasted several hours shaking our heads and blaming each other.  (YOU should have realised, YOU should have checked, WHO had the tickets? WHO could have asked for them? – If you’ve ever missed a plane for this reason, you probably know the lines)

In the hills of Crete
In the hills of Crete

The situation worsened when finally we rang the airline. There was no plane to Chania that day or the next – our week long Cretan escape was disappearing by the day. But wait, there was plane to Heraklion the next morning at 06.00. Never mind that Heraklion was several hundred miles from the resort at Agia Marina where our room with the balcony and the sea views awaited us, it was in Crete and tomorrow evening we could be there. We’d already won back a day. We were packed, ready and good to go. Things were looking up.

After misinterpreting our tickets and missing our flight to Chania the day before, we were leaving nothing to chance. Before the crack of dawn, we were at Gatwick airport waiting for next flight into Crete – destination, Heraklion.

Our fellow travellers were a team of lads heading off on a boys’ own drinking adventure and a team of lasses (distinguishable by lurid pink t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Nikis Hens night”), heading off on a girls’ own pre-wedding drinking adventure. Both parties were already armed with vessels of booze of various sorts and seemed to be having a jolly old time.

On the flight, the lasses grew louder and the lads grew quieter.  I wondered, not without a tinge of disquiet, if we were all headed for the same destination.

By the time the plane began to spiral down towards Heraklion, I was the only one awake and I contemplated its faded stones in luxurious silence.

There was no bus bound for Chania, at least not any time soon, and having already lost a day of our holiday we were reluctant to let go of another. We took a taxi.

Georgios, our driver seemed completely comfortable, if not downright pleased, with the prospect of the long trip to Chania and back. First we climbed, away from the coast, between steep rocky cliffs sparsely dotted with pines and shrubs and I thought of the World War II New Zealand soldiers, my father among them, on the run in this alien landscape. The road rose sharply and steadily to the summit and then sloped gently back down to the coast.

We passed slowly through straggling seaside settlements, remnants of villages with tiny churches and low stone cottages, punctuated all too often by looming modern resorts and hotels. On roadside signposts, I began to recognise names from old childhood stories – Galatos and Maleme.

“Agia Marina!” announced Georgios suddenly. So here we were, at last, a day late, but nonetheless about to begin our Cretan adventure.

Mykonos, Part 8, Around the Island

Our Sunday afternoon drive around Mykonos begins and ends with beaches.

A Yacht at anchor off a Mykonos beach
A Yacht at anchor off a Mykonos beach

With our Guide Spiros at the wheel of Windmills Tours’ unprepossessing little Econovan, we head out of Chora, past beautiful Mikhaliamos, the place of sand, then up over the hill. On the other side is Korfos Bay, where a tier of new houses is under construction. Since 1977, to preserve the integrity of the environment, the law on Mykonos has limited architecture to the Cycladic style. These Korfos houses are laid out along the hillside, like illustrations of each stage of the art. Some are just concrete shells, others have their coats of white plaster and others have their shutters in regulation colours of mauve, blue, turquoise or red. From Korfos we look across the bay to the island of Delos, Sanctuary of the gods, and to Saint John’s Beach, where the seminal feminist movie, Shirley Valentine, was filmed.

Driving across the island from Korfos, on a narrow road bordered by stone walls, we pass fields where a few scraggy sheep pick at sparse blades of grass. Once, Spiros tells us, these fields grew abundant crops of wheat and barley for export to Russia. Houses, like trees and foliage, are scattered. Some are crumbling into piles of rubble, others are freshly white-washed. We pass a huge cactus with fruit that look like an alien life-form.

The road takes us to Ano Mera, a village drawn in around a square, where a child’s bicycle lies abandoned, its wheels spinning idly, while handful of tourists and locals laze in the afternoon sun on a café terrace.

On the other side of the square is Panagia Tourliani. This 17th century monastery has an impressive bell tower with elaborate stone carving. It is also home to two museums, the Ecclesiastical Museum, were the precious Epitaphos of Eleni of Mykonos Town is kept and the Agricultural Museum, which has a wonderful collection of farm implements. The monastery church is regarded as the protectress of Mykonos and every year on August 15th, one of the island’s most important festivals is celebrated here. The church houses numerous beautiful pieces of folk art but its pièce de résistance is the stunning wooden iconostasis which was carved in Florence in 1175.

After a visit to the church of Panagia Tourliani, we suggest a spell in the sun on the café terrace, but Spiros knows a better place. We head down the cliffs into a semi-circular bay that is fast filling with Cycladic houses on the grand scale. On the beach thatched shelters are lined up. A life guard’s tower rises above them. This is Paradise Beach, place of endless summer parties. It’s almost deserted now. In contrast, the nearby beach bar is busy – it’s the hour for apératifs and Mezes. We find ourselves a corner table. Over Mythos and Mezes, we find our common ground. Spiros shares his dreams of an eco tourist resort, of a business introducing the finest Greek produce to the world – Symposio. We watch the sun sink lower in the sky.

Our last stop on the tour is at Psarou Beach- the playground of the rich and famous. There is a yacht anchored just offshore. The beach is empty this late in the afternoon but the churned up sand attests to a busy day. Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” booms from the nearby bar. It’s happy hour. But somehow the song strikes a harsh discordant note here. It bounces off the cliffs and echoes too loudly around the sheltered bay. It cuts across the gentle swish of the waves and the distant hum of a boat.

For us it’s a time for silence or perhaps for some poignant Greek music. It’s time to head back to Chora. It’s been an amazing afternoon with an erudite, eloquent and inspiring guide.

 

Mykonos, Part 7, The Churches

The gods have always been at the centre of life on Mykonos and since the beginning of time the people of the island have built temples, shrines and churches to honour them. Nowadays, Mykonos is home to more than a thousand churches.

A Mykonos chapel
A Mykonos chapel

Most of the churches on Mykonos are small, private chapels which sit close beside the homes of the families who built them. Here, the bones of ancestors find their final resting place in crypts, or ossuaries and their lives are commemorated here.   Family worship is observed and family occasions, like baptisms, marriages and name days are celebrated in these little chapels.

Other churches serve special groups, like the fishermen’s chapel, Agios Nikolakis, down at the edge of the sea on Akti Kambani. Others again serve neighbourhoods and villages for worship, baptisms, marriages and funerals. And every year, on the feast day of the saint to whom the church is dedicated, a spectacular festival is staged.

Although, on the outside, they almost all observe the modest traditions of Cycladic architecture, inside nothing is spared in the decoration. Religious paintings, wood-carvings, gold and silver filigree, tapestry and holy icons all contribute to give each church its own unique beauty.

On Sunday morning of our stay on Mykonos, the sky was blue, the sun was dancing on the sea and the church bells were ringing.

Mykonos, Part 6, Theoxenia cuisine

The September Saturday night on Mykonos is wet and cold. Seaside bars, restaurant terraces and nightclubs have no appeal, even on the most famous party island in Greece. The soft, warm light of Theoxenia’s bar and restaurant are seductive. We opt for a night in.

The bar at Theoxenia, Mykonos
The bar at Theoxenia, Mykonos

Sipping on a pre-dinner Mythos in Theoxenia’s lobby bar we watch more intrepid fellow guests set off for their Mykonos Saturday night out. A pair of vampires flits past, followed by Derby and Joan in Macs and Wellies. I catch the barman’s eye. He smiles and shakes his head. “You can’t possibly imagine …” he begins. But before he can complete his observation, he is called away by a customer. To bring him back to the subject five minutes later would seem nosy, if not rude, so I am left imagining what I couldn’t possibly imagine until dinner time.

Theoxenia’s restaurant continues the simple, understated stone, white and blue of its Cycladic exterior. A large wall of windows looks out over the sea. With the darkness of the autumn night behind them, they reflect the warm glow of the room.

Travelstripe is not a gourmet and you will rarely find effusive raves about food in these posts. But the cuisine at Theoxenia must not go unmentioned. Our meal began with a taste of a sort of frittata, courtesy of the kitchen – delicious! Next we shared Haloumi parcels, with olive tepanade and balsamic dressing on a bed of rocket and sundried tomato salad – even more delicious. This was followed by chicken breast stuffed with haloumi and sundried tomatoes served with baked aubergine (for him) and fresh salmon on steamed spinach and redoman with balsamic vinegar (for me) – more delicious still. Unfortunately, we were unable to even contemplate desserts after this marathon.

We returned to Theoxenia’s restaurant quite early the next morning. Outside that wall of windows the sky was blue and the sun was dancing on the sea. The air was heavy with the aroma of Greek coffee. There were full cooked breakfasts of several nationalities on offer but why would you, in fact how could you, when the buffet offered Greek yoghurt, honey, figs, bread, pastries and all kinds of local treats?

Mykonos, Part 5, Chora

Mykonos is certainly one of, if not the most beautiful of the Greek islands. It is known as the jewel of the Aegean and no wonder! Everything here is in complete harmony, both the works of nature and the works of man. Everything is to perfect scale. Nowhere is this balance more beautifully illustrated than in Mykonos town.

In a backstreet of Mykonos
In a backstreet of Mykonos

It is threatening rain – not an afternoon for the beach – so I turn up a narrow cobbled laneway away from the sea. Small white houses, with blue shutters and gates, crowd in around me. Mykonos Summertime, the island’s premiere lifestyle and travel magazine describes the island’s buildings as, “humble architecture, built at man’s height by free people who do not crawl to meet their master but who dare to look their God in the eyes” It is an apt description. Even monumental buildings, like churches are tiny, with a modest, understated, solid beauty.

My laneway leads me to Akti Kambani, the main waterfront. At one end of the bay is a little church where seafarers give thanks for a safe return. On the waves beyond it, a flotilla of caiiques bobs idly at anchor. In more clement weather, the bay would be empty and all boats would be away, ferrying sun-lovers to the outlying beaches. Now, one small, sad-looking group of beach boys is huddled under a flapping umbrella outside a café, with their hoodies pulled up and their tans turning blue.

Further along the waterfront I find Mando Square, named after Mando Mavrogenous, Mykonos’ most famous heroine who distinguished herself in the fight to overthrow the Turks in the 15th century. A statue to her memory stands in the centre of the square. The bay ends in a cluster of nightclubs. It is three in the afternoon, not yet party time, but even so, their closed doors have a look of finality.

I turn away, into another lane. Two storeyed shops crowd in on either side. In one, a rack of hoodies catches my eye. I have to have one. The lane is cold and like the boys down near the bay, I’m turning blue. I pick out a pale pink number with the symbolic Mykonos anchor embroidered on the chest. As the lady in the shop helps me into it she tells me that the business was her childhood home, until the sixties brought the first tourists. Then, like many other householders in the street, her parents turned the ground floor into a shop and moved the family upstairs. She lives there still with her own family.

Luxuriating in the fluffy warmth of my new pink hoodie, I follow the rise of the lane up the hill. I pass walls, hung with bougainvillea, threaded with pomegranates and apples. The lane opens into a square hung with canopy of grapes and bougainvillea. It is the perfect place to stop and just ponder this place called Mykonos.

I can find no more words so I’ll conclude this post with the proud “voice” of the island Mykonos Summertime

“The light of Apollo is evident everywhere on the island and art, beauty and form are all visible in the simple and eloquence of the dazzling white structures and a centuries old labyrinth of tiny streets and alleyways. The light is further enhanced by the reflection of aqua jewelled and crystal clean waters”

 

Mykonos, Part 4, Petros the pelican

I was enjoying the last drops of a hot, strong, post-prandial Greek coffee on the terrace of a café in Little Venice, Alefkantra, when a large pink bird waddled past. He paused, preened, then hopped gracefully up the café steps. All heads turned as he passed, cameras clicked and flashed, a waiter with an armful of carefully balanced plates stood back and the Maitre d’ rushed out to usher him through the door.

“Who was this famous fowl?”  I wondered.

Petros the Pelikan of Mykonos
Petros the Pelican of Mykonos

This was Petros, the pink pelican, the Mascot of Mykonos. With his girlfriend Irini, (also a pelican, also pink) he wanders the steep stone laneways, dropping in for a snack at cafés and restaurants along the way, posing for pictures, visiting friends, blending with the tourists and enjoying every moment of his life as the island’s most celebrated bird.

Petros was not the first pelican to make his home on Mykonos and assume the mascot’s mantle. Nor has he been the only Petros

In 1954, after a fierce storm, a local fisherman found a pelican washed up on the beach. He was exhausted, bedraggled and unable to fly. The fisherman nursed him back to health and before long he was a familiar figure, waddling the laneways, dropping into cafes or preening in the squares for a photo opportunity.  The people of Mykonos named him Petros. Everyone, islanders and tourists alike, fell in love with him.

Petros seemed set to live happily ever after on Mykonos, and although nature designed pelicans to live in pairs, he seemed content with his bachelor life. However, a well-meaning match-maker and rather famous Mykonos visitor, called Jackie Onassis, decided that he should have a wife. She found him a partner in Louisiana. Her name was Irini.

The wedding of Petros and Irini was a big fat Greek affair, with crowns, canopies, several priests, the whole population of Mykonos and a multitude of tourists in attendance. The marriage, however, was not a match made in heaven.  Petros didn’t warm to Irini and she gave him the cold shoulder. They went their separate ways.

When Petros met with a tragic accident in 1985, Mykonos went into mourning.  Then, in May 1986, a generous German travel operator by the name of Rudolph Kaestele sent the people of Myknonos another pelican. They called him Petros II. He arrived at the airport with a tiny German/ Greek dictionary hanging from a chain around his neck. He was ferried by Mayoral limousine into Manto Square, where he was met with music, dancing, baskets of fresh fish and flowers.

Then came the moment that everyone had been waiting for,  Irini minced into the square. Would Petros II warm to Irini?  Would she give him the cold shoulder?

As soon as he saw her Petros II opened his beak and gave a long cry of approval.  Irini was unable to resist. They waddled off into the Little Venice sunset in Alefkandra. And the rest, as they say, is history.