Following a Greek Snake – Paros, Greece
An old white windmill in the middle of a roundabout – that’s every tourist’s first impression of the island of Paros and its capital Parikia, the busiest port in the Cyclades.
The mill looks deserted, but has in fact a resident, one that likes coiling up. A quick glance behind the low wall encircling the mill, reveals something typically Greek: flagstones where the grouting is painted white. In my eyes, it looks like snakeskin. I’ve also seen tracks of this special snake elsewhere in Parikia, tracks that I will now follow in an effort to get to know the town better.
At this point, the sun is low, almost ready to retire, whereas the port continues to be busy, with waiting passengers ruthlessly trampling on the poor snake. To get away, it suddenly jumps across the road and begins wriggling in and out between waving fan palms, on its way passing a tiny white church with a freshly painted blue dome, Agios Nikolaos. The row of palms actually borders the edge of a large square, part of which functions as a park with stone benches and oleander bushes in red and white.
The snake leads me to the square’s next corner to show me a little shack surrounded by green busses, right on the sea. This bus terminal is unfortunately all that many tourists see of Parikia, for they immediately continue to Naoussa, a holiday and fishing town up north. Both towns are charming, each in its own way. While Naoussa may seem compact and a bit claustrophobic, Parikia stretches away – from the harbour up to its intimate uptown. The friendly atmosphere on the other hand, very characteristic of Paros, is the same wherever you go.
Not wishing to create a stir, the snake changes color from time to time, simply by making its contrasting stripes invisible. That’s what happens on the upper part of the square where a white wall is hiding a beloved church, Ekatontapyliani, the church of the 100 doors. Peace and shade can also be found in a wood of leaning pines, bent by the wind or just bowing respectfully to the church. Two signs show the way out of the square – one pointing to the archeological museum left, the other rightwards to the old town and the market street.
The streets of the old town are laid out to match a snake’s movements. It winds happily through whitewashed picturesqueness, partly spoiled by numerous small shops using the street and walls to display their merchandise. The shops and cafes do give the street color, but reduce it at the same time to a piece of scenery. In the early morning, however, the market street is quiet and sleepy and you often see shopkeepers freshening up the snake pattern in front of their shops with a brush and white paint.
Seven steps are nothing for a snake, so we get easily past Symposium, a crowded cafe situated on a narrow rise. A few hundred meters further on, the snake has to choose direction, straight forward or left. Straight on leads upwards to the Acropolis, popular among those who like to admire the setting sun over a quiet yet expensive drink. The snake prefers the left because there it’s possible to enjoy the real old town, unspoiled by tourist shops and with flourishing pot plants as the only decoration. Although the houses may not all be in perfect repair, they radiate a peaceful harmony. On one terrace, this harmony is exemplified by the man of the house, groaning with delight as his wife vigorously massages his feet.
A cross street blocks our way. The snake, a clever pathfinder, suggests we proceed to the left and turn right over at the minimarket. Soon, the old town is succeeded by rural surroundings, including a grove of towering cypresses. Both of us are eager to find the sea, so the snake and I keep determinedly to the right, accompanied by a white wall. The harbour is still out of sight. After a couple of minutes though – in the opening between the houses ahead of us – the snake pattern turns up again and the bay appears in the background.
We’re at the far end of the sea front now. A row of tamarisk trees shades the view of the large Hotel Pandrossos up front and its neighbor, another windmill, on a nearby hill. Right in the curve, just where the road starts climbing uphill, people dance in the fish tavern Bountaraki, the last house on the waterfront. A group of elderly women perform a lively chain dance, probably inspired by an enjoyable meal. To their surprise – and amusement – a male tourist joins in.
Next to the tavern, a fine white gate opens onto a little green paradise with a broad and elegant flight of steps, white-striped of course, tempting us to ascend. Evidently acquainted with the area, the snake winds along the rear of the Pandrossos, no doubt heading for the sea and the sunset again. Its destination turns out to be the Alexandros Bar which encircles the restored windmill, the most romantic sunset bar in town.
The snake has already coiled itself round the mill as I sit down to recover with an ouzo. In the descending darkness, the harbour promenade gradually changes into a multi-colored string of light. Such a spectacle could make anyone feel like celebrating, except the snake – it has been sufficiently trampled on for today.