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MYKONOS, GREECE

Set like gems in the sparkling blue Aegean Sea, each of the Cyclades islands has its own character. For Mykonos, the local culture is a mix of the sacred and the profane. This island is the gateway to the neighboring unoccupied island of Delos, the sacred center of the Cyclades.

This 30-square mile island gets busy in high season. For those who don't like crowds, spring and fall are the best times to visit.

If your notion of a Greek island is old ladies in black and fishermen mending their nets by the harbor, Mykonos will be an eye-opener. In fact, it will probably surprise even the experienced traveler. Mykonos has more than 400 churches and chapels, as well as several nude beaches and its share of gay striptease and drag shows. Fashion models strut their stuff, and the nightlife can be as wild as anywhere in the world. Prices are high, too, but the food and shopping are better than almost anywhere else in Greece.

Mykonos Town, the capital, is the center of activity on the island. Go during the daytime if you want to experience a more traditional side of town. Take time to stroll its warrenlike streets, many of which are no wider than a sidewalk. On each side are smooth, whitewashed cubes whose doors and windows are splashed with bright colors. Bougainvilleas, clematis and geraniums cascade from the wooden balconies.

Be sure to peek inside a few of the red-domed chapels scattered around the island. Most are tiny, peaceful places. There are also several small museums that contain some interesting artifacts.

Outside the capital, the beaches are superb, provided you don't mind sharing them with a few thousand other people. Inland are few trees and lots of rocks, so although it's not the most attractive of islands, it does have a lot of character.

If a Rhine River Cruise is on your dream list, the delightful city of Cologne, Germany will more than likely be one of the cities you visit.  Cologne, which can trace its origins back to the Roman era, has the largest and most famous church in Germany (and that's quite a statement).  The city is filled with architectural marvels both old and new, and it's also home to some of Germany's best art and history museums.  Apart from its sights, the best reason to visit Cologne is to experience its friendly atmosphere—it's one of the most fun-loving cities in Europe. Much of the cities’ activities center around pubs, where people gather to drink Kolsch, the local beer.

HIGHLIGHTS

Sights—The island's landmark windmills, especially to watch the sun set; Little Venice at night (it may not be to everyone's tastes, but it's what Mykonos is about); Panayia Paraportiani, for a glimpse of the sacred amongst the profane; Mykonos Town's winding back streets; a short boat ride to the ancient archaeological site on nearby uninhabited Delos island.

Museums—The Archaeological Museum of Delos; Delos artifacts at the Archaeological Museum of Mykonos; traditional arts and crafts at the Folklore Museum of Mykonos.

Memorable Meals—a contemporary take on Greek tavern fare; organic Greek dishes such as water buffalo meatballs; gourmet seafood.

Late Night—club-hopping through Mykonos Town's alleys and Little Venice; after-hours beach parties on Paradise or Super Paradise beaches; enjoying the packed party crowd at the island's beach club venues.

 

GEOGRAPHY

Mykonos would be an almost circular island if it weren't for the bite-sized bays along the coastline, which give it a ragged butterfly shape. Its area, covered by barren rock and excellent beaches, is less than 30 square miles. Its capital, Mykonos Town, sits halfway down the island's west coast, looking inward toward some of the other Cycladic islands. The sacred island of Delos, now an archaeological site, is just a mile to the southwest.

The focal point of the town is the harbor, with the main square of Platia Mavrogenous (also known as Taxi Square) in the southeast corner. South of the harbor you'll see a line of white windmills, one of the great images of Mykonos, though better viewed from a distance. These structures, no longer in use, were built to capture the prevailing northwest winds for grinding wheat into flour.

South of the windmills is a trendy district called Alefkandhra. This area is also known as Little Venice, because its balconied buildings back onto the water. Alefkandhra gets packed at times because so much of the town's cultural life is squeezed in there—not only within the cafes, tavernas, discos and art galleries, but in the streets as well.

Most of the beaches and small resorts are along the south coast, within fairly easy reach of Mykonos Town. The island's only other major settlement, Ano Mera, is about 5 miles east of the town. Ano Mera is a large village hardly touched by tourism. Beyond there the roads peter out, although there are some quiet beaches and coves that can be reached by footpath or by boat.

In the center of the island is a reservoir lake that attracts flocks of migrating birds.

 
 

HISTORY

Not much is known about the early history of Mykonos. When recorded history began, it was being used as a stopping-off point for the holy island of Delos. In fact, Mykonos is named after the son of a king of Delos. According to mythology, the island got its rocky shape when Hercules killed several giants there and threw them down, turning them to stone.

During the first millennium, the island was inhabited by seafaring peoples who found their way there from Egypt, Phoenicia, Crete and the Ionian islands. In 1207, the Venetians conquered the island, and in 1537, it came under Turkish rule. It remained under Turkish occupation until 1822, though it retained a certain amount of autonomy, providing ships and sailors to fight against the Turks in the war of independence.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, pirates plagued the island. In an effort to confuse them in Mykonos Town, the narrow streets were contorted into labyrinthine designs. Visitors have felt the disorienting effects ever since.

The first half of the 20th century saw the island become a popular spot with archaeologists working on nearby Delos. In the 1950s, the first waves of tourists began to arrive, including glamorous names such as Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. Since the 1970s, Mykonos has been one of the gay capitals of the Mediterranean, and it remains a part of the island's cultural mix

POTPOURRI

Mykonos has about 10,000 residents, yet it attracts almost 800,000 visitors a year.

Just about every movie and music star you can imagine has visited the island at some point. Even Rolling Stone Keith Richards stopped rolling long enough to spend some time there. 

Sponges are sold all over Mykonos and are said to have healing qualities. Sponge diving has been practiced in the Aegaen Sea for at least 3,000 years.

The superstition of kako mati or simply mati, the "evil eye," is still feared as it was 2,000 years ago. A clove of garlic in your pocket will protect you against it. If you happen to be without garlic, mimic spitting three times in the direction of your chest.

Mykonos has been used as a location for various films, ranging from The Boy on a Dolphin starring Sofia Loren in 1957, to Bourne Identity with Matt Damon in 2000.

Mykonos is named after the grandson of Apollo, Mykons. According to Greek Mythology, Hercules, Poseidon and Zeus fought the Titans on the island.

Mykonos has its own mascot, a white pelican named Petros, who prances around the harbor and loves people. Legend has it he was found injured off the coast and nursed back to health by locals

SIGHTSEEING

The narrow streets of Mykonos Town are one of the main attractions, provided you can visit out of season and see them when they're quiet and pretty. Whitewashed walls and blue doors and windows draped with deep pink bougainvillea make up the archetypal Cycladic scene, which you'll see on many postcards.

Visitors congregate in the cafes of Little Venice at the end of the day to watch the spectacular sunset, though the sunset views are actually better from the hill where the windmills sit.

There are a few small museums. The Archaeological Museum, with some finds from Delos, is worth a visit. The Folklore Museum displays Myconian art, ceramics and embroidery. The Aegean Maritime Museum contains some interesting models of ancient sailing vessels. A trip to the neighboring island of Delos is the must-see excursion for those not dedicated to beaches. Try to get there early so you'll have plenty of time to look around the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site.

In town, Panayia Paraportiani is the prettiest of the island's numerous churches. You will find it near the remains of the castle, at the southwest end of the harbor.

The remains of many churches, chapels and shrines dot the island's landscape. According to traditional lore, fishermen who ran into trouble at sea would pray for their lives to be spared, and those who made it back to land built shrines in gratitude. Many of these tiny, private chapels are near the homes of fishermen.

Across the island is the only other large town, Ano Mera. It is well worth visiting to get a feel for typical Greek daily life. The Monastery of Panayia Tourliani is near the main square, and it's a charming example of a Greek monastery.

DO'S AND DON'TS

Do expect to see any and every kind of dress (and not always on women) if you wander around parts of Mykonos Town at night. It's a place where anything goes, especially late at night and into the early hours.

Don't choose a beach at random. Some are gay, some are nudist, some are both, and some are noisy, so ask or look around before settling down.

Do not expect "no smoking" signs to be respected anywhere on Mykonos. The only place on the island where you won't find a smoker is Starbucks.

Don't think you'll have a cheap break on Mykonos—it's expensive.

Do take lots of memory cards for your digital camera. Parts of Mykonos are unbelievably photogenic. Do ask for permission, though, before taking a picture of an orthodox priest.

Do not order Turkish coffee on Mykonos (or in Greece, for that matter). The recipe remains the same but it is called an elliniko (a Greek) there.

Do try to catch the sunset in Mykonos Town or at Agios Stefanos beach.

Do head to the beaches before 11 am if you want to rent a lounge chair and umbrella during the peak tourist season.

 

Geostats

Currency: Euro

Languages: Greek

Predominant Religions: Greek Orthodox

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts. 50 Hz

Travel 42

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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon

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