Ember Razement ________________________________ The Fine Art Photography of Malcolm Smith

 

REPORT ON TRIP TO GREEK ISLANDS 2004

 

OUR BIG FAT GREEK PHOTOGRAPHIC HOLIDAY - 2004

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This was our (myself and wife Elizabeth) first serious overseas photographic trip.  I took a newly purchased Canon professional digital camera (EOS1Ds) and a Canon film  camera (EOS1N) with 100 rolls of Fuji velvia transparency film.  I took mostly digital images and only used part of one roll of film (which was still in the camera when I sold it 2 years later and sold the other unused 99 rolls).

Our trip to Greece was spent largely in the Greek Islands - we visited Athens, the Island of Hydra and seven islands in the Cyclades (kih KLAH des) group.  This took us just over a month (five weeks) – most of May and a few days into June - and the main aim was for Elizabeth and myself to take photographs (I took over 2500 digital photographs and Elizabeth 24 rolls of film and over 1000 digital images)!  This was our first big trip with digital gear and we took too much film equipment – now we know fully what to expect from digital we will travel in future with a better selected range of gear (and you don’t have the hassles of getting film through x-ray machines but, on the other hand, a laptop is needed to hold each days images).  In my case I will carry digital camera, a variety of lenses (from wide angle 17mm wide angle to telephoto 400mm some with image stabilizer), tripod for low light shots, laptop and battery chargers (still a lot of weight!)and a CF USB card reader.  One disadvantage of digital is dust on the (extremely delicate) digital sensor which creeps in when lenses are changed and which appears on every image until you notice it and very carefully blow it off with a blower (not your mouth!).

Church at dusk with sky to die for - Naxos

Church at dusk with sky to die for
Naxos © M.Smith

On our first three weeks we were with a group of twenty five photographers (a mix of Professional and Amateur, 24 Australians from WA, SA, VIC, NSW and the ACT with one English photographer) organised by well known Australian photographer Nick Melidonis and we finished the last two weeks on our own.  The group idea worked very well and all were very friendly.  We would arrive at the destination (Athens or an Island), be shown the local area that day, go on a wider guided tour (in our own bus with time for photography) the next day, then we had a day on our own where we could hire a car etc. and go to places we wanted to do more photography.  One of the group leaders knew many of the locals who he introduced us to (eg the basket weavers in the village where this was a specialty)

It was a few months before the Athens Olympics and in Athens there was a lot of building work going on – this ranged from Olympic venues to road works (overpasses, freeways etc) and laying new tram tracks etc.  The Parthenon was still surrounded in scaffolding and needs some good American project management know how to finish it on time (that was a joke)!  Our hotel in Athens was near Syntagma Square and we could see the Acropolis and Parthenon across the city from the restaurant floor – all the ruins we wanted to see including the Acropolis were within walking distance from the hotel.  The Plaka area nearby had many interesting boutique shops, very interesting ancient buildings, churches and, of course, street side restaurants.

Fish for sale

Fish - Naxos © M.Smith

The traffic was chaotic - Greek drivers rarely stopped at stop signs or red lights, motor cycle helmets were not worn by half the riders or their passengers and mobile phones were used by drivers at any time.  Of course drivers drove on the wrong side road and went around roundabouts wrong way!  Lots of donkeys/mules were used for transport and seem placid animals which are particularly useful in the winding alleyways of many of the towns.  Alley cleaners on Naxos, for example, used them and on our first two weeks we  all photographed every donkey we saw (but soon became used to them).

We were very impressed by the ferries - some were like small ocean liners in size.  One line has a fleet of fast jet boats and hydrofoils that were made in Australia – all the ferries would come up to the wharf stop and rotate about the centre of the ship in the water and back up to the docks – very impressive for such large vessels.  Most larger ferries took very big trucks, livestock and goods as well as passengers.

The money system is now the Euro which the locals complained had put prices up unreasonably. Taxi fares most often were not metered and you need to confirm the fare with the driver before starting the journey.  Before leaving for the Airport in Athens the driver wanted 35 euro and I negotiated 25 which was still a few Euros more than the hotel said to pay.  A cup of coffee was about $A5

Harbour at Dusk - Naxos

Harbour at Dusk - Naxos © M.Smith

Lots of signs were Greek and in English but often spelling differed from that on the map – On one Island we were confused with not only three different spellings in several cases but errors on the map (provided in one case by the car renting agency for free).  There is usually a town called Chora on most islands – Chora (which has a number of spellings) turned out to mean main town.  Road STOP signs used the English word “stop” exclusively.

There were many marvelous buildings (houses, churches and public buildings) everywhere especially in the Islands – it seemed there were more churches than the towns could possibly need.  There were also quite a few operating monasteries where visitors (sightseers) were welcome and could take photographs.  However a few churches frowned on photographs and in Hydra the orthodox priests were quite hostile to photographers and didn’t want to be photographed themselves.  The most common building paint anywhere was white with blue trim!

You need to be reasonably fit for a trip like this – almost everywhere you go on the islands is usually up and down, often very steep, steps.  If you aren’t fit when you start you are by the time you finish five weeks!

Colourful church - Santorini

Colourful church - Santorini © M.Smith

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TRIP DIARY

Athens 3 May – 5 May 2004 and 31 May - 3 June.  The Plaka area, the parliament building (the old palace) with changing of the guards ceremony each hour, ancient ruins, shops etc.  We stayed in Athens for a few days at the start and end of our trip.

Tinos 5 May – 9 May.  Monestary with tunnels, Dove coates (like pigeon houses), villages with specialities (one made baskets and another had a well known sculpture school).  Had two ports and we had lunch at the second one (whole calamari!)

Mykonos 7 May.  Probably the most expensive of the Greek Islands and vies with Santorini for most visited island and is a rondevous for the rich and famous.  This was only a day trip where we visited the main town – lots of high priced boutique shops and some spectacular buildings (little Venice – houses perched above the sea like houses in Venice above the canals), little churches and wind mills (some now inhabited).  The town was a rabbit warren of small narrow winding laneways (supposedly the maze like laneways were deliberately so to confuse the pirates who used to raid them).

Yet another church - Santorini

Yet another church
Santorini © M.Smith

Naxos 9 May – 13 May.  Appolos Gate (a large spectacular ruined arch on a hill overlooking the main town), Castle (with resident descendant of the Count of Naxos) where we saw a dance group and looked at the castle antique displays.

Amorgos (ah mor GOSS) 13 May – 17 May.  Our hotel (a family run affair like many we stayed at) was a short ten minute walk from the town across a field and along the beach  There were two interesting towns close to our village with some spectacular scenery and one had the most elaborate and spectacularly decorated church we saw on the whole trip.  At the other town was a pretty church with several chapels and a graveyard where I spoke to a local girl about 12yo who said she had been visiting the grave of her grandparents every day for the last five years.  There was a Monastery high on a hill and the way down was a road about 1km with no room for the bus to turn (it backed down) one side there was a very high cliff to the sea many hundred feet below – those who could take the climb to the Monastery got some great photos of the monks

churchs everywhere - Santorini

churchs everywhere
Santorini © M.Smith

Santorini 17 May – 22 May.  Four thousand years ago one side of Santorini disappeared in a volcanic explosion (and the tidal wave it created is credited with wiping out the Minoean Civilisation).  The volcano is still active and had a small eruption a few hundred years ago and an earthquake in 1956 wiping out much of the built environment there.  Much of the two main towns (Fira and Oia)on Santorini are built on the edges of the volcano (the caldera) the narrow lanes are very steep but the buildings are very visually interesting with, as always, lots of churches and chapels.

Folegandros (fo LEGAN dros) 22 May – 26 May.  Bloody windy and hardly a tree outside the villages.  Only two villages plus port.  The main town had a walled in part called the Castro a relic of the days when pirates raided them.  We stayed in a very up market hotel - bedroom, kitchenette and living room opening out onto a balcony with a view to die for, many hundreds of feet above the sea pounding against the cliff below.  There was a spectacular church high on the hill behind our hotel (see photo below - a 30 minute climb thankfully up a ramp and not hundreds of steps) which was floodlit at night and very pretty.  This was the smallest least traveled to Island and relatively unspoiled – the locals were very friendly and would stop if they saw you wanted to take a picture including them (priests on donkeys, women walking home with vegetables from the shop or farmers in the fields).  As always in Greece lots of churches.

Floodlit Church high on the hill Folegandros

Floodlit Church high on the hill
on Folegandros © M.Smith

Syros 26 May – 31 May.  Syros is the business and government centre for the Cyclades group of islands and used to be the main Greek port.  The locals have less time to spend looking after tourists so appear to be less friendly than on islands where tourism is their mainstay.  Nevertheless an interesting island with boat building, the old town (the town of Ano Syros was perched high on a hill overlooking Ermoupolis the port) has extremely steep lanes and if you visit we suggest you get a taxi to the top and walk down.  The main church is at the top, makes a good starting point and, unlike some other churches, there was no one to say you couldn’t take photos (or a sign forbidding photos).  The church was quite spectacular.  Liz and I got a bus around the southern part of the Island which took several hours for four Euros.

 

Hydra (ee DRAH)1 June.  Hydra is about one hour trip on a hydrofoil from Piraeus (the main port for Athens).  This was only a day trip so we only saw the main town.  The islands only motor vehicles were garbage truck (s?) with all other transport by hand wagon and donkey.  We saw steel concrete reinforcing being moved from the port by donkey.  The architecture here was more like what I would expect in Italy and Mediteranian France with terracotta tiled roofs but much of the rest was painted the ubiquitius Greek white with blue trimming.  There is a monastery with an interesting Byzantine museum.

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