Well, we finally got the first really big snowfall of the year. Not so bad really — about three inches overnight and another couple today. But, it’s really windy and cold. So, I’m back to working on pictures from our fabulous Greek vacation. Today, I’m revisiting Patmos, a small island in the Aegean Sea.
Patmos is a beautiful, somewhat secluded Greek Island with no airport. It’s tranquility and pristine beaches, makes it attractive to the rich and famous from all around the world.
Although reachable by ferry, few cruise ships anchor here — they’re just too big. And, the island simply can’t absorb the influx of thousands of visitors. During our visit, the masted Windstar was the only ship in the harbor.
Even though somewhat difficult to reach, Patmos is an important Christian pilgrimage destination. According to the Bible, John the Apostle had visions of the end of the world while in exile there. Those prophecies are detailed in the New Testament’s Book of Revelations.
And, talk about scary stuff and finding one’s religion! I’ll also share our experience of sheltering overnight in Patmos, during a rare, hurricane-like storm in the Mediterranean.
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Calm Before the Storm
Last I left you, we had just returned to the ship, after a magical evening dining amongst the ruins in Ancient Ephesus, Turkey.
It was a gorgeous, clear day in Patmos when the Windstar dropped anchor in the picturesque port of Skala. At that time, we were unaware of very bad weather heading our way. But, let’s hold that thought for later in the story.
For now, it was a perfectly lovely day to explore and enjoy Patmos. After a delicious breakfast on deck with beautiful harbor views, we boarded a tender and headed to shore.
Although Patmos is a relatively small Greek island, the places we wanted to visit were spread out over mountainous terrain. So we pre-booked a shore excursion to take us to both the Monastery and Cave of St John. Windstar described the three-hour tour as moderate to strenuous in terms of activity level.
An air-conditioned bus was waiting for us at the pier in Skala harbor. It was a scenic short ride to the Grotto or Cave of St. John.
From the parking lot, we were able to enjoy stunning views of whitewashed Chora, the charming capital of Patmos.
Only one problem — there was a Mass going on inside the Grotto at the time. The narrow passages and tiny cave were packed with people. Somehow, the local-based tour company was oblivious to the fact it was the Feast Day of the apostle! Christian pilgrims and the faithful come in droves to Patmos to celebrate Mass and pray. One of the most important dates on the religious calendar for Patmos and this seemed to catch them by complete surprise!
So we re-boarded the bus, with plans to return after services had ended. Heading further up the mountain, we passed numerous, pretty whitewashed buildings and this row of windmills. It was an odd juxtaposition of old and new, seeing windmills and cell towers in the same setting.
Built on an ancient acropolis, the Monastery of St. John the Theologian has massive 15th century walls and 17th century battlements. Located high on a mountaintop, the monastery looms over the small town of Chora far below.
Situated among gleaming white houses, the monastery forms a startling contrast with its dark mass.
Established in 1088 by St. Christodoulos, a Greek monk, the monastery has thick, high walls crowned all around with battlements and a total of eight chapels. Inside, it contains original structures dating to the 11th century. Most important, is the church of St. John with its superb frescoes.
Jerusalem of the Aegean
As we entered the interior courtyard, we could hear chanting, before coming upon a wall of humanity. People were spilling out of Mass in the monastery’s small church. These were not tourists, but devout Christians in prayer. I found it peaceful, beautiful and deeply moving. I would have loved to attend the service going on inside. Even so, It was a religious experience I won’t ever forget.
Our guide silently pointed and directed us to quietly navigate through the intimate interior space of arches, inlaid pebble paths, stone walls and whitewashed buildings — it was a tight squeeze! Finally, we reached narrow stone steps leading upward to the monastery museum and it’s ancient holdings.
Inside the small museum is a dazzling collection of jeweled chalices, crowns and crosses, icons and religious paintings; including an original El Greco.
There’s also the “golden bull” granting the island of Patmos to Christodoulos by the Byzantine Emperor. It’s decorated with ancient seal and imperial monograms. There’s also a firman, or edict, issued by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1454 that confirms the monastery’s independence.
Housed in the monastery library are 1,200 manuscripts in parchment, vellum or scrolls; including leaves of Mark’s gospel from the 6th century. The collection is second only to the Greek Orthodox center of Mount Athos.
We lingered in the museum, allowing time for the services to end and faithful to disperse. Descending back into the courtyard, we were able to view the intricately designed arches and frescoes adorning the church entrance. Inside, the mesmerizing chapel of Christodoulos is profusely decorated. It feels profoundly old and rich in history. I wish we could have spent more time inside.
I’m sorry I don’t have pictures to share — I was too caught up in the moment and it never occurred to me. Photography was probably not allowed anyway.
View of World’s End
Departing the monastery, we walked winding streets of houses dating to the 16th century. A maze of steps and lanes connects the buildings, interspersed with charming small squares. I was too busy watching my footing, and the space was so tight, I forgot to take pictures again!
However, as we returned to the Cave, there were more spectacular views of the island, harbor and Windstar below.
The Grotto of St. John is where the apostle heard the voice of God and wrote his revelations. He spent 16 months in the penal colony on Patmos. The simple cave is now a chapel and place of pilgrimage. Built around the cave where St. John wrote the Apocalypse, is a 17th century monastery.
Here, the Greek Orthodox chapel of St. Anne, completely encloses the cave where John had visions of the final judgment. Now sealed by a rocky alcove, the Cave of the Apocalypse, lies at the end of a long series of narrow hallways.
Inside, several places in the rockfall are revered as sacred. One, is the cleft where the apostle is thought to have laid his head. Another crack is where St. John placed his hands to get up. Most important, is the fissure in the rock where God’s voice is said to come through and spoke to the saint.
As you proceed through the small space, there isn’t much time to see and absorb what’s in the cave. Still, hubby and I were relieved to have the opportunity to see it, particularly on the saint’s feast day.
Rather than tender back to the Windstar, Mr. Buzz and I headed into Chora. We quickly found an outdoor seat at a taverna in the main square, and enjoyed a delicious Greek meal.
Afterwards, we meandered the picturesque streets and did a little shopping. I found a beautiful shawl that I later squeezed into my luggage — along with the tablecloth purchased earlier in Amazing Ancient Athens.
See the lovely black olive-embroidered linens in Greek Tablescape & Olympic Torch Napkin Fold.
Afterwards, we meandered along the waterfront where it was surprising quiet. We found out why later that afternoon.
Small Ship Cruising
In the meantime, the Windstar had dropped it’s watersports platform for passengers to get into the water and enjoy a variety of sports activities. There’s also a very small pool, hot tub and spa on board. In the evenings they open a tiny casino.
The Windstar is a sleek, 4-masted sailing ship that accommodates up to 148 guests, with a crew of about 90. It has beautiful wide teak decks. There are lots of hidden nooks across the ship, which more than make up for the lack of any cabin verandas. Hubby and I could always find a place to ourselves, and we spent little time in our room. Often, it felt like we were on a big private yacht.
All the staterooms have ocean views, and are spread across just two decks. Cabins are large and comfortable, with spacious baths that include a roomy shower with massage shower head, and comfy waffle-weave robes. Every afternoon, we were greeted back onboard with cold towels and beverages. Fresh fruit and flowers were waiting in our stateroom.
Setting Sail, or Not
Normally, sail-away activities took place around 5:30 to 6:00 PM. That’s when passengers enjoyed cocktails on deck as the Windstar headed out of port.
It was especially exhilarating as the crew raised the sails, while a rousing soundtrack played over the ship’s speakers.
Mostly for show, the sails usually came down without ceremony shortly after sunset.
Sheltering in Port
Instead of sail-away festivities, Windstar‘s captain and officers met passengers in the ship lounge with sobering news. A rare hurricane-like storm, called a Medicane, was bearing down on us. It was hard to imagine after such a gorgeous day spent on Patmos. Much larger cruise ships than ours had already been diverted away from Crete. Vessels and ferries where sheltering in ports all around the Aegean.
Although the captain assured us that the Windstar would remain sea-worthy in the expected 20-foot high seas, it would be a very rough, unpleasant overnight journey. Everyone sat there stunned. Twenty-foot seas?! So, instead of sailing to our next destination, we stayed safely anchored in Patmos. We’d head out the next morning, and spend the entire day sailing to Santorini. That “lost” day at sea, meant we’d have to skip Gibraltar-like Monemvasia.
The ship’s doctor said he’d be distributing seasickness pills, and suggested we take one before bed. Hubby and I were already wearing precautionary patches prescribed by our doctor at home. A good thing as it turned out.
Meals, Amenities & Diversions
We all went to dinner disappointed to miss part of our itinerary, but grateful we were safe and sound. I would have been crushed to miss Santorini.
That night, we enjoyed the already-scheduled crew talent show. It was highly entertaining and a good distraction.
Our Indonesian crew was simply outstanding. They were efficient, professional and friendly, with delightful senses of humor. Here they are during our final night at sea for Windstar‘s traditional, open-air BBQ dinner. It was a grand feast! Stacks of beautifully presented food, including as much lobster as you wanted. And the dessert table — don’t even get me started LOL!
All the meals were like eating at a four or five star restaurant. We also liked that there were no assigned times or tables. Although, we often joined fellow passengers at a table for the breakfast rush to head to shore. On several nights, we made plans with several other couples to join them for dinner. Getting to know a number of our fellow passengers was one of the pleasures of small ship cruising.
Casual and full-service breakfast and lunch were served inside or out at Veranda. For dinner, the Amphora restaurant offered more gourmet, course-by-course cuisine. Reservations were only necessary for dining under the stars at Candles, which featured steaks and skewers.
Celebrating in Grand Style
Mr. Buzz and I ate dinner on the late side, so we could maximize our time on shore, and enjoy cocktails and sail-away activities on deck.
Afterwards we’d dress up a bit for the evening, although there was no formal nights or need for men to wear a jacket on the Windstar. And no theme costume nights either; something which really appealed to hubby. Then, we’d head back on deck to enjoy sunset; usually in a quiet spot all to ourselves.
On our milestone anniversary, we booked a table at Candles for an intimate meal in a very romantic setting. It was like the entire ship knew it was our anniversary! Crew members and officers kept congratulating us by name.
After dinner, we visited the bridge and spent a wonderful half-hour chatting with the captain and navigator about the ship. Hubby the engineer loved it!
Earlier, there was a gift bottle of wine in our room, and our steward had folded two towels to resemble kissing swans. As is customary on cruise ships, a new folded towel animal greeted us every afternoon in our cabin. One of my favorites was this hanging monkey.
On our rough day at sea, I attended a towel napkin-folding demonstration. It was a good distraction from the six to eight foot seas that rocked the ship for a ten long hours.
So, early the next morning the Windstar headed out of the shelter of Patmos. It was not a pleasant trip, although hubby and I didn’t get seasick. Most passengers appeared to spend the bulk of the day in their staterooms. Me, not so much.
Our cabin was on the lower of two stateroom decks. That meant our nice big window was not far above the waterline. I found it unnerving watching the waves and swells slap up against the window — like we were partially submerged.
So, I headed up to the small library, holding on to the railings as the ship rocked and I climbed the stairs and navigated hallways. There, I got comfortable; putting in my earbuds, closing my eyes, and listening to several hours of already downloaded podcasts. Learn more how Podcasts Make for Pleasant Trip.
It felt like an exceptionally long day, with the monotony of grey skies and water — and no land in sight.
Finally, in the late afternoon, we pulled into the enormous water-filled caldera of Santorini. Numerous large cruise ships were already anchored there. We could also see a long string of cars awaiting ferries. Apparently, all transportation in and out of Santorini had come to a halt over the last day or two.
As it was raining, hubby and I decided to stay onboard, rather then tender over and try to navigate transportation around Santorini. Instead, we enjoyed a serene dinner with new friends. Later, passengers were entertained with Greek folk dancers in the lounge — even hubby joined in!
Everyone was relieved the storm had passed and excited to explore the next day. And, Santorini did not disappoint! Visit our next port of call at Santorini, Greece: Gem of the Aegean.
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