The magic of Tinos – a letter to my grandfather

I am in terminal F of the Philadelphia airport, trying (not very successfully!) to ease my way back from paradise to reality. And I am thinking of my maternal grandfather, Yaya, as I called him. He has been gone for over twenty years, yet this past week he was with me every day. Every day I thanked him for finding Tinos, a beautiful island in the Cyclades in Greece. For finding this paradise, for designing and renovating the house we still have there, for making this island a part of my life.

While we used to go there as a family when I was a child, I re-discovered this magical place last year. I loved it so much that I returned this past week – I hope this trip can now become an annual tradition. On the 11 hour flight from Athens to Philly, I could not help but re-live this past week, trying to remember every detail, every moment, every memory.

Tinos is not an easy place to get to – there is no airport on the island, which is part of what keeps it quiet and unpopulated. An eleven hour flight form the Northeast is followed by an hour cab ride to the Rafina port, which is followed by a two-hour ferry (if you take the fast ferry). Paradise awaits when you step off of the ferry. The island is a small mountain, it rises above the water, with patches of white and blue, the various villages visible behind the town of Tinos. Mykonos, Delos, and Syros are the neighboring islands visible in the distance.

Our house is in the village of Triantaros, known for its beautiful views on the town and the sea. Watching the sun rise at 6 am (jetlag…) and set at 9:30 pm from the terrace are two of my favorite things to do. Listening to the sounds of nature (mostly silence, crickets, church bells, and once in a long while a car or Vespa) while enjoying Boutari rosé wine is one of the most peaceful, calming activities. The lack of internet, TV, radio is one of the house’s best features, the ultimate luxury in terms of disconnecting from the modern world.

Our days on Tinos (after jet lag subsides) have a very regular rhythm to them. We wake up around 10:30 am, spend time on the terrace, eat Greek yogurt and have some strong coffee. All outside. Slowly, we make it to the Para Pente Café in town, where the Wi-Fi always works and is really fast (my capacity to disconnect is still quite limited). After making sure the world has not stopped turning while I was enjoying the lack of connectivity of the house, we enjoy an iced coffee while watching the ferries zoom across the sea.

After about two hours at Para Pente, we drive 30 minutes through the windy mountain roads to our favorite beach, Kalivia, near the village of Kardiani. Along the way, we marvel at the Tinos aromas, which range from figs to rosemary to juniper. We count the churches on the way… there are 750 on this island!

We discovered Kalivia beach last year, and we would never dream of going to another beach. The beach bar is owned by Marco, who is from Kardiani and is known as “The German” to his friends (he is Greek, but blond-haired and blue-eyed). Marco is the best host, offering a plethora of beach-side cocktails, all home-made (he also makes his own honey-raki), as well as interesting tidbits about Tinos. The beach is flanked by two hills, which creates the perfect bay to swim in. And swim we do. Back and forth, across and back again. We discuss the wind, the water temperature, the size of the waves, the best technique for rock skipping… We read… We practice our Greek alphabet… We nap on the beach, listening to the Greek conversations around us (vacationers here are mostly Greeks from the mainland) and the sound of the waves… We watch the start of sunset.

Around 8 or 9 pm (sometimes as late as 10 pm), we head to dinner. Our favorite restaurant on the island is Bourou, where the owner Dimitri remembered us from last year. His food is amazing, his wine list surprising, and his attention to the beauty and ambiance of his restaurant, unlike I have ever seen.

Our days usually end around 1 am… although this year we discovered a few of the local bars, which really don’t get going until 1 am… and don’t get really fun until around 3 am….

I have been trying to think of how I can incorporate some of the magic of Tinos in my everyday life. Is it the amount of time spent outdoors? The time spent without connectivity? The quiet? The swimming? The aromas? The Greek salads? Or is it that this trip was a bit like a honeymoon, with Edwin and I by ourselves, spending all of our time together, 24/7? Whatever it is, I wish I could bottle it and bring it back. I am already dreaming about going back next year… and thanking my grandfather…

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