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Glossy Greece

Whoever visits the island of Andros, the northernmost of the Cyclades, will come across postcards depicting a special village: Stenies. I'm now on my way to check out whether the real Stenies lives up to its glossy reputation.

Via a short cut, I reach the top of the hill in no time. Before continuing, I turn around to admire Andros Town again; my base and also the island capital, spectacularly perched on an oblong peninsula. After the next bend, a deep valley lies in front of me, surprisingly green and lush, followed down on the right by a beach and the turquoise sea.

My eyes are attracted to the opposite hillside where Stenies hangs like a shining piece of jewelry - with white houses, as is neat and proper in the Cycladic Islands. The pointed red tiled roofs, however, are unusual, suggesting that the traditional style of building, normally including flat roofs, was not good enough for this picture-postcard village.

"Lovely here, eh?" a bleating flock of lambs seem to say. Indeed, and I have it all to myself so far. Tall slim cypresses are the other eye catchers of the valley, occurring sporadically in the direction of Stenies, while down towards the sea, they cover the valley like a dark green carpet. The cypresses, majestic and steady, surround themselves with olive trees, short and broad, almost silvery in the breeze.

Some few cars rush past, drowning out two dogs barking on the outskirts of Stenies. Once the dogs take a break, I become aware of the birds, chirping at the top of their voices, without catching sight of them, though. I must content myself with the yellow butterfly swarming about me, as if weightlessly floating on the fresh smells that yesterday's rain left behind.

Waving Poppies

The road winds downwards. I leave it in the first curve to take a more direct footpath, decorated with white stripes on its cement. Bright red poppies wave at me from every angle, like bursts of joy, growing out of the stone wall, in gardens, along the path, on the hillside, even through the cracks in the cement. Approaching the bottom of the valley, I gradually lose sight of Stenies, except for the uppermost houses and the sloping mountainsides, green with scrub. The sound of running water increases.

Two lemon trees are so tired with bearing fruit that their heavy branches need sticks to lean on. In the same garden, a hardy pomegranate tree grows straight out of a stone heap, still full of flowers, many of which are already developing into tiny yellow-red pomegranates. An overripe fruit from a fig tree hits me on the head, so I hurry on to safety at the bottom, where a small river is babbling. Around it, enormous plane trees, with trunks like trolls, provide shadow and coolness, brightened up by the oleander bushes' light purple flowers.

A white stone bridge carries me dry-shod over the river. On the other side, a steep flight of steps leading up to Stenies makes me somewhat skeptical, as I see the brook flowing along it and flooding the steps. I forget about wet toes, though, when reaching the first houses, mansions really. At last, I have a chance of meeting a Greek shipowner. Andros is often referred to as the shipowners' island. Quite a few of them have summer residences in Stenies and in Andros Town. Regrettably, the old man suddenly sticking up his head behind the wall, giving me a scare, is not one of them.

The cats of Stenies are apparently not used to visitors. They dash away, shy and nervous. In fact, they have no reason to be afraid of me, for I stand perfectly still before a wrought iron gate, painted red and surrounded by red bougainvillea. It opens up onto a garden path practically buried in bright red geraniums, a red color repeated on the door and the shutters of the house. A couple of purple colored geraniums struggle not to drown in the ocean of red.

Up and Down Stairs

An occasional ruin and, in places, peeling paint and bad repair do not spoil the overall beauty, but makes it more credible. I'm supposed to get up to the top where the main road is. However, I seem to be trapped in this village of stairs, in spite of helpful instructions from a lady and her daughter. Time after time, the flight of steps ends in front of a private door, compelling me to retreat. I come upon three churches in the same alley, naturally a blind one.

There it is, all of a sudden and close at hand, the purple bougainvillea which I've had at the back of my mind since I saw it from the other side of the valley. It's a blue-red color explosion, against a suitable background of cypresses, a white wall and an elegant palm. I could stay here for hours gazing at it, if the sound of a motorbike had not caught my attention. The road must be near. I dart upwards, determined to locate the sound.

Just outside Stenies, a family of cackling brown hens bid me farewell. Actually, my visit is not quite over yet. Now, it's time to enjoy Stenies at a distance and from new angles. I keep turning around to take another look. The details soon disappear, whereas the position of the village and the lushness of the valley prevail.

I know exactly what to do when returning to Andros Town this afternoon: go straight to the newsstand on the square to buy glossy postcards representing Stenies. And I do hope my friends will duly appreciate what I send them - a gem of a village.