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Greek Maiden Voyage

Apart from me, only the cats seem to be out at night in Andros Town, capital of the Cycladic island of Andros, so my dinner attracts great attention.

One of the cats, a big grey and white tabby, is more beautiful and daring than the others. It chases off everyone, except two elderly gentlemen who sit down at a neighboring table, obviously regular customers. By chatting loudly with the waiters, they enliven the entire Kairis Square, the heart of Andros Town. We are not totally alone, though, for in the cafe chairs on the opposite side of the square, a handful of dark figures can be discerned under the plane trees.

The position of Andros Town is exceptional: perched on a rocky spur; an oblong peninsula cutting across a large bay. It gives the town a striking shape, the shape of a ship, most evident when viewed from a distance. This particular square, with the sea far below on both sides, makes up the deck of a proud old ship that is still awaiting its own maiden voyage.

Perhaps, the ship resemblance could explain why Greek shipowners have a preference for Andros, the shipowners' island. Many of them boast summer residences in Andros Town, also called Chora, and in Stenies, a nearby village. An abundance of elegant mansions indicate wealth, clearly not paid for by foreign tourists as they merely come in small numbers, mostly day trippers returning to Batsi in the evening, a resort on the opposite side of the island.

The Kairis Square is an ideal starting point, where a posing Hermes is ready to greet new visitors, provided they enter the local archeological museum. From Kairis, an arched gateway leads into the old town, painted brilliant white. A little theater has put flamenco on the playbill there, and a nautical museum, further forward, confirms the shipping tradition. So does an unknown bronze sailor, towering in the bow itself; with a duffel bag over his shoulder, he's going to sea once again.

Port and Starboard

On the port side, just beside the museum, a flight of steps leads down to the sea. Modern art can be enjoyed while descending: a permanent Greek exhibition on the left and alternating exhibitions opposite. Down at the sea, in the background, the northern beach presents itself with pensions, cafes and taverns. There is a power station at the far end, behind which the road to Stenies climbs the hillside. From this side, Andros Town looks like a true ship of luxury.

The impressive southern beach, on the starboard side, is also reached via a flight of steps, whitewashed and steep as a ladder. The beach is deserted, only populated by white geese, strutting in the sand or swimming up and down the river that ends here, surrounded by lush vegetation. The mountainsides, green with scrub flowering in yellow, contribute to the overall beauty. To be honest, the starboard side needs some upkeep. Certain houses are crying for paint; one is about to collapse. The balcony, however, on which a young lady is airing her shoe collection, appears strong enough.

The name Goulandris often shows up in Chora, a shipowner who donated not only the art museum to the town, but also the archeological museum whose front garden is adorned with his bust. The main street, paved in marble and connecting the two squares of Kairis and Goulandris, is an oasis of cafes and small shops for every taste. Like the streets of the old town, this one is car-free as well, making it safe to stop in the middle of the street and let the blue domes of the Panagia Church captivate me, high up in the sky.

No ship is without a bridge, in Andros Town it's placed right on the marble-paved Goulandris Square. This is where important decisions are made, inside the stately town hall, and it's also where communications with the outside world take place, through OTE, the tele company. The main taxi stand is located next to the square. A taxi is quite unnecessary, though, when the local residents go to the hospital, because even that is sited on the Goulandris Square, a fine single-story building.

Breaking Loose

On the rear deck, the Andros citizens enjoy themselves in an outdoor cinema, tear along in their cars, run workshops, go shopping and build new houses, all fitted with red-tiled roofs. Although the stern, if breaking loose, would leave a gaping wound in the coast line, I bet it will be a spectacular sight; seeing the ship put off with the large Hotel Paradise, all in white, shining in the stern.

In my opinion, Andros Town is wrongly situated. The sloping red-tiled roofs are out of place in the Cycladic Islands, whose houses are normally cube-like with flat roofs. And after all, Andros belongs to the Cyclades, it's the second largest and the northernmost. However, its position is no longer a problem, for I found the captain who could steer Andros Town to a more suitable harbor; presumably on the mainland. He's a middle-aged gentleman appearing everywhere, despite being enormously overweight. Dressed in khaki clothes and a peaked cap, he circulates from one cafe to another, always speaking in a commanding voice.

Sunday morning, an inferno breaks out. Accompanied by thunder and lightning, the heaven above Andros opens its floodgates. A young guy selling fruits in golden syrup and other goodies, gives me shelter inside his shop. As the light is gone, we watch in semidarkness the pouring rain, extraordinary at this time of year, late in May. Apparently, the weather gods have decided to sweep us away. No wonder that in my mind's eye, I see Andros Town proudly set out on her maiden voyage.