In my week and a bit in Greece I had already done some amazing things and had a fabulous time. But today was the day I was most emotionally invested in. I had been completely captivated by the stories of Spinalonga. Seriously, I had watched 26 episodes of a television series, in Greek with subtitles, that is how much of a hold this place had on me.
I had inquired the night before and been told that the first boat left at about 9.30am. So I was there before 9, ready to go. Killed some time with
a cheese pie breakfast.
The local boat owners run a regular service to the island. You buy a return ticket and head over and come back when you are ready on whichever boat is there at the time.
Recognising that not everyone is as obsessed as me, some background. Spinalonga has an amazing history that includes both Venetian and Ottoman rule. As evidenced by many of the buildings and fortifications. But its more modern history is that which has captivated me. In the 20th century it became a leper colony. It closed in 1957 and the last priest left in 1962. Prior to treatment for leprosy becoming available the only strategy was isolation. The disfigurement that accompanied the disease terrified everyone and a terrible stigma accompanied the disease.
Initially a struggling island Spinalonga started to thrive when some well connected patients arrived and it even got electricity before Plaka.
Victoria Hislop’s novel, and the TV series that followed have really captured the imagination of many, and while fictional they reflect some fact and give a sense of the era and the stigma.
The dock and the tunnel are major features of the television series and it was quite surreal to be there. Imagining what would go through the mind of a new patient arriving for the first time, expecting never to leave alive, was quite humbling.
Once inside the interior of the island I quickly realised that the leper colony history, while at the forefront of my mind, was just one part of a very complex history of the island. I also found myself being regularly distracted by the incredible sea views. It was on Spinalonga that I finally shed all the stresses that I had brought to Greece with me and really relaxed.
Some of the buildings were obviously more modern and from leper colony times, others older from Ottoman times and the Venetian fortifications still quite imposing. The accessibility was impressive, coming from a country where everything has a warning sign or a barrier, being able to wander amongst the ruins was refreshing. Even if you knew nothing about the history of the island, a trip here would be fabulous, just for the scenery.
Major bucket item ticked off I headed back to Plaka for a relaxed afternoon. Again reminding me why I like the smaller villages.
I was hungry when I returned and sat down at a local taverna. When I ordered the cheese pie the waiter warned me that it was rich. Was he expecting me to be worried? I had it with a souvlaki. It was rich. Why do I not live in Greece? Why is my blog not called ‘a cheese tour of Greece’?
My final afternoon/evening in Plaka was spent having a swim at the curiously rocky beach and returning to the taverna I had dined at the night before for another delicious meal. Spinalonga was meant to light up each Friday night, for some reason it didn’t this time, but a full moon made up for it. If ever I stop being cheap and upgrade this blog I will add in some video of the incredibly relaxing sound of the waves on the rocks.
What a day.