|Trudging up the steep, winding, stone-paved lane leading to St. John's Monastery, we would pause occasionally to catch our breath and to gaze over the little Port of Patmos. Taking-in the azure Mediterranean and the barren hills protruding from it, I tried to imagine what it might have looked like when the Apostle John lived here in exile. We had taken a hydrofoil from Pythagoria to Patmos for the day, and were planning to hike to the historic sites associated with John and the Apocalypse.
Even though we had left at dawn and spent only 90 minutes in transit, it was already blistering hot in the sun. The ancient road we were following was the shortest (though steepest) route to the top of the island, where a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to St. John still operates. As we approached the base of the imposing structure, five bells chimed-out a harmonic tune. Our lane deposited us at a tiny hillside plaza, from which well-worn stone steps led up to the monastery entrance. I had to borrow a long skirt to ensure modesty (and bad style) before we could enter.
Thick, plastered stone walls provided cooling shade (a welcome relief from the burning sun) as we entered the quaint flagstone courtyard. We followed other tourists and genuine pilgrims through low archways and down corridors which lead to various rooms, chapels, and sacred relics. Black-robed monks with long, bushy, gray beards solemnly strode from one darkened doorway to another, seemingly unaware of the curious crowd. It's too bad that photography inside the complex was prohibited! We eventually found an exit that led to an outer court and a walled path that wound around the base of the fortress-like building. Following it, we were rewarded with marvelous views of the island and the surrounding sea. Eventually, we were deposited back at the monastery entrance where I gladly returned my modesty skirt!
Returning down the same path we had climbed earlier, we found the not-so-well marked trail to the Monastery of the Apocalypse. This much smaller Byzantine-era monastery is constructed over the cave that purportedly sheltered John while he lived on Patmos. We followed the stone steps past tiny whitewashed buildings clinging to each other on the hillside until we arrived at a very small terrace. Stepping through an open doorway brought us immediately into a crowded chapel - complete with a group of Russian pilgrims in the midst of Mass. We crept along the back wall in order to get a better look at the cavern.
A solid rock wall rose from the right side of the room, curving up and to the left to form a low ceiling. Approximately two thirds of this arch continued down in the centre of the chapel to form a cave, while the rest of the arch turn up and out of the plastered ceiling. The rest of the chapel appears to have been constructed on a stone ledge that protrudes from the cave. Lit oil lamps were hung from the ceiling, and incense burned in burnished brass holders. The black-robed priest was leading the pilgrims, mostly old women, in a responsive song. We quietly observed for a few moments, imagining what it might have been like for John. If this was truly his cave, then he lived a very lonely and Spartan life. It also meant that one of the most mysterious, debated, and misunderstood books of the Bible was written here. Amazing! A break in the singing signaled our queue to duck back out into the blinding sunlight. As with the larger monastery, photographs weren't allowed here either.
Having completed our touring, we had a couple of hours to kill before the hydrofoil arrived for our return trip to Samos, we sauntered back to the harbour, found an open café, and relaxed with iced drinks and Greek pastries. One of the pastries we tried was very strange. It was like a fruit dumpling made with pie dough and dusted with rose-flavoured icing sugar. The filling was a very sweet mixture of dried fruit and possibly nuts, but with a spice I have never tasted before. The closest I can come to describing the taste is "roses and eucalyptus". No one knew what the English name for the spice was, and we couldn't understand the Greek name. It wasn't awful, and it wasn't good - just different! Dad decided to use the "down time" to photograph some of the locals on their scooters - the most common form of land transportation on the island next to walking.
Eventually, the "Flying Dolphin 12" (original name, duh) skimmed into harbour and we walked along the dock waiting for it to tie-up. Fishermen were returning and sorting their catch, laughing and joking with each other. Suddenly, one of them shouted and pointed into the water. He scurried across his boat, unraveling a hand-line and hook as he went. Tossing it out into the harbour, everyone stopped what they were doing and looked on expectantly. Excited chatter eventually turned to disappointment as repeated casts yielded nothing. I'm not sure what the fisherman saw, but we did see a five or six foot shark-like fish swim past the dock - it even looked like he was smiling!