Tour to the island of Nisyros, an outdoor geological museum

23 to 25 October 2012

After three weeks of warm sunny weather, 23 October dawned with grey skies and the prospect of rain. Nevertheless 21 optimists set off for Nisyros, a presently dormant volcano situated in the Aegean volcanic belt that includes Santorini.  It started to appear 150,000 years ago, following a huge eruption between western Kos and the island of Yali.  Its present form dates from 20,000 years ago after the last major volcanic eruptions.  The entire Nisyros island is a huge volcanic edifice.  Each and every stone on the island was created as a result of volcanic activity, each and every one of the layers of rocks of which the island is made were laid during its many eruptions.

We arrived at Mandraki, the island’s port and capital, around three o’clock in the afternoon and checked into the Three Brothers hotel – there were just enough rooms for all of us.  We hired five cars between us.  The more energetic headed off to walk to Emborios along the edge of the caldera.

They set off from a small monastery, one of the many on the island, and followed a trail while being enlightened about the volcanic landscape by our guide, Ursula Robert.  It was well marked along the edge of the caldera with fertile volcanic soil and there was an abundance of olive, fig, almond and many oak trees as well as some amazing rocks formed from the molten lava.  As the track became a bit more rugged the group split and as the sun started to descend there was a rapid scramble by the rear party to catch up.  While they contemplated the correct direction there was a whoosh of partridges out of the silence. The village appeared finally and the walkers joined the rest of the party for the evening.

Emborios is a derelict, abandoned village populated by more cats than people and the only inhabited building appeared to be the restaurant ( 224 203 1377) which is adjacent to a tiny charmingly restored church.

In the time it took for everyone to gather we enjoyed unlimited ouzo (the Greek aniseed drink similar to raki) on the house.  A goat had been roasted in our honour and was served along with some tasty mezzes.  It was a jolly evening.

On day two we breakfasted while listening to the thunder and torrential rain.  Ursula took this opportunity to explain how volcanoes are formed.  By the time she had finished the rain had stopped so we drove off to view the island.  We drove down into the caldera a vast circular depressioin in the middle of which was a steaming crater.  The braver members of the group went on  foot into the crater to explore further.

It was time for lunch so we headed to Nikia and the Andriotis restaurant.  Overlooking a splendid view several of us gorged on juicy pork chops and souvlaki (kebab) washed down with local wine.  Afterwards we still had the energy to visit the volcanological museum.  Inspired by the volcano itself with its amazing variety of shapes and colours, the museum is the only one of its type in Greece and is largely funded by the European Union (EU). The shapes, colours, textures, the rich collection of volcanic rocks, even the lighting reminded us of the features of the volcanic landscape. Lava black, rust red, sand and pumice beige, the caldera’s curves and the lava flow all shape the image of Nisyros.

Some of us then visited a new church built above the village, which offers a superb overview of the crater and surrounding seas and islands. The church itself has the traditional orthodox domed ceiling and portrayal of religious figures on the walls, all freshly painted and looking their best.

The next morning, before departure, most of us spent in Mandraki, exploring the myriad alleyways and the splendid citadel above the town – being restored with yet more EU money – or at the archaeological museum.

We left before noon for Kos where we spent the afternoon waiting for our ferries back to Bodrum, no doubt reminiscing on the hospitality and friendliness we had experienced in austerity torn Greece.

Our thanks go not only to our own guide, Dr Ursula Robert, but also to the many people on Nisyros who made our stay such a memorable one.

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