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Introduction to Tinos

Crawling to the Panagia, Tinos, GreeceTinos is known as the Holy Island. Most people who travel to Greece actually stop here on the way to Mykonos by ferry though few get off. You could say that if Mykonos is the center for hedonism in Greece then Tinos is the opposite, often called the Lourdes of Greece. But really when you get right down to it they are kind of the same. Mykonos has tacky tourist shops selling t-shirts, postcards, jewelry and cheap art. Tinos has tacky tourist shops selling t-shirts, postcards, jewelry and cheap religious art. (Not to mention candles, icons, incense, paintings of Jesus, The Virgin Mary, etc.) People come to Mykonos to eat and drink and forget their problems. People come to Tinos to eat and drink and ask forgiveness for their sins or for help from the Virgin Mary. In Mykonos people wait on line for an hour for a taxi. On Tinos they crawl on their hands and knees from the port up the street and up the steps of the Sacred Church of the Evangelists to kiss the miracle-working icon. Mykonos has beautiful beaches where nobody swims because they are all sunbathing and hung-over. Tinos has beautiful beaches where nobody swims because they are there to bathe in the glory of God.

The similarities go on.

dovecotes, tinos, greeceBut this is a simplistic view of both islands. There is more to Mykonos than partying and there is more to Tinos than Holiness. If you were to detach the main town of Tinos from the rest of the island, the remaining part might be known as the 'Island of Dovecotes' for the houses that were built all over Tinos for the doves (they look like pigeons to me) that people used to raise for food. Or the 'Omelet Island' since you can find delicious omelets with sausages, tomato and artichokes in just about any restaurant. Or the 'Island of Artichokes' or even 'The Catholic Island' since it has the largest community of Catholics in Greece. It would also be known for its many mountain villages, some of the most beautiful examples of Cycladic architecture in Greece, some inhabited completely by Catholics, some by Orthodox and some mixed. It would be known for its beautiful beaches, many of which are better than those in Mykonos and certainly with a lot less people on them.

Tinos Church of EvagelistriasBut the fact is that Tinos is the Holiest island in Greece and the vast majority of tourists are Greek Orthodox pilgrims coming to see the Church of the Evagelistrias and the miracle working icon of the Virgin Mary (Panagia). The port of Tinos fills up on religious holidays, weekends, and all of August as people actually do get off the ferries and crawl on their hands and knees up a narrow strip of carpet that leads to the church. Many of them wear kneepads, which I guess is OK. If God or the Virgin Mary is going to answer their prayers and bless them for their suffering I suppose they can't take off points for knee-pads. On the other hand if crawling up the mountain does not work and your faith is shattered at least you still have your knees. But once the pilgrim has made it to the top and washed with Holy Water and kissed the Holy Icon (notice how I capitalized these out of respect), the journey back down is like a visit to shopping heaven with dozens of stores selling everything anyone would need to remind them that they love God, or at least have visited Tinos.

Agios Ioannis Porto, Tinos, GreeceOur visit to Tinos was a little different. Yes we got off the ferry with everyone else but we drove up to the church, took a few photos and waited for the people we saw crawling to get to the top, mostly out of curiosity to see out how long it took, (about half an hour) and then drove straight out of town to the beach area known as Agios Ioannis Porto, to the Hotel Porto Raphael which we used as our base to explore the island. We could not have made a better choice. Beautiful beaches, quiet tavernas with fresh local food, farms, mountains, the sea and even a birds-eye view of Mykonos harbor which was so close, a good swimmer could make it there in a couple hours if he was not run over by the high-speed ferries. Then we woke up each morning, jumped in the Grand Vitara and picked a spot on the map and visited everywhere in between. What we discovered is that the holiness of Tinos does not begin and end with the Hora(Tinos town) and the Church and the Miracle-working Icon of the Panagia. Tinos is magical, or spiritual if a physical place can be either. Where Catholics and Orthodox Christians live and work and play side by side, and white churches of both sects dot the landscape, you can escape the Christian commercialism of the port but not the feeling that this island and these people are close to God in a way that I wish I could be. Maybe its living close to so much beauty that makes you appreciate a higher power. Whatever it is, Tinos seems to have it.

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