Postcard: Kastellorizo, Greece

I had not planned to visit Kastellorizo, just a few kilometres off the coast of Turkey. In fact, I had never heard of this Greek Island nor the deep connections the people have with Australia. I did vaguely remember seeing Mediterraneo, the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Winner in 1992 but did not know it was set on the island. Nor had I listened to the solo album by David Gilmour, the ex-Pink Floyd guitarist, On an Island, inspired by what was soon to be my destination.
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Enamoured with the fabled isle of Hydra, where the late Leonard Cohen resided, car and care free for half-a-century, I walked that island entranced with the monasteries and donkeys, swimming before dining on fresh seafood at the tavernas. Wanting some similar experiences and needing a quiet place to write, I googled “Greek Islands with no cars”.
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The information about Kastellorizo – one taxi on the island – did not turn out to be accurate as there are a few cars, motorbikes and trucks but was close enough. The southeastern Mediterranean Island is very remote and landing, in a small de Havilland plane, at what to the untrained eye looked like a WWII era desert landing strip, was a thrill.
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The settlement is nestled around a genuinely picturesque harbour. Pleasure craft, impossibly sized ocean-liners, fishing vessels and ferries all jostle for a berth in the harbour. Tourists select fresh seafood and traditional Greek cuisine from a dozen attractive waterside tavernas. The restored mansions are quaint, unusually narrow and painted in bright pastille colours. However, evidence of the terrible challenges of the twentieth century can be seen in the many buildings still in desperate need of restoration.
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The modern history of the island captured my attention. In the first half of the 20th century five different countries – Turkey, France, Italy, Great Britain and Greece since 1948 – claimed the island.  Kastellorizo was a wealthy community until just before WWI. The next thirty years became a bitter cavalcade of disasters including war, aerial bombing, revolution, earthquake, fire and economic insecurity resulting in just a few inhabitants being left on the island after the Second World War.
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The connections between Australia and the island are not just recent ones due to the dislocation of war but stretch back into the 19th century. An informative and emotionally powerful short film, screened daily at the local museum, provides the human face of history and immigration.  Melbourne is the city with the second largest Greek population outside of Athens. Immigration to Australia has always been popular and the museum has the ‘seal’ of a Sydney-Kastellorizo association established in 1924. On hearing my accent, I was asked, “you a Kassie”? Many Australians visit each year to see family.
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Coincidentally, during the two-weeks I spent on the island, refugees arrived from Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Iran. In the last few years there has occasionally been more refugees on the island than residents, which has proven challenging.
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Besides swimming with turtles, eating seafood and boating, kayaking, swimming in the Blue Cave or visiting nearby rock outcrops, for baking, lizard-like in the sun before rolling into the lukewarm Mediterranean there is much to explore. There are good walking trails on the island. The ancient wine presses, carved into the rock, may date back to the height of the Athenian Golden Age but no-one is sure. There is a castle (think of the island’s name), an Ottoman era mosque and many churches in scenic locations.
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The locals are friendly and there are many interesting people to chat with at the tavernas. I met a Greek mathematician designing puzzles for children, an archaeologist, a suitable but pleasantly crazy woman who had hung out with Leonard Cohen, Charmian Clift and her husband on Hydra back in the day and also an elderly speechwriter to Australian politicians during the Whitlam era.
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It is easy enough to do day trips to Turkey but my advice, soak up the friendly vibes on this remote isle, swim, eat and relax.
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A ‘postcard’ version of this post was originally published in the local newspaper, The Bugle.
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2 Comments

  1. David:

    Sounds like more islands shoukd be car free. The best pace to view life is walking pace. Enjoyed the writing and the photography. Most surprising was no Orwell connection?

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