Panormitis is a small town on the island of Symi two hours by boat from Rhodes. There is a church there and I think it was a former monastery. We met Father Gabriel upon our arrival and asked for his permission to stay in the old monastery which is a wing with several very simple and bare rooms. There is a bathroom with a shower, a couple of cots and a hotplate which we use to boil eggs for breakfast. This is a well-known church that is frequented by many older ladies dressed in black that have lost family members to the ocean. This mirrors the story of Father Gabriel who told us an incredible story. He was on a boat with his mother during World War 2 travelling to their destination when a German submarine torpedoed their boat. Father Gabriel bobbed about in the water realizing he was the only survivor. He made a promise to God that should he swim to shore and survive he would become a priest; he did survive and became a priest fulfilling his promise to God in a church named after a patron saint that is a saint for those who have lost loved ones at sea.
Father Gabriel is a very kind man and his English is pretty good. He seems so real of a person. After his evening service he sometimes joins us for a cold beer and a chat. We have attended a few of his services and he seems appreciative of this but we speak so little Greek we understand very little. But the services flies by with the chanting, incense and beautifully decorated church it is almost entertaining. Father Gabriel pointed to an icon in the church that had been moved several times but through the power of God it mysteriously ended up in its original location.
There is boat service here daily and there are always some widows dressed in black that come to pray for their loved ones that have died in the sea.
The town is small and there is one restaurant owned by a cantankerous Mr. Cos. There is one store and a bakery that bakes some very dense and coarse monastery bread. If you don’t eat it in a few hours it turns into a rock. Goodness knows what it does in your stomach.
Like many Greek islands the area around the monastery is dry and barren but Father Gabriel has informed us a huge reforestation project is underway. He said many of the Greek islands were lush years ago but the Romans deforested them to build their warships.
The town has a small beach a few minutes away and it is so well protected it has an international reputation as a place to anchor. I went out spear fishing one day in the beautiful clear water and swam up to a yacht. As I was inspecting its hull I heard a voice from above asking me to come aboard. So a ladder was placed on the side of the ship for me. I took my gear off and climbed up and met a Belgian family who spoke French so we could communicate. Their chef had prepared some fancy pastry dessert called a Galette and it was delicious. After being onboard for an hour I said good-bye and off back to the beach I headed.
We met the family next door some Greeks from Athens called Milagressi’s. Although the mother and father were very nice their child was a little brat called Andreas.
We stayed a week and then went back to Rhodes to catch a boat to an island called Karpathos.