A little Italy… in Greece: The undiscovered island of Syros

A little Italy… in Greece: The undiscovered island of Syros is an Italianate masterpiece and hopes to have us in the picture this summer

  • Syros is an island of 22,000 souls in the middle of the Greek Cyclades 
  • The island’s biggest attraction is its Italian-style capital city of Ermoupoli 
  • Tourists use the island as a pit stop between Mykonos and Piraeus in Athens 

Ermoupoli is possibly the most extraordinary town in Greece. There’s no maze of alleys, no whitewashed houses and no heaps of tangled fishing nets in the harbour.

What you get instead is a busy city, whose broad squares, grandly domed churches and pastel-coloured mansions look more Italian than Greek.

Ermoupoli is the capital of Syros, an island of 22,000 souls in the middle of the Cyclades. New fast catamarans started docking there last year, which is how tourists discovered it — they use it as a pit stop between Mykonos and Piraeus, the main port of Athens.

Ermoupoli, pictured, is the capital of Syros, an island of 22,000 souls in the middle of the Cyclades

Italianate Ermoupoli is Syros’s biggest attraction. It was established in the 1820s by refugees from the ravaged islands of Chios, Psara, Kasos and Crete during the Greek War of Independence. They were canny traders and shipbuilders whose industry turned Ermoupoli into the principal Greek port until the rise of Piraeus.

They built stately homes in the prevailing neoclassical style, and decorated churches with heirlooms. One of them turned out to be quite a sensation.

Papa Kostas, the parish priest of the church of the Dormition of the Virgin, is keen to recount the story. ‘It was March 1983, the first day of Lent, and George Mastoropoulos, the archaeologist, was cataloguing the icons brought to Syros. 

He was cleaning them carefully until he started jumping around like a child. “Papa Kostas,” he said, “you have a veritable treasure here”.’

What Mastoropoulos had revealed below the grime of the centuries was the signature of El Greco. I look at his Dormition, painted in Cretan style when the master was in his 20s, and I’m glad that it didn’t end up in a faceless museum but remained in the loving care of Papa Kostas.

A quick stroll from the church leads me to the central Miaouli square, dominated by the town hall and its long, monumental stairway.

I continue through streets paved with marble to the Apollo theatre, built in the style of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

I pass the church of St Nicholas the Rich, a domed basilica on Corinthian columns, and end up high above the town, on a cove crowned by a string of palazzos.

Greek chic: Ano Syros is full of narrow alleys. The medieval town is on a steep hill overlooking the harbour 

The next day, I climb up to the medieval town of Ano Syros, on a steep hill overlooking the harbour.

It’s here, in the old capital, that I finally discover those characteristic claustrophobic lanes, pelagic panoramas and white-washed houses.

Once again, Syros ignores the rulebook: the monastery belongs to the Capuchins, while the churches feature organs, polychromatic statues, wooden confessionals and teachings by Pope Francis.

A priest in the Church of St George explains: ‘Ermoupoli is Orthodox, but the rest of Syros is Catholic. The island used to be under the protection of the Pope. Now we celebrate Easter together on the Orthodox dates by special dispensation from the Vatican.’

No surprises, though, when it comes to the beaches. From Ermoupoli a bus runs a circuit of the southern shore, where the sands are toffee-hued and the water transparent.

Tourists use Syros, pictured, as a pit stop between Mykonos and Piraeus, the main port of Athens

The most developed resort is the golden crescent of Galissas, where I’m welcomed at the highly celebrated restaurant Iliovasilema. It serves Greek cuisine with a creative twist: sea-urchin salad, fennel flan, beef cheek orzotto.

Another popular resort is Kini, a compact fishing village with a pleasingly quiet harbour, where I board a boat with Syros Adventures for a day trip to the northern beaches.

Our final stop is Grammata, a sheltered bay with iridescent waters. I decide to follow the shore around a rocky promontory where shipwrecked sailors have carved messages of gratitude since ancient times.

Not dressed for hiking, I slip and wreck my flip flops — a disaster, as I’m left barefoot on sharp rocks. A Greek couple on a sailing boat spot my predicament and throw me a pair of sandals — that miraculously fit — so I can complete my walk. ‘Keep them,’ they shout, refusing my offers of money. ‘It’s you who needs them.’

So that’s how I remember Syros. Idiosyncratic and eccentric the island may be, but its soul belongs to an old-fashioned Greece where acts of generosity to strangers are still part of daily life.


John travelled with Sunvil (, which offers seven nights’ B&B in Ermoupoli from £898pp, including flights from London to Mykonos and ferry transfers. See 

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World News

Italy sees progress in fighting coronavirus spread, but cases spike in Russia

Italy saw its lowest daily coronavirus death toll in a week — as Russia experienced a record spike in new infections, according to officials in each country.

A total of 433 people died of the coronavirus in Italy on Sunday, down from 482 on Saturday and 575 on Friday, according to the country’s Civil Protection Agency.

Sunday’s total marks the lowest daily rise since April 12 — which saw 431 deaths — before the toll climbed again during the week.

The number of new cases also shrank to 3,047 from a previous 3,491.

While the numbers are down considerably from the peaks reached in Italy in late March, the downturn has not been as rapid as expected in the country, which has been on lockdown for six weeks.

Still, if the decline continues over the next few days, business leaders and regional chiefs will likely pressure the government to loosen the lockdown and let companies reopen.

An Italian lobbying group for bars and restaurants has said that the country could lose one-sixth of its bars and restaurants to the crisis.

The shelter-in-place order, imposed on March 9, will remain in place until May 3, but no clear plan has yet been established as to how gradually the country will resume normal operations.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said late Saturday that Italy wasn’t ready to lift its lockdown, adding that it will not be possible for some regions to reopen before others.

Medical experts say that the country is still in the first stage of the crisis and can’t yet move to “Phase 2.”

“It’s way too early, the numbers in some regions are still very much those of a Phase 1 that has not ended yet,” World Health Organization official Walter Ricciardi told Sky Italia TV.

The epicenter of the country’s outbreak remains in the northern regions of Lombardy, around the financial capital Milan, and neighboring Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

By Monday, a total of 178,972 coronavirus cases had been reported in Italy, the third-hardest hit country next to the US and Spain, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The country has seen the highest death toll, with 23,660 people there succumbing to the virus since the start of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, Russia saw a record one-day increase in coronavirus cases Sunday — with 6,060 new infections reported, according to its coronavirus response center.

The number of coronavirus cases in Russia began to spike this month, although far fewer infections have been reported than in many western European countries.

By Monday, 47,121 coronavirus cases and 405 deaths had been reported in Russia, Johns Hopkins data shows.

The Kremlin said last week that Russia will gratefully accept President Trump’s offer to provide ventilators for coronavirus patients if needed.

With Post wires

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TV and Movies

6 Ways Coronavirus Pandemic Will Impact Gaming Industry

Hollywood Scrambles to Stay Financially Afloat During Coronavirus Pandemic | Podcast

6 Ways Coronavirus Pandemic Will Impact Gaming Industry

Gaming, often viewed as anti-social, has become one of the only viable and available community vehicles

In the Great Recession of 2008-2009, IDG Consulting’s gaming thesis was that the gaming industry was not recession-proof, but recession-resistant. The games market actually grew in 2008 by 20%; it still declined in 2009, but its 12% drop was less pronounced versus other segments.

After September 11th, the U.S. gaming market actually grew by 42% in 2001, and 11% in 2002. The replayability value of gaming insulates it from downturns and in both historical cases, made it more compelling versus alternatives. In 2008-2009, there was also a marked increase in content innovation on console and PC, and the early signs of a burgeoning smartphone market.

Gaming will likely once again prove to be recession-resistant. One caveat is that the last recession occurred in a pre-subscription era. Today, consumers absorb copious amounts of content through entertainment subscriptions (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Spotify), which gaming will have to contend with this time around.

By no means are we saying that all consumers will be able to spend freely on games, and the level of recession resistance may vary by platform. While free-to-play (F2P) makes up a greater proportion of game offerings in today’s world, even these games have to monetize somehow for developers to stay in business, and the sad fact is many consumers will lose jobs and struggle just to pay rent over the coming months. In this scenario, mobile games might prove to be the most recession-resistant because of their freemium nature, followed by PC, which has the most core audience. And while most hardcore console gamers are not price-sensitive, a global recession would likely hinder next-gen adoption at $499 if the downturn period is long and deep. Due to belt-tightening, even early adopters might over index on free-to-play or purchase fewer games, focusing more on top titles that promise high hours of replayability.

In the U.S., the government stimulus might have a small but noticeable impact. In earlier research studies with gamers, the core and mid-core gamers contextualized gaming in the following order of importance: food, rent, internet and mobile access, then games. For those who still live at home or get subsidies from parents, paying for their own data plans and games were the top two priorities. So it is possible that these short-term infusions of cash could potentially be spent on instant gratification by these particular gaming cohorts, although that would only apply to a minor percentage of the populace.

Early Signs of Audience Size and Engagement Increasing

Although it is early days, IDG’s research indicates that the games market has actually grown during this time. Steam’s Peak Concurrent Users (PCCU) grew from 17 million in early January to 18 million in late February, to more than 20 million in March.

Average Peak Concurrent User (APCCU) levels for individual titles have also increased in March versus February, with the average title seeing a 34% increase month-over-month. Engagement is also spiking, as average Hours Per User (HPU), weighted by top titles, has grown 9.4% in March versus February. The data indicates that users are likely turning back to Steam and playing what is already in their library, with top titles sucking up more of the increased activity than smaller games. In China, IDG’s checks indicate that mobile and PC gaming both increased during the height of the coronavirus outbreak. Console has also benefited, as user numbers on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have increased materially. In March, Xbox Live crashed for many users, followed by Nintendo eShop several days later, demonstrating the higher-than-normal player bases on these online platforms.

In a World of Social Distancing, Gaming Becomes a Community Anchor

It is a bit counterintuitive to think that gaming (often viewed as anti-social) has now become one of the only viable and available community vehicles. In the past 10 years, gaming had already become more community-centric with the onset of online multiplayer, livestreaming, esports and community platforms bringing gamers together. And gaming has emerged as a new form of social media, with highly-engaged audiences who spend as much time in the virtual world as in the physical world. With social distancing as the norm, gaming becomes a popular and acceptable community hub. We will probably see developers bulking up the social/community elements of games over the next few months.

Esports and Livestreaming Benefit, but Live Events Will Suffer

Online-only esports events and livestreaming activity will likely grow as more people stay inside. Streamers and content creators will increase their captive audience. While live in-person esports tournaments will suffer, the broader value proposition of esports improves, as traditional professional sports have all been cancelled. One example is in Spain, where La Liga is broadcasting a FIFA tournament where 20 real-world players will compete. This was organized in 5 days through a Twitter post by Spain’s most famous shoutcaster Ibai, with 10 million Twitch views. Suddenly, the world moves from the NBA, March Madness, the Masters and UEFA, to a world where esports is the only “game in town.” To that point, StreamElements has estimated that global viewership increased 10% on Twitch and 15% on YouTube Gaming. In a quarantined-Italy, hours watched of livestreamed content is up by a whopping 66%. Verizon stated that online gaming has increased 75% during North American peak hours.

Supply Chain Issues Could Put Console Launch Timing at Risk

Depending on the length and depth of this crisis, it is possible that the Coronavirus could present a major overhang on manufacturing, to the point where the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X might not only be compromised in terms of available supply, but the timing of the launch itself. Currently slated for Q4 2020, IDG believes that the likelihood of a launch delay for one or both platforms is remote, but could increase if the current manufacturing slowdown has not been resolved by summer. In that scenario, it might not make sense for platforms to launch in a severely supply-constricted environment.

Games Could Launch with Less Content

The supply chain effects go beyond hardware, as many publishers also outsource certain game development tasks such as art assets, additional in-game features, and multiplayer maps, to companies in China and other affected regions. Due to the strict quarantine in China, many developers have not been able to produce content recently. If these outsourcers are unable to complete these assignments, some games will be released with less content than anticipated. Other studios around the world who were not prepared to transition to remote work, will also be negatively impacted. In this scenario, it is possible that some games will either be delayed, released in leaner states, or crunch-time could be amplified for the core development teams.

Digital Share Shifts Could Accelerate

Currently, IDG channel checks indicate that retail game activity is brisk, perhaps tied in part to a “hoarder mentality” in buying a console or their favorite titles ahead of a lockdown. But long-term, COVID-19 could accelerate digital share shifts. Long months of sheltering in place may evangelize many gamers who would never consider digital, to give it a try. Retail will remain relevant going forward, but digital share could uptick more due to Coronavirus. And if there is a prolonged quarantine situation in retail-heavy areas, this could disproportionately hurt retailers who will also need new working capital to get back up and running, if and when that time comes.

Yoshio Osaki