Mykonos is not Greece … “we host two million visitors per year and a decent size of the Greek GDP emanates from the island,” enthused Nicholas Theodoridis who spends half the year working at Vegera down by the port of the main town (Akti, Kampani). The economy and the culture are different here.
For people like Nicholas, Mykonos is not just a workplace or a temporary home, it’s a family. The family of Mykonos, a sentiment echoed by every person I met on the island over summer. It is a sentiment that was enthusiastically explained to me by Dora Tsavdaridis, who owns Oracle Mykonos, before I arrived.
Working on a new documentary with London-based filmmaker Basil Genimahaliotis called Mykonos: The Other Side,” I gained an insight into the island that I had previously overlooked as a cultural destination. The island has a number of layers, appealing to the sense and sensibilities of just about any type of visitor. The most appealing though was the sense of family for those 10,000 or more who work through the warmer months, which doubles the wintertime population.
Everyone here seems to look out for one another.
On a visit to Hair Lab my hairdresser Anna Moskalova, a permanent Mykonian resident for two decades, explained to me how the owner of the shop has become like a mother. “Kuria Maria Kontogiannis is more than just my boss, we have a great relationship and bond.” Indeed, as they took me on a tour of the picturesque alleys that are littered with hundreds of stores open until the early hours, we were soon joined by her friends and introduced to other store owners. Everyone working in Mykonos Town seems to know each other. There is an unwritten rule, ‘look after your fellow workers in summer.’
I asked Anna if she knew my friend and dancer Tekno. “Oh, Tekno Manos! He has been coming here for that many years, he will eventually earn a Greek pension!”
When I caught up with Tekno at both Super Paradise where he dances with his shirt off by day, and at Queen Bar where he gets the crowd going fully clothed by night, he agreed with Anna. “Twenty-four years I have been coming here. We are all family and I will keep coming for years to come.”
Queen Bar is one of those small spots that initially appears innocuous, and then all of a sudden springs to life around midnight as the drinks flow, the trumpet player blows and on one such occasion, a four-metre tall dancing figure makes a stunning appearance to dazzle the crammed crowd.
Mykonos is not all about parties. Yes I was shocked by the €1000 Euros for a table to see Remos play at Nammos a few kilometres from Mykonos Town; not to mention the amount of money shirtless guys will spend at Tropicana on champagne to impress the ladies, and boys. I was also shocked by the €9 some fork out to buy tzatziki (slight exaggeration), as I had been warned by the quite charming Stephanos from Loukas Hotel. What didn’t shock me was the beach side culture where you can go for a swim. Perfect for those keen to read a book, enjoy a cocktail, and take a few selfies to show their friends back home how much money they are spending. Actually, I was seriously concerned by the pressure placed on one’s thumbs by the amount of selfies being taken.
Once you get the other side of the island you can find the stunning Kalo Livadi which only has two beach bars, Solymar and Nemo (yes, they found him). My actor friend Anta Paparapti who was helping us with the filmshoot explained that Livadi is her favourite place. “It is beautiful, quieter, and the sea is amazing for a swim.” Here you can swim with the freedom of knowing you won’t be consumed by the same hordes as Nammos, Platis Gialos, or Ornos with all the parties and frenetic activity.
My friend Paul-Nicholas Trahanas who was travelling with his friends inadvertently kept bumping into us in Mykonos Town.
Aside from the usual groan for being bumped, he always had recommendations that stood out. “Billy, make sure you get to Delos.” Delos was recommended by all those who live and work in Mykonos; “and get to the Xilarakia Taverna near Panormos, the place is mental, packed, awesome food and has no electricity!” Best of all, the view from the hill of the beach. When our crew ventured that way for a feast and realised that the queue was 45 minutes, we took in the view and a chance to chat to more people we kept bumping into including a group from Canberra who made the point that the spot was awesome and they were keen to wait it out. Having spoken with the group the day before in Mykonos, they were impressed by the contrast away from main hub.
Back in the main hub, one cannot help be charmed walking through the alleys. On an evening where I was lost until the early hours, Basil made friends with two workers painting the street pathway with the traditional white, the colour of the island. Some will tell you it has to do with leprosy from a bygone era, others that it keeps the ants away. The workers were painting at 2.00 am, telling Basil, “it’s too hot during the day, we don’t mind working late.” It certainly is a good office environment. What struck me about all of employees on the island; how hard they work and the long hours.
How many times in Australia have we felt tired working in an office after an eight hour shift (any more pointless meetings, people?) or that hard day on a building site? After collecting our holiday entitlements, long service when we earn it, sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, penalty rates and the rule that says go home when you finish your shift, we can certainly feel tired! In Mykonos, like all the islands, you are working 10 -14 hours per day, six days a week. Anna reminded me that she had to work almost 16 hours the other day as they were overwhelmed, “and I love being there, I love my work.” Most will work their day in two shifts, enough time to allow them to get some time on the beach in the afternoon.
On one such afternoon, we bumped into Nicholas’ partner Maria Tassou at a nearby beach. Maria runs the Ada Kamara Boutique situated at Riga Ferraiou 4 which is a flagship store for one of the best designers in Greece, Ada Kamara, who studied in Paris and earned her stripes in Asia.
We visited the boutique later that day and met Ada who took the time to tell us about her latest collection and the fact that Mykonos has welcomed her and inspiring designs.
In the neighbourhood of where Ada has her store (Matogiannia), one can find Karolina, a real character from Boston, selling her paintings of Mykonos, and Loukas Doukas. The Constantinople-born Loukas whose shop sells beautiful scarves from Bali, lived Down Under and spends half his year in Bali and the other half in Mykonos.
Not far from there, you will find one of the best outdoor movie theatres in the world: Cine Manto.
The Sydney-born Nicholas made sure we had an introduction to internationally renowned filmmaker Andonis Theocharis Kioukas and his wife Thalia who own the venue.
What makes this a unique place is the setting. Unless you follow the signs, you may not find the entrances. Set amongst a number of trees, yes, trees, which are rare on the barren island, you will find a bar, a restaurant, the cinema, paintings of Mexican-born Louis Orozco and plenty of other talented artists.
Adonis is one of the country’s finest film directors and producers and oversees Qkas Productions. Dressed in white, he is the archetypical Mykonian. Through Adonis we met Louis whose paintings adorn the garden wall and his talented granddaughter, Jasmine. The next evening we had the pleasure of listening to her play at SIC near the water. SIC is another venue with a tree in its courtyard and the place where we met drag queen, Gege Show Silva from Brasil. This energetic and gorgeous woman was happy to put on a show and extend the hand of friendship. Gege has been coming and working on the island for a number of years and it has become home during the season of madness!
If you walk around long enough you will see the same faces. Coming across Georgina Karella, CEO of Urban Skin with her Mykonos site located at the five-star Andronikos Boutique Hotel, which is owned by the charming and dedicated Markos Andronikos, another Mykonian.
Georgina, originally from the island, is one of those interesting people who bases herself here over summer as a break from her Kolonaki, Athens business.
The other side of Mykonos will always entail shopping. On the advice of Nicholas, we ventured into Harry JWLS jewellery store owned by an Aussie of Lesvian heritage. Harry Mestros provided an insight into his life-altering story.
Around 2012, Harry decided to change his life from working in the corporate world earning a decent living to take a chance with his creative vision. Setting up a small display of his handcrafts at Elysium, he never looked back, eventually locating a shop that he redesigned in the heart of the town.
Every day and every night in the gay-friendly Mykonos can be unique. I had only ever experienced the party side. This trip exposed other elements. We even found time to catch the ferry over to Delos.
Keeping in mind that in years gone by, I would always return to the hotel too late to even think about catching the 10.00 am boat to the ruins of Delos and the chance to meet the ancient Gods. Speaking of spirituality, the island had something I never even contemplated: hundreds of churches. The figure may actually be close to two thousand, and there is a reason for that. You will need to watch our documentary to learn why!
We also learnt that Ano Mera, the largest village on the island, is technically the largest township in the Aegean. Ioanna, from very appetising (highly recommended) Fisherman Giorgos & Marina, told me that, “Ano Mera is spread out, from the platea you are in, it stretches out for a big distance.”
One of the other highlights you will find on the island is the amount of famous people and writers. After a catch-up with my friend and best-selling author Alexandra Symeonidou who has just released her fourteenth book, and whose son and brother manage the Imar Gallery, we met up with a favourite author of mine, Jeffrey Siger. The author of Murder in Mykonos and another eight titles including forthcoming novel set in Lesvos; it was a real treat to meet Jeff.
It’s not every day you can meet the guy who has written the book which I literally read on the plane over to Europe, Mykonos After Midnight. We met with Jeff and his partner Barbara, who spends half the year on the island, at the stunning Rhenia Hotel in Tourlous. Our company included a number of Americans as well as the hotel owner, Mykonian Andreas Fiorentinos, formerly Deputy Secretary General of the Greek National Tourism Organisation.
Nicholas, being the good company and gentleman he is, ensured we met as many of his ‘family’ as possible across the island.
From the engaging owners of Vegera Cafe Bar Restaurant, Apostolis Koutsoukos and Dimitris Kontizas, who took the chance to convert a jewellery store to the inspired restaurant it has become to Elena Kosma who manages the place, and to almost everyone in town. We spent many a lunch time listening to the cool tunes spun by a DJ, eating well and watching the crowds go by as well as catching up with the likes of archaeologist Christiana Loupou, who spent many years on Lesvos.
For us trying to discover the other side of the island for our new documentary, we were captivated by the family aspect, the Mykonian culture ,and the economic heartbeat which is breathing life into the Hellenic economy.
*Billy Cotsis is the producer of the 2018 documentary, ‘Mykonos: The Other Side’.