The ferry for Tzia leaves the port of Lavrio, located on the eastern coast of the Attic peninsula. Getting there is rather easy if you take the new highway. It makes getting around the Athens area so much easier. I say thank God for the Olympics. This year the windy weather or "meltemia" which usually arrives in August reared its ugly head in July. Most Greeks complain about it, as far as I was concerned it was a godsend. When you've lived in Maine, it is difficult to adjust to the dry heat in Greece. Greeks on the other hand, have a phobia of the "revma" or draft. They are convinced that they will all catch their death of cold from one. Even a nice warm breeze is a potential menace. The nice thing about the port of Lavrio is that it is much less crowded and busy than the other major port of embarkation for island hopping tourists, Piraeus. Ferries leaving from Lavrio are also less likely to be late unless the weather is inclement. The meltemia whipped up the seas between Lavrio and Tzia, so our voyage was very much a roller coaster ride, so much so that I spent most of it dealing with my wife and younger son as they vomited while hanging over the railing of the ferry. The ferry was filled to capacity with more yiayias then I had ever seen congregating in one location. A veritable yiayia convention, in all shapes and sizes. They were totally oblivious to the high seas and chattered away throughout the trip catching up on the latest gossip about this or that person. When we arrived thankfully in Tzia, the ferry disgorged more buses than I thought it could possibly hold. The horde of yiayias moved as quickly as if the signal had been given to abandon ship. One thing you learn in Greece is never to get in front of a stampeding herd of yiayias, unless of course you have been driven stark raving mad by their incessant caterwauling. Suffice it to say that thanks to my brother-in-law's quick action we were in the car and on our way on our sightseeing tour of Tzia. The first thing that strikes you about Tzia are the mountains that dominate the island. Interspersed are small, picturesque villages, many on the coast. The roads are narrow and tortuous but well maintained. If you stray off the beaten track prepare to run into a dirt road and a bumpy, dusty ride. We soon decided that our day trip to Tzia would become an overnighter, if we could find suitable accommodations. Their are no large hotels on the island (in reality a big plus) and as we inquired in place after place we realized that it would be difficult to find a place to stay. Rather than waste more time we headed for our first destination, a small remote church high up in the mountains overlooking the rocky coast. We began to wind our way around the mountain roads and I have to admit I said more than one prayer as I stared wide-eyed into the abyss below. Occasionally I would be distracted from the story of my life flashing before my eyes as we took in the expansive views of the island. We finally arrived at the monastery known as Panagia Kastriani ("Madonna of the Castle") just in time to see the buses unloading what seemed like hundreds of yiayias. Our friends from the ferry were still with us. We had arrived just in time to attend a Paraklisis service. During this service celebrants give thanks for the blessings of life. The blessing of five loaves of bread known as "Artoklasia" along with wheat, oil and wine, the staples of life, is done in remembrance of Christ feeding the multitudes. I am not sure how to describe the feelings I had as I stood with my family in the middle of these women whose faith in God had brought them to this little far off corner of the island. As they raised their voices in unison, I had no doubt that their prayers would rise up to God, along with the sweet smelling incense that permeated the entire church. The church was built on the same site that a buried icon depicting the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was discovered in 1700. As the story goes, some shepherds tending their flocks noticed a light on the rocky peninsula where the church is located. When they investigated further they uncovered the buried icon which now resides in the original church. This church is underneath a larger, more recently built church. The icon is adorned with hundreds of small silver or gold plates depicting arms, legs, hearts or persons, sometimes even the Greek word for thank you, "evharisto." These are votive offerings known as "tama." In Greece, when prayers are answered, people express their thanks by making such an offering. This custom is very old and has its origin in ancient times. As the service concluded and the celebrants began to re-board their buses, we found out that there were rooms available for pilgrims and that we were welcome to stay. The priest who lives there showed us around and told us about the history of the place. There is also a small communal dining area. The monastery's courtyard is perfumed by the scent of basil growing in large cans. We ended up staying in two clean, simple rooms with hot and cold running water, bathrooms and a shower as well as a delightful balcony overlooking one of the most beautiful views of the sea I have seen. The Panagia had blessed us and I like to think had brought us to this church for a purpose. There was a small library that we immediately began to explore with a treasure trove of books. Thano and I enjoyed it so much we spent time cleaning and dusting the library to return it to its former luster. The serenity I experienced in this place made me think twice about returning to the hectic, foreboding world I left behind. At dusk I sat alone on the wall behind the church and looked over the extension of land that juts out toward the sea with waves crashing on its rocks and the goats and sheep feeding on it sparse vegetation. It looks like the bow of a ship plowing through the sea. After making an offering we left the next day to visit Ioulida, the island's largest town. The locals call it Hora. It is situated on a mountain with a view of the sea below. As you approach you will notice the remains of the ancient fortifications and wall. The town is crisscrossed by narrow streets with tidy shops and tavernas. You really need a few days to explore the town properly. There is even a small archaeological museum. The landscape in Tzia is truly stunning, wild, virgin and sculpted by deep ravines. As you drive past Ioulida you will see a vast forest of oak trees, the largest and most impressive in the entire chain of the Cycladic islands. Tzia has a number of quiet, sec;uded, sandy beaches and as far as I could tell, they are often almost completely empty. We visited two: Ksila and Pisses. We had Ksila all to ourselves. Pisses on the other hand is inhabited and had a nice rustic looking wooden taverna with a view of the beach. If you don't like jostling crowds you will adore Tzia. Tzia is mainly frequented by Athenians and has yet to be discovered by international tourists. Many middle class Greeks are building beautiful villas on the eastern and northern coast of Tzia, and they all have the obligatory view of the surrounding sea. Some even have swimming pools. This frenzy of building has attracted many Albanian stone masons who are skilled in the use of the abundant stone in the area. The homes being built are somewhat reminiscent of the ones I saw in Epirus in northeastern Greece and the Pelion region, above the city of Volos, in central Greece. After gorging on a scrumptious made to order lunch consisting of a family size omelet made from Kaseri cheese, ham, green peppers and accompanied by plenty of fresh crusty bread, we drove back to Korissia, the port of Tzia to catch the boat back. This time I made sure Anna and Chris took some Dramamine. It worked like a charm. As we sat in one of the local seaside cafes sipping Frappes (cold frothy Nescafe coffee) we were entertained by a rather funny but telling argument between two Greeks truck drivers. These guys went at it for a while, yelling and flailing their arms about some nonsensical problem. Eventually exhausted, they each retired to their respective corners, took a short break and decided to return for more of the same. They never laid a glove on each other. Greeks are rarely violent people, unless of course politics is involved. It was all quite fun to watch. During the return trip we got a closeup view of Makronissos, the infamous prison island that was the home of many political prisoners during the civil war and the reign of the military junta. It is a foreboding, empty silent place full of the ghosts of the past. As we sailed past it I couldn't help but think about the deep scars history has inflicted on the Greek psyche. As we neared home we all agreed that Tzia is a special place for us. After touring a good part of the island we soon realized that a true appreciation of this island's extensive attributes would require weeks, not days. Maybe next time, God willing. Come to think of it, maybe it is not a good idea telling all of you about Tzia, after all, it has been a well kept secret for a long time.