Victoria Hislop: ‘Patra represents the extremes of Greece – sublime and mundane’

Victoria Hislop: 'Patra represents the extremes of Greece – sublime and mundane’ 1
Travel n Tour

It took the novelist some time. However, she discovered to love the chaos and joy of Greece’s 1/3-largest metropolis.

When I visited Patra for the primary time, I was baffled. Driving in from Athens via the present-day sprawl alongside the coast, I couldn’t apprehend how the 1/3 largest metropolis in Greece will be so lacking in attraction. Where was the string of seafront eating places that I become awaiting, the 6th-century citadel and the museum? The two pictures that I took away had been of a kitsch motel modeled on a fortress, entire with crenellations: its windows had been boarded up, and weeds grew from the doorway. It was like something from a nightmarish, deserted Disneyland. And then there has been a sad, rusting ferry languishing within the port, its call, Ionian Queen, handiest emphasizing the experience of a lost but wonderful past.

On a go-back trip an ultimate year, I discovered some other side to this metropolis. In Patra, as in such many Greek cities and towns, beauty lives cheek by jowl with dereliction. Neoclassical nestles after the Nineteen Seventies. To love Greece, you need to embrace instead of melancholy at this chaos, typified by the crumbling mansions, the black sheets at their windows flapping in the breeze. These buildings are funereal, dramatic, precarious, ready to be saved, however even now including to the town’s fascinating texture.

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Victoria Hislop
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Victoria Hislop. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images
On that 2nd go to, I approached the city from a different direction. It becomes through one of the most lovely bridges I have ever seen. The graceful curve of the 2km Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge, which links the Peloponnese with mainland Greece, makes a thrilling technique and, at nightfall, when lit, is even extra magical. It became completed simply in time for the 2004 Olympic Games and is one of the most astounding legacies. Perhaps the evening turned into a better moment to reach, with the entirety illuminated and the streets and squares thronging with people, on foot, and socializing. Patra has a large pupil populace that adds to its liveliness (as well as maintaining prices quite low in bars and restaurants).


At night time, the good-sized central rectangular, Plateia Georgiou, has real magic and madness. It is a massive acreage of easy, bright marble, framed by an aggregate of purposeful 5-story Seventies blocks, 19th-century mansions, and one of the prettiest buildings in Greece: the super 19th-century Apollon Theatre designed through Ernst Ziller. Earthquakes have frequently broken buildings in Patra, and the survival of this jewel in the center seems a miracle. One nighttime, once I became there, an target audience began spilling out after a play, so I went in to have a look at the gold and pink-velvet interior, the 5 degrees of wooden balconies forming a neat symmetrical cocoon.

The Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge.

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The Rio-Antirrio suspension bridge. Photograph: Alamy
There turned into any other indoors that I will by no means overlook. A few minutes’ walks from the center are the largest church in Greece, St Andrew’s Cathedral. Inaugurated in 1974 and still dazzlingly white on the outdoor, it’s far committed to the saint who becomes martyred in Patra. His relics lie internal, in conjunction with a massive segment of the saltire move he was crucified. Usually, while you go to church buildings in Mediterranean countries, you pass from light into darkness, however here, my eyes needed to regulate the brightness of the interior, no longer its gloom. It is spectacularly colorful and optimistic, full of pix not simply of saints but additionally of nature. Everything is exaggerated (which includes the five-metre-length gold-plated pass), but its joyful flamboyance charmed me. There changed into additionally a river of piped orthodox chant that in no way ceased, a valid handiest interrupted via a purifier answering her smartphone. Earthly and divine seemed to satisfy in this area.

Saint Andrew’s in Patra, the largest church in Greece.

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Saint Andrew’s, the largest church in Greece. Photograph: Werner Otto/Alamy
The church isn’t a giant reliquary. It is a dwelling breathing location with a regular move of locals coming and going with their buying in hand, kissing icons and scribbling notes for the priest, at the side of visitors marveling on the art and sheltering from the cares of the world in the indoors sunshine. The whole building is a glad birthday celebration of life.

The group carried signs in English, Arabic, and Farsi and stated they could also target different flights from Egypt, Qatar, and Dubai on Friday.

One US Muslim circle of relatives, who did not need to provide their names, became expecting the advent of three households is visiting from Pakistan on a flight that arrived from Kuwait.

The indoors of Saint Andrew’s.

The interior of Saint Andrew’s. Photograph: Milan Gonda/Getty
In the end, I additionally observed the Roman stays I became waiting for, in addition to a terrific archaeological museum and numerous splendid Byzantine church buildings. The infinite cafes and bars close to the center (and near the ocean) were additionally attractive. Aptaliko serves delicious present-day Greek meals. My favorite coffee area is Discover Your Way, a fantastically designed, very cutting-edge cafe interior a book place, wherein you can examine or use laptops for so long as you need.

I am now not certain that my state-of-the-art book, Cartes Postales, would exist without Patra. This is a city that represents the extremes of Greece and the underlying chaos of it all, contrasts of splendor and ugliness, the elegant and the mundane, and limitless source of marvel and fascination.