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Dropping a Gear to the Slow Pace of Kos

Greek gods are not to be trifled with. Yesterday, when I was going to visit Asklepios, the god of healing, he pulled a grey carpet over the entire Kos Town and let the rain pour down for two hours on end.

Shady and Stately

Asklepios was considerate enough, though, to start the rain while I was sauntering around in the village of Platani. From there, it’s a ten-minute walk up to his shrine, Asklepieion, the most famous sight in the island of Kos. I took shelter at the grocer’s whose weather forecast didn’t cheer me up exactly, “It’s gonna rain all day!”

The main square of Platani is edged with taverns, designed for dry weather, so the waiters were busy collecting cushions and tablecloths. Shortly, the road was transformed into a gushing river. Cyclists and moped riders began flowing downwards, impatient to get back to their hotels. Asklepios seemed determined to sweep away everything, but fortunately, he spared the ruins.

Sun Again
Asklepios is kinder today. To reach him, I ascend an impressive cypress avenue, to my joy rather shady. I’m obviously the only walker. Others are motorized or riding on a bike. A long line of white jeeps, packed with young people, roars past. The mini train, shuttling between Asklepieion and Kos Town four kilometres further down, takes it at a slower pace. They’re in fact good at selling ruins in Kos, by making it pleasant and easy for the tourists.

The latest arrivals approach the entrance through an arcade of oleander bushes, pomegranate and olive trees, adorned with an undergrowth of hibiscus and geraniums. After all this splendour, they gladly give up four euros at the ticket office window. A yellowing eucalyptus tree towers inside the gate, like a sky-high guard. The naked ruin area, terraced on a hillside, is surrounded by woods of pine and cypress.

Old Prescription
The Italians, ruling Kos from 1912 up till the Second World War, restored Asklepieion, particularly the steps and walls between the three terraces. To picture the altars, temples and rows of columns to oneself, it’s necessary to be imaginative, and the ruins apparently appeal to the visitors’ imagination. A baby gets its nappy changed atop a marble slab, and a German tells his wife tall stories about everyday life at Asklepieion. He’s right, however, when claiming that here, the gods were honoured and the sick cured. The hospital facilities were at the bottom, the temples higher up.

Input for the imaginative mind

The doctor Hippocrates, father of medical science, is known by every Kos traveller, and so is his plane tree in Kos Town. Hippocrates died in the early 4th century BC. Although the construction of Asklepieion was completed after his death, he became its kingpin. His methods and ideas were applied here, both in practice and teaching. Hippocrates often prescribed quiet and rest in beautiful surroundings, fresh air and healthy food. The quiet is almost intact as the place is so spacious that the tourists’ chatting vanishes into the blue, and the air is still very fresh, the environment still enchanting.

In a Dream
Everybody seems to participate in a photo competition, spying on each other’s choice of subjects. The possibilities are endless, and it would be practical if they all could be clicked into a camera: the colours of the marble; the cypresses’ elegance; the chirping of the birds and the the cicadas’ singing; the light air and the smell of woods. And especially not to forget: the view to Kos Town and to Bodrum on the Turkish side, two white beauties separated by a narrow blue strait, handsomely dotted with white sails.

The view from the top

I’ve heard about a spot on the central terrace, Abaton, the quarter of the priests, where the patients used to sleep and dream, until Asklepios appeared in their dreams to reveal how they could get well again. I’m not feeling ill, just heavy, tired and warm. Nevertheless, I’m eager to try out the dreaming method, so I lie down, with my back and my feet on separate slabs of marble and my bag as a cushion.

While passers-by are giggling, I close my eyes and fold my hands. As a matter of fact, it takes only a few minutes before Asklepios appears, not in his usual form as a bearded master holding a snake-entwined staff in his hand. This time, he’s in the shape of a merciful grey cloud, shading the sun and making me feel refreshingly cooled and much lighter, quite renewed actually.

No Train
An elderly English lady, dressed in yellow and a matching visor, is entertaining fourteen affectionate cats, on a low wall at the exit, inside the shady arcade. She’s so likeable that the cats eat the bread she’s giving them as if it were their favourite titbit. The rest of the tourists are waiting for the next mini train, well and truly tired of ruins. I have a secret hope that the train fails to come, either because of a breakdown or a strike.

Lady with the cats

In that case, the trip home from Asklepieion will be precisely like it ought to be. Slowly, we’ll stroll down the avenue together, under majestic cypresses, to the delight of the gregarious goats along the road, waiting to show off their shining brown furs. Even the proud cock, confidently posing on the roof of a shack, will be delighted. When we tire of looking at the villagers’ luxuriant gardens, it’s time to seat ourselves in the taverns of Platani to consume the last ingredient of the ancient prescription – tasty and healthy food.

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