This Team of Experts Will Help You Live Your Own Myth in Greece

"Boundless Life," a company from Montreal, is helping to relocate American and Canadian families to Syros, so they can live on the island like locals.


It’s a Wednesday morning in May, and the sun has just risen. Ermoupoli, the capital of Syros, is up and running. In the old market next to the Town Hall square, the greengrocers and the fishmongers have set out their stalls. The traditional local products at the renowned Prekas Deli are on display, too, and nearby Stamatios Proiou Street is brimming with life.

Rebetiko music may no longer echo in the alleys as in the past, but at the Great School of Markos – named after the legendary rebetiko songwriter Markos Vamvakaris who was a native of Syros – you see music students coming and going with bouzoukis and baglamas. The port might not be crowded with wooden sailboats, either, but a walk toward the old shipbuilding area takes you back decades to when famous shipbuilders were shaping vessels with their tools.

 

Despite the passage of the years, this town, the capital not only of the island but of the Cyclades as well, remains an unexpected 200-year-old urban miracle, an explosive mix of West and East and of North and South that still retains both its unique traditions and its multicultural character.

On this spring morning, with the city waking up to the bright sun, a small group of people has lined up on the concrete pier beneath Saint Nicholas Cathedral for a yoga class. Their conversations reveal they have come here from the other side of the Atlantic. They are a new batch of temporary residents, and behind them lies a venture that resembles a social experiment initiated by a new company from Montreal called “Boundless Life.”

This venture was founded by an international trio of young entrepreneurs: a Brazilian, a Canadian, and a Greek. Their customers are families with children who want to live like locals for a period of time in different parts of the world. The company has designed a program that promises to solve the uncertainties and practical problems that such foreign residents face, and help integrate them organically into their respective local communities.

Elina Zoi, the Greek member of the trio, explains: “The idea was formed when my partner and co-founder Mauro Repazzi, who’d decided to take his family and travel far away, realized that there were difficulties and questions that needed to be answered, including issues over where the children would go to school, whether there’d be a community there to join, friends to be made and support to be found. Essentially, the company was created to fill a gap that we encountered. We chose as the base for our activities three cities in southern Europe: Sintra in Portugal, Pistoia in Tuscany, and Ermoupoli.”

When we ask what the criteria were for this selection, the answer sounds like the hunt for a utopia in a dystopian and uncertain world: “We looked for places with a pleasant climate, something we knew our customers would be looking for. We had other criteria, too, such as proximity to an airport. We first chose Portugal and the city of Sintra because it has a more stable climate than Greece throughout the year, while domestically, we sought pleasant summer places that are lively in winter as well and, of course, we hit a wall. Eventually, Ermoupoli won out because it remains active and lively long beyond the summer season. In addition, our goal was to offer an experience that represents not only the place itself but also the entire country, and that’s what you get in Ermoupoli; although it’s an island town, it features urban elements found throughout Greece. And that, automatically, means a large number of young people and children, something that’s also necessary for our families, since they have children.”

A maritime tradition

The venture has, to date, proven successful, and a young native of Syros, Giannis Stamboulidis, has played a vital role, that of an “Experience Champion” or “ambassador” for his town, inviting the families of “Boundless Life” on tours and bringing them experiences only a local could offer. “Ermoupoli was founded by refugees and has always had residents who view the foreigner not with suspicion but as someone who will help bring them prosperity. It’s a characteristic that’s been passed from generation to generation,” the 24-year-old native, who happens to be a very experienced sailor, tells us.

Stamboulidis works with the Nautical Club of Syros, giving sailing lessons, and has recently started teaching the children of “Boundless Life” families. “I place a lot of emphasis on this endeavor, not just because I believe that an authentic Syros experience cannot exclude the sea or our maritime history, but also because our customers know that once they come to the island, their children will be sailing. For many of them, this is another reason that encourages them to decide to move here.”

 

The Syros seamanship experience includes an understanding of the honored history of traditional local shipbuilding, with visits to the workshop of the traditional shipbuilder Manolis Zorzos, known to everyone on the island simply as Captain Manolis. “People like Captain Manolis are the personification of the maritime tradition of Ermoupoli,” Stamboulidis says. “When our customers saw his great knowledge and his love of the sea, as well as his desire for all this to be preserved and passed on to younger generations, it touched them deeply, made them more sensitive to certain issues and started them discussing ways to help. And that, in turn, made me think that while some Americans and Canadians value our traditions, we ourselves often overlook them. That’s why I believe that “Boundless Life” offers another good thing: through the eyes of these foreigners, we’ll remember how precious all the things that we have really are. In fact, some of my friends from the island, seeing the stories I upload on social media, ask me questions like “Where is this place?” and show interest in visiting it or in participating in our excursions. Our events, even though they are designed for foreigners, ‘stir up’ some locals, who begin to see all this, which they’ve taken for granted for so long, with new eyes.”

The same can be said about the architectural tradition of Ermoupoli: foreign visitors are often aware of and appreciate the city’s many neoclassical buildings, some of which have fallen into disrepair. One couple from New Jersey who have been living in Ermoupoli for months with their two young children as clients of “Boundless Life,” have already invested in one local property. Speaking with them, there’s something they mention again and again; it’s the sense of security they have walking around the town, something they don’t have in America.

Similar sentiments are expressed by a Canadian woman of Indian descent who has been living in the Cycladic capital for the past few months with her husband, a Canadian man of Kenyan descent, and their young daughter. “Being a family of Canadians with dark skin, we didn’t expect such a warm embrace from the Syros locals,” she says, describing with evident enthusiasm how much they’re enjoying being regular customers at certain restaurants or local gyms, and how safe their children are at play in the town’s playgrounds. What’s more, they’ve freed themselves from the automobile; Ermoupoli is walkable, a fact they value nearly as much as the sense of security they feel.
 
In addition to the beneficial feeling that comes with integrating into the local community, there’s also their own community, one that is centered around a property on the beach of the city’s harbor, in a very convenient and central location, which was converted last year from an abandoned stone shell into a very active reception area. The Boundless Life community can meet, work, communicate, and organize events here. “With this space at its center, a community is created where members support each other and exchange knowledge. The result is a strong, happy, and active group of people who ultimately strengthen the local economy.”

Development

How is “Boundless Life.” the services it offers, and the local lifestyle of its customers related to the phenomenon of overtourism?

Elina Zoe says: “Overtourism is a byproduct of ‘fast travel.’ The kind of trip we suggest and provide is the opposite, and is called ‘slow travel.’ I might not bring, for example, 1,000 people to Syros in three months. I might bring 30. But the 30 people that I will bring will spend much more money than the 1,000 people (precisely 17 times more) and, in addition, they will love the island as their own, and they will offer it things that, in the long run, are more valuable for the island than the one-time expenditure of some money.”

 

This article was previously published in Greek at kathimerini.gr.



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