Saturday, 6 August 2016

Island hopping near Athens

Das Boot

Have you ever thought, "This can't be my life – I must have stumbled into someone else's"? That's pretty much how I felt for the entire long weekend I went with a small group of friends who'd hired a ginormous (motorized) catamaran that we picked up in Pireas, the Greek capital's port.

Did someone say hot? Was like being steamed. Walking became syrupy, water was drunk like, well, water. We spent one night in what was likely the red-light district – but was a perfectly decent hotel – then stocked up in the morning with food and drink and set off...

Once out of the harbour, the ocean breeze took the heat off. First thing was getting the far side of the shipping lane, next thing was heading to Poros, an island on the other side of the Saronic Gulf from Athens, so not too far a ride – maybe 90 minutes?

We moored in a lovely bay with a taverna on the beach and some of us swam in for a coffee, while others of us just swam off the boat and generally lazed about in the sun. See? Whose life could this be? Surely not mine...

Poros Town
Next stop was Poros Town, where we docked with much instruction from the local restaurateurs hopeful for a large party for dinner (sorry!) and then a walk-about. Back came the full force of the heat – boom – like a heavy cloak, so that every step felt a little too far, but what a pretty place. The stone-cobbled street that ran one block in from the touristy-tat-filled harbourside had bakeries run by mom and pop, the fittings installed back in the 1940s or 50s still in place. Like stepping back into a movie set of old-time Greece.

Mandraki Bay
Me trying to tie a bowknot
Next day, we had to wait for all the boats that had moored up against us – three or four deep – to leave before we could – though to be fair, it didn't really hold us up. Today's sailing was to Hydra, a long skinny island just around the mainland from Poros and maybe a 45-minute ride further. Here we moored again, this time in a smaller bay, called Mandraki (population 11),  but with the requisite taverna and this time I swam in with the others. How unutterably perfect is it to climb dripping out of the sea, sit down at a pretty wooden table under a grape-vine-clad trellis and order feta-cheese topped salads, eating while you dry off? None of the simple ingredients – tomatoes, cucumber, green bell pepper, oregano – ever taste so good anywhere else but in this setting.

In the evening, we took a water taxi from the boat round into the next bay, where Hydra Town itself is. For over 300 years, Hydra belonged to Venice (almost until the end of the 16th century) and you can see this in the style of the pretty townhouses. There are also a number of notable mansions here and fortifications left over from the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. Rumour has it that Leonard Cohen has a place on Hydra. We ate dinner at Zefyros, which was cheap but delicious – choose lots of mezze plates and share. It's just down the furthest-left-hand street that leads off the harbour if you're standing with your back to the water.

Goodbye Hydra
One more thing about Hydra: there are no motor vehicles, so the only way to get around is by horse, mule or donkey. Oh, and by boat...

What? We have to go back to Athens and fly home? In that case, please let's leave it to the last possible moment. Yay, everyone else feels the same and so we pootled on from Mandraki Bay to Egina, the island closest to Athens and so naturally a little busier, for a last swim in to a beach taverna, a last fizzy drink under a canopy while the hawkers come by trying to sell everything from watches to solar phone chargers. One of our party had a look at everything and
eventually just gave one of these men €10 but didn't buy anything –  to the man's initial confusion and then gratitude.

Hello again, Athens. Maybe next time I'll get to see your sights (but only if it's at least 20° cooler...).

Athens in the distance

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