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Poros - Hydra - Aegina - Athens, Greece


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Our last travel adventure while living in Europe was a two-week tour of some of the Saronic Gulf Islands in the Mediterranean (Poros, Hydra, and Aegina), with a wrap-up in Athens. We signed up for a German tour; 4 days on Poros, 3 days on Hydra, 4 days on Aegina, and 3.5 days in Athens. Transportation and accommodations were covered, with some orientation assistance and optional local tours available if we wanted them (we usually did). The tricky part was, because it was a German tour sponsored by a German travel agency, all the literature, expectations, and verbal instructions were in German! We managed, but it did add an interesting twist to the experience.

In preparation for our return to the USA on 29 July 1995, We spent the last week in June and first week in July taking care of the myriad loose ends involved with permanently closing down a household; phone, water, electric, gas, trash, insurance, postal delivery, etc. etc. etc. The movers came and packed up everything that was ours in the townhouse from 3-5 July, and 5-6 July we spent cleaning the empty townhouse so we could turn the keys over to the owners and be done with the place, and on 7 July we left on our vacation! One could question the wisdom of traveling to some Greek islands in the Mediterranean in July (my goodness it was hot!), but we still had the time of our lives.

We flew from Stuttgart to Athens on a charter plane, then we were bussed from the airport to the docks where we boarded a giant "Flying Dolphin" hydrofoil for the 90 minute ride to the first island; Poros. Riding the hydrofoil was an experience. The inside is more like an airplane or bullet train than a boat; fully enclosed aerodynamic shell, comfortable sculpted seats with seatbelts, aisles, etc. The boat quickly rose up on its ski-like legs and we zipped through (or rather over) the water at a pretty good clip. I have no idea how fast we were traveling but it was fast. Finally we arrived at Poros Town.

 

Poros

Poros is actually comprised of two islands: Sferia, a small rocky island volcanic in origin, and Kalavria, a larger, more lush island. The two, connected by a bridge, are considered one. Because of its proximity to the mainland, Poros is popular with Greek vacationers and has thus retained its character. The busy main port town, also named Poros, on Sferia, is pretty much the island's only settlement. It has a family atmosphere on the northern bay and a sophisticated, yachty atmosphere in the south. The island is close to the Peloponnese mainland and so is an attractive base for visiting Epidaurus, Mycenae, and other famous sites.

A taverna in an alley on Poros
View of Poros from a hilltop nightclub

We all liked Poros the best of all the islands, not that the other ones were bad! Our hotel was on Kalavria, away from the little island and the only real town, Poros Town. We were right on the water, with the beach just across the street that ran by the hotel. The water shuttle that bussed people back and forth across the bay to Poros Town docked right at the hotel, so we made many trips during our 4 day stay (1500 drachmas per person one way - about 60 cents). The taverna (restaurant) in the hotel was superb, and they grilled fresh-caught fish on an open barbecue every night. We tried the baklava in every taverna we ate at, but the hotel's recipe was the best.

We climbed the hill behind Poros Town to the tower, and enjoyed the warm breeze and spectacular view. We wandered through all the alleys up behind the town, shopped, ate in wonderful outdoor Greek Tavernas where the tables were set up in the streets and alleys everywhere you looked.

We took a guided tour of the island, and saw the Monastery of the Zoodohos Pigi of Calauria (Zoodohos Pigi translates to Life-giving Spring), Church of Agii Anagiri by the spring, said to have cured Lakovos II of Athens from gall stones, which inspired him to found the monastery, and the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon. After the tour the guide took us to a resort/nightclub up in the hills called the Poseidon where we could swim if we wanted, but we all just walked around slowly in the heat, enjoyed the view and sipped cool drinks.

 

Hydra

Hydra (35 nautical miles from the port of Piraeus), maintains its own peace and rhythm, not to mention architectural style. It is probably the only place where not only cars, but motorbikes and bicycles are prohibited. Hydra, with its fresh ocean air and sparkling blue waters is the ideal place for vacation, for it combines the beauty and peace of a unique scenery, with a great selection of night-life for those who so please.

Coming into Hydra Harbor
The Hydra Waterfront
Blue and White Contrasts on Hydra
The Family at Sunset on Hydra Harbor

After four days in this idyllic (but hot) paradise, we took a ferry to Hydra. I remember standing at the rail of the ferry as we glided by village after village, wondering which one of these picturesque port villages was Hydra. As soon as we came around the last bend, though, I knew where we were going.

Hydra is a beautiful little village, with the town itself built up on the hills that ring the harbor. There are no cars, no motorbikes, no bicycles. The only non-foot form of transportation assistance is by donkey, so there are lots of donkeys waiting to carry luggage for the tourists (or the tourists themselves) up the sides of the hills in the alleys of the city, with stairs where a road would normally be.

Our hotel was 3/4's of the way up on the hill to the right side of the harbor. With the heat of the day being pretty debilitating, we tended to come down from the hotel once, in the morning, and went back up once, in the evening. The hike to our hotel had 142 stairs, and more places where it was just a smooth incline, so although hiking down was only tedious, hiking up in the heat was exhausting. But even in the stifling heat, there were plenty of flowers and butterflies (they looked like Monarch butterflies) all over the island.

We spent our days exploring the shops, sitting under the awnings at the harbor-side tavernas sipping cold drinks, and taking water-taxi rides to local beaches. We ate in the local tavernas (as spectacular as Poros), and had a wonderfully relaxing time. There are two types of water transportation for hire in Hydra; slow and steady water shuttles just like in Poros, and speedboat taxis. On our last day we negotiated with the crowd of taxi drivers docked in the harbor, and got one to take us all the way around the island for 85,000 drachmas! It was a spectacular tour, and we saw azure blue water in grottos, and the most amazing scenery we've ever seen. A ride to remember!

 

Aegina

Aegina is located 17.5 nautical miles from Piraeus. It's 83 sq.km (32 sq. miles). It's a rather big island. Because of the small distance from Piraeus, many people who live in Athens go to Aegina for their weekend.The narrow paths, the cute little houses and the small shops, give Aegina its special character. The isle of Aegina comprises a series of volcanic heights in the center and the south which culminate in mount Zeus (alt. 532 m - 1745 ft.), now known as mount Profitis Ilias; each pyramidal silhouette, formally crowned by a temple to Zeus, acted as a landmark for sailors. To the north and west the island consists of a coastal plain and low hills covered by plantations of pistachio nuts, almonds and olives and a few vineyards.

Doric Temple of Athena Aphaea on Aegina

Another ferry like the last one (no more hydrofoils between the islands, evidently) took us to Aegina. Aegina was the biggest of the three islands, and more like a big city. We also got the sense that there was a lot more everyday living going on here than on the other islands. On the other islands, the whole place seemed to be geared towards tourism of one sort or another. On Aegina there was plenty of tourism, but there was also everyday life - people going to work, grocery stores, car dealers, etc.

We took an island tour around Aegina too, and stopped at the ruins of the Doric Temple of Athena Aphaea, dating back to 1300 BC. This temple was in much better shape than the temple on Poros; you could see most of the structure still. It was also a blue-sky bright day, so it was very pretty to see and we got some great photos. We also visited the Monastery (Cathedral) of Agios Nektarios, with the remains of the 365 chapels - one for each day of the year - scattered in the hills surrounding it. We also went to Perdika - a fishing village on the other side of Aegina where the tour stopped for a snack and some Ouzo - and the calamari was wonderful!

Our hotel on Aegina was the poorest of the three islands. The rooms were bungalows, much like motels or hotels in Los Angeles. There were wild and jungle-style gardens all over the property, and the view from the terrace overlooking the street and the harbor was pretty nice. All in all, though, the place was a dump, and we had some serious bug confrontations in our room! We eventually won that battle, but the war is probably still going on.

 

Athens

Athens, a city in southeastern Greece, is the capital and largest city of the country. Situated on the Attic plain on the Greek mainland, it is surrounded by mountains on three sides, the most important of which are Párnis, Pendéli, and Hymettus (Imittós). Two minor streams, the Kifisós River in the west and the Illisós River in the east, flow through the city. With its port, Piraiévs, or Piraeus, which is located about 8 km (about 5 mi) to the southwest on the Gulf of Saronikós (an inlet of the Aegean Sea), it forms a unified metropolitan region. Athens dominates the economic, cultural, and political life of Greece.

Looking Down Into the Dionysus Theater in Athens
Columns and Rubble of the Parthenon in Athens
The Athenian Treasury at Delphi, Outside Athens

The last leg of out trip consisted of 3 full days and an abbreviated departure day in Athens. We stayed in an air-conditioned hotel (sort of), and we were within an easy walk of most of the sights and sounds of Athens.

Our first night there we caught the English version of the French Sound and Light Show. We sat across the valley from the hill where the Acropolis sits and listened to the narration through a bank of speakers out in the open while watching the various lights go on and off over at the Acropolis. It was quite a light show.

The next day we wandered around the Acropolis in the morning before the heat got too bad. We saw the Dionysus Theater from the outside and above, the Athens skyline from the Acropolis entrance, and the steps up to the entrance to the Acropolis. From the entrance to the Acropolis we could see the seats for the previous night's Sound and Light show across the valley. Inside the Acropolis we saw the Parthenon, Erechtheion (a shrine to Erecthos), and a view of the Caryatids (six statues supporting the portico). We visited the museum at the Acropolis, too.

In the afternoon/evening we wandered around Plaka, a shopping district of the old part of the city, and ate dinner at - surprise! - an outdoor taverna. The taverna proprietors in Athens were much more aggressive in trying to drum up business for their restaurants. They would stand out on the sidewalk and verbally accost you to try to get you into their tavernas. It was a fairly annoying and disconcerting experience at first, but once we got used to it we rather enjoyed observing the different "techniques" used.

We took an all-day tour to visit the most complete and spectacular of the Greek ruins, the Temple of Apollo outside Delphi. The temple was the center of the Greek universe in ancient times; all wisdom, knowledge, and power came from here. Our bus tour traveled out to Delphi, and we had a guided tour of the grounds. Not long into the tour we realized that the tour-guide giving the tour ahead of our group was more interesting and animated in his explanations, and he was giving his tour in excellent English, so we broke from our tour guide and blended into the other group for most of the outdoor tour.

We also visited the museum on the grounds of the Delphi excavations, and stopped for lunch at a hotel in the town of Delphi that had a spectacular view.

Our last day in Athens was spent at the National Museum, where we saw all the artifacts that we had read about in history books all our lives. Amazing.

 

 

 

 

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