Hydra

 

With my classes ending and finals week coming to a close, my parents were able to visit Athens for a few days before our trip to Italy. For my father’s birthday we took a day trip to the island of Hydra, about an hour and a half ferry ride from the port of Piraeus. Hydra is unique due to the almost complete absence of cars, albeit the noisy garbage trucks. Rather, mules are used as the main form of transportation moving everything from tourists to washing machines up and down the town’s hills. We saw the queue of mules paired up and waiting patiently in the harbor to give somebody a lift (adorned with beaded necklaces and nametags, these mules seemed to be in service only to island visitors while locals owned their own family mule).

Compared to my trip to Aegina, Hydra was a bit further away. There seemed to be more of a central town due to the geography of the island that creates a natural harbor. As a result, the hills cradle the small town and keep it from spreading out further. Rocky cliffs lines the north side of the island compared to the flatter landscape of the area around Aegina’s port. We hiked along this rocky route to one of the smaller harbors that housed small fishing boats. We passed one rocky beach with a steep set of stairs leading down to its shores. Due to the weather (windy with in and out sunshine from the clouds), we opted to continue walking rather than lounge by the water. The walking path provided beautiful views of Hydra with the Peloponnese across the water in the distance. Compared to Hydra, the Peloponnese looked uninhabited with its jagged coastline that didn’t seem to have any sort of development besides the spinning modern windmills.

Hydra appeared to be the perfect Greek island for those wanting to do a few short hikes on their trip. There was a map at the harbor illustrating the different hiking paths ranking their level of difficulty amongst other information. Hikes to the other side of the island terminate at smaller harbors that can provide water taxis back to the main port making them doable for those just wanting to do a day trip.

Lunch was enjoyed back in the center of town rather than overlooking the water to avoid the winds. We then walked back to the harbor in order to duck into the island’s history museum. The museum housed a number of objects dating from the Hydriots involvement in the Greek War of Independence to the Second World War. We ended the afternoon with a cappuccino at one of the cafes along the harbor before taking one final stroll through the town’s small side streets. The town continued to remain somewhat at sleep, not quite in full tourist season yet. After a busy few days in the motorcycle filled city of Athens this sleepy island town provided a relaxing break from city life that refreshed us before the next part of our journey, Rome.

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Mykonos

With Greek Orthodox Easter occurring on Sunday May 1st this year, we had a late spring break that allowed us to visit some of the islands and their beautiful beaches. We chose the island of Mykonos due to its close proximity to Athens and lively atmosphere (take that as you will). We took an early Blue Star Ferry on Monday, departing from the port of Piraeus at 7:30 in the morning. The ferry was similar in size to the one I took to Crete, but without the cabins for overnight sleeping. There was plenty of common space both indoors and out in addition to cafes and restaurants sleepy passengers could grab their morning coffee at. After about three hours of travel we made two stops at the island of Siros and Tinos, before arriving at our final destination at 12:30. Our hostel for the week had a free shuttle waiting for us at the port to drive us to Paraga Beach on the southern end of the island. Being college students, we opted for the unique experience of high end camping on Mykonos with our little cabins and communal bath. In other words, we got the cheapest possible hostel BUT it turned out to be a great decision. It was opening weekend for many of the seasonal hotels/hostels on the island including where we were staying. While this meant that we were one of the few inhabitants of that part of the island, our rooms were clean and we had the full attention of the hostel staff. We spent the rest of the day at the beach opting for a convenient dinner at our hostel.

The following day we were able to drive in and explore the town of Chora thanks to our rental ATVs, or quads. We quickly learned that there was a island upcharge on nearly all food options; however, the restaurants were overall much nicer in appearance. We had a posh lunch at one of the nicer restaurants offering a lunch special  hidden in the labyrinth of white washed streets that make up the main town of Mykonos. Afterwards, we walked off our meals and headed towards the windmills, a defining feature of the Mykonos landscape. Here dozens of tourists gathered to take photos with the five large windmills built by the Venetians in the 16th century. In the afternoon we visited the nearby Paradise Beach, where we relaxed until the sun started to set. For dinner we ventured back into the town of Mykonos to search out our go-to gyro pita (also known as the cheapest meal option anywhere in Greece) to offset our upscale luncheon. Afterwards we walked down to the Old Port of Mykonos and waited

On Wednesday we took a day trip to the island of Delos. We rode into town and grabbed a coffee and spanakopita (spinach pie) to go before walking to the Old Port where our ferry departed. Tickets were €20 for the round trip journey and you had the option to sit indoors or up on top in the sun. Known as the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, Delos offers visitors to chance to view extensive excavations of the ancient site in addition to a wonderful view of the island of Mykonos from the highest point on the island. The site was interesting to walk through as the entire town’s floor plan has essentially been excavated allowing one to see the scale of the houses, temples, and civic buildings. Mosaics from the wealthier houses can still be seen in addition to those preserved in the islands museum. We then headed back to Mykonos on our ferry in search of more gyro pita before exploring other parts of the island on our ATVs. We attempted to visit the well named Super Paradise Beach (we assumed in attempts to compete with the nearby Paradise Beach) but found that the steep downward incline to get there on the road would be impossible with our 50 CC vehicles. We opted to return to Paradise Beach before returning to our hostel for dinner.

Thursday began with a trip into town to purchase our ferry tickets back home. We also grabbed a crepe (cheese, peppers, and tomato for me) at one of the walk up stands to eat as we sat in the small side street. The day continued with exploring more beaches as we visited Kalafatis, Panormos, and Psarrou. While the first two were rather secluded, Psarrou turned out to be a high end shop/restaurant location with female servers in bikinis and men running around tending to customers’ needs. We picked out a spot further down the beach to a less luxurious area where one didn’t have to pay for a lounge chair and umbrella. We ventured back into town for a seafood dinner where I ordered an octopus pasta dish.

Friday involved returning our ATVs, packing up, and being driven to the New Port for our 2:30 ferry ride back to Athens. Unfortunately, the last time the hostel offered a shuttle to the port was 11:45 so we were stuck waiting outside for over an hour as the ferry arrived right at 2:30. The ride back was smooth and we arrived at Piraeus just before 8:00.

Overall, Mykonos was a beautiful island. There were a fair amount of tourists in the town but less to none at the more remote beaches. We came at an almost perfect time on the island where everything is open for the season, but the mobs of people from Europe and elsewhere have yet to take over the beaches and town. I would recommend renting a car/ATV/moped in order to explore the lesser known beaches as it gave us the opportunity to see the whole island which is just as beautiful as the white washed streets and buildings of the old town. We found that the Greeks were more likely to speak perfect English and were surprised when we used what little Greek we did know. I think this demonstrates how much more of a tourist attraction the islands are rather than other areas of the Greek mainland. Tourist friendly or not, Mykonos is a special island that anyone should jump at the chance to visit.

Aegina

This Saturday a large group of CYA students were able to take a ferry ride over to the island of Aegina. We took the ferry out of Pireas (south Athens) and arrived at the island in about 45 minutes. While it used to be a rival city state to Athens, the island now houses a quiet community of fishermen and tourist industry related activities. During our visit we got to walk around the port city, sample some of the local seafood, and explore the ancient site of Kolona. As my first island trip in Greece, Aegina did not disappoint. It was nice to be able to explore the island with essentially no other tourists as I am sure that will not be the case later on in the semester.