United in Diversity
Greece 2007: Athens, Piraeus, Aegina, Poros, Hydra, Spetses, Salamina, Naphlio
In 2007 Jeroen and I decided to explore Greece on the fly and took a flight for Athens without plan and just one bag of luggage. Athens takes its name from the Greek goddess Pallas Athena and is a phenomenal city with over 4 million people.
We crashed at a small hotel in one of the alleys found in the center, reasonable affordable (about 70 Euros per night for 2 people).
In summer this city is vibrant and souring hot. Water bottles are sold on the street everywhere luckely. The first evening we had dinner at a traditional Greek taverna where we immediately fell in love with the lamb chops, tzatziki, real Greek olives and dolmadakia's (vine leaves stuffed with rice). The Greeks drink ouzo as an aperitif and retsina (Greek white wine with a slight Pine resin flavor) when eating. We decided to apply this tradition and must say we gave it our best shot. After dinner we had a long walk in that magnificent atmosphere and enjoyed live music in the streets.
The next day we visited the Acropolis, which was very impressive with immense temples, columns and statues. We spent a couple of days on a mixture of temple visits, strolls through the city and famous squares, drinking retsina and enjoying each other's company on a terrace in the evening. You must visit the old neighborhood of Plaka, where you will find many authentic shops and markets.
We took off by metro for the port town of Piraeus, the harbor of Athens were we spent a day at the beach and we got the idea for island hopping. The special thing about Greece is that it has so many different islands and we chose to explore the Saronic Islands Archipelago which consist out of five beautiful Islands.
We left for the island of Aegina, a journey which took about two and a half hours by ferry. The arrival on the island felt pretty special and was a relief after the bustle of Athens and Piraeus. The atmosphere was even more relaxed, and the place is packed with cozy eateries and cafes by the sea. I bought freshly roasted pistachio nuts at a market stall on the way to our accommodation. A good tip for backpackers: if you arrive by ferry at the port, you should drop into one of the tourist offices as they arrange good and affordable accommodation. It saves you time and effort. If you think Italians speak crappy English, most Greeks are worse at it unfortunately.
Aegina is an island where you can do everything from renting a scooter to explore the island, enjoy the various beaches, biking, hiking, you name it. We have checked out this island mostly by foot, it is very charming and cozy and has many traditional tavernas and local specialty stalls (pistachio nuts and honey are delicious) where you can eat. We spent our evening sitting on the beach and ordered fish. Jeroen made a mistake and ordered (expecting a kind of white fish) whitebait which to his regret existed out of dozens of small fried fish full of fish bones. I thoroughly enjoyed my squid while he pried the bones between his teeth :)
After that fine welcome we sailed to Poros, again by ferry. The arrival at Poros was magical, the sun went down and it smelled delicious, a mixture of sun, sea and spicy meals. I fell in love with Poros instantly. And was even more in love when we found a mega luxury hotel room for only 40 Euros per night for the two of us. The feasting could begin! We bought a big bottle of ouzo which we drunk on our balcony enjoying the sea sight. Completely wasted we ordered a snack on a terrace where we were surrounded by live music and had a lot of fun with the locals. (this is our idea of a great holiday, staying up late at night enjoying the live music everywhere, drinking, eating and having fun with friendly people). Jeroen and I decided to stay three days lingering on the beach, reading books and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere on the island. In the evening we visited a bar or stayed on the beach drinking retsina until late in the evening.
As we were on a mission to explore the rest of the islands we said goodbye to Poros but were sad to leave. I have decided that I will return to this place for it gives me such a nice feeling of freedom to be there... Just do nothing but anything is possible.
Hydra was yet another nice surprise awaiting for us. There are no cars permitted on the island (just like Venice) so everything is done by cart and donkey or on foot. It is a small and picturesque island and sends you back in time. Beautiful houses everywhere, with plants and flowers all over the place and clear blue water for swimming and snorkeling. Hydra is a luxury island where you will find many jewelers which tend to attract the jetset. It has a rocky beach where you can swim very well. It has excellent living conditions, but its killing for your bank account is our conclusion.
After Hydra, the Island of Spetses was next which was very different compared to the previous islands. Spetses is very popular for Greek weddings in summer. It is a wonderfully and busy place with waterfront tavern(a)s everywhere, many tourist shops and beautiful beaches. Again, no cars are allowed except for bicycles and mopeds (which makes it more chaotic and busier instantly in my opinion). We stayed for two days, walked a lot and enjoyed the beach all day before we left by ship for the mainland with more culture as our destination.
We arrived in a truly unforgettable city, a place that is not well known among tourists, and so we are happy to share Naphlio city with you. It is a beautiful and romantic city, and even has been the Greece capital once. There is a large boulevard where you will find all sorts of stalls selling unique handmade jewelry and other goods. From the harbor you can chill out on the luxury hangouts with a view of the island of Boutzri where a large castle was built. In Naphlio you will enjoy shopping, the museums and art galleries, you will love the food and affordable stay. We lived at a romantic apartment in the center of town with a view of all four corners of the city for three days and nights. We highly recommended Naphlio if you want to pay Greece a visit.
The famous Epidaurus amphitheater was high on my wish list and we traveled there by bus from Naphlio. As I’m a theater lover, I was delighted to visit this gigantic theater with great acoustics, a place where many operas and concerts are given in summer.
The beaches are dirty and the island just didn’t have anything special. We did stay two nights there, but honestly would have been better off if we departed directly to Athens. The only plus worth mentioning was the nice room on the beach and although the owner of the hotel could barely understand us, he drank ouzo with us until deep into the night. I woke with a horrible hangover the next morning after losing my contact lenses in the toilet puking all night. Anyway, it was definitely worth it as it was a unforgettable evening. And one of the other tourists gave me the best advice ever to take care of a massive hangover which is eating dry bread and drinking bubbly water with lemon, a golden tip as it works every time I look too deep into a glass and have more then a few too many drinks.
Greece has conquered our hearts. We fell in love with all the beauty it had to offer, the relaxed atmosphere of the islands, the friendly Greeks who even though they do not always understand us and we certainly had a hard time understanding them, were kind, helpful and create delicious dishes. We knew straight away that this would not be our last visit to this country.
The Saronic Gulf forms the northern sailing area and lies between the north eastern shoulder of the Peloponnese and Attic Coast on which Athens lies. You will sail across this stretch of water on your way to and from Póros, presuming you travel as most do by the ‘Flying Dolphin’ hydrofoil or ‘Flying Cat’ catamaran service from Piraeus that connects Póros, Hydra, Ermioni and Spetses.
The Saronic Gulf extends in the west from the famous Corinth canal, a sheer-sided channel carved through the rock of the isthmus that links the Peloponnese to the rest of the Greek mainland, to the western Aegean and Cyclades islands lying to the east.
A great benefit of the Saronic sailing area is that the Athenian coast protects the waters from the full extent of the ‘Meltemi', reducing the ‘reach’ and so allowing flatter waters even when the ‘Meltemi’ is blowing. This shelter makes the Saronic a good ‘family sailing’ ground where you can enjoy a good breeze while being protected from the effects of stronger winds. The ‘Meltemi’ is the predominant wind across the entire area and blows from the north/north east, although nearer to Póros and towards the head of the Gulf, the wind can veer around towards the east/south east as it turns and flows up into the Saronic Gulf itself.
The Saronic gulf is full of places of interest and beauty; here we provide you some ideas and locations to consider in your passage planning.
This port is famous for its sulphur baths, important in bygone days.
A pleasant, sleepy town where time has slowed down, there is now a new ferry quay and it is possible to moor on the south side. There is also a small marina and several tavernas and bars, but take care with the depth in the marina!
A charming small fishing harbour, Vathi should be reached early to be sure of a place. There are excellent fish tavernas and a visit to the extinct volcano caldera above the hamlet of Kratiras is worthwhile.
The harbour at Paleo Epidauros has many good tavernas and bars with places to swim. This makes it a particularly pleasant destination.
However, the most important aspect of Epidauros is the nearby Asklepion and the famous theatre, an absolute wonder and world heritage site which should not be missed. The theatre is still used to stage plays during the summer months, over 3,000 years since it was constructed. Nea Epidauros is a small intimate harbour with superb views. A good taverna and bars to reward an evening’s exploring.
Korfos is a semi-landlocked bay and a useful anchorage before or after transiting the Corinth canal. It can provide good shelter in the event of other nearby harbours being full. There are some tavernas and provisions are available.
Aegina is a bustling little port surrounded by numerous small shops tucked away in narrow back streets with colourful tavernas and cafes along its waterfront. Traditional caiques with fruit and vegetables tie up along the quayside and sell their wares directly from the boat.
For lovers of ancient Greece, a short bus ride takes you to the temple of Aphaia, one of the better preserved Doric temples in Greece. The temple is located on the pine-clad Mesagro hill on the northeast end of the island from which there are stunning views of the Saronic Gulf and the Aegina provides good shelter except to the south west but should be avoided on Thursday as it is the last port of call for the Kalamaki Marina charterers.
Perdika on the south-west tip of Aegina is a charming fishing village with excellent seafront tavernas and bars. The sunset from here is not to be missed!
Angistri is a little-visited island west of Aegina. Limin Angistri on the north east offers reasonable shelter. The island is densely wooded and has attractive bays on the west coast sheltered by Dhonousa islet.