If I’m honest I can’t say that Greece was a total must-see destination on my Travel Bucket List. It certainly was on there, but it wasn’t at the very top. It was more like a “nice to have” option that I wanted to see for myself but wasn’t urgently doing anything about it…
Oh the error of my ways!!
It should have been right at the top!
Greece is such an incredible holiday destination – especially for South Africans travelling on the struggling rand currency!
It’s got so much to offer – sunshine, blue skies, beautiful beaches, ancient history, incredible views, variety of experiences, warm water and the food!
Seriously – you need to put Greece right near the top of your Travel Bucket List.
My own Going Greek experience came about quite unexpectedly. Two friends of ours were setting sail with a group and they invited my husband to join them… and then in some hair-brained moment of madness I said “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could make a plan for the kids for a week or so and I could go too?!” We started doing some investigations – Yes, there would be space, Yes, they would be happy to have me too, Yes, both sets of grandparents were happy to help out for 5 days a piece.
And just like that we found ourselves planning a sailing trip in Greece. Unbelievable!
This was the stuff of dreams – not my real life!?
But it actually was my real life and a few months later I found myself arriving by boat in the port town of Hydra on Idhra Island in Greece…. I certainly had to pinch myself a few times to make sure it really was true.
After spending the morning waiting for our motor to arrive on the 1pm ferry at Poros (read about our motor disaster here), we arrived at Hydra close to sundown and the teeny, tiny harbour was already packed with boats – so many that we had to wait quite a long time while the few in the queue ahead of us found a spot.
There are worse scenarios than being trapped on a boat in a beautiful harbour surrounded by sparkling water, golden light, hillsides of stone houses and a view like this!
The town is a no-car zone and while we waited we spotted the local Uber’s all lined up…. Can you see them?
Yip, the local transport is all by donkey!
But back to our floating home…
Our 3 night of aboard the boat and we found ourselves once again on a steep learning curve (after our Poros near-miss we were all on alert to our captain’s instructions!)
This time, due to the space constraints of the tiny harbour, we’d be “rafting” our yacht to 2 other’s already moored against the harbour wall. And as the evening progressed we found ourselves surrounded by boats on all sides as more boats ultimately “rafted” to us too!
It was all quite exciting (but probably very stressful for our captain!!)
Once we were finally secure we had to wait to get our dinghy off the front of the yacht and tentatively step aboard to get rowed to shore amidst the chaos of more and more boats, ferries, water taxi’s, yachts and even super yachts all arriving for the night! It got quite hazardous at times!
Now if you know anything about boats it’s that the toilets go straight out into the water… and a harbour is NOT the place you want to go overboard, over even get a little bit of water in the wrong place ie. your mouth!! I was petrified of this but I managed to hop into the dinghy (with my camera this time) and was row, row, rowed ashore by my handsome husband – it could have been romantic were it not for my severe panic at falling in the water!
Once we were ashore safely we headed off to explore the tiny town of Hydra (a spot called home by legendary crooner, Leonard Cohen, who met his muse, Marianne, here.)
We first stopped by the island’s cathedral, the old Monastery of the Dormition of the Virgin which sits almost on the quayside of the town. We followed an orthodox priest into the cool, quiet courtyard and poked our heads inside the glittering interior of the church (no pics allowed!)
And then we went up, and up, and up some more! Following winding stone steps well worn from centuries of foot traffic.
Along the way we bumped into our favourite fellow explorer, Raisa, already kitted out with her camera and capturing the charms of the town with her own lens.
As we headed up the hill and away from the touristy quay we discovered just how important it is to get out of the crowd… not only did we catch a glimpse of daily life in this Greek town – strings of laundry, tumbling bougainvillea, zero traffic and hundreds of stray cats – but we also got to fully appreciate the views enjoyed by those lucky enough to call this spot home… and we even go invited in by a local to enjoy the view from his own private terrace. What a treat it was to enjoy Golden Hour from this vantage point!
After thanking our new Greek friend for his kindness we headed off on our loop to weave our way back round the hill and down to the boat…
I wanted to get back to catch the donkeys before they headed home for the night…
This was the perfect lighting to catch them in too!
The white marble quay of Hydra is the central gathering point for all life on the island – a pulsating rhythm of donkeys, tourists, locals, kids, boat-taxi hawkers, shoppers and old men of the sea as we were to discover once Raisa got chatting to an elderly man, an ex-ship’s captain, who’d traveled the world in his youth, but returned home to Hydra to enjoy the last rays of warm sunshine that the island offers so generously….
As the last rays left us in the shadows, the donkeys returned home, so we too headed back to our floating home, braving the waters once more!
We settled in to enjoy a drink and a meal on board our boat instead of heading out to eat at the local bistros – and it turned out to be just the most magical evening. While we snacked on our supplies and chatted in the warm still air, we were surrounded by a multitude of boats filled with people doing exactly the same thing – loving life! It was hard not to love life on an evening like that.
We toasted our successful sailing so far, laughed about our disasters and and soaked up the special atmosphere of Hydra at night – twinkling lights, sparkling sea and a full moon on the rise! Pure magic. If we hadn’t fallen in love with the sailing life yet, it was this night that we fell hard!
Days of Kindness
Greece is a good place
To look at the moon, isn’t it
You can read by moonlight
You can read on the terrace
You can see a face
As you saw it when you were young
There was good light then
Oil lamps and candles
And those little flames
That floated on a cork in olive oil
What I loved in my old life
I haven’t forgotten
It lives in my spine
Marianne and the child
The days of kindness
It rises in my spine
And it manifests as tears
I pray that a loving memory
Exists for them too
The precious ones I overthrew
For an education in the world
– Leonard Cohen, Hydra, 1985
Ferries to Hydra (Ýdra in Greek) leave from Aktí Miaoúli quay in Piraeus, gate E9, almost hourly in peak season, but typically just three times daily October – May. Hellenic Seaways provides service all year; online bookings are best, pick up tickets at its booth on Aktí Miaoúli. During high season Hellas Speed Cat also sails one or twice daily for about the same price.
Once on Hydra, it’s donkey’s to get around as there are no buses or even scooters for hire. Your luggage can be transferred to the some of the better hotels by hand-cart!
Keen to visit Aegina, Hydra and Poros island from Athens? Book this one day tour
Follow the rest of my sailing trip around the Cyclades of Greece by reading the other posts in this series…
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See all the highlights of our sailing trip around 7 Greek islands in this short video…
Images: Kathryn Rossiter