Griechenland – Inseln

On Sunday I booked myself a small treat – an all-day, island hopping cruise! I decided that while Athens has a ton to see, it was important that I mix things up and get to see a bit more that the country had to offer. I was scheduled to be picked up near my hostel around 7:00. In a stereotypical southern-European fashion, my ride to the dock lazily rolled up around 7:20. We got to the boat early enough to be among the first groups aboard, which proved to be beneficial as the boat got impressively full.

3 decks were open to passengers, so I hurried up to the top deck and grabbed a seat right by the edge towards the back. Our first destination was Hydra, the farthest island we would be visiting. We had a long cruise out which I spent relaxing, applying sunscreen, sleeping, relaxing, and snapping a few lazy pictures. It was a lazy way to start the day which was a welcome respite from the hustle-and-bustle pace I’d been putting myself through in Athens. I met a guy who was escorting an Asian family on a guided excursion through Greece, Croatia, and Serbia. I told him about my plans with Chelsea in Croatia and Slovenia and he confirmed that we’d have a great time.

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Our first view of land
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The port at Hydra

The tour company was of course trying to sell all sorts of overpriced drinks, food, and trip excursions on each island. I wasn’t having any of it though – I had brought plenty of water with me, and was just looking to take it all in at my own pace. After a few hours at sea, we pulled into the port at Hydra. The town itself was quite charming in that it doesn’t allow motorized vehicular traffic. Locals walk everywhere, use bikes, or have donkeys when they need to carry a lot of cargo. It felt odd being in a (relatively) densely populated area without hearing any traffic noises whatsoever. Cute whitewash framed the town beautifully, and similar to my experience on Friday I let myself get lost in the narrow winding alleys. I wanted to make my way up to a good viewpoint but was turned around when a kindly old woman told me that I actually was trespassing this time.

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Lemon trees!

I wasn’t too upset by this though and quickly shifted my plans. I had heard of a cool monastery near the water and so turned around and headed back downhill to find it. I caught the paid tour group just as they were going inside. The entry was free so I just didn’t wait up for the tour guide and explored the interior on my own.

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Inside the monastery

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Interior lighting

I had some time to kill after I had wandered through the monastery, so I circled around the harbor and made my way down some scraggly rocks to get close to the water. I went off the beaten path a bit and carved my own little private slice of paradise. Crystal-clear blue waters, calm seas, and a small little island sanctuary to take refuge on. Not a bad Sunday afternoon activity. Before long it was time to disembark, so I packed up and made my way back to the ship to snag my good spot again.

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Crystal waters
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My little slice of island heaven

The second cruise ride was much shorter and after what felt like just a few minutes we pulled in at the small island of Poros. Here there was no planned activity and we had only a short time to visit. The tour company recommended that everyone try to make their way up to the clock tower overlooking most of the island. I wanted the view but didn’t care to fight the crowds, so as soon as we docked I ran up to the tower as fast as I could manage. I had a few precious minutes up there before it got swamped with the rest of my boat; by the time the crowd was getting really thick I had had enough of the view and left to go find a few other spots in the town. We didn’t stay in Poros long; after I boarded it was time for my included lunch. I was seated with an Indian family of 4 as well as a professor from Kentucky. By chance the professor had visited a university in India where one of the girls was hoping to be accepted. We had a nice conversation discussing our backgrounds, travel plans, and cultural differences. They had spent some time in Budapest so I asked a bit about that, as I had plans to go there next weekend. I had some fish and pasta for lunch, capped off with a rich and sweet Baklava.

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View from the cruise deck
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Poros
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The tower at Poros
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View from the tower
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Our ship is the one on the left
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The town at Poros

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We spent the whole leg of the cruise just chatting inside. Eventually we arrived at the last island, Aegina. Here there was a bit of a bigger city for me to wander through with cars and lots of scooters. I didn’t have much of an itinerary so I just got lost in the streets, wandering first through the clear tourist area right near the port and then exploring further past where they stopped. In town I found a small Greek Orthodox church and stepped inside to check out the interior. By now I was pretty good at picking out the telltale signs. Afterwards, I headed for the sandy beach to lay out and catch a little sun. I spent the rest of my time in Aegina on the boardwalk and the beach just people-watching and hanging out.

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The big church on Aegina

We cruised back to Athens around sunset, and were bused back to our respective lodging. I didn’t do anything else that night, capping off my relaxation day with a little planning for Monday and another early night.

On my last day in Athens I had a flight in the early evening, but I still had a fair bit I wanted to see in town so I got off to another early start. My first destination was the Academy of Athens. A more modern take on a classical style of architecture, I saw this building when we drove by in the bus the previous evening and decided to come see it in person. This was a short stop for me as I didn’t see any way to go inside for visitors, so I just checked out the exterior and moved on.

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I wasn’t too far from Syntagma square, so I headed back there to dip into the National gardens. There was a demonstration going on in the square – I’m not sure what it was for but I did notice the anti-NATO banners among the others.

The gardens were much more peaceful, probably because it was a Monday morning. The area was largely empty save for a few runners and the occasional local walking their dog. I saw a couple of fountains, some nice shady spots, and a small pond. There were a couple of tiny ruins roped off in the park, it was cool to see how well integrated all the history in Athens is with modern day life. Seeing tiny columns and pillars strewn throughout the winding trails in the park was a particularly striking example of this.

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Peace in the gardens

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After I had my morning stroll through the gardens I made my way back across town near the acropolis entrance. I was bound for the Hill of the Muses to check out the cave where Socrates was supposedly held prisoner for corrupting the youth. The cave itself wasn’t that noteworthy in appearance but the thought that the great philosopher spent his days here was enough to foster a bit of reverence. The real highlight of the hill was the view from the top, however. Climbing up I was treated to more awesome views of the Parthenon and Acropolis structures as well as more of the surrounding city-scape. I walked around the hilltop and just tried to appreciate the sprawling capital city of the Greeks from that vantage point.

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Socrates’ prison
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The path upwards
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View from the hillside
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My last glance of the acropolis

After my hilltop climb I ambled down towards Monastiraki square where I had lunch before departing Athens. My journey home took a little longer than anticipated because there was a workers’ strike, rendering the metro unusable. Additionally, the place I went to catch the airport shuttle bus was closed due to the strike, so I had to make my way to a different shuttle stop to finally reach the airport. I didn’t mind too much though as I leave myself plenty of buffer time in my travel plans when I am alone for this very reason.

I was glad I devoted so many days to seeing Greece and all the history therein. I know I’ll need to come back, but I felt I did the ancients justice in checking out the main attractions Athens has to offer. I just found out I will be meeting up with my brother in Rome and Pompeii in mid-June, and the Athens trip has me super excited to check out more ancient sites. I have a lot more to see between now and then, however. You’ll have to check back later to see what I’ve been up to!

As always, best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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