Friday 13 October 2017
Admittedly this weekend is a bit far for just a few days. Just over a 3 hour flight to Athens.
But it was a nice flight. Got lots done. And had great views over the mountains of Austria, along the coastline of Croatia and Albania, and into the island scattered bays of Greece.
A new country! I haven’t been to Greece before. Number 85.
We are also skipping forward 2 hours. So despite leaving England at 2.30pm, it was gone 8pm when we arrived.
Passport queue was relatively long. There was a massive walk through the terminal. Long walk to the train station. Couldn’t buy a metro ticket with a credit card (only cash). All quite a palava. But just made the 9pm metro. Lucky, as they are only every half hour.
The metro was relatively quiet, and fast. We were at Syntagma Square 40 minutes later. And only a two block walk to our hotel.
Saturday 14 October 2017
The 6.40am (4.40am!!) wake up was painful.
But hopefully it will be worth it.
We are going on a boat to various different islands in the bay outside of Athens – the Saronic Gulf islands.
We had to meet at a nearby hotel for 7.20am, before taking a bus to the Pirenius port town.
It was still dark and the sun was beginning to rise over the city as we drove past Ancient Greek ruins. The sun rose as we were on the boat, coming up over the surrounding hills.
Our boat for the day was a fairly large ferry. We got some seats at the front. And then ended up being rather cold once we got moving, until the sun came out properly.
We sailed for just over 3 hours. On smooth waters. To Hydra island.
The town of Hydra is around a small bay. Boats are the only transportation to the island – and once you are on it, your options are walk, or ride a donkey (but please don’t ride a donkey….). Buildings cascading up the sides of the surrounding hills, with churches dotted between. Really pretty.
Apparently this island has been used in many films – including James Bond octopussy.
We had about an hour and a half to wander around the small flower filled streets. The path leading around the boat-filled bay was full of restaurants spilling out onto the street. Small shops. And donkeys getting ready to carry their next load.
Away from this main path was a maze of smaller paths leading up into the village, up into the surrounding hills. With colourful doorways dotted with garlic and leaf arrangements, and hidden squares with overflowing flowers. It was a really pretty town.
But our time was soon up and back onto the boat for an hours sail to our next island.
We were headed back the way we had come. Which was a nice, sunny, flat journey. Now into the wind – being blown all over the place and rather chilly.
We arrived at the island of Poros, sailing alongside the colourful town.
Here we only had 45 minutes. Enough to walk along the bay front and pop into a few shops. We found a neighbourhood supermarket and stocked up on essentials. Chocolate and water.
Then found ourselves in an ice cream shop. 47 flavours. Rather ridiculous. But plenty of vegan options clearly labelled! So we had chocolate and strawberry to share. Not the best ice cream I’ve had (spoilt by too many trips to Italy – and the best gelato last month in Verona). But it was refreshing in the hot sun.
For the next 90 minute sail up to Aegina island, we had lunch on the boat. Surprisingly there was food I could eat – rice, green beans, bread and tomato pasta. Not the most exciting, but better than nothing! Then we found another area to sit to try and keep out of the very strong winds.
When we arrived we were picked up in a coach. We had paid extra to go on a mini tour around this island.
We drove through pistachio fields, with the trees still bearing the last of this years crop. This island produces most of the pistachios and they are exported worldwide. Each tree is capable of producing around 20kg each. In between the pistachios were the olive trees – these will be picked in November.
Our first stop (and the main reason for taking a bus!) was the temple of Aphaia. Built in 480 BC. Rows of stone columns. And surprisingly well preserved. It looks very similar to the Parthenon in Athens – there are a triangle of three temples which were built at similar times and look very similar in design. The third is on the south coast Greece, south of Athens.
There were amazing views from the temple, out across the pine forests, the pistachio hills and to the deep blue ocean.
The stop next to the temple was selling pistachios. Roasted in salt and lemon. I don’t particularly like them. But bought some to take home.
On the drive back we passed by the Paleohora, a mountain side scattered with ruins of old churches and Byzantine villages. Shame we didn’t stop to take a look.
Next up, the church and monastery of Saint Nektariou. Apparently a pilgrimage site for many Greek orthodox Christians who must come here at least once in their lives. The church was really pretty. Elaborate red and white bricks on the outside. And inside, colourful paintings adorning the walls and an elaborately carved wooden altar. The inside is not yet finished being constructed.
In the carpark of the church was a man with sacks of pistachios, selling this years crop. He had freshly picked, unsalted, uncooked ones. I bought some – EUR2 for a small bag. These were infinitely better than the cooked ones. A bright pink outer, giving way to a soft green inside.
A short drive later and we were back at the port, for the final sail back to the mainland.
It was getting late. And the sun was setting. We were being followed by a flock of gulls – making for a great photo.
We arrived back at 7.30pm. Then onto the coach to be dropped back in the city. Now 8pm. What a long day.
We decided to get dropped near the acropolis museum, then walk back to our hotel. Great idea, as I knew about a gelato shop which also does vegan waffles. And woah. Incredible. With chocolate gelato on top. So good.
The streets of the Plaka (the old lanes at the bottom of the Parthenon) are a maze of narrow pedestrian streets, filled with shops. We have been in greece for just over 24 hours and it took us until now to get our first glimpse of the acropolis! All lit up bright orange in the night sky.
We walked through the shop filled streets. Stopping to look at the piles of olives, pistachios, almonds, lokum, and everything bearing the eye of Horus. The streets were packed. It was fun.
We were only staying a few minutes away. Exhausted after our long day.