Greek Island Hopping Hydra, Poros and Aegina
It’s Monday and the final day of our stay in Greece. Today we took a full day cruise to three Greek islands of Hydra, Poros, and Aegina. We first traveled by bus from our hotel in Athens to the port for embarkation on a medium-sized cruise ship for a trip across the Aegean Sea. For some reason, I wanted to sit outside, at the top level of the ship, and boy was that ever a mistake! It was so cold that I was shivering madly after about an hour into the cruise! The sun was shining brightly under clear blue skies when we left Athens but as we cruised farther into the Aegean Sea, clouds began to scatter over the sky.
Leaving Athens under clear blue skies
Hydra, the first port of call
We moved from the top outside deck to a lower outside deck of the boat but the cold wind coming off the sea was freezing. I wore only a thin thermal shirt under my hooded sweatshirt and I was extremely cold. So cold in fact that my teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. We ordered cups of hot chocolate that took forever to deliver to us and when it arrived, it too was cold! We had had enough and worked our way to the crowded inside deck where there were no available seats. Some friends that we had met on the tour offered us a seat that was a much welcome relief from the cold.
Above, Hydra and a welcome relief from the cold sea
About two hours into the journey we reached the first island of Hydra, a wonderful port where no cars are allowed. The sun was shining but it was not too hot, very comfortable in fact for walking around this island. In ancient times, the island was known as Hydrea, derived from the Greek word for “water” a reference to the natural springs on the island.
The municipality of Hydra consists of the islands Hydra (population 1,948), Dokos (population 18), and a few uninhabited islets, with a total area of about 25 miles. There is one main town, known simply as “Hydra port” which consists of a beautiful crescent-shaped harbor, around which is centered a strand of restaurants, shops, markets, and galleries that cater to tourists and locals (Hydriots). Steep stone streets lead up and outward from the harbor area where most of the locals reside, as well as the hostelries on the island.
There are only a handful of motor vehicles on this island. On Hydra, the main source for transporting anything is either mules or horses. When you disembark from the boat, you are offered rides on them, but I was too overwhelmed by the beauty of this place and the eagerness to explore it, that I didn’t even consider this as an option to simply walking around. The water in the port was clear that you could see schools of fish as they darted about.
I took numerous photos of the mules and horses being loaded with essential goods like bottled water and even construction materials. You would think that with an island so full of pack animals that it would have that “barnyard” smell. However, this place is so clean that you could literally eat off the street, but I wouldn’t advise it. We watched as fishermen unloaded their boats or cleaned freshly caught fish and dump the remains over the side into the water where eager fish, and a local cat, were having a feast.
Although the island’s name is derived from an ancient spring, that spring is now almost dry. Today, the island imports its water by boat from the Greek mainland. Many local people store winter rainfall in cisterns beneath their houses to use later as drinking water.
Can you imagine living on an island like this? It is peaceful, slow and somehow inviting but the isolation would make me feel somewhat claustrophobic and confined. For me, a longer, extended stay perhaps, but not a long-term residence.
Above, very unusual knockers adorn many doors
Our time on Hydra ended much too quickly and I would later lament that I would have preferred to stay on this one island, rather than go to the other two. It seemed that we were just too rushed to see and do all there is on this charming island.
Above, a local on Hydra just enjoying the warmth of the sun
Our ship next headed to the island of Poros and the seas were no longer as smooth as when we left Athens. They were not exactly rough but still not glassy smooth as when the trip started, plus the wind seemed to pick up. The plan of this trip was to first reach Hydras, the farthest away island from Athens, then work our way back to Athens with stops of the closer islands of Poros and Aegina.
Poros, the second island on our stop
Overall, I was none too impressed with Poros, the smallest of the three islands. Nida and I climbed to the highest point of the island where a large clock tower was located. From this vantage point, we could see pretty much the entire island. I was not too happy with many of the other tourists who had made the trek up the steep stairs to get this view. People were shoving and jostling for the best view and taking way too many selfies, and taking way too long to get the right focus and frame, all the while blocking others from getting good photos.
I took less than 10 photographs on Poros, and none are very memorable. The wind at the top of the hill was so intense that my hat nearly blew off my head several times. However, the clear blue skies and azure color of the sea, offset by the deep green beavertail cactus with its prickly pear fruit, made quite the beautiful contrast.
Pretty much the same style restaurants and tourist shops as were in Hydra lined the harbor as we made our way back to our ship. Again I felt too rushed to sightsee and enjoy a nice lunch. I had no intention of being late to reboard our ship as I would not have a clue what to do should we miss our boarding. Besides not having any extra clothes with us, and the fact that we fly home tomorrow, and that we had no clue where we would spend the night on any of these islands, I went out of my way to ensure we boarded way before the scheduled time. As we walked hurriedly back to the ship, the sea was starting to agitate a bit more than when we had arrived just a few hours before.
Above, the port of Aegina
Next, we proceeded to the historical island of Aegina, known for its delicious pistachios and the Temple of Afea. This island was much more pleasant than Poros but still not as nice as Hydra. I couldn’t help the feeling that I would have loved to spend the entire day at Hydra rather than visiting these other two islands.
Nida and I walked along the harbor, looking for the fish market that our guide had told us was near the place where the crescent of the harbor ended. We walked a long way, taking a few photos along the way but when we felt that perhaps it was not this far out, we headed back toward the boat taking back streets. We finally found the so-called fish market buried inside the back streets and it was rather disappointing as only one shelf, at one vendor stall had a small scattering of fish.
Aegina is known for its pistachios and we passed numerous stalls and shops that were selling them. And although the prices were very good compared to this product in the USA, I really didn’t want to deal with buying and carrying a large bag full of them, especially through customs. So, we opted for a small bag of salted pistachios and a small bag of candied pistachios. The salted variety, I would discover later, are extremely salty, while the candied variety (they are like the burnt French peanuts) are delicious and I regret not buying more of them.
We made our way back towards the boat and noticed that the seas had become a bit rough and the wind had become very strong. Small white caps could be seen forming in the Aegean as we boarded our ship. It was starting to get cold and we wanted to get a spot inside the ship, and away from the band that had blasted my ears on the other legs of this trip when we had sat too close to the musician’s amplifiers. My ears would ring for days!
The boat filled up quickly with passengers, especially the lower, enclosed section where we sat. It was now near sunset and the waves started picking up as the boat left the Aegina harbor. We relaxed on the crescent-shaped couches that filled the lower berth of the ship. The couches seated about six people and we enjoyed the company of our shipmates. Lively Greek music was being played by the band and many people on the ship joined in the festivities, dancing and yelling “Opa!” at the end of every song. It sounded like a Zorba-the-Greek festival as drinks flowed and the giant room was filled with music and dancing.
Above, one of our festive cabinmates
As we sailed back to Athens and our voyage entered its second hour I could feel the boat started to rock and roll more and more as the trip went on. Slowly at first, then with a little more vengeance. I could not see much outside as it was already very dark, but from the lights of the ship, I could see large white-capped waves near the port side of our vessel. At some point, a tough young kid who was part of an equally tough tour group from Canada decided that he could no longer take being upstairs in the cold and freezing rain and came inside the warmer lower cabin. He was drenched from head to toe from the storm outside!
The lively music continued and long, animated “cha-cha” lines snaked around the cabin. And as yet another Greek “Zorba” song was being belted out, a deckhand teetered by, juggling precariously a large tray full of empty glasses and dishes. At that moment the ship listed violently to one side, the front of the ship bounced high in the air and then slammed down with such force that the entire tray of dishes and glasses crashed, broken on the floor. And yet the band continued to play the “Opa! Opa!” music.
A few minutes after the broken dish incident, and while people still did the Greek cha-cha, the boat once again raised very high into the air but this time it tilted seriously to one side then slammed down very violently! People screamed, and throughout the ship, dishes could be heard crashing to the floor. The music stopped immediately, and the dancing people struggled dizzily to get seated. The boat rocked up and down and side to side almost simultaneously. Cabin crew members clambered in a drunken-like state to find barf bags for the numerous people who were all-of-a-sudden stricken with seasickness. I was amazed that Nida, who is prone to motion sickness, didn’t seem too bad off. Me, I rather enjoyed the rocking and rolling but secretly wished that it would stop and that no one near me would contract the dreaded seasickness and lose their last meal anywhere near me! Had that of happened, I would have probably been struck with some sort of nauseous attack!
It was mad confusion on the ship and then they announced that we still had about an hour left on our return journey to Athens! Many tour members looked pale, and not the green that you hear about when people get seasick. The supply of barf bags was running low and the boat continued its up and down, side to side rocking and rolling. I was thankful that I had not eaten a greasy lunch before we departed on these rough seas.
The sound of glasses and dishes crashing to the floor would continue for the remainder of the trip. I wondered how many had actually broken. It was clearly a huge amount and pieces of glass were scattered on the floor as we were finally in the Athens harbor and heading off the boat.
I allowed an elderly couple, who could hardly find their legs, go in front of me. They were so slow that many rude people, anxious to get off the boat, cut in front of them. The narrow passageway to get off the boat made the going very slow. When I popped my head out of the opening at the aft portion of the ship, I could see that it was raining very, very hard! And I had forgotten my umbrella!!
By the time I struggled with the cheap plastic raincoat that I had brought, Nida was already outside, standing in the pouring rain with no umbrella, soaking wet and as angry as the violent sea we had just crossed. She couldn’t understand why it had taken me so long to get off the boat. We finally made it to the bus and began drying off with little bits of paper towels that we had but they did very little. The other passengers all began filling the bus and we were soon heading to our hotel. I felt a slight bit of amusement about our latest adventure and thankful that I didn’t get Poseidon’s Revenge!
So, if you make plans to take any of the island excursions, above all, make sure to get accurate weather reports. We did not and it was regrettable. Next, think about bringing these items on your excursion:
1. Good raincoat
2. Dramamine, or
3. Seaband (this is a drug-free wristband that you can buy in most drug stores. It works on acupressure, my wife has used them for many years and it is highly recommended.)
4. Snacks and water
5. A warm coat
7. Wool cap
9. Hat (for bright sun and “hat head” from the wool cap!)
10. Medium backpack (waterproof to carry everything)
Greek island hopping makes for a great adventure, an adventure that will last a lifetime, especially when it takes you away from the normal tour group setting. If you have the opportunity to go island hopping in Greece, get away from the standard tour groups, get away on your own and explore the places where the larger groups tend to congregate. But be prepared! Explore on your own and you will be surprised at what you will see and the hidden gems that you will discover. And you will put many drops in the bucket.
All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use or for signed, high-resolution copies.