On Saturday, July 9th I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and took a cab to Fiumicino Airport, only to get on a plane and fly to Athens. A week in Greece was mine with a certain fella, and I couldn’t wait. I landed rather bumpily in Athens and waited for Boris’ flight to arrive. It felt odd to be in a country where not only was I unfamiliar with the language, I was also less familiar with the alphabet. My year of ancient Greek could only prepare me so much to cope with its modern equivalent; first of all, it has been a couple years now that I’ve even read Greek regularly, so getting my head back into the Greek alphabet mode took some thought. Secondly, modern Greek is pronounced very differently from ancient, so even if I could read something I would certainly pronounce it incorrectly.
Luckily I didn’t have long to wait until I saw said fella’s face smiling at me from across the arrivals hall. Our first order of business was to get to Piraeus in order to take a boat to Hydra, our first stop on the trip. We lucked out with timing, and managed to get a bus with barely any wait time. The trip to Piraeus is a good half-hour, maybe forty minutes in Greek traffic (which is horrendous, by the way. I contend that the driving there is far worse than even Rome). The bus was crowded with other travelers like us, all coming from the airport with big luggage. We, luckily, only had an Osprey backpacking bag and my tiny Italian weekender-style rolling bag (note to self: not as convenient when wandering the city as a backpack, although excellent as a carry-on). A German family was trying to get off the bus, and the mother kept yelling to the driver by addressing him as “Driver.” He was unresponsive, and so a kind Greek man played translator for her and managed to let them off at the right stop.
At some point or other, Boris began talking to this Greek man, and it became the first instance of Greeks falling in love with him for his language skills. Scratch that: the ticket man from whom we bought our bus tickets was also impressed. This proved to be an enormous advantage while traveling, and also quite amusing for me. More often I am in the role of translator, so it was fun to be relieved of this duty, but also fun to see how surprised and excited Greeks got when Boris talked with them. Greek, unlike Italian or Spanish or French, is much less commonly studied, especially by tourists. By the end of the trip, I was used to hearing his brief Greek explanation about how he had been studying Greek for a couple years, and the Greek reaction of being really impressed and/or appreciative. Anyway, back to the Greek man on the bus, who became one of many temporary buddies during our travels. It turned out he was a gynecologist who had just come back from a conference in Rome. He and his wife told Boris, who later relayed it to me, about Hydra, where they had been before. He also was sure we got off at the right stop on the bus, and sent us on our way.
Our good timing continued and we waited less than an hour for the next fast boat to Hydra, which only took a couple hours. Hydra Town, the main town of the island, greeted us with the bustle of port-side, open-air restaurants and donkeys. A wonderful thing about the island, something that attracted us to it in the first place while reading in my Lonely Planet guide, was that there are no mechanized vehicles allowed on the island except those for maintenance. By foot or by quadruped was the only way to get around, and those donkeys hauled more than people: they hauled groceries, suitcases, you name it, they’d carry it. Although they weren’t terribly expensive to ride, we opted out of the offer to be taken to our pension and decided to wander and find it ourselves.
Even though Boris had printed a map, there wasn’t even an address on the website for this place. Getting directions was comical—“turn left and then right and then right,” or “go to the movie theatre and keep going and then make a left”–but we eventually made it. It took maybe fifteen minutes and two or three inquiries of the locals to make it to our place, where we were greeted by the owner. Like many island accommodations, our room was one of seven to ten in a villa-style home on the island, only 3 minutes from the port. Our room was situated on the lower level, so we didn’t enjoy any kind of courtyard view, but we didn’t plan on spending most of our time there anyway, so it was just fine.
Despite Boris’ 24-hour long flight schedule, he was a good sport and determined to overcome the onset of jet lag. We explored Hydra Town for a while, wandering up one side of the village to enjoy views of the waters below. We snacked on some crepes, and got a recommendation for a dinner taverna from the girl at the creperie. My first dinner in Greece consisted of dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), tzaziki sauce, zucchini balls and Greek salad (which became a staple of every single meal we ate except breakfasts). Italian food is wonderful, but the change was most welcome, as were the plethora of vegetables and salads offered at every single restaurant.
To finish our first day together in Greece, we walked back towards the port and claimed a spot on some rocks down a rickety stairwell that led to the sea. There we sat and admired the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. I am loyal to Arizona sunsets, I’ll have you know, but this…this was magical. Perhaps it was the setting—perched on rocks that were being licked by surrounding salt waters, a sated belly, caring and warm company—but it was possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
For our first full day on Hydra we walked from Hydra Town along the other side of the island, exploring where we wanted, taking photos along the way, enjoying the island’s dearth of tourists. For lunch we stopped at a taverna on the port. Our gauge every time for pricing was to check how much the traditional Greek salad cost—if it was more than 5.50, we wouldn’t eat there. The one we found was delicious, and Boris again made a friend of the waiter. We asked him about beaches on the island, and he recommended a couple, all of which were nearby. The late afternoon took us along Hydra’s coast, again, to Mandraki Bay. There, we lounged on sunbeds and swam in the cool Mediterranean water, again almost alone. Perhaps only twenty people in total were around, including a Russian mother and daughter sitting right in front of us whom Boris managed to befriend as well. (Apparently a lot of Russians visit Greece.) From a taverna overlooking the bay, we watched the sun set and ate freshly caught and marinated little fish, salad, and pastizio.
The next morning marked our departure back to Piraeus to take the overnight ferry to Santorini; we were sorry to leave, since Hydra had treated us so well. For lunch we ate at the same port-side taverna as the day before, and our same waiter greeted us fondly. Only the evening before I had promised I would not eat in the same place twice, since we had so much at our fingertips; we had sat down at another restaurant only meters away from the first one and seen the hiked up prices. I caved immediately, especially since our lunch before had been so tasty, and we enjoyed our second meal there. The waiter also brought us two Mythos beers—a Greek beer that I actually really liked, which is unusual for me—and we had definitely not ordered them. Boris pointed out the benefits of being loyal customers, even though neither of us would have ordered that with our lunch, and we enjoyed them all the same. Due to our boat’s arrival and our quick paying, however, a different waiter brought us our check and we realized that it certainly had been gratis from our original waiter, since we ended up getting charged by the other guy. The thought was taken into account, however, and we decided if he had written our check, it would have been free. We sailed to Piraeus for the next part of our Grecian adventure…