A lovely Poseidon adventures - Sailing the Cyclades of Greece
Winding back roads, interesting new foods, and cultural emersion... those are my goals when traveling abroad. The way I see it, big cities are
big cities everywhere - noisy, confusing, packed with people, and expensive.
So last fall when I started planning my spring trip to Greece, I did not book a room at the Athens Hilton, nor did I seek out tours of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. And, although I'm fascinated by archaeology, I even skipped the world-class National Archaeological Museum and its dazzling collections of ancient artifacts. (Okay, maybe I have one
My research led me to the Cyclades Islands, what I've decided is the "real" Greece - a cluster of some 2,000 islands (mostly uninhabited) and the ancient hub of commerce and culture from 3,200 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. "Cyclades" literally translates to "the islands" which were ostensibly created by the Greek god Poseidon himself.
Okay. I'm going. What's the best way to experience the Cyclades?
An Internet search yields many opportunities. Options range from booking with a large company with a sleek fleet and many boating options, to Captain Alexandre's wooden yacht Anatolie, his broken English, and a warm ouzo welcome. (Ouzo is a Greek anise-flavored aperitif.)
It didn't take long for me to decide and send my down payment to the good Captain. I booked a cabin with a bed, a bunk and a bathroom for me and my young-adult daughter who was finishing a college semester abroad in Athens. An adventurous friend from Esko also decided to join us.
Unfortunately, when it came time to leave in mid-May, economic upheaval hit Greece hard. Riots and strikes were reported. Communist protesters stormed the Acropolis. A volcano in Iceland caused severe flight delays.
It turned out to be a great time to visit Greece. The volcanic ash dissipated and the Euro fell to almost U.S. dollar levels. And while occasional riots continued in Athens, the islanders were peacefully prepping for the tourist season.
Captain Alex arranged a taxi ride from Athens and a ferry to Kea Island where the Anatolie was docked. Once on board, we met a couple from Paris who also rented a cabin for the week, got a quick tour and boat life instructions from our Australian First Mate, Tom, and toasted ouzo with a hearty "Ya-MAs!" (To your health!).
Our first night was spent in Kea harbor and Alex and Tom escorted us to a favorite taverna for dinner. As we tucked into our soft beds that night, my daughter and I were grateful we had motion sickness patches firmly in place. We were gently rocked to sleep as large boats passed in the harbor.
After breakfast on the deck the next morning, we sailed to the island of Kythnos. Each harbor town on our journey looked like it hadn't changed in centuries, but Kythnos offered something special - natural hot springs. After a short walk from the boat, we followed a thin channel to where hot water (I'm guessing 120° F - too hot to sit in comfortably) flowed
into the harbor. We all basked in the bright sunshine, warmed ocean water and the scenery.
It didn't take long to get into the rhythm of our vacation: strong coffee, fresh fruit and something sweet for breakfast; lounging and reading on the deck as we motored and sailed to a quiet cove for ouzo, wine and lunch, then more sailing, and often a nap, to the next island. Once on land, we explored. We alternately hiked, piled into a rented car or shopped. Then, it was time for happy hour on the boat and a taverna at our port of call.
The Anatolie was our home for the week, with Tom taking care of all kitchen duties. Our rooms were our own (no maid service) and it took ten
minutes to heat water, via generator, to take a shower. We stopped in seven ports on six islands and slipped into quiet coves for swimming and
sunning. The boat was cozy, but we enjoyed a week of new destinations without unpacking and repacking.
Alex, being French and Greek, took great pride in the noon meals. The moussaka (layered meat, eggplant and potato casserole) was exceptional.
One night he treated us all to dinner in a favorite tavern and ordered a variety of Greek specialties. On the Poseidon theme, we even ate
braised octopus, which was surprisingly tender and delicious.
I got my archeological fix on the island Delos, the sacred birthplace of deities Apollo and Artemis. At just over three miles long and a mile
wide, the island is rich with ruins scattered from one end to the other. We hiked up the tallest hill on a cobbled staircase, enacted a Greek tragedy in a crumbling amphitheatre and paid homage to Cleopatra in her temple. The Delos ruins are not beautifully restored like tourists see in Athens. It feels more like you've happened upon them - the handiwork of a civilization long gone that left suddenly.
Mykonos is a popular island known for its night life but because we arrived at the cusp of tourist season, we had plenty of room on the dance floor. Throughout Greece, restaurants serve dinner after 8 p.m., and more like 9 p.m., so we had to leave our Midwest "supper at 6" mentality at home.
The Anatolie was a wonderful way to spend time with my daughter before she launches a life of her own. The trip also met the goals of my travel checklist: back roads, new foods, and cultural emersion. But an added bonus was meeting our new friends from Paris, Aussie first mate Tom, and
of course, the good Captain Alexandre. Experiencing a foreign land with friends can make the whole world a friendlier place.
To learn more about renting a cabin on the Anatolie go to www.greecebysail.com.
I also recommend the Greek National Tourism Organization Web site for general information and vacation ideas: www.gnto.gr.