A Travellerspoint blog

Sailing the Greek Islands - the Remainder

Or, "Keep it, keep it, keep it!"

We woke the next morning and continued exploring the town of Hydra. All of the cafes and restaurants on the main cobbled street/plaza had luxurious outdoor seating with couches and cushioned seats, all shaded by vast canvas awnings that pulled out from the fronts of all the buildings to protect the plaza from the heat. Alexei advised us to stock up on food for a barbeque later that evening. Excited to try some real Greek cooking, Kim and I stopped by a fisherman’s boat to get freshly caught redfish, but we realized that we didn’t want to (know how to) clean the fish for cooking. So we got ground beef (mincemeat as they seemed to call it) for burgers. Exotic food fail.



With Noah and Nick lifting the anchor as Alexei steered us out of the central marina, we said goodbye to Hydra and once again sailed out into the vast blue sea. Given that we’d had so many days of low winds, we hadn’t had too much experience with the actual sailing side of things. Luckily, that morning we had a strong wind behind us, and Alexei gave us all jobs and showed us how to man the boat as we tacked back and forth across the waters. It was certainly a good time to be working on deck – when the wind is full in the sails, it tilts the boat so far sideways that walking around below decks is like wandering through a carnival funhouse and trying to keep your balance. What a headache.



Once everyone had the hang of their jobs, it was smooth sailing from there. After several hours under Alexei’s careful eye, I steered the Leila into a small lagoon on a desert island. Again, perfect perfect turquoise waters. Here, we had to row the dinghy out with a rope to tether to boat to the rocky shore to prevent her from drifting in the wind. That done, the seven of us spent another gorgeous afternoon swimming and exploring the empty lands of the island. As per usual, Noah was at home in the water, and even dove down to the bottom of the clear blue lagoon to find an old bottle of wine (that he even dared try once we got it open!). Later on, I ferried Andy over to the shore in the dinghy where he explored and found the stone foundations of a fairly ancient building, according to our captain.





Preparing to leave, Alexei had us head back out in the dinghy to untie the boat from land. The upcoming events are a good explanation of why Alexei probably hated us. So the basic setup is this. There is a long rope that ties the boat to a rock on shore. The goal was to row out in a dinghy (that was previously tied to the big boat with a little rope) towards the land, where you untie the long rope from the rock, and bring it back. Nick and hopped in the dinghy and handled this, no problem (as should be expected, since these are simplistic tasks). When we rowed back in the dinghy, the big boat was already in motion since it was no longer anchored. With both of us moving, it was difficult to pull up smoothly, but fortunately we still had the aid of the long rope that we had fetched that was tied to the big boat. Simply, reel the rope in, thus pulling ourselves closer, and hop off right? No. As we got close, Alexei realized that Nick was preparing to heave this line tethering us to safety right at him. As we’ve mimicked countless times since then, Alexei shouted, “Keep it, keep it, keep it, keep it keep it KEEP IT!” as Nick eagerly proceeded to throw the rope, despite these warnings. Alexei sighed a big, “oh no” and took his head in his hands, as Nick and I tried to correct our error by throwing ourselves toward the edge of the boat to grab on. Successful, we quickly scrambled out of the dinghy and aboard the Leila, proud that we didn’t mess things up too badly. But as I was pulling myself upright, we heard Alexei shouting again, “the dinghy, the dinghy, the dinghy, THE DINGHY!”, and I realized that while we had indeed made it safely aboard, we had left the dinghy in the water, and watched as it slowly drifted away behind us, untethered. “Ohhhh no”, as he covered his eyes with his hands, shaking his head slowly. Poor dinghy. Poor Alexei.

With the sun sinking lower in the sky, we sailed on toward our last port – a tiny town on the mainland. Equipped with instant barbeque spits and the ingredients that we prepared on board, our little gang walked down the coast and found a rock ledge jutting out over the waters where we could enjoy our dinner. We cranked some tinny tunes from the speakers of my iPod, and had a delicious barbeque meal of burgers (on baguette bread – there were no buns in Greece!) and fresh fruit salad, right there overlooking the beautiful Aegean Sea. Perfect evening.






We brought a burger back to Alexei (he couldn’t join us since he had to keep an eye on the boat) and set off to explore the town at night.

Over the next few days, we continued our sailing trip, much as in the previous entries, as we tracked back towards Athens. I could describe it all in detail, but I’ll leave it with this. We sailed, we swam, we soaked in the sun as we read on the deck, we devoured greek salad after greek salad (which is quite different than the Greek salads that we eat in the states – it contains just diced tomatos, cucumbers, black olives with feta and balsamic – no lettuce to be found!), we devoured 1 euro gyros (favorite thing to say!), and came to love the Greek islands.

We disembarked from the Leila back in the Athens marina, sad to leave our boat home and our skipper. At the beginning of the trip, Vardis had purchased an American flag to fly on our boat, and he now took it down for us to bring home. Alexei signed it (emphasizing in large letters – A L E X – that we had probably been calling him by the wrong name the whole trip). We said goodbye, and prepared to see the ancient acropolis of Athens!



Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 10:07 Archived in Greece Tagged greece sailing yacht hydra poros aegina Comments (1)

Sailing the Greek Islands - Hydra

Or, "One kitty, two kitty, three kitty, mule!"

Alexei joked with us early on in the trip that we were getting our money’s worth on this trip if not purely because we were getting to learn so much about engine failure. The third day certainly did not fail to contribute to this education, and as we left port in Poros, we heard Gerst call from below deck – “I think the engine is smoking…”. Fortunately we weren’t too far out yet, so we turned right around and once moored back in Poros, we called the “engineer” (which is how Alexei referred to the mechanic – at first he was quite surprised to find out that most of us were engineers!). Again, there could be worse places to be stuck. We spent the morning wandering town, and filling up on gelato and cheap gyros. Yum!

Several hours later with a hopeful fix to the engine starter, we set out for a secluded swimming location on one of the hundreds of tiny islands (though I feel like they were hardly large enough to qualify as islands in their own right). And the water there was stunning. The brightest aquamarine waters sparkled in the sunlight, the perfect temperature for swimming, and nicely protected from the open sea by a small crescent of land. We anchored the boat and spent several hours jumping off the deck, exploring the surrounding area with flippers and goggles, and avoiding terrifying beds of sea urchins. A good amount of time was also spent in the quest to teach Nick how to dive properly. Even Alexei had a good laugh at his attempts.


Also, by this point, I should mention that all seven of us were more or less wretchedly filthy. With no real shower on board the boat, none of had washed in several days. That, plus a layer of grimy sea salt had all of us in fairly poor states. Thus, swim time doubled as bath time. Armed with shampoo bottles and bars of soap, we sudsed up right in the waters of the Aegean Sea.


We sprawled across the deck of the boat in the afternoon sun to dry out, and then we were headed onwards to Hydra! Hydra was the most traditional of our Greek island destinations. Set into the steep hills of the island, Hydra permits no cars or motor vehicles on the island. Instead, mules and donkeys are the main mode of transportation, though you could really walk anywhere you needed to get. As hard as it is to choose, I think Hydra was probably the favorite island of the group. It was the Greece you see in postcards. Cobblestoned streets and whitewashed buildings with bright blue shutters and decoration. Paint peeling from old wooden doors, now covered in flowering vines in vibrant purple and red. Cats sprawled on warm stone streets, balancing on railings, twining between your feet as you walked by. Hydra was heaven.






The entire town centered around the small marina. Without cars, everything focused on the boat traffic. Small vessels pulled in with freshly caught fish, produce from other islands, and passengers aplenty. We were moored right along the main plaza. So strange to have your home right in the middle of the town marina! We could literally walk straight out of our rooms and into a tavern.



The seven of us departed to explore the entire town, from the coastal cannons (relics of wars past) to the church high in the hills. Sunset over the still waters between Hydra and the surround islands was like something out of a movie. We watched from the church courtyard, and even took the opportunity to ring the bell in the big tower above the town. Scrambling down staircases and rough footpaths, we made our way back to the city (with our kitty-count at forty-something … did I mention how many CATS there were!) to get ready for dinner.






Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 09:37 Archived in Greece Tagged islands sailing yacht donkey hydra Comments (0)

Sailing the Greek Islands - Poros

Waking up inside a sailboat is a wonderful thing. Usually the heat inside the small cabin is what wakes you up in the first place (that’s not the wonderful thing), but when you come fully awake, the cry of seagulls and the gentle roll of the waves make the whole waking up thing much more pleasant. And then the best part – simply standing up on the bunk and pushing open the ceiling window hatch until you are head and shoulders through the deck of the ship, gazing sleepy-eyed out across the water at whatever Greek island paradise you happen to be at that morning. Delicious.


This was how we started our first morning of sailing, and the rest of the morning continued this way. The seven of us tottered off the gangplank and walked back into town to do some grocery shopping for the day. But grocery shopping on the islands is not like grocery shopping anywhere else. All the produce vendors sit out on the streets with heaps and heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables. On the main street (of which one side is storefronts and the other side is the sea) we found a woman with a sign for fresh strawberries. Realizing that we were looking to buy, she hastened out of the chair she was sitting in by the water, invited us aboard her boat she had moored nearby filled with fresh fruits, and weighed out a huge bag of delicious juicy strawberries for us. Grocery shopping like this is hardly a chore.

Stocked up with supplies for the day, Alexei directed us out of port, and we hit the open sea, bound for the nearby island of Poros. Since it wasn’t a very windy day, we were using the boat’s small motor to cross the broad expanse of water. With Nick at the wheel, and the sun shining brightly down, we were ready for a picture perfect day … until the motor spluttered and died. Alexei let loose a string of curses in Greek, and charged down the ladder to examine the engine. The verdict was not good. We were adrift, two miles out of port and nowhere near our destination with no means of moving anywhere, other than the weak puffs of wind that blew meekly through every so often. Regardless, we raised the sails and hoped. We were moving so slowly that we could easily float behind the boat in the water, keeping up with the smallest of strokes. So we did. Like we said many times, there were worse places to be stuck. With that, we enjoyed an afternoon playing and drifting in the sapphire blue waters behind the yacht as we slowly, SLOWLY, worked our way back to shore.



Many hours later, we met up with Vardis to get a replacement part for the engine, and we were destined for Poros (once again!). At first approach, Poros was beautiful. Quaint and small, the island of Poros lay cradled in the crook of the mainland, such that the space between them was more river than sea. Docking in the marina, we explored the town with Vardis. Now, one thing to realize is that in Greece (and much of Europe), any restaurant on a main road employs someone to stand out front and assure every passerby of the exquisiteness and superiority of the food served at that particular establishment. A walk down the street turns into a series of exchanges with each and every one of these men. Fortunately, Vardis seemed to know each of them, so they were all very pleasant and helpful. We grabbed some delicious Greek food (moussaka, saganaki, stuffed grape leaves, the works!) and watched the sunset.





The other fabulous thing about the Greek islands is that each town is a wonderful mess of whitewashed buildings, brilliantly colored floral trees, and winding staircases. Actual roads in these steep towns are rare, replaced instead by cobbled footpaths and staircases that are more suited to getting around the hilly terrain. After dinner, we explored this maze of stairs on our way up to the highest point in Poros – the big clock tower. The view from the top was beautiful – below us, the tumble of whitewashed buildings poured out towards the waters, across which the lights from the mainland twinkled in the black night.




Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 12:53 Archived in Greece Tagged greece sailing yacht saronic poros Comments (0)

Sailing the Greek Islands


In the midst of a wildly exciting trip, this somehow managed to be the day we were most excited for. With an entire week of sailing in the idyllic Greek islands ahead of us, we all woke quickly and headed straight for the marina in Athens. Yet I have to admit, despite our barely contained anticipation, we were all suppressing the thought that somehow this might not really happen. You see, the entire sailing trip had been booked through a series of emails with a guy running a site online. It seemed kind of … sketch. So we were immensely relieved when Kim finally got in contact with the guy (Vardis) via phone that morning. Phew! With the sun beating down and sweat running down our faces, all seven of us (though I really feel like each of our packs is human-sized, so let’s say all 14 of us) crowded into the skipper’s bar to wait for Vardis. And we waited. And waited. And the feeling that this was a scam grew. And grew. Three hours later, Vardis calls again to tell us that there has been some technical difficulties, and our yacht is out of commission! But never fear. He came strolling into the skipper’s bar several minutes later, the very picture of an old Greek sailor – leathery, sun-darkened skin and knobbly sea-toughened hands with fingers like gnarled tree bark. And he had a new boat for us!


We boarded the Leila in excitement – a tough feat when wearing a person-sized pack and trying to walk delicately across a wobbly gang plank. She was small, but comfortable. A 43-foot yacht with four “double” cabins, a central saloon area inside with kitchen and two bathrooms, a big bench outside, and plenty of ridged, ropey deck outside. It was a cozy fit, for sure, but once we chose our cabins and got everything packed away, it was perfect.






We found out that Vardis wouldn’t be our skipper for the trip, but rather, one of his other captains, Alex/Alexei/Alexis, would be accompanying us. I’m embarrassed to say that we never knew exactly what his name was, since it sounded like everyone called him different things! We settled on Alexei (“Uh-lex-ee”), though he didn’t respond to that a lot of the time. I’m not sure if that’s because we were pronouncing it wrong or because he just didn’t want to talk to us. Alexei was an experienced sailor in his fifties, and he stayed quiet most of the time, except when cursing (like a sailor!) into his phone in animated Greek or arguing loudly with people in the ports we stopped at. But don’t get me wrong – Alexei seemed like a tough grumpy old man on the outside, but I’m pretty sure he secretly loved us. He was probably frustrated with our ineptness 100% of the time, but he would always smile at our antics and laugh at the many mistakes we made. Oh, Alexei. Oh, the mishaps. But more on that later, I’m getting ahead of myself.


We set off from Athens that first afternoon with 8 aboard. Even with such a small boat, there were a lot of tasks necessary to sail it properly. Alexei showed us how to do all the various things (multiple times, usually) so that we could help him sail the boat. From the anchor to the sails, and the bumpers to the wheel, we were all involved in the sailing of our boat from port to port. So cool! Over the week, we each tried our hand at different tasks, and settled into our favorites. Nick was the anchor boy. Noah was supposed to be first mate, but after Alexei found him sleeping every time he wanted to hand over the wheel, Kim became the new first mate. The rest of us managed sails, knots, and bumpers, and we each tried our hand behind the wheel on various days.


Our first evening out on the sea was wonderful. The waves lapped gently against the prow as we cut slowly through the waves toward our first destination – Aegina. The seven of us perched in various places along the deck, and took in the golden sun falling across the deepest blue waters. Just another one of those moments where you find yourself asking, “how did I get here?”



We docked on Aegina in a small port town – and when I say small, I mean small! All our stops in the Greek islands were tiny, adorable seaside towns, usually completely isolated except through boat access. Per Alexei’s advice, we wandered up the main (only?) street and found a little restaurant behind a seafood market that was supposed to serve up a mean dish of calamari or mussels. Yum! We all ordered from the menu (all in Greek, but with little handdrawn pictures of fishes or squid to help us English-speakers) and looked forward to a fresh-caught meal. And it was all delicious! Though I was a little frightened to find that Calamari in Greece hardly resembles the nicely diced and fried rings we see in the states. It was just a big rubbery squid! Delicious, but strange.




Noah tried Ouzo – the local liquor of choice – and we all decided that its strong black-licorice flavor was not very appealing. Unfortunately, since we had arrived so late in Aegina after the boat delay, it was dark by the time we finished dinner. We walked back along the docks toward where our boat was moored, and climbed aboard and into our bunks to be lulled asleep by the slight rocking of the boat.

Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 12:28 Archived in Greece Tagged athens sailing yacht squid saronic aegina Comments (0)


Or, "Why does P go R?"

Marking the precise middle of our trip (3.5 weeks gone, 3.5 to go!), our flight to Athens from Barcelona passed by amazingly quickly. After weeks and weeks of painfully slow train travel, a cheap flight across the Mediterranean made traveling easy! As we walked out into the airport and heaved our packs up onto our backs to begin the first day of our time in eastern Europe, we realized one important thing. As hard as it was to understand signs in other languages in the countries we had already traveled in, it was going to be infinitely harder here; the greek alphabet is totally different than ours!


Gerst promised to memorize the shapes of important words like “bathroom” and “exit”. Unfortunately for us, “exit” looks almost identical to “gates”, which led to some confusion at the airport. Regardless, we found our way onto our bus to the center of Athens – Syntagma Square. Right on par with the rest of the trip, we hopped off at Syntagma Square into the middle of another protest. Tour de Protest.

We had heard from some travelers in Barcelona that taxis in Athens were ridiculously cheap, and might actually be our preferred mode of transportation. Given that, we forewent the above ground trolley system in favor of riding in our first car of the trip. However, communication with the cabbies was difficult since even writing down our destination (the Pagration Hostel) for the them to read wasn’t useful – the spelling was totally different in our alphabet and the Greek alphabet. However, we finally found a cabbie willing to drive us (it was surprising how many taxis drove right away when they heard us speaking English!) and we hopped out at a nondescript, unlabeled building that was supposedly our hostel.


Cautiously and somewhat suspiciously, we pushed open the main gate, and found ourselves in a lovely little hostel. Tall ceilings and floor to ceiling doors that pushed open onto a big balcony. And the best part is that we found Kim, Andy, and Matt (our travel companions for the upcoming sailing trip) already in the room! Kim and Andy are fellow UM computer scientists, and Matt is one of Andy’s good friends. It was so nice to see familiar faces after a long time abroad.



It was already getting late that first night, so there was little time to see the major sites, but we still decided to check out as much as we could of Athens. And where better to do so than the highest point in the city? Besides the well known Acropolis, home of the Parthenon (which closes disappointingly early … 5 pm!), Athens boasts another massive, natural hill at the center of the city. A cone of greenery in a sea of whitewashed buildings, the massive hill has a trail that tacks back and forth across its face, leading to a little plaza and church right at its peak. It was a long walk to the top, and along the way, we busied ourselves with learning the correct pronunciations of the greek alphabet from Matt, who had studied Ancient Greek in school. Convenient, right? So we made our way higher and higher, babbling like children as we sounded out each letter and word on every street sign, storefront, and advertising flyer that we saw. Embarrassing and slightly awkward? Yes. Educational and necessary? Definitely.


We finally arrived, sweating and sticky in the humid, nighttime Athens air. But the view from the peak was spectacular.





All seven of us retired to the hostel, sleeping soundly in preparation for the upcoming week of sailing!


Posted by ChelseaLeBlanc 11:26 Archived in Greece Tagged hiking athens Comments (0)

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