Friday, October 8, 2010

Greece: Sailing With History

When you're on vacation you want to sleep late. When you're on vacation in a country like Greece, though, you also want to see as much as you possibly can with every available minute. That means wake-up calls at "O-Dark-Hundred" in the morning to shower, dress, get downstairs, eat a hurried breakfast, get back upstairs, brush the teeth and grab the camera so you're downstairs again all "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" for the tour bus that just squealed to a halt outside the lobby door.

My traveling buddies and I had agreed on a set of tours to take which also included one tour-free day at the end of the week to rest, enjoy Athens and see the National Museum. Today the bus would do pick-up duty around a few hotels in the area to bring us all down to the Port of Piraeus from whence we would embark upon a one-day sailing tour around the Saronic Gulf.

Knowing that nearly every lake, river and other large body of water played host to or was named for some greater or lesser figure in Greek mythology, I was electrified merely to be sailing on the waters where so much real and imagined history took place. The Greeks defeated Persia at the Battle of Salamis late in the year 480BC. Theseus returned from conquering the Minotaur on Crete through these waters. The Argonauts sailed to Colchis and there was also that business about Helen of Troy. Was there another body of water on Earth like it? No tunics were included with our tour but I swear I would have worn one.

The Island of Aegina was our first stop which truly began the mythical immersion for me. On the eastern side of the island is the Temple of Aphaia, a minor goddess of fertility and agriculture and worshipped nowhere else in the Greek world. The significance of her temple is that it served as a model for the larger Parthenon in Athens. The structure we were deposited in front of is the 2nd temple to the goddess and has been standing since 580BC. Standing on top of a windblown hill surrounded by low brush and trees that might easily have been here just as long, I had arrived. With over 2500 years of history all around me, this picture says it all.

We sailed next to the island of Poros which was little more than enough time to do a little shopping and retsina tasting at the various market stalls along the waterfront. The third and final island was Hydra, named for the springs throughout the island and not the multi-headed monster of the same name. Like Portofino on the Italian coast, the island and community are all about their very compelling architectural beauty. Our cruise ship, the "Hermes" of the Epirotiki Line, was like a rowboat compared to the sea-monsters plying the Caribbean today. She stretched beyond the harbor breakwater at the base of the tea-cup shaped town rising up the surrounding hill. Hydra town is home to less than 3,000 and features winding alleys, streets of little more than stone steps and, of course, sweeping views of the town and surrounding sea.

This was the first and only "cruise" I would experience for the next nineteen years. While others enjoyed the onboard casino during the night sail back to Piraeus I savored the experience, rolling my jaw and smiling as if the whole thing were a savory morsel. I didn't cry but I would have been quite alright if I had.
It was only the first full day. And it was that good.

Gotta go.


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