Apr 18, 2014

Greek Odyssey - Day 4

The Tour Boat

Three days gone by in Greece (technically, I considered it two) and a few and exciting historical sights later, Day 4 was eagerly looked forward to. After all, it was the BOAT CRUISE.

Now why in Caps, one would say. A Boat Cruise I feel is simply in two categories. You love it or you Hate it. I fall into the former category, where I simply adore being on a boat, in the middle of the Sea, miles and miles and miles and miles of water on all four sides, with an occasional bird flying past or with you. Just the very thought of being on a boat, was enough to get the adrenalin pumping. 

Standard routine in the morning, an early than regular wake up as the Cruise would start off early being a full day one, finished off with Breakfast and a quick hop jump to the Tour Bus for the Cruizzzzee.. 

The first shocker of the day, as we stepped out of the Hotel. An absolutely wet day!!! The skies filled with enough clouds to start the rains from the Mediterranean and last all the way to Siberia. This could not be happening!! 3 Days of perfect sunshine, with all outdoor site visits in perfect Sun, Wind, Moon, Shine, what ever one calls it.. The day of the Boat Cruse, it was raining!!!! Add to that our good looking gorgeous Tour Guide was also missing that day. Double Whammy indeed, if one could call it so.

Well, a lot of grumpy faces all joining in, and hoping against hope that it would not rain, we trudged off to the cruise, which was slated to visit three of the Hundreds of Islands that surround the mainland. Running through the parking to catch the boat (well to be frank, it was drizzling in the morning and being a Bombayite, issue is half the rain falls that happen, are not even worth calling them as Rain). headed off onto the Cruise Boat.

A brilliant welcome and a head off into the boat, lightened up the spirits a bit. The drizzle, the overcast sky was still there, however at least the ambience was bright. The well furnished decor, the well lit sitting area, the brilliantly open deck overlooking the Sea, the sombre Dining Area, some hope remained.

Starting off from Athens, our first stop of the Saronic Islands was Hydra, which is a pure delight from an Artists point of view.  A low level island, filled with colourful houses, boutiques, cafes all around the harbour. As one approached the harbour, the view of houses all across the hills, was a dream view for any painter or artist. One could simply sit there all day long, painting, or sitting at the port, looking out at the sea, for hours on end, and not get one bit tired. 

Hydra was simply a place meant for relaxing. Nothing else, period. The laid back life that the people seemed to live in, for sure they were working, but it was relaxed, the long road heading off into the hills, with the Sea at the Side, it was a writers / readers paradise. Forget the Garden, one could simply get one's book, sit there all day and just read or write. 

The key attraction at Hydra was the Donkey ride, which many people specifically came to travel on. Why so? Because there are no cars in Hydra! The Donkey and bikes being the only mode of transport, a Donkey ride was a novelty. I could not but help think, that if we ever did that at home, people would ridicule us and probably our families would have ostracized us from society. But here, we would be willing to pay money to have one! Amazing.

With the weather being what it was, as it was raining in Athens, the cool breeze and the low temperature had followed us to Hydra, it seemed, I could at that moment if asked, just say yes to spending the rest of my life.

@ Poros
An hour later, we proceeded to our next island stop of Poros, an island roughly 31 Square Meters and apparently 4000 residents!! That is probably less than the number of friends some people have on their Facebook Account!! Poros happens to be another small Island on the Southern side and is quite rich in vegetation. Known for its shopping (tourist shops have better stuff here), it is also an ideal location to spend a short stay of a day / two at the Island. There is nothing much to do, but then is it not what a holiday spot is meant to be. 

What was interesting was the wide harbour entry port that one passed through as you enter Poros. Probably due to the fact that it was widely used by the Romans, the Venetians during their rule of the Island and being subject to attacks, and also over a period of time being a key area for attacks against the Ottomans. The fact that the Russians also used it as a Naval base, could have contributed, but what does stand out is the simple beauty of the Island that does not seem to have been lost.

Poros Clock Tower
The Clock Tower was the main feature of the Island, at the top of a hill, of course, when one goes on a cruise that is meant to start and end the same day, the challenge is to see the topmost point at a place simply for the view. The same was the approach with our group, some preferring the small streets for their shopping, some preferring the high mountain top to reach the Tower, despite the number of steps that one had to climb to reach the top.

At the end of it, the view was simply fabulous, standing atop the hill, watching the bay downwards, with the Sea and the Harbour in full view. Worth the effort, even if it meant climbing quite a number of steps, and proving ourselves unfit in the process.

Last stop was Aegina the largest of the Saronic islands famous for Barbecue food and Pistachios. With a history going back to the 20th Century BC, it is also believed the Aegina was the pioneer in introducing coinage to the Western world, being the first city state to have their own mint and coins issued across Europe.

Reaching the island gave a few options to have a bus tour or simply laze around the port, of course, that meant, have a cup of coffee, some shopping, but obviously wanting to see the place, a bus tour was in place. Driving around, gave the same feel of the Other Greek islands. Sparsely populated at roughly about 10k inhabitants, life at peace, people making a living growing certain crops round the year, the main ones being pistachios.

Temple of Aphaea
First stop on the tour was the Sanctuary or the Temple of Aphaea. Built between 510 - 470 BC, the temple is dedicated to the Goddess Aphaea, who was worshipped exclusively at the sanctuary. 

What is impressive is the remnants of the structure still intact, with the temple being made completely of stone (as most were during the period), the symmetry, the grand spacing, the settings of the columns, the structural layout. 

When considered in totality and more so that what remained as of today, was simply a fraction of what it originally was, makes it more spell bounding. The Temple was similar to the other monuments, the Acropolis, Adrian's Arch, The Olympic Stadium. A monument built of stones, of such beauty, that one can simply stare at the structures with the mind wandering on for hours.

Next stop on the rounds was the Cathedral of Saint Nectarios of Aegina, who spent several years teaching, preaching and writing books, but was mainly considered to be a wonder healer. A visit to the Church, yet another example of Greek Glory and a visit to the healing room, where the remains of St. Nectarios rest (that is what I could make of from the guide who was explaining the same). What was key though was that if one believed and with all his / her heart prayed sincerely, he / she would be cleared of their ailments.

Cathedral of St Nectarios
Beliefs, one states are stronger than rationales, and there were a number of believers, one could see wishing salvation from their ails. I have no clue if it works, but as one travels through the country and as one goes more and more deeper into the fabrics of the society that ancient Greece is built upon, one sees a huge portion that is built on Gods and Goddesses (mythological / real ?), and the respect belief that still exists. Whether the modern Greek citizen believes in it or not, vs the traditional one, is an open question, but what you see is centuries of progress left today in ruins, only providing a glimpse of what was, once in History.

Not belittling our own country, India, but the difference there was obvious. We too have our beliefs, we too have had our Gods and Goddesses, we too have a huge share of history, we too have a civilization that is second to none, we too have had grandeur like no other. But then, we have managed to destroy our own heritage ourselves. Not that there are no corrupt politicians in the European countries and for sure who knows, how much would have been pilfered, how much would have been looted (considering a bulk of the original stuff is in the British Museum for safe keeping and proper maintenance), but comparing our sites to the ones in Europe..

No touts, no people running after you, Guide, Guide, no street urchins coming after you for some money once you have visited the Historical sites, no junk shops of Pan / Chai Wallas outside the heritage sites, no politician posters or posters of some dumb educational institutes teaching English classes or complete your MBA in some shady joint, 55 miles away. These are venues, properly managed, kept clean, and with the purpose of being maintained. You don't find some engraving on the stone saying, "Rinki loves Mintu", or Subash, Geeta were here, or some idiotic Doctor advertising about his clinic on treating sex problems hammered into a tree.

Surely, some may agree, some may disagree, but as you through what was once a period in history, of what we were, and what we are today. Was the older period better with the Kings and Queens, or are we better off in our so called Democratic process? Subjects under Kings or so called free people, who still get looted by a few fake Kings.

Day over, and as was lost in these thoughts, the visit from Aegina back to Athens got over (amazing how the return journey is always faster than the outbound), more so, when having fun. With a local resident on board band playing some fabulous Greek music, watching, singing, yelling in the local dances, before we knew it, we were back into Athens, in what was surely a wonderful day. What I could not but help wonder during the entire journey as I passed through the various decks on the boat, as to how lonely, empty, yet peaceful the wide Sea was. Being in the middle of nowhere at times, made the heart flutter, but looking at that vast expanse of the Ocean, I could not but bring myself to think. Could this life go on for ever?

Wet city (the rains had gotten worse), leaving little to do, we headed off to the Hotel for our planned boring Indian Dinner, but then with a last minute plan, we headed off to an Italian Pizza Dinner at a local restaurant - Ciao, where a perfect day ended by having some wonderful stone oven baked Pizzas.

Head back to the Hotel, for the final leg of the Journey - Coming Home.. Until the last post. 

PS: In my attempt to save, the post got published erroneously a couple of times. Hence the visible / not visible.. Apologies.

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