From Athens I took a high-speed ferry to the little island of Hydra. I know the trip is not over yet, but I think this may be my favorite place I have visited throughout the entire trip. Hydra is a small little island only an hour and a half away from Athens, by ferry, with only about three thousand inhabitants and absolutely no cars! I quickly discovered this fact as soon as I arrived in the port. When I got off the boat, I asked a local store owner the location of my hotel. We he eyed my large duffle bag, he kept shouting, "Donkey...donkey!!" to me. When I turned around, another man approached me, pointed to his donkey standing off to the side and then helped me with my bags over to the animal. Normally I would have questioned this, but I actually welcomed the help so that I didn't have to roll my bag over the cobblestones and up the hill to my hotel. So the man strapped my bag onto the donkey's back and away we went to my hotel. For a few euros more I could have ridden on the donkey too, but I decided not to! I stayed at the Mistral hotel which used to be an old stone mansion. The people there are so nice and so friendly. My room wasn't quite ready when I arrived so they encouraged me to sit in their courtyard and enjoy free drinks while I waited. When my room was ready, I quickly unpacked and freshened up so that I could get some lunch in town.
It was at this point that I had one of the best experiences of the trip. As I passed through the courtyard of a restaurant headed toward the port, I heard someone singing and playing the guitar. I continued walking for a bit, but then turned around deciding to eat at that restaurant and continue listening to the traditional Greek music. When I returned to the restaurant, I discovered that the singing was coming from a very large table filled with about 15 people. It looked like a big family out having lunch together. Initially the restaurant seated me at a table near this large party, but when one of the people saw that I was dining by myself they kept motioning for me to join them. I was hesitant at first, but after more encouragement from the group, I joined them. I ended up sitting in between the two guys playing the guitars and was serenaded all throughout the lunch (even participating in a few songs). These people were amazing!! Only two people in the group spoke English, but I was able to communicate with everyone. The singing continued throughout the two hour lunch and they all shared food that they had ordered with me. It was delicious, but the special part of the lunch was just being with them. I learned later that this lunch was a celebration...a reunion of friends that hadn't seen each other in over 15 years. I was so humbled that they included me in their celebration and so enjoyed just taking in the music, the food and the friendship all around. It was an incredible afternoon and a memory I will never forget. And to think, I almost didn't eat at that restaurant but only turned around just to listen to the music.
The rest of the time on the island was spent relaxing. There are many shops for the tourists to visit during the day and then many cafes, restaurants, and bars for dining and entertainment in the evenings. When you step away from the main port, you get to enjoy the water. The island only has one sandy beach (that you can take a water taxi to get to). The rest are stone beaches which aren't that bad. For a good part of the next day, I enjoyed swimming in the water, laying out along the rocks and relaxing at the Sunset Restaurant that is a beachy type place with thatched umbrellas overhead that serve some nice cool cocktails to enjoy in the sun! It is absolute paradise! I HIGHLY recommend anyone coming to Greece to go to Hydra. I only discovered it by flipping through a book of Greek Islands before my trip and thought I would come to check it out. Now it is one of my favorite places and one I hope to return to some day!
From Hydra I took the ferry back to Athens and then flew to Crete where I am presently. I leave here Saturday and head to Santorini...the final destination of the trip, where I meet up with friends from the States! I will post an update on Crete soon!
I hope everyone is doing well!