Tag Archives | Traditional

Sailing the Blue, Blue Waters of Greece

To start, a confession: when I say sailing, I really mean sitting/lying on a sailboat. I, truthfully, did no such thing as sailing, although some of my friends took turns at the wheel of the Sun Odyssey 36i so I would suspect that they can and will use the term somewhat more freely than I can.

I was all too happy to spend my time on the back (stern) or front (bow) of the sailboat, eager to put as little as possible between me and the feeling of the hot, at times, piercing rays of the sun on my skin; the gentle but insistent presence of the salt-laced breeze; the hypnotic rise and fall of the impossibly blue waters.

It was my first time out on a sailboat and I could never have imagined a more breathtaking and bewitching introduction.

Our day started at 7am with a taxi ride to the port of Piraeus, the more popular departure and arrival point in Athens for the ferries and hydrofoils to various Greek islands. While we were still bleary-eyed and listless, the rest of Athens was up and moving with traffic already at a steady pace and drivers vacillating between a display of manic and dare-devilish lane changes on the one hand and of seemingly unconscious, unhindered drifting on the other, as you find yourself watching a car serenely continuing on its way, all the while straddling two lanes.

The residual scent of Greek cigarette smoke – darker, fuller and more biting than the North American  version – suffused the interior of the taxi, forced out of its comfortable resting place in the upholstery by our settling bodies and bags. Our driver, Yannis, was incredibly friendly and informative, eager to impart his knowledge of Hellenic (not Greek, he points out) history, archaeological geography and mathematics and their sometimes surprising link and causal relationship to each other, but this early in the morning his eagerness was overwhelming and my cabmates nodded off leaving me to maintain the conversation alone for the 30-minute drive.

A one hour hydrofoil ride to Poros would follow, with half of our group nodding off in spite of the frigid air conditioned cabin. Whatever remnants of sleep that clung to us, however, disappeared immediately upon arrival where the blue skies, even bluer waters, bright sunshine and and colourful, traditionally constructed buildings greeted us.

As we set off out of the marina and pulled into open water, I found myself quickly taken over by the sensation of ecstatic disbelief. This was not real life. It couldn’t possibly be. The luxuriousness of it, the unimaginable yet undeniably perfect combination of sun, water & wind, the intensity of colour, the expanse of horizon and landscape…. With immense gratitude and joy, I tried my best to memorize every facet of the experience, while at the same time attempting to swallow the experience whole.

Athens-Blue-Skies-Blue-WaterOur destination that day was the island of Hydra, a town built on a rise that occupied only a small portion of the island. Its inhabitation was a direct result of the island having nothing to offer the pirates that once roamed the region; even its drinking water continues to be shipped in on a daily basis.

It is a popular tourist spot with its traditional architecture, branching laneways and turquoise waters, generating a healthy trade for donkey rides, souvenir shops and dockside cafes and restaurants. As quaint and charming as Hydra was, in this case, the saying could not have been truer for me: it’s about the journey, not the destination.


Share on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUponShare via email

Water & Mountain: The Village of Galaxidi and the Town of Arachova

When I decided to come to Itea, I knew that renting a car was a must for me because I very much wanted to be able to explore the region at will. It didn’t hurt, either, that I knew many of the routes would be by the water or in the mountains and, being a stick-shift driver, there is nothing more fun than getting to put the gears of a car to full use on the winding roads that both terrains engender.

Two of the places that local contacts recommended I go see were Galaxidi, a village with nautical roots just a 20-minute drive northwest along the shoreline, and Arachova, a town roughly 1000 metres above sea level set on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.
On a clear day, from Itea, you can see Galaxidi across the water. The village rises up on a hill with St. Nicolas church sitting on its peak. Until recent times, Galaxidi was only accessible by water and as such, the authentic architectural style of homes and buildings has been retained.
The first entrance off the main road is so non-descript that I drove right by it, despite the instructions of my smartphone’s GPS navigation tool. I was sure it was malfunctioning when it told me to turn off onto what looked like a wide, gravel driveway for the nearby beach.
Choosing to make my way on foot for as long as possible along the shoreline, I parked in the first available lot past this beach. The dirt road quickly narrowed to a footpath that fronted several fairly new and sizable houses on the shore. The land was drier than expected with the tall grass crunching beneath my flip flops as I picked my way around trying to find the best angles for photos.
The path eventually turned into concrete and led me into town, passing an inner harbor and a cute small house turned tavern/café that sat alongside. Its small outdoor porch looked like the perfect place to sit and spend the afternoon, but this was an exploratory trip for me and so I pressed on, with full intentions of returning to enjoy that serene spot.
If you’re anything like me, the road to Arachova is a dangerous one. As the pathway twists and turns up the mountain, your eyes are uncontrollably drawn to the view: the jagged edges of the rock face that loom above you; the side-by-side line of hill and mountain ranges, the strength of the details melting away with distance; the faded, dry green valley of olive groves below; the blue-green, almost dark turquoise waters of the Gulf of Corinth.
What’s worse, most of the other drivers on the road are from the area and have driven this road over and over again, each curve, turn, rise and decline clearly embedded in their muscle memory. A word of advice: if there’s a Greek driver following you (and it’s always a Greek driver if they’re on your ass), don’t hesitate for a second – find a spot to slow down and pull to the right and let them pass. Don’t be fooled into thinking that he/she will wait until there’s a designated spot to pass: the double white lines in the middle and the fact that you’re on a mountainside S-shaped road don’t mean anything here. Somewhat worryingly, once I started edging up one too many times behind a camper van that was overly fond of its brakes, I found myself having the same urges.
Arachova is just a short drive past Delphi, and I would guess, has inherited much of its tourist overflow. In the winter time, this town is also used as a base for a major ski hill further up the mountain. With the number of visitors they receive, the attitude towards tourists is… more direct. The souvenir shop owners here are aggressive. They pounce on you as you walk past: it’s okay, just come and look they say. Is it ever really okay to just look? There are more restaurants here that cater to the non-Greek palate, more high-end and fashionable clothing shops and a fair number of tourist buses, even now, in the shoulder/off-season.

The view, though, is no less breathtaking upon arrival than on the drive and once you’re off the main road and wandering the inner streets of Arachova you can understand its appeal. The lanes and walkways are usually steep, turning haphazardly one way or the other, sometimes leading you off to another branch, other times to a dead end. It has a mix of architectural styles, but many of the houses still retain the traditional architecture with the quintessential terracotta tiled roofs. I’m sure a map of the town would look a spider web and I’m can’t be sure how many of those lanes had names… in short, it is a town built for a roamer like me.



Share on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUponShare via email