(Greek) Islands in the Sea

Who hasn’t dreamed of lazing around on a Greek island somewhere, small yacht anchored in a picturesque bay, a place to see and be seen amidst crystalline green waters, whitewashed houses gleaming against a cloudless blue sky? That’s just how I roll, right?

Well, this trip, that exact scenario wasn’t to be. The closest I would get would be visiting (and eating my way through) three islands within the group of Saronic islands in the Aegean Sea on a busy day cruise from Athens (cost €99, including hotel pick-up and lunch).

The first island was Poros, 60 km from Athen’s seaport of Piraeus with only about 4,000 inhabitants. Houses are built on a hill and there is a pretty clock tower amidst fragrant flowers, making for a photogenic landscape. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what the people on the island did for work, though. All I know is that they make good ice cream!

After a mushy lunch of nondescript pork with peas and a slightly entertaining (although for all the wrong reasons) impromptu dance by a group of feisty Chinese senior citizens (all that Tai Chi in the park really paid off!), it was on to Hydra, another tiny island, where apart from garbage trucks, no motorized vehicles are allowed. Travel is done mainly by donkeys, bicycles and old fashioned walking! It was easy to see why. Once again, the red-roofed houses were built stadium-style on the hillside, narrow, twisting cobblestone paths snaking their way up steeply. The pretty harbor housed shops selling jewelry and souvenirs. Of course, I managed to find a bakery and had a delicious spot of baklava.

Lastly, we visited Aegina, the largest of the islands (pop. 13,500) and famous for its pistachio production. Pistachio products were available in all forms, everywhere!

All in all, I had a great time in Greece, with its olive, pomegranate and citrus trees growing willy nilly around the city. Classical buildings stood side by side with more modern ones, both, unfortunately, being equally graffiti-ed. But with a good transportation network, reasonable costs and world-class antiquities, a wonderful place to visit.

Travel tips: (1) Although I have said to always book directly with the hotel, this time, I took up an offer too good to pass. Expedia was having a sale where if you booked 4 nights or more at a participating hotel, you would get a Mastercard gift card for $150. While the Best Western Pythagorion wasn’t my original choice, it was comparably ranked by tripadvisor.com and turned out to be just over USD 60 per night, including breakfast (which included olives! for breakfast!). The gift card effectively made the hotel a mere USD 30 per night, a real steal. So while I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve booked a hotel thru Expedia, this was a great deal. (2) Subscribe to as many of these travel sites, like Expedia or airline sites, as you can. Yes, you’ll probably get 30 useless emails for every 1 which might work out for you, but they’re easy enough to delete. I would suggest setting up a secondary email account (like hotmail) which you use to subscribe to all these sites. Then set the account to forward to your regular account. This will severely limit the spam you get.

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