Surrounded by the Aegean blue sea on all four sides with a cold burst of air escaping each time I opened my mouth, I knew just right then that this was stuff that dreams were made of. The sky was overcast – its grey refusing to discolour the icy blue of the sea – and the green rock-islands that broke the monotony of the ocean bed, so lush that I could not remember seeing anything like this before. Yachts sailed past us, propelled ahead by billowy waves and strong winds. I stood there alone on the top deck, watching our ferry speed by and leave frothy ripples behind me.
It was my first holiday in Europe. Jacketed completely to shield myself from the chill, I still managed to trace my skin that was layered in thick clothing, and pinch myself to believe where I was.
We were cruising across the Aegean Sea of the Sarconic Gulf to catch a glimpse of Hydra, Poros and Aegina – the three Sarconic Islands that enjoy closest proximity to the Greek capital city Athens.
Two words to describe them: Postcard perfect. These islands are no Santorini or Crete, but take comfort; they are still nothing like you’ve ever seen before.
In order to cover the three islands within a day, we had to make an early start. Heading out from our hotel Divani Caravel in Athens by 6.30am, we made it to Flisvos Marina right in time to take the Olympic Cruise, which left for the islands at 8 am.
The journey, to the say the least, was dreamy and romantic in parts. We had picked a rainy day for our sojourn, so the sun-kissed skies and the bright and high on contrast shades of Greece were sadly missing. But the gloomy weather only bathed the place in a palette that you wouldn’t otherwise see in travel diaries. It’s true that the colour of a place you experience, is the colour that the place wants you to experience. And I cannot even begin to say how fortunate I was.
We reached our first stop Hydra, a pedestrian island, around two hours later. No scooters. No cars. Only donkey rides to manoeuvre this gorgeous world of yore. Quite predictably, a donkey escorted me through the labyrinth of stone streets, toddling down the ascending alleyways that are home to some of the most gorgeous whitewashed villas I have ever seen. Sunny yellow, rust, orange and bright blue windows and doors prop some colour into Hydra’s whiteness. Old-world lanterns and small gardens embellish the entrance of most houses. I was tempted to escape deeper into this unspoiled hinterland to appreciate more of what I saw. Unfortunately, because my darling donkey was walking at leisured pace, any such plans had to be undertaken solo. And since my animal was playing such a wondrous companion, I chose against giving up on him. Small eateries near the harbour provide the perfect setting to bathe in Hydra’s charm. I also managed to scuttle some time out to visit the Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Ecclesiastical Museum, which is just a stone’s throw away from the harbour. I love old-world churches and the cathedral only gave me many more reasons to absorb is beauty. However, what I most remember from the church visit is the stunning and larger-than-life painting of Jesus Christ that graced its dome.
The island of Poros, which is just around half an hour away from Hydra, evoked similar sentiments. A flight of stone steps near the dock led me to a clock tower. From here, the panoramic view of the island gave me a glimpse of the serenity and peace that this little town had to offer. If there was one place I’d ever want to escape to, it had to be this one. The day dreamer that I was, I had already begun imagining myself buying a home in some place like this back in India, where I would spend all my time writing, while raising lovely musically-sound children along with my husband. Dreams. *Sigh* Getting down, I busied myself taking pictures of the bungalows and gardens along the stone-patched sloping lanes. An antiquated old church, however, caught my attention. But we just had 45 minutes here and that hardly did anything to make my island-hopping spree fun.
Two hours later, our ferry anchored at the harbour of Aegina, where a bus was awaiting us. We were driven down an ascending slope to the 2,500 year old Sanctuary of Aphaia that dominates Aegina’s pine-covered hilly landscape. Remarkably, most homes in Aegina boast of olive tree farms. However, with just the temple visit on our itinerary, there was little that we could explore. The site is one of Greek’s earliest places of worship, where the Goddess Aphaia used to be ardently worshiped. The elongated stone columns of the temple are a hark-back to the Parthenon in Athens – though less domineering in size. The temple also graces you with a breathtaking view of patches of farm land, the sea and the adjoining islands.
In the distance, I could see Athens in its full glory. In the ancient world, Aegina was considered an arch rival to Athens. With the beauty that abound us, one did not have to spell out why.
As dusk settled on Aegina’s sea, the cruise ship blew its final horn, reminding us that we had to call it a day. My heart sank once and then again. The third time, I assured myself that I would return soon. They say that love doesn’t happen in a day’s time. They were lying. This girl will vouch for that.