Ro­mance ofGreek is­lands

Af­ter an ex­cit­ing two days ex­plor­ing Athens’ his­tor­i­cal mar­vels, goes is­land-hop­ping in the Sa­ronic Gulf, sail­ing across the blue wa­ters of the Aegean Sea

New Straits Times - - Jom! - Here or was some­one else the cul­prit? It’s no de­bate though that he was taken by this place and was in­spired enough to write some beau­ti­ful verse about the tem­ple in his poem The site has a mys­ti­cal and com­mand­ing aura be­cause of its iso­la­tion and lofty p

IT’S Day 3 in Greece for me and on my itin­er­ary is a visit to my favourite Greek God’s hill­top tem­ple. A Ganymedes Tours coach will take me to Cape Sounion from Athens, the cap­i­tal city of Greece, where I’ve spent my first two days. Cape Sounion is at the south­ern­most tip of the At­tica penin­sula, some 71km from Athens by road. Here on a promon­tory ca­ressed by winds, ma­jes­ti­cally loom­ing over the Aegean Sea be­low, lie the ru­ins of the 5th-cen­tury tem­ple of the Greek God of the Seas, Po­sei­don.

The ride there, around an hour and 15 min­utes, al­lows me to ad­mire Greece’s fab­u­lous coast­line. The beaches of Gly­fada, Vou­liag­meni and Vark­iza are just be­gin­ning to shows signs of life this early in the morn­ing. City folk fre­quent th­ese stretches

Church of the Dor­mi­tian of the Vir­gin Mary in Hy­dra. of golden sand and lit­tle coves for a day’s swim­ming and sun­bathing. Oth­ers set sail on their boats across the star­tlingly blue Aegean sea for week­end ad­ven­tur­ing. On my left are lux­ury vil­las perched on hill slopes.

At the Cape, there is a very slight walk up from the park­ing area to where the mar­blecolumned tem­ple stands. My ticket takes me to very near the struc­ture but not into it. The tem­ple is guarded from van­dal­ism. This is be­cause at the base, on stones from which the col­umns rise, vis­i­tors have left their mark. One stone bears the in­scrip­tion “By­ron”.

The English poet Lord By­ron had twice vis­ited this fa­mous ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site dur­ing his trav­els in Europe in the early 19th cen­tury. Did he put “pen” to mar­ble HY­DRA

I’m walk­ing down the beau­ti­ful har­bourfront of an is­land termed a “liv­ing mu­seum”, torn be­tween keep­ing my gaze on the very cute don­keys stand­ing be­fore the moored yachts and the artis­tic shopfronts on my left, with win­dow dis­plays of hand­crafted jew­ellery, fine silks and Gre­cian handicraft.

It’s Day 4 in Greece. I have ar­rived on the is­land of Hy­dra, a par­cel of heaven — where mo­tor ve­hi­cles are pro­hib­ited. Where writ­ers, artists and ar­ti­sans re­treat to mull, re­flect and cre­ate amidst hills, se­cluded beaches and monas­ter­ies.

The Ital­ian ac­tress Sophia Loren filmed

(1956) here and said, in an in­ter­view with a news­pa­per, that Hy­dra was one of the most beau­ti­ful places on earth. In fact there is a statue of a boy on a dol­phin be­hind an old ren­o­vated mill.

All along the paved roads tav­er­nas and chic cafes wel­come sight­seers, and the items on the menus are sur­pris­ingly af­ford­able. While mod­ern con­ve­niences are present (three banks and a post of­fice), Hy­dra, which is un­der a preser­va­tion or­der, is re­plete with old sanc­tu­ar­ies; and any new build­ing work must con­form to the ar­chi­tec­tural styles of its past.

Hy­dra’s al­lure is of an old-fash­ioned port set­tle­ment. Ad­ding to the ro­mance are the more than 200 chapels, the monas­ter­ies, pic­turesque­white­washedvil­lashug­gingthe hill­sides, and man­sions-cum-mu­se­ums whose con­tents re­veal the build­ings’ past as fortresses against pi­rate at­tacks, and the is­land as a bas­tion of Greece’s strug­gles for lib­er­a­tion against the Ot­toman em­pire in 1821.

I ar­rived here by the yacht Cos­mos

which will take me to two more is­lands, with brief stops at each. The trip to Hy­dra takes three hours from Ma­rina Kal­lith­eas in Athens. I have an hour and 50 min­utes to look around on my own (since I did not take up the guided walk­ing tour, avail­able for a fee).

The don­keys at the har­bourfront can be hired for rid­ing or car­ry­ing lug­gage. Getting around Hy­dra or to one of its beaches is either by rid­ing the don­keys or water taxi. Apart from beach ac­tiv­i­ties, there are also hikingand­horserid­ing. But­forthe­se­more time-con­sum­ing at­trac­tions, I would have to stay overnight.

So for now, I fol­low the melo­di­ous peal of church bells past a high gate and find my­self in the stone court­yard of the Church of the Dor­mi­tian of the Vir­gin Mary. The grounds

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