Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Greece: Hydra, a Unique Island Experience

Flags fly at the entrance to Hydra's harbor.

People coming to Hydra by boat -- and it's the only way to get there unless a helicopter is involved -- don't see Hydra Town until they're practically in it. Hydra's circular harbor is almost hidden from the sea; the story is that invaders didn't know where to land if they missed the harbor entrance. Once inside the circular harbor, you're on a island like no other.

For one thing, there are no motor vehicles, save for a couple tiny fire department vehicles and at least one noisy miniature garbage truck. There are no bicycles. No electric scooters. There are donkeys, however, working donkeys that carry building supplies and visitors' luggage and everything else that arrives by boat. And, oddly, by Greek standards, Hydra Town is fairly new. Most of the buildings are less than 250 years old and very little seems to date earlier than the mid-1700s. When we arrived by ferry from Athens, the hotel had a man with a handcart meet us and take our luggage to our lodgings at the Hotel Leto Hydra, right in the middle of the maze of stone streets that forms the town.

Previous visitors have ranged from a young Leonard Cohen (this is where he met his muse, Marianne Ihlen) to Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. During our stay, I'd guess that at least half the people in restaurants were Greek -- Hydra is a favorite island escape for Athenians -- and the rest were other Europeans, perhaps mainly British and German.

For our Balkans itinerary and hotel information, click HERE.
For our visit to Athens, click HEREDelphi, HERE
Santorini, HEREHeraklion, HERE. Chania, HERE
Thessaloniki, HERE. Kotor, HERE.
Dubrovnik, HERE. Hvar, HERE. Split, HERE.
Zagreb, HERE. Ljubljana, HERE. Piran, HERE. Trieste, HERE. Venice, HERE.

Beaches and restaurants outside the town are reached by walking or by water taxis. A seaside trail heading east from the harbor took us to Mandraki, a restaurant at the island's only sandy beach. Much to the horror of locals, it cost 10 euros to rent a lounge, towel and an umbrella for the day, including waiter service and access to showers and bathrooms. In Greece, the usual practice is for beachfront restaurants to provide lounges and umbrellas without charge as long as food and drinks are purchased.

The seaside trail west of the harbor took us one night to Techne Restaurant and Social (click HERE), where we had one of our best meals in Greece in a beautiful courtyard as the sun set over the Saronic Gulf (a shared cuttlefish appetizer, followed by grilled drum and rack of lamb).

Here are some photos.

View of the harbor from beneath the awning of a waterfront bar.

Even on an island named Hydra, one must
try to stay hydrated.

The waters around Hydra are
startlingly clear. 

The Eastern Bastion guards one side of the harbor entrance. No idea when those cannon were last fired.

Lounges on the beach at Mandraki. 
Pleasure craft dock alongside restaurants on the harbor.

Hydra is proud of its maritime heritage.

Portraits of prominent Hydriots of the past
(all men, by the way) fill a wall at the
island's Historical Archive.

Donkeys line up at the harbor awaiting work. 

This donkey is carrying what appears to be
building supplies.

This walkway takes people west of the harbor. The land in the distance is the Greek mainland.

A rocky coast doesn't deter Hydriot swimmers. This "beach" is below
a restaurant just outside the harbor.

Greece: The Streets of Chania

Some of Chania's well-shaded shopping streets
resemble bazaars, with shops offering a wide
array of goods, not just souvenirs.

Guidebooks and internet postings about Chania persuaded us to visit as long as we were on Crete anyway. In retrospect, I regret my reluctance to rent a car and explore more of the island, especially the south coast. Like Heraklion, Chania (pronounced KAN-nya) is on the north coast and like Heraklion has a history that includes conquests by Turks, Venetians and other powers over the centuries.

Chania is a lovely little walled city. It's narrow twisting streets, sometimes interrupted by flights of stairs, are as inviting as similar streets anywhere in the Mediterranean. It's not quite true that if you've seen one medieval walled town, you've seen them all, but you will notice a sameness. We arrived by bus from Heraklion and took a taxi from the bus station to one of the gates into the old town. From there, we had to turn at only one side street (think passageway) to reach our hotel, Casa Delfino (Dolphin House).

For our Balkans itinerary and hotel information, click HERE.
For our visit to Athens, click HERE. Delphi, HERE
Santorini, HEREHeraklion, HERE.
Hydra, HERE. Thessaloniki, HERE. Kotor, HERE.
Dubrovnik, HERE. Hvar, HERE. Split, HERE.
Zagreb, HERE. Ljubljana, HERE. Piran, HERE. Trieste, HERE. Venice, HERE.

All the attractions of Chania, from restaurants to the harbor to its maritime museum, were within a few steps of the hotel. One popular activity, walking atop the walls of Firka, an old Turkish prison, couldn't be done during our visit due to repair work. We were here for two nights, and that's about the right amount of time for us. We met a British couple at our hotel who visit Chania frequently for stays of four or five days, spending their time relaxing and wandering the streets of the newer parts of town as well as the ancient.

Here are some photos.
The harbor front seems also to be
Chania's main street.

A lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor.

The harbor as seen from our room at Casa Delfino. Most of
the places under the big awnings are restaurants. 

A minaret is a reminder of the role
of the Ottoman Empire in the history
of Chania.

This happy little red submarine takes adventurous tourists
beneath the waves of the Sea of Crete.

At the Maritime Museum of Crete, models of World War II
ships help visitors understand the sea battles that
happened near Chania. As a bonus, it's housed in
an old Turkish prison called Firka. 

At the museum, paint is carefully applied as a new model ship is about
to go on display.  These models are about as detailed as any I've ever seen.