It is Easter Saturday in Athens, and a cool day it is, after a lovely sunny day yesterday. Dave and Maggie, our friends and bike shippers, arrived late Thursday, along with Ray, another biker. We will all be travelling together when we leave Athens and until we get to the Isle of Mann.

On Wednesday we did a 3 Island cruise – a very big day indeed. We were picked up from the hotel at 7.30am to be taken to the port of Piraeus, where we boarded the  ‘cruise ship’, and were dropped back at around 8pm that night – incidentally this is where we pick the bikes up next Wednesday to begin our adventures in earnest!

The whole cruise day was one very slick operation indeed. The cruise director was an absolute character. He started the day with a briefing on the day’s events, and a short history on each island. The most important message he gave was that we had to be back on the ship at time of leaving, or be left behind. The ship left precisely at the departure time advised as we disembarked at each port. If we ‘missed the boat’, we would have to wait until the next day to be picked up… serious stuff!  The islands in order of visitation  were Hydra (pronounced Hidra), Poros & Aegina. There were to be two lunch settings, the first after visiting Hydra at 12.30pm (blue card),  the second at 2.30pm (yellow card); we we on the latter.

It was about two and a half hours cruising to Hydra. We met up with a group of teachers and students from a south Carolina Christian school and had some good chats and laughs with them.   There were lots  of cats at the wharf to greet us, all a bit scruffy and wanting a pat. A couple even tried to get up the gang plank, but were hurriedly brushed away by the crew.

Narro stepped pathway that leads to the top of Hydra
Narro stepped pathway leading to the top of Hydra

Hydra was a very pretty island, with lots of  marble steps and narrow pathways between the  white houses. Transport on Hydra is by donkey, so when in Hydra, do as they do…… Besides, it was a bloody steep hike up to the top! We were lead up the steps by our guides, on two lovely little donkeys, who were mother & daughter. Span had the seven year old daughter, who was bigger & darker than her 12 year old mother, and she was a real character.  As we climbed to the top, astride the  strong little donkeys, the guides would stop to take pictures at photo opportunity spots. Every time we did so, Span’s donkey, who was at the rear, would take a few steps forward to be in the centre the shot.. very funny indeed, and very cute!

Span's donkey was so cute & such a character
Span’s donkey was so cute, such a character

The wooden saddles are designed not only to carry people, but goods also and were very broad. We later saw the locals sitting side saddle, which looked a darned site more comfy that us sitting as we would on a more narrow traditional leather saddle…… ahh well, one lives and learns.  The donkeys start work at around 6.30am each day, and work until around 7pm each night.

A top Hydra - long walk down
A top Hydra – long walk down

The stoic little donkeys carried us up all the steps to the top of Hydra – what a view! Once there, we checked the watch and  realised that we had to get down and back to the boat with only 20 minutes to spare!!! It had taken 45 minutes to climb up! We also noted that we were the only ones at the top!!!!  To say we went into panic mode is putting it somewhat mildly…. there were a LOT of stairs to descend very quickly to be back at the ship on time for departure, and it was not looking promising. We told our guide, who looked very serious, she directed us to a pathway (still going up!) and said ‘you  should make it if you walk very quickly!   She assured us it was the quickest way down, but the port (and the ship) looked a bloody long way away! The path was not stepped, but rather a cobbled a pathway, winding around and back down to the port.

This is at the top of Hydra - you can see it is a long way down to the wharf!
At the top of Hydra – it is a long way down to the wharf!

Off we set as fast as our legs would carry us and wondering where to stay if we ‘missed the boat!!! We passed many houses with very small donkey yards attached to them; hardly a blade of grass in any, but lots of bales of straw. Well the good news is that we did get back to the port in quick time, but with a serious case of shin splints for Joey from the incredibly brisk stroll down! Better still, we made it with enough time to buy an ice-cream before hurrying on board  feeling greatly relieved!

Pros harbour from atop the tower John climbed
Pros harbour from atop the tower John climbed

Next stop was the Island of Poros – an hour and a quarter cruising, and only a 40 minute  stop at this one. Span climbed up to the bell tower (too steep for me) for a couple of pictures, while I wandered the port. A pretty little port, but somewhat commercial for us.

Temple of Athena Aphia on the island of Aegena
Temple of Athena Aphia on the island of Aegena

Back on board, with plenty of time to spare, and off to Aegina, the largest island.  We opted for a bus tour here to see the remains of the Temple of Athena Aphia  (built 500 BC as a ‘practice’ run for the Parthenon, so the guide tells us) and a general tour of the Island. Aegena is known for its pistachio nuts, and the trees are literally in every back yard, and in quantity, as well as set plots of trees. We sampled pistachio ice-cream & also bought some nuts, which are the best we have ever tasted.

In its day, the island had 365 churches, one for every day of the year – today only 35 remain in use.  The island population is around 17,000. Remarkably this number swells to 60-70,000 in the summer peak. Water has to be shipped in each summer to service so many people. The tour guide was lovely lady, and provided good history of the island. She was clearly very proud of the island and all it offered.

Back on board for the ‘cruise’ back to Piraeus, which took about two hours. On the way back, there was a show of Greek music and dancing in the downstairs show room. It was good fun and I was hauled up to join in, very funny indeed! Span just laughed  and laughed.

Thursday we walked around the Temple Of Zeus, that can be seen from the hotel each morning when having breaky. After that we spent some time sitting poolside in the lovely sunshine – tough gig!

Temple of Zeus near our hotel
Temple of Zeus near our hotel

Friday Maggie & I endured a one hour reflexology foot & leg massage finished with head and shoulders, whilst the boys went down to speak to the Greek shipping broker re the importation of the bikes. Went out for tea with a group of nine to a lovely little Greek (of course) restaurant. The waiter looked like Gepetto from the Walt Disney Pinnochio film. Great food and very cheap… only 5 euro per person, including drinks.. not bad!

Today, has been rather cool, so we went for a coffee this morning, then back to the Royal Olympic to finish this blog before we go out to tea tonight – all in all a relaxing day.We are really doin it tough ‘for Queen and country’.

If you click on the pics they  will enlarge for better viewing.