Athens to Istanbul and A Week In Egypt

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The Saronikas - Poros, Egina and Idra

March 31 is our 30th anniversary and we started our day at 6:30 a.m., had a light breakfast, transferred by bus to Piraeus, and set sail on the Giorgis (Hydraiki Naval Company) ship to the island of Poros in the Saronikas. It’s about three hours from Piraeus and the weather is very chilly but promises to warm in the afternoon. We’re sailing past the island of Egina (Aegina) and can see the temple of Afaias on the coast. Poros is known for its lemon tree forest and is covered with pine trees. We’re sharing a table with a couple from Poland and chatting in French, English and a little Italian. She’s a pharmacist and he’s a chemist. There’s a sax player and a keyboard player doing truly junky disco but the Japanese crowd on board is dancing and we’re all having a good time. The port is small and charming in a typical fishing village style, but there’s limited things to do here (monasteries, a nunnery, ruins, and a small museum). We wandered the street along the shore and enjoyed peeking up the narrow side streets. We’ve heard that there’s some wide sand beaches on the Peloponnese side.

Idra (Hydra), our next stop, is a little piece of heaven. This jewel is not just visually stunning – sense of cool bright color – and the people are warm and friendly. It has a large artisan industry – many of the postcards and prints seen on the mainland originated here – and has a local art school. It’s been inhabited since Mycenaean times and had a powerful merchant fleet during Byzantine times. It is an excellent place to walk around – there are no cars allowed. Many of the houses were built by Venetian and Genoan architects and are decorated with painted ceilings. We entered a marble courtyard and rounded the corner to find exquisite mosaics  from the Byzantine period. We found the perfect round tablecloth in a small shop on another side street – we met the woman who crocheted it and saw many other fine pieces of her craft. This is a place to spend some days on our next visit and to enjoy the lush hillsides and the Venetian port.

Lunch was served on board the ship as we sailed back towards Egina. The entertainment began right after lunch and was great fun. There was a good bouzouki player, a group dance of the "Zorba" and then the sax and piano guys finishing up with some rock and roll as we pulled into port.

The island of Egina looks like it might be quite interesting towards the interior, but we landed in the old port and did not have a lot of time to explore. There are towns here dating back to 3000 BC and it is the vacation spot of many Athenians. Immediately we bought a bag of fresh roasted pistachios – the island is famous for them. We walked along the shore and could really appreciate the beautiful deep sand beach. We stopped in a small park next to one of the many churches, sat on a bench, and munched on pistachios as we watched the laid back pace of passerby’s. It has the feel of the back streets of Athens rather than a tourist stop at this time of year. We made our way down to the point before stopping for a coffee in one of the multitude of café’s and then returning to the ship. Along the way, we discovered and unusual building that we cannot identify.

We had a silly and entertaining time on the cruise back to Piraeus. The bouzouki played, and three dancers performed in various costumes dances from Thrace all the way to the Dodecanese. Gianni, the emcee, vocalist and clown did some hilarious routines to keep things lively – he really shouldn’t do drag! Anyway, it made for a quick trip back to port and we’d recommend the three-island tour special to anyone looking for a fun day out.

It’s 8 p.m. and were sitting on the balcony, smoking a good Cuban cigar and watching the protest that has blocked all traffic into Sintagma for a half mile in either direction. It’s great – chanting and stomping – just like old times! We don’t quite understand the slogan, but it has that lovely rhythm we all know. In the meantime, the evening changing of the guards at the Parliament building continues in oblivion to the crowd.

We went down and checked out the crowd, then headed down to the Plaka. We browsed several menus along the way but nothing had caught our eye. As we passed through the little park below the church, we played a hunch and went in to the Kidathineon Restaurant-Ouzerie. We ordered from the fixed menu (very inexpensive) – Sal ordered one of the best moussaka’s he’s ever had and I enjoyed a succulent, gently seasoned lamb souvlaki. They were preceded with tasty fresh Greek salads of feta, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and sweet onions drizzled with a rich dark olive oil. We shared a bottle of Calliga Ruby – a robust but very refined ruby red – that complemented our dinner. For dessert, Sal went for some ice cream while I indulged in gooey rich baklava. This was a superb feast. After all of this, the owner brought us snifters of a subtle orange flavored liqueur. It was a perfect dinner and a satisfying end to an especially nice day.

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