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Sunday, June 05, 2005

ISLANDS IN THE SUN: #1 HYDRA

Hydra (prounounced ee-dra) is one of the Saronic Gulf Islands off the south-east coast of the Peloponnese. It was popular in the 50's with movie makers (Boy on a Dolphin) and in the 60's and 70's with many artists and writers. Leonard Cohen lived there during this time, so did Joannie Mitchell.

The name "Hydra" suggests "water" and perhaps once this rocky isle was covered with forests, but now it's virtually barren and has to import water from the Peloponnese.

The gracious white and pastel stone mansions of the town are stacked up on the rocky hillside that surround the fine natural harb our. One unique feature of this island is the lack of cars and motorbikes. Except for snitationa dn construction vehicles, the only means of trasport is by donkey and mule and there are hundreds of them, many standing patiently at the dock-side waiting to transport passengers up the hill to the hotels and pensiones. Ingrid and I opted to go by foot to explore around the back stgreets of town, away from the hordes of tourists on the quay. Most of the action on Hydra is centered around the waterfront cafes and shops, so the little cobbled back streets that wind in a maze, some only an arm's length wide, are virtually deserted making it a joy to explore. It's cheaper to eat at the tavernas away from the port and we enjoyed lunch atone with pretty lue chairs and amarine decor, before wandering around to snap photos. The town is picturesque and a delightful place to brose even though it's very touristic.

We walked along the cobbled path by the sea to the next village, Vlykos. I was looking for the sea-side taverna were sevenarl years ago my Aunt Edith, cousin Sean and Shoon a young friend from Singapore had lunch. It was closed, so we went to another taverna up above it overlooking the sparkling sea. The weather was perfect, just ot enough with a cooling breeze. We enjoyed a lazy day wandering at our leisure, checking out the tourist shops (all expensive) and people-watching. We kept wondering exactly where Leonard used to live. No doubt up on the hillside.

Some historical facts = During the Ottoman occupation of Greece, from the 1400's, Hydra was ignored by the Turks, so many Greeks from the Peloponnese settled here. Later the population was boosted with an influx of Albanians. (There's a lot of there here now too as apparantly they are very good stone masons and most of the houses on Hydra are made from stone, as are the stone-paved streets) Hydra had no agriculture, so it became a boat-building centre and by the 19th C, had a great ,maritime power. Wealthy shipping merchants built most of the grand old buildinggs and it became a fashionable resort for Greek socialites.

The Hydriotes made a fortune by running the British blockade of French ports during the Napoleonic Wars and made a major contribution to the Greek War of Independance.

We had a lovely day there before boarding the sleek (expensive) high-speed "Euro-fast) ferry back to Pireaus, a two-hour trip that was almost like being on board an airliner except far more comfortable!

More historical notes: We stopped briefly at the island of Poros on our way to Hydra. It's main port is pretty, with white and beige houses stacked up the hillside. This is the island where the orator Demosthenes hid out at the Temple of Poseidon when the Macedonians were pursuing him. (mentioned in my blog about Delphi). He committed suicide here in 322 BC. Other than that, I don't believe the island has any remarkable history.

Tomorrow we're off to the Ionian Islands: Kefalonia, Ithaka and Lefkada. So as soon as I find another web cafe I'll post another island adventure.

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