Stepping off the hydrofoil at Hydra (ee-drah), we spotted a line of donkeys and mules ready to assist with luggage. Long ago, the Hydroits decided not to allow vehicles on the island, which allows the island to maintain a peacefulness that is not found in many spots. With the exception of small garbage trucks, no motorized vehicle, of any type, is allowed on the island. Since many of the hotels are located up steep hills, visitors may opt to have their suitcases loaded onto a beast of burden, and then climb onto another donkey, to be led up the hill. The animals are also used to haul just about everything conceivable, from cases of water to appliances. Having booked a room near the port, we were able to walk up on our own power.
Crowded with passengers from the boat, and the afternoon lunch crowd under the awnings of the waterfront restaurants, the spot seemed anything but peaceful. A few minutes later, we heard a military band, and then a cannon firing from the old bastion overlooking the harbor. Coast guard boats halted all boat traffic as wreaths were placed in the water. Turns out we had arrived in town on the last day of a 3-day festival commemorating the Greek naval officer, Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, who was responsible for the defeat of the Ottomans, and winning Greek Independence.
Arriving at our hotel, after observing the waterfront activities, we discovered the quiet, idyllic setting the island is known for. Though Hydra was first settled as far back as 1700 BC, the island has had a tumultuous history, with major population shifts, depending on economics and wars. The island was "discovered" by tourist following the release of the film Boy on a Dolphin, starring Sophia Loren in 1957.
Cliff trails allow you to walk along the waters edge from the town of Hydra to a variety of beaches, and very tiny towns. Some of the "beach" areas are a concrete slab next to the water, allowing you to sunbathe, and then jump into the cool, turquoise waters. Transportation around the island is also available by regularly scheduled shuttle boats, or more expensive water taxis. Even though there are only a handful of main streets in town, they are connected by a maze of smaller streets and alleyways. It's pleasant walking around, getting lost and discovering the restaurants and shops away from the waterfront. Perhaps the way one of favorite entertainer, Leonard Cohen, was inspired to write the song, "Bird on the Wire," while living on Hydra.
Later in the evening, the Miaoulia Festival continued in town with obligatory speeches, followed by a Greek musical production. Of course, we couldn't understand any of the story, but every few minutes they would break out in song and traditional dances. We had missed the fireworks, and the old ship they set aflame in the harbor, the previous evenings, but it was still fun catching a portion of the festivities.
After our respite on Hydra, we were ready to move back to Piraeus. With one final word on the Greek hospitality, in Piraeus, as we were walking along the waterfront on the opposite side of town, away from the ferry port, a young man stopped us and said simply, "Thanks for coming to visit Greece." Wow! Just a confirmation of the welcoming nature of the country which we had experienced throughout our visit.
Next, we are flying to Barcelona.