Next, Mia Zoi took us to more Greek islands with plenty of mainland coastal stop-offs in between.
Picturesque Gerakas Port
A sleepy port, with a picturesque village, and traditional fish tavernas, set against the mountains and the sea. Gerakas Port is a hamlet in Laconia, Greece, located within 30 minutes by car to Monemvasia. Here you will see the only 'fjord' of Greece, a long, deep, narrow body of water set in a U-shaped valley with steep rock walls on either side. It was peaceful and quiet as we came out of season.
Located on a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, surrounded by the Myrtoan Sea. The island is connected to the mainland by a short causeway 200 metres in length. It is one of the oldest continually-inhabited fortified towns in Europe. Monemvasia reminded me of King's Landing in Game of Thrones. What came to mind was Cersei, the queen mother of the realm, stripped naked for her long, painful walk through King's Landing as she faced her subjects. Upon entering the castle, you will wander around narrow cobbled lanes and beautifully restored stone buildings as you make your way up to the Byzantine church of Agia Sofia, located on the edge of a cliff with breathtaking views across the sea. To get here, catch a bus from Athens. It will take 5 - 8 hours, depending on the routes.
Aquamarine Elafonisos Island
A tiny island located on the southern side of the Peloponnese, just below the peninsula of Laconia. Soft white sand, aquamarine sea, often called the Caribbean of Greece and possibly the best beach in Greece. The one village on the island is where you can stroll and find something delicious to eat. This was heaven! Ferries to the island leave from the small port of Neapoli, on the opposite mainland coast. Its port is the gateway for the south Peloponnese islands, such as Kythera and Elafonisos.
One of the most beautiful towns in Argolis, eastern Peloponnese, Greece. Tiny laneways, lined in marble tiles reminded me of strolling through Paris and Rome. It's a sight to be seen. It's also a great place to shop for books, clothes, decorative pieces, art, and jewelry and has fantastic places to eat. Here you will feel like the pied piper of cats, the locals feed them well, and in turn, they will follow you wherever you go seeking the same attention and a good feed. Take the 999 steps up to the cobbled stoned fortress of Palamidi Castle. It stands 216 metres above sea level. The view at the top makes the walk up worthwhile.
Luxurious Spetses Island
We ate at Bostani, an organic farm on the hills of Spetses, part of the Poseidonion Grand Hotel (we didn't stay here, we were staying on the boat). Organic fruits and vegetables are grown on the hotel's farm supply, and you can also experience a farm-to-table lunch, dinner, or cooking class at Bostani. We handpicked ingredients straight from the earth, and fresh dishes full of the aromas and flavours of the island were created. The island air is infused with the aroma of pines and wild herbs. This scent of Spetses inspired the fifteenth-century Venetians to call it the 'island of spices.' These natural perfumes are captured in the traditional dishes of local cuisine, where the primary requirement is simply the use of fresh, natural ingredients. A great place to shop and stay in boutique hotels or private mansions. Catch a ferry from Piraeus, Greece.
The Favourite - Hydra Island
The oldest apothecary is here…but that isn't the only reason it's a favourite of mine. There are no cars or bikes. Instead, walk or ride a horse or donkey to get around. It's definitely a place to take your time and explore. Go for coastal walks along cascading houses and mansions up and down the coastline, sip on freddo espressos or a cocktail or two in one of the many sea cliff cafes and restaurants, jump off rocks into the Med, and come up close and personal to the local dolphins. In the village, you will find winding, narrow paths, lit-up fishing tavernas covered with colourful bougainvilleas, and beautiful shops. This was the home of Leonard Cohen and many other famous poets, writers, and artists. I came here for something special, to visit Rafalia's Pharmacy. In 1890 the pharmacy of Evangelos Rafalias (1869-1936) was founded in Hydra, the grandfather of the current owner and today's pharmacist. The latter preserved in his mother's old notebook (which was from the first female pharmacists in Greece in the middle of the last century and wife of Dr. Andreas Rafalias) recipes that she had created based on the Greek Pharmacology of 1924 and 1931 making creams, lotions and perfumes from pure materials, when she took over the pharmacy on May 1947. Chamomile, jasmine and gardenias, flowers of lemon and orange trees, and honeysuckle were used to extract the essential oils and pure olive oil to produce perfumes and soaps. Today he reproduces his mother's and grandfather's recipes. Catch a ferry to Hydra Island from Piraeus, Greece. I stayed at the Hydroussa Hotel.
Aegina, The Jewel
I visited Aegina Island to see the Temple of Aphaia and the Temple of Apollo. There is only one column left at the Temple of Apollo, hence why the archaeological area is called Kolonna, the name for column in Greek. It's set amongst crumbled ruins, pine trees, and honeysuckle with a backdrop of the blue Mediterranean Sea. Apollo is the Olympian god of the sun and light, medicine, healing and plagues, music and poetry, prophecy and knowledge, order and beauty, archery and agriculture. As you can see, he was a busy God! I know him as the sun god and the god of medicine….very befitting for our robust immunity tisane called Apollo. The temple of Aphaia was veiled in mystery. According to the legend, Minos, king of Crete, fell in love with Aphaia and chased her into hiding in the sea, where fishermen caught her in their nets and pulled her aboard their boat. A sailor then, too, fell in love with her, yet again, she jumped into the sea and swam to the island of Aegina, from where the boat happened to be passing by. She continued looking for a hiding place and eventually ended up on this remote hill of Artemis, where the goddess made her vanish. In her place, a statue was found which the people named Aphaia, which means vanished. In this position, the Aegineans founded a sanctuary in honour of her and built the famous temple of Aphaia. On a steep hill adjacent to the church and monastery of Agios Nektarios is Paleachora, which means "Old Town," and which was for a millennium (9th century – early 19th century AD) the island capital. All that remains of this hill village with its castle are its churches, 365 – one for every day of the year. Of the 70 churches whose existence on the hill is confirmed, 33 remain open to visitors. Get your hiking shoes out for this one!
Magical Moni Island
I said goodbye to my aunt, uncle, and Mia Zoi boat on Aegina Island. I walked back to my lovely boutique hotel, Rastoni Hotel, feeling the end was soon to come, but I received a call…. "We're coming back to get you"…. The boat made a U-turn. I quickly packed my bags and made a dash to the port. My good fortune continued. What happened next was a dream. We went to the uninhabited Moni Island, a teeny tiny island off Aegina Island. This is where I picked wild thyme and sage and fed fallow deers and peacocks. It felt like scene from Snow White. It was magical! Get to Moni Island from Aegina via water taxi.
My Last Days In Athens
Once again on my own. An ancient Cypriot exhibition in the museum opposite my hotel in Kolonaki was befitting for my last day. I plan to discover more about my Greek Cypriot heritage next year. I also spent my last days in Athens, visiting bookstores, sipping on freddo espressos, reading poetry, visiting more museums and parks, and having a facial at the Aptiva Experience Store in Kolonaki. Situated in a five-story renovated neoclassical building, you will find Nature's Hair Salon, the Juicy Bee Bar, which offers organic juices and smoothies, the Spa, and the Natural Pharmacy. These last few days were slow and considered before my long trip home. In Athens, I stayed at The Lekka Hotel & Spa and The Coco Mat Athens Jumelle Hotel. I would stay again at both.
I also found my Ambition.
I didn't realise this until I was over the jet lag, sleeping again, and reflecting on my trip. I found myself sitting in the back of an Uber, pondering the question -
Why did I have such a strong pull to go to Greece on my own?
The word 'Ambition' quietly came to mind. Why Ambition?
You see, Ambition used to be a negative word for me. After losing my biz and the terrible stress that came with that a few years back (you know the story), I also lost what I thought was my Ambition. Ambition, then, meant to run in survival mode. But it was completely unsustainable. And it was driven out of fear. The motto:
- Hustle hard.
- Stay hypervigilant.
- Stay in control.
- Work long hours.
- Be in a constant state of busyness, distress, and hardship.
Even though this was the energy that got me there - a brand, success with loss & learning, it wasn't the energy that sustained me there.
Going to Greece gave me the perspective, time and space alone to reflect on all the healing I had done.
As the word Ambition whispered in my mind, I was compelled to look up its meaning, "the thing one most wants to do in one's life" or "a strong desire to fulfill one's passion."
The word Ambition now means "a commitment to my personal healing, so I can continue to serve and help people heal, in a sustainable way, and be present to the calling and longings of my soul & heart's desire".
It feels easier. At long last I have met my Self.
My Greek Holiday, Part Three, will be a blog on eating Mediterranean food in Greece, from horta (seasonal greens or weeds), the traditional Greek salad, fish, octopus, squid, green beans, to bean dishes such as fava.