We dropped anchor in the lovely bay of Hydra at 7:00 a.m. There is no initial “h” sound in modern Greek, so the name of the island is pronounced “Eedra.” Ancient Greek did have the “h” sound and so the word, at the time, was sounded out like “High-dra,” precisely like the name of the monster that Hercules killed. We took Zodiacs ashore and began a leisurely excursion of the principal settlement of Hydra Town.
This morning, we continued westward under sails toward the southeastern peninsula of the Peloponnese. We had our breakfast and heard a presentation from our National Geographic photographer Massimo Bassano:“Documentary Photography: The Way to Tell Stories of National Geographic.” Afterwards, the chief engineer, Yuriy, offered Engine Room tours for interested guests.
Early in the morning we arrived at the island of Santorini, sailing into the caldera as the sun was coming up. The water was calm, the geological formations ‘painted’ but the reflections and the villages with their whitewashed houses hanging on the cliffs.
At 7:30 a.m., we sailed into the beautiful bay of the village of Katapola on the remote isle of Amorgos, the most southeasterly of the Cyclades with Crete – which exercised influence here in antiquity – just 240 kilometers due south. Our first stop was at the monastery of Panagia Khozoviotissa. Surely this is one of the most wonderfully situated monasteries in the world. It is carved into living cliff rock 300 meters above the blue Aegean. From where our bus was parked, we could see the brilliant whitewashed seven-story monastery clinging like a swallow’s nest to the cliff’s face. And up we started some 350 vertical steps in the bright sun.
We boarded Zodiacs at 8:30 a.m. and landed at the main village of Chora Limani on the island of Tinos. Our first stop was to the classic Cycladic village of Pyrgos (the “Tower”). We rode through rugged mountain valleys covered with ancient terracing to reach the village – the most beautiful of the 61 on the island, in my opinion. Like most islands in the Cyclades, Tinos is rocky and lacks any depth of soil. Terracing allows for the concentration of soil and conservation of water. Since antiquity, Pyrgos has also been the center of marble quarrying, an industry that has propped up many talented artisans and sculptors.
We arrived off the small isle of Poros under a sunny sky, a harbinger of the afternoon sun to come. The island is small, only about 12 square miles, and is nestled in the southwest of the beautiful Saronic Gulf. Poros is only about 700 feet off the coast of the Peloponnese and is a haven, a weekend getaway, from the bustling city of Athens. We took Zodiacs to shore and began our visit in town.
We dropped anchor in the bay of Naflion just beneath the imposing Venetian fortress whose elaborate, fortified walls covered much of the hillside. Our first stop of the day was the very important ancient Mycenaean city of Mycenae, the royal city of Homer’s Agamemnon. The name of the city is not Greek and suggests strongly that the first inhabitants, ca. 2000BC, came from Crete. The city was a powerful force in Peloponnese until 1200 BC when it was deserted. We first visited the massive corbelled grave, which is 13 meters across and 14 meters high—the largest such grave in all of Greece. The lintel stone at the entrance weighs 140 tons.
Through the morning, we sailed to the island of Amorgos, situated on the far eastern side of the Cycladic Islands. It sits like an arrow, directing sailors to the Dodecanese to the south or the rest of the Cycladic.
We sailed early this morning into the bay of Astipalea, one of the most remote and unspoiled gems of Greece. It sits at a strategic point between the Cycladic Islands and the Dodecanese to the south like an arrow showing the way to sailors. Astipalea looks like a butterfly connected by a narrow canal. It used to be called Pyra, which means fire, as the earth there has a deep reddish color.