I read an article not long ago that referred to the island of Hydra (say “ee-dthra”) as ‘Greece’s Nantucket.’ No cars, taxis, scooters, motorcycles allowed; transportation is on foot or mule. It is f-u-l-l of cats. Aside from a skid steer here or there for building renovations, the only vehicle on the island is the garbage truck. The no-car rule has has kept heavy construction and development very low and makes Hydra feel remote and far from anything — even though the Peloponnese is just across a narrow strip of water. There are no resorts or other large hotels, just quaint little hotels and B&Bs, many of which are former mansions.
Hydra played a prominent role in the Greek War of Independence, which began in 1821. Several island residents, many of whom were naval officers, formed a secret revolution society and raised significant funds for the rebellion. During the war, Hydra was the focal point of the Greek navy. In 1830, after several years of fierce battles, England, France and Russia forced the Ottomans to recognize the Greek independent state.
We’d been planning to visit Hydra sometime in September, and finally made it last weekend. Summer is basically over, but the islands are still lovely enough to enjoy what we Coloradans call ‘shoulder season.’ Demetri has been here three times: once as a kid, once in 2010 with Tyler and last weekend with us. Hydra summers are super hot; relief comes from a high jump off a huge rock into the turquoise water below.
We stayed in a sweet little hotel near the harbor, where the owners made breakfast for us each morning: omelettes, crepes, yogurt, fresh bread and homemade peach marmalade. We had dinners in little tavernas situated beneath bougainvillea and Sunday lunch in a ψσαροταβερνα (psarotaverna – fish tavern) overlooking the ocean. There was a large family table next to us with three guitar players and they had much of the restaurant singing along.
The patron saint of the island is St. Konstantinos, an 18th century saint who was born on Hydra but spent much of his life in Rhodes, not knowing that been secretly converted to Islam and and had his name changed by the Turks. We hiked up to the church and monastery named for him on our way up to another monastery at the top of the mountain. Thanks to increasing ecotourism, many towns, islands and villages throughout Greece have revived the (very) old goat herder trails and marked them for hiking and walking. The paths take you through forests, over mountains, into valleys, and now since they’re marked, you can be confident instead of hopeful that you’ll make it to your destination and back.
We followed the square yellow tags to the monstery of Profitis Ilias — three steep miles uphill with spectacular views the whole way. We met a nice couple from Brooklyn about halfway up and walked with them for a bit. Michael, our little mountain goat, seems to get more energy with every step no matter where we are hiking. He zipped up the mountain, smoking the rest of us per usual. Peter won the trooper award that day, walking the whole thing and never once asking to be carried.
At the top, Demetri explained to the boys that the priests who live here have a very quiet life of service and we needed to be respectful and quiet also, maybe even silent, as the men who lived here most likely never speak. At that moment, a priest came through the gate wearing a fleece jacket, new Nikes and talking on his smart phone.
While Demetri and Michael walked into the church and lit a candle for Uncle Michael, Peter and I stood outside to look at the mules who had shuttled some folks up the hill. Peter turned to me, pointed to the priest with the smart phone, and said, “that man looks exactly like the god in my brain. His hat, and his beard and his clothes are exactly the same. How about the god in your brain, mommy? What does he or she look like?”
I was speechless. I stared at him for a few seconds before answering his question. I am constantly awed by how children’s brains work — so innocent, so genuine, so logical that as the adults we can see how the thought started and how their question or comment formed. This thoughtful rumination from a five year old tops the list maybe forever. I had to write it here so I never forget it.
We left on the 4:45 ferry Sunday; Papou was standing at the dock in open-arm hug stance to take us home. When he asked the boys what they liked best, they talked about the 4 kittens we met living under a house they named Fluffy, Sweetie, Patches and Orange Julius (Demetri’s hilarious contribution.) Hydra is a must see. Even though Monday morning came fast and early, Michael said the weekend was nice and long. That’s just how you want to feel when you’re climbing out of bed to start the week.