Beautiful, breathtaking, classical Greece

There couldn't be a better time to visit the birthplace of democracy
Thera (Santorini) is probably the most-photographed island in the world but only one of the eight we visited this month in the Aegean Sea. Pat Brooks photo.

The headlines warned of travel problems if we visited Greece this month, and local Greek friends here urged us to avoid Athens because it was not interesting.

Both were wrong.

We just returned from two weeks traveling throughout Greece and the islands of the Aegean, and  we encountered not a single problem.

In fact, if it's possible for a people to be too hospitable, the Greeks win hands down, and Athens is clearly the most beautiful, classical city on earth.

My Hellenic guru, Spyro Mitrokostas, tells me that the reasons local Greeks told me the above is because Greek-Americans never stay in Athens, but at some relative's home in a suburb or some little village in the boondocks where the attention is great, but they don't really 'visit' the city where you can't walk two blocks without coming upon a 3,000 year old ruin being restored.

When Pat and I lived in New York City I never visited the Empire State Building or took a Circle Line tour around Manhattan either, but did all those things when we visited with our grand kids two years ago.

Greece is where Western Civilization became civilized, where democracy was born.

But that's another story for next week.

Our host, Manos Komninos, who runs Alpha yachting, had a driver meet us at the Athens airport in his new Mercedes.

Manos then took us to lunch at an excellent Athens marina, showed us several other vistas along the shoreline, and delivered us to his 178 foot mega yacht Harmony V for our week at sea.

Alpha Yachting & Harmony V

This travel tale is about the week we spent on his mega yacht Harmony V which sailed from the Kea Marina in Athens to eight magnificent Aegean islands.

The once-private yacht was rebuilt for about forty passengers in twenty luxurious staterooms.

A traveler aboard couldn't help feeling a little like Jackie O's second hubby Aristole Onasis aboard his yacht Christina.

The difference was that our food, prepared by hotel manager Spyros, was probably much better, and our cruise director Amalia more knowledgeable and helpful.

Her shills were put to a test a few days later when a Sirocco wind forced a sudden change of plans.

You never find out much about a company when everything is running perfect.

If  managers suddenly have to move quickly to a 'plan B', you only then discover how good and professional they really are.

Amalie, Spyros and Captain Samuel passed that test with flying colors, and they managed to turn a maritime lemon into Aegean lemonade

Mykonos, Delos, Syros, Paros, Thera, Hydra, Poros and Aegina.

Leaving at 4pm the Harmony V arrived at Mykonos before dawn the next day. Visitors rave about the harbor here with its friendly pelicans and local fishermen unloading their catch.

We first came here in 1980 on our first trip abroad, and unlike so much of the traveler's world, it hasn't changed.

Mykonos is part of the Cyclades and lies between Tinos, Syros, Paros and Naxos. The island is only 33 square miles in area, and it rises to an elevation of a little over 1,000 feet.

The islanders have fought off Saracens, Turks, Romans and pirates, and these cagey islands laid out their streets in a maze leading up from the harbor so malevolently the attackers got lost and were fought off more easily.

Today Mykonos, along with Santorini, are the most popular of all Aegean destinations.

The sacred island of Delos is only a mile to the west, and the Harmony V offered a tour there as well.

When we visited in October 1980, we simply walked away from the harbor until a Greek woman approached us asking "room, room", and we paid $8 for the whole top floor of her house.

The same ship that took us to Delos back then was the one we used this time, but in 1980 the captain got so drunk that Patricia had to take the helm on the return voyage.

The rains came

If you can't handle a little wind and rain, you probably should not travel at all, and the Aegean if famous for both.

If the winds come from the south and the Mediterranean they are called Siroccos, and a wise captain finds a safe north-facing harbor for his passengers.

Captain Samuel of the Harmony V found ours at Syros which was an unexpected extra stop.

The next day we headed again for Santorini (Thera), but more winds forced another delightful detour to the island of Paros where we had probably the best 8-course, oceanfront lunch of our lives.

Paros is still unspoiled by too much visitor success, and it reminded us of Santorini thirty years ago.

Santorini at last

Be careful what you wish for. The passengers were all itching to get to Santorini because of it's enormous fame, but much has changed, as happens to every very popular destination.

In our last visit we were stranded on Thera for three days, but this time the weather was marvelous. The crowds, however, were still heavy even in  mid-October with six cruise ships unloading passengers in the crater of this dominant volcano misnamed Santorini.

The island's real name is Thera, but Venetian conquerors centuries ago couldn't pronounce the 'th' sound, and called the island after it's patron Saint Irini, which was slurred into San Irini and finally Santorini which is in wide use today.

Santorini looms a thousand feet above the arriving traveler, and you can wait in line for the funicular (see the video here) or ride a donkey to the town on this volcano's rim as this video shows.

On to Hydra, Poros & Aegina

Because of the weather earlier, the captain treated us all to a trifecta of islands on the last day at sea.

While we all slept in the Harmony V's roomy and comfortable cabins, the yacht sped through the night to visit Hydra, Poros and Aegina.

Hydra was as lovely as any islands we'd ever seen, and had dozens of friendly cats roaming the harbor.

Poros was a modest stop, but as always, Patricia spiced it up by renting a quadruped so we could zoom around the whole island in the three hour visit, but the best was last.

Aegina is a gorgeous harbor, and one of our fellow passengers, Noe de Vries of Urogyn, and Ambassador Anatoly Adamishin of the Association or Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, asked us to join them for dinner in a tiny restaurant nestled in an alley between the local fish markets.

Anatoly was a a charmer and a survivor, the last deputy Foreign Minister of the USSR, who who told marvelous Russian jokes.

It was an amusing and great end to a marvelous trip.

You get what you pay for

My sainted mother admonished me, "Son you get what you pay for." She meant what Edmund Burke was talking about when he said, "Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy."

This is especially true these days when the US dollar suffers a bit in its exchange rate with the Euro.

Today a dollar is worth .79 of a Euro. To put it another way, it take $1.40 to buy one Euro.

So, is a trip to Greece expensive? Is gold worth more than dross?

Mykonos was our first port of call.

Mykonos from the island's high point with Delos above.

The sacred island of Delos was an hour west.

The yacht Harmony V in Syros Harbor.

You can't take a bad photo on Santorini.

And Patricia took the hard way back down to the yacht.

An ancient Greek sailor ties up in Hydra.

And the local cats await lunch in the harbor.

A side street in Hydra.

The Harmony V leaves beautiful Hydra Harbor.

Docking at the island of Aegina the next evening.

An outdoor dinner in a fish market with Noes de Vries and wife and Anatoly Admishin and wife.

Greece is golden, so don't let your life end without taking one of the Alpha Yachting cruises or charter boats on the Aegean Sea.

The Harmony V awaits its guests return after a visit on Paros. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on