With only four days to indulge ourselves in mythological, mysterious Greece, we chose to spend one night in Athens and two nights on the nearby island of Poros. I had never heard of Poros Island, and a couple of friends who had been to Greece kept asking me if I was confusing it with the island of Paros. But I wasn’t. I’d discovered it at random as I searched for an island that wouldn’t take too long to get to by ferry from Athens. I hadn’t done much other research before arriving in Greece, only reserving flights and booking our hotels. Other than that, we wanted to surprise ourselves and leave everything to chance. No sightseeing tours, itineraries or guidebooks, unless we accidentally wandered into ancient ruins or found ourselves lost at the doorstep of a museum. All we had in mind was the dream of incredibly fresh seafood (something impossible in Prague where we were living), and the general notion that Greece is the paradise of the gods.
The ticket was booked just two months in advance of our end of March trip through SkyEurope, a low cost carrier that unfortunately has since suspended operations. Cost per ticket (from Prague) including taxes came to $100; not too shabby. This certainly wasn’t swimming weather, but if a simple, peaceful island escape is all you need, traveling off season is the way to do it. By avoiding the slamming tourist season, you can save a lot of headache, waiting and noise. If you are the kind of person who enjoys privacy and calm strolls down empty lanes with the occasional sighing dog or bright blue boats softly bumping the piers, then off season Greece is your kind of Greece.
Our first night in Athens was spent at a small Acropolis-facing hotel squeezed nondescriptly among other similar city buildings. We didn’t mind the lack of view from our room nor the tiny shower since we paid very little for such a convenient location and only needed a place to rest our heads after a night of fervent exploration. We wandered the buzzing city blocks, eventually getting used to the scooters sneaking up or roaring past us on the tiny crumbling sidewalks that ran alongside a maze of streets and alleyways.
We turned here and there sniffing out a good dinner, not willing to give up on an authentic tavern experience. Somehow, after rejecting one tempting cafe that simply offered gyros and French fries (not exactly what we hoped for), we finally hit the jackpot as we hesitantly walked into what looked like a wide alleyway converted into a café. The aroma was perfectly delicious, and, greeted by a friendly, smiling waiter, we strolled triumphantly down the aisle between crowded tables lined up against the building walls. Almost every table held one or two pitchers of ouzo, looking innocent and clear like water. And everyone downed their ouzo from elongated shot glasses that looked like chemistry test tubes with a flat bottom. After dinner, we lazed back to the hotel, still savoring the sensation of forkfuls of freshly grilled sardines and feta-stuffed pepper and daring sips of wild ouzo. There was no memory left for words.
Our non-plan getaway was turning out to be the perfect plan. We eagerly left Athens the next afternoon, rushing away over purple waters in the direction of our island, Poros. The bed and breakfast we stayed at on Poros Island, the Saga Hotel, was an impossible dream come true. The cozy building of the family-run pension was graced by a fruit orchard and by a postcard balcony view of the harbor and distant mountains. it was a sight that would have held us willing prisoners all weekend long if it were not for a stirring desire to explore the rest of the island.
There were, our hosts told us, gorgeous beaches nearby; two in particular they mentioned were Neirio, very popular, and Calypso Bay, a smaller beach edged in by pine trees. Had the water been warmer we’d have gone for a swim. We were, nontheless, excited about the 70 F degree temperature (compared to the 50 F in Prague) to comfortably explore other parts of the island during this tourist-scarce off season. We wandered the quiet roads, hardly encountering anyone but a few locals here and there. After briefly getting lost, we made visual discovery of a few ruins from afar, across the water on another, very tiny island. We didn’t know what to call these islands, but they were beautiful and peaceful and let us rest our thoughts for a while on their ancient shoulders. That was all we needed.