I had no interest in going to Greece. My friend Anne suggested going and I’m so glad I did! Sailing through the Cyclades was magical.
I could probably write dozens of posts about my time in Greece. The Islands are amazing but what put it over the top was the crew on our boat. We booked an 8-day sail from Mykonos to Santorini through Intrepid Travel. Anne had used them before and they did make things easy.
We flew from Athens to the island of Mykonos. We were scheduled to meet the boat and sail from the new port, Toulos, and so we figured we would just head right there from the airport and spend what extra time we had at the meeting point or touring around the port.
When we arrived in Mykonos we hopped in a cab looking forward to exploring the town. It turns out the Toulos is in the middle of NOWHERE. I wish the cabby had mentioned that to us (or we had thought to research it in advance) but worse things have happened.
We arrived at the meeting place 5 hours before the designated time. We were the first to arrive and the restaurant was deserted. The owner of the restaurant agreed to watch our bags for a couple of euros and told us how to get a water taxi to the main port – which is where all of the action actually happens.
The main port is very touristy and the waterfront was lined with restaurants. We looked around a little bit but there was not a lot of action outside of the core of the port so we sat and had a salad and a glass of wine overlooking the water. The restaurant was very touristy and the food just okay but the view was beautiful and I was pretty glad Anne had suggested Greece.
Meeting the crew
When we returned to the meeting place restaurant my love of people watching kicked into high gear. We walked in and all but one table was now taken. We knew that some of these people must be on our boat but who, what were their stories?
There were two ladies and a man who were engaged in an animated conversation – they appeared to have had a liquid lunch.
A man and a woman were over in another corner, on their phones and close together.
An exotic looking woman in the corner. Reading. Sitting alone. She looked as if she has seen the world and I wonder who is she and wonder if she will be on our boat, as I am certain she will have a very interesting story.
One man sat alone reading an e-reader. Furtively looking up every once in a while, and scanning the room but not making eye contact.
A younger lady sitting on her own against the window drinking a coffee drink.
In walks a bubbly blond who blows up the whole charade. She walks right over us introduces herself. She starts to answer the questions we have all asked in our heads, “which of these strangers will be on our boat”, she is, her name is Stephanie. Next Heather, the coffee drinking lady comes over, she is from Tasmania, she has travelled the world, sails, is a nurse and she looks so very familiar. Sherry comes over next, the exotic woman from the corner, she is all smiles and a little sass, I have a lot of questions about her. Jules is tiny, vivacious and a bit older, she is bright and vibrant like the colour of her pants, she admits to having had a few drinks at lunch. I like her right away.
8 days on a boat with 10 strangers. You have no idea what you have gotten yourself in for. I didn’t worry about it until shortly before leaving. At this moment, I was mostly intrigued.
In walks in a thin, young Greek man with wild hair. I have to assume he will be our captain but he says nothing to any of us. He sits and eats a meal (which we learn is a free meal which is gifted to the captains who bring their crews to a restaurant for a meal). When he is finally done, he gets up and calls for anyone who is there for the tour. And so, it begins.
The Boat (photo credit: Alex the Skipper)
On the walk to the boat I meet Guy, who is British and is very shy and quiet. The young couple in the corner are Shay and Clayton, also from Tasmania and definitely not a couple. They are young but with a charm and interest factor that exceeds their young ages.
We go to the boat and the skipper, Alex, introduced himself and starts to talk about the boat. He is serious and I can’t tell if he is a complete ass or just worn out from a long season. He asks who is travelling together and starts to assign rooms. I eagerly tell Alex than Anne and I are travelling together – I’m glad to share a room with her but had not anticipated sharing a bed. Which we did – in the smallest berth which had one bed not quite a double size.
The boat was a beautiful 56’ sailboat that was fairly new and in great condition. Alex shows us around the kitchen, where we will be responsible for making meals, and then the rooms, where we have ship toilets that require pumping and special procedures to make sure nothing clogs or causes problems out at sea. The shower is in each bathroom over the toilet, it is tiny and for anyone who had never sailed before would have come as a rude awakening.
On the boat I meet Karen and Ken, who I think are a couple. They are both quiet but very nice.
Once we are all on board and we have been told all of the rules (as if we were incompetent children) a few of us head off to the market to get food for the first few days of the trip. Alex has offered to make us a couple of meals and we buy food for the first few days on the boat as our first couple of ports will be small with limited chance to restock.
The crew went back to Mykonos to spend the evening. Stephanie suggests going back to the restaurant where she had lunch for an Aperol Spritz. Aperol is a spirit made of roots and herbs and I have never heard of it before. The “younger” of us in the group start to get to know one another. I start to allocate roles for each of the boat members, Stephanie will be the master of fun, she is smiley and fun and the life of the party.
Eventually the “younger” of the crew met up for dinner at a restaurant that Alex takes us too, a few of the other couldn’t wait for the time Alex had proposed, meals in Greece occur far later than they would in North America. Lucky for us Alex takes us a to a restaurant that is away from the very touristy area near the water and is much more authentic. Alex tells us a bit of local information and we all started to get to know one another a bit.
The meal is amazing. I had zucchini balls as an appetizer and Moussaka for my main course. The food was fresh and felt very local and the company was wonderful – what an interesting group of well-travelled individuals – I was already looking forward to learning so much more.
Days on the Boat
The plan becomes to spend the days on the boat, eating breakfast and lunch on the boat and then heading to port in the evening and having dinner at a local restaurant.
The weather was amazing and I can’t remember being so relaxed and with absolutely nothing to do. I helped with many of the meals and cleaning but otherwise spent my days reading, socializing with my fellow boat mates and writing in my journal.
Mykonos to Naxos
In the morning we got up and waited for Alex. He definitely was not an early riser, but I shouldn’t judge on that topic because I really am. After fumbling with the coffee maker we resigned ourselves to the slow process of single drip for 11 people and a breakfast of Greek yogurt, fruit and honey. The honey in Greece is lovely, you can taste the flowers that the bees must have eaten and it doesn’t taste overly refined.
Finally, Alex is up and we are off. The wind was low (as it turns out it is this time of year) and we motor off to a small uninhabited island and we moor and have a chance to swim in the crystal clear water of the Aegean.
A Real Greek Salad
Our skipper Alex offered to make us lunch the first day on the boat – which was a “real” Greek salad.
This was by far the BEST Greek Salad I have ever eaten. I think a lot of it has to do with the ingredients. I’ve never had Feta cheese that was so creamy and which wasn’t overly salty. The olives were plump and juicy. The tomatoes also tasted just different and were fresher and lighter than what would be typical in Canada.
Alex’s Greek Salad
5 Large Tomatoes
1 English cucumber
1 large green bell pepper
1 large red onion
1/2 cup of large capers
large black olives
1 cup Feta cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
Oregano, to taste
- Cut up the tomatoes into large chunks, the cucumbers into slices and DROWN them in olive oil, use a lot more than your North American sensibilities would allow. The tomatoes and cucumber need to soak in the olive oil for a while you prep the other ingredients.
- Cut peppers and onions into small slivers, drain capers.
- Add pepper onion and capers to tomato mixture.
- Crumble Feta into salad in large (approx. 1inch square chunks)
- Add more olive oil, olives, salt, pepper and oregano
- Stir gently from the sides so the contents don’t get damages, the feta doesn’t get broken up too much and the capers and olives don’t fall to the bottom.
Serve with sliced baguette. Alex had brushed the bread with more olive oil but I really liked to use it dry to soak up the extra olive oil mixed with the spices at the bottom of my bowl.
I have tried to replicate the above at home and it is definitely better than anything I’ve had before in Canada. That being said I would love to go back and have another one of Alex’s salad’s, on the boat, with great friends from all over the world.
In Naxos we wander the streets and climb to a castle in the centre of town ending up at a restaurant by the water to watch the sun start to set through an archaeological site. As we sipped on ice-cold beer and mojitos made with freshly squeezed juice Clayton tells us about the God of the Sun. Clayton is a very smart and interesting young man, he is also very charming and his stories made us feel as if we were staring at the temple of the gods in his story.
We finally drag Alex out of the boat to take us for dinner. He operates (as he explained to us) on GMT – Greek Maybe Time. Dinner at 8:30pm at a restaurant out of the way but that we were assured would be worth the long walk. Tonight everyone comes because the tales of our amazing dinner the night before made those who didn’t come with us envious.
I wish I had the name of the restaurant where we ate but I am a bit glad I don’t. It was by far the worst meal we ate in Greece. The food was bland and largely deep fried and the wine was cheap and reminded us of paint thinner. The worst was that Jules ordered a meal that they were out of. She ordered a second meal and they were also out of. Then she ordered what was suggested by the server the Boiled Goat.
The Boiled Goat became legendary on our trip because it came out on a plate with nothing else, grey and anemic. On the side was a bowl of pale broth. The idea (we surprised) was to break the goat up into the broth and it would be like a soup. It was from all accounts (she made us all try it) the worst meal of the horrible lot…
Perhaps a horrible meal but such a fun night. I have not laughed that hard in years.
Naxos to Donousa
The next morning I am up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean from the boat deck. The glow of the sun rises over the brightness of the iconic white buildings on the island. The town comes to life as the sun rises. Two older men have an argument, one holds a broom and the other an octopus, I can’t understand a word they say but the scene makes me laugh and revel in the experience.
The night before we had gotten Alex into a little conversation and he told us that he was a pretty accomplished windsurfer. I mentioned I had always wanted to try it and he offers to set up a lesson the next morning. Windsurfing in Greece – sure! So Guy, Clayton and I head off for our lesson in a little cove on the island of Naxos.
Windsurfing is a lot harder than it looks on TV. I start off well but my skills are definitely subpar. That being said it was a lot of fun to try and the three of us had a lot of fun “zipping” around the cove.
After the lesson we are back on the boat and head to Donousa. This island is not a usual stop for the boats because it is north and the seas are normally too rough to get there. This time of year the seas are calmer and so we are the first tour of the year Alex has taken here. Donousa is a tiny little island with under 100 inhabitants. The port is very sparse and we learn there is only one restaurant in the town, Captain George’s for dinner it is.
They had the option of whole fish, and invited us to the kitchen to see their catch of the day. The catch was a dish full of fish you could choose from. Ken and I decided to go for it and I picked a smaller fish than he did. We all shared some appetizers that were (mostly) delicious. I really loved the eggplant in Greece, it must be different than what we get in Canada or they just cook it better because I have never liked it when I have tried it in Canada but in Greece I can’t get enough.
The fried fish comes on a plate all on its own. There are no sides. The fish was very tasty but it is a lot of work to get the fish off the bones. When the bill came we were both floored because mine was 12 euro and Ken’s was 24! Perhaps we should have realizes they were going to be that expensive but it seemed excessive. I had checked that box and didn’t need to go there again, if for no other reason it was just too much work!
Donousa to Amorgos
By Tuesday we have a routine on the boat and everyone has a role. It is quite fascinating to see all of the personalities mashed together. Some people dive right in and work and others just sit back and let others do things for them.
Alex is in a lather because he has to get the boat cleaned for travel and it is not being kept tidy enough. He also has to fix the sink because it appears to be blocked. He was such an unusual guy, I had a hard time telling if he was a complete jerk or just tired from a long summer of dealing with dumb tourists, maybe both…
I start to spend more time with Ken and Karen and I really enjoy both of them, they for the record not a couple. Ken is a doctor from Australia who retired and bought a B&B only to realize as he cleaned a toilet one day that it was probably a waste of his skillset. Karen owns a B&B in Tasmania, The Cambridge House, which is now on my Bucket List, she is travelling for 2 months with Jules while her partner Glen runs the B&B because he doesn’t like to travel. What a brave and adventurous spirit.
We haven’t sailed much and Alex is often keen on stopping. Our next stop is over a WWII shipwreck which is in shallow water for anyone who wants to try snorkelling to it. You wouldn’t see much but it really was quite amazing to see the bones of the ship poke through the sand that have been there for almost 100 years.
I could write about this trip for days. I was trying to wrap up the Greece topic in this post but I can’t get it all in in few enough words! This is what a vacation needs to be – calm – solitude amongst many (from my travel journal and so true).
Stay tuned for the finale.