The air was still warm, the sky star-kissed, the night we left Mykonos behind. The scent of jasmine trailed after us as we made our way down cobbled lanes lined with flaming bougainvillea. Arching branches, now softened in the moonlight, seemed to grasp at my shoulders and to catch my hair, as if to say, “Please, stay.”
Our long night’s journey into morning began at the witching hour—midnight—on the Island of the Winds. Prompted by an impending ferry strike, we were forced to leave this restorative isle and march past throngs of dining revelers, goose-stepping it, our backpacks bouncing, as we made our way towards the port and the last ferry.
Scheduled for a 1:20 AM departure, our ability to board was imperative or we’d be stuck for who knows how long and forced to miss our Athens’ flight in two days time. What an abrupt and disappointing end, rushing out like retreating soldiers in the night, to such a wonderful sojourn.
My Mediterranean journey began nearly two months before when I joined University of Arizona architecture professor Charles Albanese and a group of his students (aged 19-62) in New York City before flying off to Milan. Traveling by rail, bus, ferry and even gondola, we sketched, journaled and watercolored our way through Italy and into Greece. After visiting the Greek mainland and several islands, we spent our last days on Mykonos.
Our time here proved to be a salve for my travel-battled self, beginning with our charming hotel—the Hotel Carbonaki. Nestled behind a Greek church, it was located far enough from the throngs of tourists to be quiet, it had screens on the windows and even had air-conditioning—a modern amenity we hadn’t experienced since our time in Rome a month before. It also boasted one of the most adorable pools I’ve ever had the privilege of dipping into.
In between painting, wandering and just resting, we squeezed in time at the island’s famed beaches, including Paradise Beach, made our way out to Delos—the second-most important spot in all of Greece behind the mainland’s Oracle at Delphi, and drank enough frappucinos to last a lifetime. Needless to say, I was sad to leave.
Tickets in hand we joined the crowds of harried travelers bound for the capital. Like a herd of cattle, we processed up the gangway into the belly of this steel whale, filling the decks, fanning out across the tail.
We made it. What a relief. I released my backpack and it slid to the unyielding wooden bench with a thud. Stretched out, pack now beneath my head, I pulled the inky sky marked by thousands of stars up over my shoulders and tucked it under my chin—it would be my only comfort against the cooling night air.
The horn sounded. The gangway pulled in. Everyone seemed to sigh at once—a collective relief. We had made it. We wouldn’t be stranded. Damn!
The ferry captain made haste—all engines ahead. Beneath us the dark and mirrored Aegean churned, spinning a universe of sea creatures beneath our wake.
Around me, my fellow travelers settled in, trying to get comfortable and make the best of an overcrowded situation. The journey began well enough until the natural outcome of “full steam ahead” became apparent and the ferry began shaking from stem to stern.
Now, not only were we cold and uncomfortable with no forgiving space to rest our heads, but we also had to endure this miserable shaking—for the next FIVE hours.
My teeth may have been rattling, but it was my bladder that protested most, inspiring a multitude of trips to the privy. It was during those privy peregrinations that I came upon two young men—one Albanian, one American—attempting to teach one another their respective languages in a volley of words.
It was a long night.
Night finally gave way to morning, and I watched the sunrise, its rays reaching through the Athenian skyline like fingers. Transfixed, I continued to take in the shifting colors of the sky, as the magenta morning gave way to pale gold sky and sea.
The dock at Piraeus was absolute chaos, a cacophony of sounds—an assault upon my ill-rested soul. Somehow, we found a bus and made our way to the Plaka, the site of our hotel. I didn’t know about my fellow travelers, but I had images of steaming showers and soft warm beds swimming in my head.
We arrived at the hotel at 7:00 AM, backpacks on, ready to drop. Turns out the only things we were allowed to drop were the backpacks. We had arrived early and our rooms wouldn’t be ready until 2:00 or 3:00 PM. Oh, the pain, the woe. The aching bones, the barely-open eyes.
The backpacks we gladly gave up, stowing them safely in a pile not far from the watchful eye of the concierge. What to do? With nowhere to sit, nowhere to rest, we slipped into the pale morning light. Sleep-deprived, we stumbled, zombie-like, past rows of rustic blue tables and thatched chairs, drawn by the smell of breakfast mingled with the lemon-scented air.
Lured by the heady aroma, we chose a cafe in the old Turkish quarter, bordering the Agora, and seated ourselves at a marble-topped bistro table beneath a tangle of lemon trees. I cannot tell you the rush of relief that washed over me. All the pain and tension from our long night slipped from my body. The heavy iron chair, acting like a lightning rod, seemed to draw the negative energy away, sending it straight back to the earth. It was here, beneath this delightfully aromatic bower; I found my reward in the simplest of pleasures: breakfast.
Perfectly fried eggs with yolks as golden as the sun, tasting of verdant olive oil. Thick, tangy Greek yogurt topped with honey and almonds. Fresh warm bread served with homemade apricot preserves. Just squeezed juice, Nescafe.
Okay, the Nescafe may have been a bit of a letdown, but the rest—never. I don’t think I’ve experienced a finer breakfast since and I doubt I ever will.
My Favorite Greek Travel Narratives:
- Reflections on a Marine Venus
- Prospero’s Cell
- Bitter Lemons
- The Colossus of Maroussi
- Dinner with Persephone
Do you have a favorite Greek travel narrative?