Sailing Away: 10 Days in the Greek Islands

 

Hey, there! It’s been awhile. I just got back from two weeks abroad. I sailed through the Greek islands with a crew of eight others on a chartered monohull (one of ten boats in our fleet), and then explored the city of London for a few days. Greece and its islands are exactly what you expect them to be: encapsulated by bright, turquoise waters; full of quaint, white cement homes; and covered in lush, colorful flowers and… stray cats.

For 10 days, I didn’t check my email, I didn’t check LinkedIn, I didn’t style my hair or wear makeup. I learned so much about sailing, about Greece, and — most importantly — about myself. Check out my recap of my 10-day excursion around the Aegean Sea below.

DAY ONE: ATHENS & VOULIAGMENI

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The first two nights of our trip, we stayed in Vouliagmeni, a community just outside of Athens, Greece. We slept at the Athenian Riveria Hotel & Suites, and because so many of us booked rooms there, the hotel gave YachtXP Founder, Greg, the penthouse suite. Once Wilson and I settled in, we went to the penthouse to check out the view, chat with Melissa (who was already soaking in the hot tub), and meet the others.

The next morning, we slept in, ate breakfast in the sunshine outside the hotel, and then made our way to Athens. We used Greece’s Uber-equivalent — an app called Beat to get from the hotel to Athens proper. Rumor has it, taxi drivers will often ramp up prices or change your agreed-upon fee once you arrive at your destination, so we were advised to use Beat. Luckily, my unlimited data plan works abroad.

Once in Athens, our first stop was the famous Acropolis. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel situated at the top of Athens, and it’s visible from everywhere and anywhere in the city. We also explored a small market just beside the entrance to the Acropolis, and then made our way to the Temple of Zeus before heading to the Agora to grab lunch — a gyro and Greek salad — and eventually, take a Beat back to the hotel.

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DAY TWO: LÁVRION

We chartered boats from a company based in Lávrion, Greece. We arrived to Lávrion from Vouliagmeni around 1 PM, and then helped the crew prep the boats for our week-long sail. We learned pretty quickly that rules in Greece are viewed more as suggestions. This is true for driving and parking (we saw cars parked smack-dab in the middle of roads and parking lots), and certainly true for the time Greeks promise you’ll be able to set sail. Long story short, we didn’t wind up leaving the harbor on Saturday, as planned. Instead, we slept at the marina and planned to set sail bright and early the next morning, at 6 AM. In the meantime, we filled up on Melissa’s new favorite drink: red wine + Coca Cola. Cheers!

Team Serifos!

Team Serifos!

The view of the harbor from our boat.

The view of the harbor from our boat.

Below deck!

Below deck!

Check out this five-star kitchen ;)

Check out this five-star kitchen ;)

DAY THREE: SEASICKNESS & SYROS, KIKLADHES

When it comes to living at sea, I was baptized by fire. Or, uh … sea salt. Our first official day on the water was met with 20-foot waves and 46-mph winds, conditions we later found out the local ferries and airplanes didn’t even venture into. Our boat was rocking … to say the least.

I was the first to throw up, and it continued well into the nine-and-a-half-hour journey. By the end of the day, only two iron-stomached sailors on Serifos could say differently (what are you made of, Wilson and Goat?!) Drenched in sweat and sea salt from head-to-toe, I held onto the boat’s railing with white knuckles until the sail was over and we finally anchored in the bay of Syros, Kikladhes, to catch dinner and the sunset.

We made it. Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

We made it. Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

Top Right: Melissa and Schmud dinghy-ing back to shore, as I rock-climb to safety.

Top Right: Melissa and Schmud dinghy-ing back to shore, as I rock-climb to safety.

Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

The view that made it all worth it.

The view that made it all worth it.

As if battling high winds and wild waves wasn’t enough, once we finally made it to Syros and Melissa, Schmud, and I hopped in the dinghy to get to shore — wouldn’t you know it — the motor on our dinghy quit and we had to paddle to safety. “Safety” was a rock cove with a small lighthouse at its tip. Melissa and I tested our strength holding onto jagged rocks while Schmud tried to revive the motor. As efforts proved fruitless, I eventually messaged the group and asked for another boat’s dinghy to come out and rescue us — that international data once again coming in clutch. Since we were hidden behind the rocks, Schmud urged one of us climb to the lighthouse so others could more easily spot and save us. I volunteered, and eventually wound up finding land by rock-climbing — in flip-flops — across the rocks and onto the beach.

Even though at one point during the day I was seriously considering calling a helicopter to fly me away for good, the day still had its highlights. We saw upwards of 25 dolphins, ate delicious food, and walked along the beach while the sun set over the Aegean Sea. Life is scary, but good.

DAY FOUR: SYROS, ERMOUPOLI

Day Four brought, arguably, the best weather we’d seen yet. We explored the other side of Syros Island — the capital city of Ermoupoli. Syros, Ermoupoli, is stunning. At the very top of the city sits a beautiful church, which we walked up approximately 7,000 steps to view (this is a guess — I really have no idea how much we walked, but it was a lot.) On the way down, we got lunch at a restaurant with a truly breathtaking view.

Photo by  Wilson Rae

Photo by Wilson Rae

Photo by  Wilson Rae

Photo by Wilson Rae

Photo by  Wilson Rae

Photo by Wilson Rae

Photo by  Wilson Rae

Photo by Wilson Rae

DAY FIVE: DELOS NATIONAL PARK

Offering a completely different vibe than Syros, the small, uninhabited island of Delos was once the Mediterranean’s most important trade hub. Today, it’s a national park, where ages-old ruins and modern, abstract art sculptures meet to provide a truly unique island experience.

Delos has, at times, been occupied by Greeks, Romans, Macedonians, and a number of other groups. As such, a variety of temples, monuments, and statues still exist on Delos today (like the “nine to nineteen” lions guarding the island). For thousands of years, explorers have maintained that from the top-most point of the island, it appears as if all the other Greek islands are dancing around Delos. This, I can confirm.

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DAYS SIX & SEVEN: NÁXOS ISLAND

Náxos Island was my favorite stop on the trip. That’s probably because in Náxos, we rented scooters and ATVs and spent all of Day Seven driving through the beautiful island countryside. But, don’t let me get ahead of myself. From Delos, we left for Náxos. As someone who battles motion sickness on land, in the air, and certainly in the sea, I spent most of our time sailing focusing on the horizon and counting down the hours or minutes until we arrived at the destination. A lot of the time was also spent trying not to go to the bathroom, so as not to waste the limited fresh water available on our boat. We were so, so close to Náxos — and a public bathroom — when all of a sudden, our engine gave out.

Here’s what happened: A fishing net got caught around our motor. We were only about 10 minutes from shore, but the setback cost us another three hours. Our First Mate, Johnny, grabbed the snorkel and a kitchen knife and tried to cut the net free on his own. After a few minutes bobbing up and down, he gave up and we called the Harbor Master for help. The Harbor Master sent out a dinghy and two Greek men — one who operated the raft and didn’t speak a lick of English, and a scuba-diver who cut the net free in 5 and a half minutes, flat.

The wait gave me the chance to catch the Náxos skyline on camera during Golden Hour — and it was beyond beautiful. Once we finally docked, we changed, ate dinner, and explored the city post-nightfall. We stumbled upon a small music show where two Greek men played guitar and three others danced traditional choreography. After the show, we tried a honey liqueur and slowly made our way back to the boat for bed.

Serifos First Mate, Johnny, ready to rescue us all.

Serifos First Mate, Johnny, ready to rescue us all.

Waiting, waiting …

Waiting, waiting …

Skipper Mark with the source of the problem: fishing net.

Skipper Mark with the source of the problem: fishing net.

Golden Hour in Greece. No filter needed.

Golden Hour in Greece. No filter needed.

Náxos was one of the last islands on our “to see” list, so we were in no rush on Day Seven — we had the entire day to fill. Schmud suggested we rent scooters and ATVs, and so we did. We drove all the way through the mountainside, winding through hillsides of churches, olive trees, flowers, cattle, goats, and — of course — more ruins and abandoned temples. We explored the beach and an abandoned building — what would have been the largest hotel in Europe. We ate lunch at Faros restaurant, where I had seafood spaghetti and fried feta cheese with plum honey.

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DAY EIGHT: KOUFONISI & IOS

Our morning in Koufonisi was one of the most beautiful mornings of my life. The water in Koufonisi is crystal clear. The sun was shining, the coffee was brewing, and the smiles were never-ending. I never actually left the boat in Koufonisi, but I never felt the need. After an easy morning under the sun, snapping pics and enjoying a yummy breakfast burrito, we left for Ios Island — A.K.A. the “Las Vegas of Greece”.

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Ios (pronounced ee-ohs) was probably everyone else’s favorite island, but I wasn’t a big fan — primarily because I’m not a big drinker, and especially wasn’t during this trip, since I was already battling regular sea-sickness. The small island was stunning against the sunset, and getting to the city’s bars required walking up the most humbling hill of my life. One of the bars our crew visited was called the Slammer, where patrons — like Chris — put on a helmet, get hit in the head with a skateboard, take a shot, then get hit again and go about their night. Scroll for proof.

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Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

DAY NINE: PAROS

I couldn’t have been happier to finally arrive in Paros. Sailing from Greek island to Greek island is unique, magical, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I was ready to be back on land. Arriving in Paros meant I could finally take a shower (I hadn’t showered in seven days) and sleep in an unmoving bed. (A technicality, as the dock rock after getting off the yacht for the final time was … intense.) Beat isn’t available on the small island of Paros, so Schmud rented a car to get us from the harbor to our resort, Palyomilos Spa Hotel. The car, like most vehicles in Greece was … small. Melissa and I packed in among as much luggage as we could fit in the first carpool to Palyomilos.

The view from our hotel room!

The view from our hotel room!

Me, Melissa, and everybody’s luggage.

Me, Melissa, and everybody’s luggage.

My amazing last dinner: shrimp spaghetti.

My amazing last dinner: shrimp spaghetti.

Photo by Nathan Boadle

Photo by Nathan Boadle

During our last night in Greece, we took our time taking long, hot showers with soap, shampoo, conditioner, razors … all the luxuries. We got a late-night dinner and ordered copious amounts of appetizers, entrees, drinks, and desserts. I had shrimp spaghetti, and it was as fresh as ever. Following dinner, we met up with some of the other Yacht XP sailors for a nightcap at Fotis All Day Bar, then went to bed. Zzzzz …

DAY TEN: PAROS & ATHENS

No rest for the wicked. We were up and at ’em early on Day Ten, because we had a plane to catch. Wilson, Melissa, Chris, Morgan, Doug and I shuttled off to the Paros airport — an airport with a single gate — and made our way back to Athens to finish our trip in separate directions. I wish I could have stayed in Paros a little longer, exploring the city and indulging in the picturesque hotel pool (below), but London was calling.

Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

Photo by Ryan Schmudlach

Team Serifos (minus Skipper Mark) — A.K.A. my best friends for the week.

Team Serifos (minus Skipper Mark) — A.K.A. my best friends for the week.

For seven days, the people above (plus our Skipper, Mark, not pictured) were my family. We bonded pretty quickly, given we all got sick in front of one another on our first day out. For a week, I didn’t shower, I didn’t wear makeup, I didn’t look in a mirror … and these people didn’t care. We had fun together, took pictures together, and survived sea sickness together. We explored some of the world’s most incredible landscapes, and the adventures and views we uncovered were well worth the trials that the Aegean Sea threw our way.

IN CONCLUSION

I won’t lie; there were times during this trip that I wanted to get off the boat and get my butt back home. But, I got to do something not a lot of people get to do. I saw Greece the way Greeks see Greece. I sailed on a boat with talented, interesting people, and anchored in shallow water and docked next to sailors from other foreign countries, and Greek fishermen bringing in the day’s haul. Here are a few parting thoughts …

GOING TO GREECE? HERE ARE MY RECOMMENDATIONS.

  • Athens is amazing, but you can see it in a day or two. In my opinion, you’ve got to see the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, the Olympic Stadium, and the Temple of Poseidon (I actually didn’t get a chance to see the Temple of Poseidon, so I’ve got to go back!)

  • Eat all the gyros and Greek salads you possibly can. We had tons of food on the boat, but we kept eating on shore, because the food in Greece is SO amazing. From gyros to Greek salads, moussaka, spinach pie, fried cheese, and Ouzo … you won’t go hungry!

  • Greece is cheap! (i.e., cost-effective) I was astonished at how cheap everything is in Greece! Our first day in Athens, lunch for both Wilson and I — two gyros, a large Greek salad, a bottle of water for the table, and a bottle of Fanta soda — cost a total of $14.00 USD.

  • Try Freddo Espresso (A.K.A. frespresso)! This drink got me going every morning. Freddo Espresso — or frespresso, for short — is a cold coffee drink made with espresso, ice, and sugar. We were questioned more than once for standing at the counter waiting for our coffees. “Why don’t you sit down and relax? I’ll bring it to you,” the Greeks told us fast-paced Americans, over and over again.

  • If you want to know where to eat, go where the cats go. Remember the stray cats? The Greeks feed them and take care of them. The locals say, “Go where the cats go!” when you ask where to eat. It makes sense — obviously, the cats want to eat the best scraps.

WOULD I GO BACK? ABSOLUTELY. HERE’S WHERE I WANT TO GO:

  • Crete. Crete is the largest island in Greece, and I hear it takes at least four days to see.

  • Mykonos. The Yacht XP crew went back and forth on the decision to visit Mykonos. We decided against it, because the island is such a tourist destination. Nonetheless, I think I’d like to see it — if for no other reason than to say I’ve seen it.

  • Patmos. My parents visited Greece awhile ago, and my mom says Patmos was her favorite island! I want to see what she loved about it.

  • Santorini. I’ve always wanted to see Santorini, but that’s just another reason to go again in the future!

Ready to Set Sail? Check Out Yacht XP

Each of these adventures was only made possible because of the incredible team at Yacht XP. Every year, the Yacht XP-ers charter a fleet of yachts either domestically or abroad, and set off on more life-changing adventures. Next stop? Thailand, in February 2020. If you want to learn more — or sign up for the Thailand sail — check out yachtxp.com, and be sure to follow the crew on Instagram.

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