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Mid-June 2001:

Mike's mate Dave had suggested we double up on a barefoot yacht charter, sailing through the Cyclades islands of Greece for two weeks. We had always wanted to do a yacht hire but the expense had put us off. With another couple to go halves expensewise we would finally be able to afford it.

Mike and I flew into Athens a day earlier so that we could explore it and also go to the Acropolis. The Acropolis was a place I had always wanted to see, especially after hearing about my aunt's travels there many years ago. Fortunately the hotel we prebooked was only a minute's walk away from the main boulevarde running alongside the Acropolis hill. Late that afternoon we used the limited but efficient Metro system to get close to Lykavittos hill, where we intended to watch the sunset over Athens. We exited the subway to find ourselves near the bottom of the hill and after climbing many steps, located the small furnicular train that would take us up the steepest part. Yes, we could have tried to walk the rest of the way up a steep winding path but the sun was setting and we were running out of time (and out of breath!). We just managed to make it, along with probably a hundred or more others and sat down to enjoy the view. As it grew darker the Parthenon was uplight. The lit-up Parthenon, being on one of only two hills in the middle of Athens, acts a beacon and a handy navigation point at night.

The next morning we were up fairly early in order to try and beat the crowds and heat at the Acropolis. Within 15 minutes of leaving the hotel we were climbing stone steps and going through various temple ruins as we made our way to the top and ultimately, the Parthenon. As we came out of the temple ruins and onto the top of the hill, the Parthenon was revealed in its full glory. Walking across the ground was slippery going as the granite rocks underfoot have been polished smooth by the millions of feet treading on them. Disappointingly there is a low fence stringed around the Parthenon, so at best, you can only get within a couple of metres of the stairs at its foot. There seemed to be ongoing conservation work inside the Parthenon. Scaffolding is rigged everywhere inside it.

At one point, while we took some photos, an officer of the site berated a tourist who was caught drinking from a can of alcohol. From what we could hear of the conversation (and as she was yelling...) the Acropolis is considered a sacred religious site and as such no alcohol is permitted. I'd never seen an official so angry. She ordered him off the top. Hope he had managed to get his mugshot in front of the Parthenon before he was made to leave.

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After spending a sleepless first night on the yacht, subjected to the bass of a nightclub across the marina at Piraeus, we were up early and sailed westwards. During the day sailing, we saw a pod of black dolphins. The first night we moored near a small deserted island. Mike and David got up in the middle of the night when the wind changed direction, as we had been copping a bit of wave action, and decided to sail on to a larger more protected island. So when Stacey and I woke, we found them anchoring at dawn in a quiet little cove. They then went to bed while Stacey and I took the dinghy and wandered around on the island. We saw goats, the odd house and not much else.

That afternoon we got underway and made for the island of Kythnos. This island seemed very untouched by commercialism and was very quiet. We found a tiny inlet and anchored. Mike, bemused by a local pacing up and down on the shore, eying us evilly, finally rowed in to chat. With only a limited amount of common language, Mike discovered that the land on the little bay was his, and that during summer, many yachts anchored up throwing their rubbish overboard into the water and on the shore, leaving him with a constant mess to clean up. We weren't surprised to hear this, considering the clearness of the water also meant we were able to see heaps of plastic shopping bags and other garbage caught up in the rocks on the bottom. There was to be nothing unusual about this - wherever we sailed, the amount of garbage both on and under the water was saddening. The Cyclades waters are heavily utilised by both commercial and personal crafts. I couldn't begin to count the number of tankers, ferrys, yachts and speedboats. There was never a day where the wasn't a constant diesel haze on the horizon.

Our next port of call was the island of Paros, where we decided to stay for several days. We anchored in a little cove next to the fishing port of Noussa. It proved to be a great spot. Each night we rowed the dinghy over to the shore and walked over the hill into the Noussa village where there were heaps of restaurants to choose from. Like all of the Cyclades islands, the villages tended to be very clean with white-washed houses wearing blue shutters and doors. I really loved the cement crazy paving with its white painted mortar. With loads of stray cats around, I was forever trying to feed them. We also hired two scooters for a day and rode over the island.

Paros was to be our last stop south before looping back up to Athens. Mike and I wanted to see Santorini, the volcanic ring island further south but shortness of time meant it would have taken too long to sail to it, so we decided to catch a ferry and overnight on Santorini. It was very luxurious ferry and turned out to be one of a fleet brought from a Tasmanian company! Within three hours we were pulling up to the dock at one end of Santorini. The views looking upwards at the cliffs surrounding us were great. We visited several of the accommodation agencies lining the dock and booked a hotel room for the night. Taxis must make a fortune here as it is quite a long steep drive to the main clifftop villages and the public bus only makes it way to the dock on average once an hour. The hotel we chose was staggered down the side of the caldera. Being so high up, the horizon curves a little and the view looking out and down over the submerged inner crater of the island just takes your breath away. The large cruise liners docked far below looked toy-sized.

We ate dinner that night in the hotel restaurant (all open air) watching the sunset over the island. Every tom, dick and his dog (being Greece, more likely, stray cat) tries to get into a restaurant to watch the sunset, so come 6pm they were nearly all packed. Ours was and it showed a little in the service - the waiters seemed rushed off their feet. I don't think it was the food, more likely the thick syrupy coffee, but Mike was up all night riding the porcelain bus, hardly a romantic night away! Before catching the ferry back to Paros the next afternoon, Michael and I decided to walk the cliff-edge path along the clifftop villages. A good hour and half later we came to what was almost the eastern end village. As the path wound up and down we were quite buggered by the end, especially when we realised we would have to do the same back again! The island's main industry appears to be tourism and it shows in the sheer quantity of hotels. Prices for everything were almost double that of any other island we had been to. It did feel like just one big rip-off but I suppose with amazing views, they can charge what they want.

Leaving Paros the next day, we headed for Mykonos, the trendy party island of Cyclades. Not being keen to moor in the busy harbour of the main village, we ended up in a cove quite a distance away. David and Stacey just wanted to veg on the boat and swim so Mike and I decided to walk to the nearest village and catch the local transport down to the capital, Mykonos (yes, the capital is named after the island). We wanted to go to the archaelogical island of Delos, just off the coast of Mykonos. After buying tickets we had some time to kill so wandered around the village. I had expected a lot of crass tourism but it wasn't too bad. We took some photos at the famous row of windmills on the side of the hill and visited the quarter of the village known as 'little Venice'. In this area, there are heaps of narrow streets with little souvenir shops and restaurants.

Over on Delos, we spent a couple of hours wandering in the hot sun amongst the ruins. As an ancient port, Delos was very much a multicultural island with such people as Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Syrians. Different idols worshipped by the different cultures are dotted over the island. There is a small Roman ampitheatre and sadly, many mosaics lie exposed to the sun amongst the ruins. There is a lookout hill which Mike (fool) climbed while I stayed down in some shade.

The last island we stopped at on our way back to the Greek mainland was Syros. Here we moored in the small harbour among quite a few other yachts. The guys in particular enjoyed it as some Europeans on the yacht beside us seemed quite happy to strip off and laze on the top of their yacht - hard luck, the woman was middle-aged. The island was very laid-back and not heavily touristed. I had read that the best Turkish delight in Greece was to be found here, so naturally had to test the theory!

The second last day saw us with only a very slight breeze, so we ended up motoring most of the way back to the tip of the mainland. Here, we anchored for the night in a small cove next to Cape Sounion where the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon overlooked us on a hill. It was a fitting end to be overlooked by temple ruins on our last night on the yacht. Quite often as we sailed past islands, we could see temple ruins of some sort or another, clearly or through the binoculars.

Highlight of the journey: Santorini's dramatic views and the sheer pleasure of diving off the back of the yacht into colourful, clear Mediterranean waters

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