let’s go to that beautiful sea

aegina

The phrase “Greek Isles” summons up visions of an idyllic Neverland of ethereal sunsets, white-washed buildings, olive groves, turquoise water, and all the romance that comes from being shipwrecked on a remote island.  There are an astounding 3,000 such little Edens scattered across Greece’s corner of the Mediterranean, which means to each his own: everyone has their particular, or peculiar, favorite. The most famous are far afield – Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos, Corfu – but for the daytripper there are a few easy options close to Athens, too. The most popular excursion is one of those three-in-one boats, which stops off for about half an hour at each of three nearby islands. I wanted something a little more adventurous – and immersive. So, instead of going the package experience route, we decided to head off on our own via the fast ferry to the island of Aegina – without a map or an agenda and knowing little more than that it happens to be famous for its pistachios.

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toboggoning

tobago

There’s another post-Carnival tradition many Trinis indulge in: escaping to the laid-back sister island of Tobago for a few days of rest and relaxation. In for a penny, in for a pound, I say – so it’s off to Tobago I go.

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sun, here i come

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live blog: disembarking

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live blog: homeward bound

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live blog: back away from the baker

All during dinner tonight I watched an elderly Greek woman drag tree branches up the hill to stoke her brick oven. At one point another woman arrived, looking even more ancient. Outfitted in head to toe black, with a hooked nose – I swear there might even have been a wart at the end – and a staff, she looked like an archetype out of the Brother’s Grimm. The two of them began to quarrel, accompanied by hand waving, spitting on the ground and, I assume, oaths of damnation and threatening hexes. I was riveted. Then just as quickly as it had erupted, it evaporated: the older crone left, shuffling up the hill and the woman pictured above returned to her oven. I cautiously approached and asked if I might take a photo. Yes, she said, breaking into a sort of smile. What are you baking, I inquired. Rusks.

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live blog: leaping lepers

Sailing east of Crete we dropped anchor near the island of Spinalonga for an afternoon swim stop in water so intensely blue that you’d be forgiven for thinking the photo above had been digitally manipulated. (It hasn’t.) Harking back to the Venetian occupation the name is Italian, meaning “long thorn,” which perfectly describes the island’s prickly shape. For most of the 20th century the land was used as a colony for the lepers of Crete before being later abandoned. Today, it remains unoccupied, save the random swimmers who chance upon its silent shore.

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live blog: dakos

For Cretans the secret of their storied longevity is simple. They eat anything and everything the island’s mineral-rich soil produces, consuming loads of fruit, vegetables, greens, legumes, herbs, cheese, bread, and washing their Mediterranean meals down with an excellent, earthy local wine. Today in Aghios Nikolaos I discovered dakos, a deceptively simple Cretan salad of tomato, cucumber, feta cheese, olives and rusk. It could be considered a close cousin of panzanella – if only the Italians twice-baked their bread to the texture of biscotti. Drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar, it’s a surprisingly substantial light meal with a satisfying crunch and a clean, fresh taste. The challenge in recreating dakos when I get back home is going to be figuring out how to get my hungry little hands on those rusks.

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live blog: quite possibly the best bookstore ever

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live blog: the hippocratic oak

 

In front of the imposing castle of the Knights of Saint John on the island of Kos stands an enormous plane tree, spindly, ungainly and estimated to be the unusually august age of 500 years old. (plane trees, I have since learned, tend to meet their demise around the century mark.) Propped up by skeletal scaffolding it’s known as the Tree of Hippocrates and is descended from a tree first planted by the famous Greek physician – often called the father of Western medicine – who in the 5th Century BC taught his students under its shade. Given that Hippocrates is generally credited with being the first person to believe that diseases were caused naturally and not due to superstitions or the petty cruelty of the gods, this living monument seems altogether more fitting than anything man-made.

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live blog: full sail, bound for kos

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live blog: sounds of the sea

At last, a proper computer where I can jot down a few words:  I’ve arrived on the island of Rhodes and am happily ensconced at the Sheraton Rhodes Resort, the only internationally-managed hotel on the island. (Most of the accommodation in the Greek isles is still family-owned and run) My deepest desire on landing was a headlong plunge into the Aegean - and that’s exactly what I did. The beach is accessed through a vine-covered pergola, which leads under the road and out to a wide stretch of powdery sand, with the coast of Turkey in the foreground. The actual swimming part of the beach, however, is pure pebbles. Or rocks, more to the point, which have been tumbled to smoothness by the relentless crash of the waves. The water is a deep blue, almost iridescent, and warm as a bath. This is the northern, windward side of the island, so the surf is challenging, yet I am still surprised at the depth of clarity to the water, despite the churning. There is a musical element to my wading swim, too: the stones hurtle low toward the shore carried along by the force of water; when the tide pulls out they tumble back from whence they came, making the most pleasant of sounds in the process, like a rack of billiard balls coming into play, or the start of a game of skee-ball. It’s rhythmically sporadic, like wind chimes, making me eager to drift off to sleep tonight with the windows wide open.

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‘ello, ellas

Today I’m on my way to Greece, country of my ancestors. I can’t believe how sentimental those words sound, yet even now I’m a little choked up at the thought of standing at the foot of the Acropolis. To keep things light, I’m carrying only a backpack and small weekender to get me through Athens, Rhodes, and a handful of Dodecanese Islands. That means no computer for a welcome change. I’ll be live-blogging via Iphone if and when the wi-fi gods allow, so the next few weeks here might be a bit of trouble. Not that I’m bothered. As Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek memorably pointed out, “Life is trouble.” Then again, he continued on in a much more interesting – if less eloquent – fashion: “To be alive is to undo your belt and look for trouble.”

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from the archives: hot spas of the caribbean

For too many years, Caribbean spas were strictly amateur affairs. Not anymore: The number of high-tech hideaways scattered throughout the islands has exploded, with each one promising to reinvigorate your body and renew your spirit in new and novel ways. As a bonus, direct flights from JFK abound this time of year, making it easier than ever to escape for a weekend of pampering and be back in time for the Monday morning meeting.

Here’s our guide to five that know how to turn up the heat: CLICK HERE for the full story.

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