Saturday, April 21, 2018

Aphrodite’s birthplace and other Greek ‘ferry’ tales. . .


Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, sex, and beauty.
According to those on the island of Kythera, she was born there.

Their claim is based on the myth by Hesiod, a poet who lived about the same time as Homer. (Actually I checked and Hesiod claimed she was born of the sea (think of that image of her on that big clam shell) and she floated past Cytherea (Kythera) and emerged at Cyprus. 

Myth and reality. You get a dose of both when you travel in Greece.

We were reminded of that fact when we took a road trip last week to Kythera, a seasonally popular destination – and  possibly Aphrodite’s birthplace. Some travel writer’s have labeled it the perfect Greek island with just enough tourism to keep it prosperous and hopping 'in season' but not yet over-run.

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Ferry to Kythera leaves from Neopoli

Road trips to Greek islands involve the ubiquitous Greek ferry experience; one that merges both myth and reality. The Greek ferry is a great mode of transport if you have a flexible schedule and itinerary. (We love the romance and adventure of Greek ferry travel and have tried every size and shape of ship. Remember when I debunked that myth of how dangerous they are in this post?)

The reality of ferry travel is: Schedules vary and can change at the slightest bit of inclement weather. Sometimes they operate and sometimes they don’t – with or without reason.  And they are not necessarily a cheap way to travel these days.

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Kythira - a stone's throw from the Peloponnese

Take our trip, for example:   There’s a ferry to Kythera from Gythio, (right side middle finger on the map above) a town about an hour and a half from us. Or one from Neopoli (left side of right finger) a town three hours drive away. We’d preferred the Gythio departure but no one – including the travel agents who sell the ferry tickets – could tell us whether it would be running on the date we planned to travel. That's reality.

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Upper car deck was empty on the ferry the week after Easter
We drove to Neopoli, where the ferry journey of an hour and a half, takes place every day, sometimes twice a day. The ticket from there was the same cost as for the longer Gythio sailing: 45-euro for our car and another 26-euro for two passengers ($87US) each way.

We were off. . .to an island similar in size to Malta and boasting a population of 4,500 residents living in or near some 64 small villages.  Its shores are washed by three seas: the Ionian, the Aegean and the Libyan. Mountains and valleys rise and fall in the island's center. Its coastline offers a host of beaches that attract sun and sea worshippers, many who take the 45-minute flight from Athens.

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Kythera/Kythira island
Between travel writers singing its praises and various friends who’ve remarked about its wonders, we were eager to explore Kythera, (also Kythira), which seems a little orphan from the Ionian island group  to which it belongs – all the rest are to the northwest of the Peloponnese.  This little guy decked out with sugar-cube shaped buildings painted the famous white with blue trim looks a lot like he belongs in the Cyclades island group, further to the east of us.

But as the ferry approached this reputedly gorgeous destination, I started wondering if we were at the right place: two shipwrecks greeted us as did a scattering of buildings that constituted the harbor ‘town’ on the island.  Hmmm. . .an interesting introduction.


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Introduction to Kythera

The island’s history, like so many places in Greece, dates back to the Minoans, through the Myceneans and Phoenicians. In more ‘recent’ history the Venetians dominated from the 13th to the 18th century and the British laid claim from 1815 until 1864.

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The British built bridge dates back to the early 1800's
User reviews on Tripadvisor led us to a hotel located on the northeastern side of the island. Our drive from the ferry dock was through high plains type country that looked a lot like Arizona.

When we stopped for afternoon cappucinos in the town of Potamos the island’s enchantments began to emerge. It was quiet as we were there the week after Greek Easter and before the sun-seeking tourists arrived. But the warmth of welcome and the architectural charms were already winning us over.


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Potamos town
The hotel we’d chosen – thanks to reviews by previous guests – couldn’t have been better. The Easter weekend tourist crush was over and we nearly had the family-owned Pelagia Aphrodite in the village of Agios Pelagia to ourselves.  From our room and its two balconies we had a view of the sea and the Peloponnese 'finger' from where we had sailed. The price was 85-euros a night which included a full breakfast, with eggs-made-to-order each morning. Honey and homemade jam from the family farm was our favorite!

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Hotel Pelagia Aphrodite

P1070234One evening I was admiring the bouquets of fragrant cut roses that decorated the lobby – they were from the family's farm as well.

When we checked out, there was a rose bush from the farm - a gift -- so that I could  grow my own fragrant rose bouquets (and that was even better than hotel loyalty points!) For you flower buffs out there these roses have 100 petals per bloom, smell heavenly and are used in cooking.

We spent our island time exploring the villages; spending a full day driving from the north end to the south, stopping at uniquely charming places along the way.  We didn’t even start to explore the many beaches that border the island – that  adventure will be for a future trip.

One of our favorite spots was the village of Avlemonas where the rental suites and hotels were still shuttered and only a handful of visitors sipped and supped on the taverna’s terrace overlooking the sea.  It was the type of place that stirs the imagination and I could envision writing a book cloistered away in this place.

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Picture-perfect Avlemonas
Speaking of cloistered, there are some 300 churches scattered about the island dating back to the Byzantine era.  Some of them are such architectural wonders that you can’t quite wrap your mind around them, such as the one built into the cliffside overlooking the beach village of Kapsali.

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How does one get here?
If you are wondering – no, we didn’t go explore this one!

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Kapsali village
This photo of Kapsali illustrates another myth/reality about travel in Greek islands.  While the tourist brochures always feature blue sky days and wine dark seas, the reality is that clouds and blowing sand from Africa can turn a seascape into a dull gray tone that isn’t as inviting as those postcard perfect scenes. We had one of 'those day's during our visit.

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Hikers take note - this trail leads to water mills
If churches, beaches and exploring Greek villages isn’t your thing, you could always do some hiking on its many trails.  The island has some of the best signed and mapped trails we’ve found on our travels and the island’s tourist map also offers descriptions of them as well.

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Agia Pelagia
Then again, it is a perfect place to sit and do absolutely nothing. . . but stare at the sea.

That’s it for this week from The Stone House on the Hill.  As always, we appreciate the time you’ve spent reading our latest ‘ferry’ tale. Hope to see you back here again next week for another dose of something Greek and until then, safe and happy travels to you and yours! 



Linking this week with these writers from around the world.  And most happy that we’ve been featured this week on Best of Weekend – a great collection of travel news, do-it-yourself-projects, home decorator ideas and some great recipes. Do check it and the others out by following the links below:









8 comments:

  1. Hey guys, loved reading all this. I haven't been to Greece in years and your wonderful post makes me long to see those tiny villages again. As a widow, I'm afraid of doing anything on my own, and need companions to make me think I'm having fun. AKA: The Italian Holiday coming up. Thanks for visiting my blog recently. I always love hearing about your travels and comments.
    Sending love to both of you world venturers.

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  2. It looks lovely. I have always wanted to go to Greece. Thanks also for the dose of reality on the ferry service and the blue skies.

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  3. You are sooo living such a dream...pretty country...good foods...fun places to see...I am so glad you are doing this while you are young...your memories of it all will hug you tight when you are my olden age.

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  4. This looks truly delightful. The rose bush is a best gift ever.

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  5. Having the wonderful base of your home in Greece is perfect for exploring around you. What a great opportunity to see parts of the country that are often beyond the radar of most tourists

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  6. Looks like a lovely getaway–no matter how complicated getting there. That rose is so full it looks like a peony!

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  7. So many wonders to see — and imagine: from Aphrodite rising out of the sea on a clamshell to churches built into a rockface!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Kay
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

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So happy to see you took the time to comment. We read them all - and each is much appreciated. We hope you will be a regular here and comment often!

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