When I came into an unexpected windfall this year, I asked my girlfriend where I could take her on vacation-our first real trip together. Her criteria: to be on the water but not on a resort where presumably we would be sipping daiquiris from a feed bag.
This was how we ended up on an eight-day sailing voyage in the Cycladic island chain in Greece. Our journey was hosted by Intrepid, an Australian company that specializes in culturally sensitive trips that combine the comfort level that comes with an established tour company with a more basic approach to foreign travel that includes taking public transit and carrying your own luggage.
On our Intrepid trip, we stayed on the Edgar, an unfortunately named Benetau Oceanus 50.5 that includes four cabins with four bathrooms that would have cost half a million dollars to own.
But we also helped prepare simple lunches in the galley and perform basic sailing tasks for our guide and skipper, Dean, a 28year-old Englishman whose long blond hair and broad shoulders give him a passing resemblance to a young Fabio.
I was in charge of dropping and raising the anchor; my girlfriend would stand between me and Dean and yell his instructions.
The anchor would come crashing up to the bow. "Didn't hear us say stop?" she asked.
In Greece, the temperature averages around 30 Celsius in the summer but the heat is largely offset by the Mediterranean breeze. The water is as blue as the Greek flag with occasional dolphins and sea turtles appearing in brief flashes.
We would travel each morning for a few hours: it took a few days to get my sea legs and a couple more after that to realize it was the motion sickness pills that were making me sleepy.
On a sailboat, the craggy brown islands feel less like destinations than pleasant distractions from the journey. Mykonos is an international party Mecca full of clubs and restaurants that line the warren of side streets that mark the Little Venice area. Ios feels like its downmarket, less sophisticated equivalent, crammed with teenagers in popped collar polo shirts or bikini tops crawling between clubs belting out euro beat dance music.
Naxos, another popular destination, charmed us with its beautiful sunset view from the hilltop site of the Temple of Apollo, which consists of two columns and a lintel that joins them. "It's a testament to Greek building," Dean quipped. "Three thousand years old and still unfinished."
In sleepy Koufonisia, we laid out on the beach and ate at El Capetan, a seafood restaurant where we chose our entrees from a selection of fish and lobster chilling on ice inside the restaurant.
On the long thin island of Amorgos, we caught a bus to Moni Hozoviotissis monastery on the southeast coast, which was built in the 11th century by a group of monks originally from Iraq. The white building is found high atop a steep cliffside. After taking a series of uneven marble stairs, we were welcomed inside to view the monastery icon and gaped at the blue water below crashing into the cliff side from the balcony.
Then, we were led down to a living area where we chatted with the resident monks over Turkish delights (or, as they are called here, Greek delights) and glasses of rakomelo-a local honey liqueur.
Perhaps the best indication of our time on these islands would be the camera I brought along without the charger, because I had never used it up before on other travel assignments. This time the camera went dead midway through our journey. The splendor of Greece was too much for it.