Why Hydra? Also spelled Ydra, pronounced hee-dra or ee-dra? Good question.
I can understand if you feel like a guinea pig on this one because you have no idea what to expect.
Which is not surprising because neither do I. I only know this. I really want to do it. I’m very lucky I can. And I want to take you with me.
This photo is of Hydra in summer. Isn't it gorgeous? It's only an hour by hydrofoil from Athens. But there's no hydrofoil on the morning of the day we go there - just the slow ferry. And it's not summer. It's winter.
But back to the why. This trip has only one purpose - research. I want to write an historical novel and part of it is set in Hydra. Should be a breeze. I’ll be looking for information during the day (wish you were there to take notes for me) and recording it each night. My posts for you will have to be short, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of distilling the essence of each day into just a couple of paragraphs. Keep your fingers crossed that the wifi works....
But it won't be all work. The main town of whitewashed houses hugs the amphitheatre of hills around the small jewelled harbour, as it has for centuries. In summer it’s the shining sunny playground of Greek millionaires and holiday makers from all over the world. In cool damp winters I imagine it goes into semi-hibernation, with only the odd Australian writer wandering around, lost and wailing in the maze of un-named streets.
It's just a small harbour town on a rocky island in the Aegean Sea with a population of 3000. In its heyday in the nineteenth century, there were 20,000 living here, and its ships travelled as far as North America. Thankfully it looks much as it did then: its architecture is protected, and there are no cars or bikes. Just donkeys. And today everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows everyone else's business. Which could be helpful to me.
The hero of my book was a real person living on Hydra around the time of the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire. I want to find out more about him and his famous family name, and how, or even if, he fits in to it. But the real catalyst for the book is an extraordinary action he took at the time. I want to discover some clue to his motives.
The Hydra Museum Archives contain over 18,000 documents, manuscripts, codes and books. I'm very hopeful they can shed some light on the subject. There’s only one stumbling block. I don’t speak or write Greek.
The local Hydra archives website was down for weeks when I first started searching. With a little online detective work, and the help of a kind English expat who lives on Hydra, I was able to contact archive employees Stam and Nekatrios. Stam emailed to say they would help. I booked the trip immediately. Then Stam emailed to say they can’t. Eeeek. Hope I can sort that out when I arrive….
I’ll speak to locals, visit historic merchant mansions, see churches, monasteries and perhaps cemeteries. And of course I want to explore the town of Hydra itself to get a feeling for how it might have been in the nineteenth century.
photo courtesy hotel website
I searched online for where to stay. This hotel, the Hydrea, appealed immediately, sitting right on the entrance to the port. I clicked to read more. It was once the mansion of an important Hydriot family. Built in 1803.
photo courtesy hotel website
The next sentence stopped me in my tracks. The mansion belonged to our hero’s family. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I was destined to stay here.
I checked availability. My instincts were wrong. Like most hotels on Hydra, they aren’t taking reservations as it’s closed for the winter. Oh poo. So much for destiny.
Sighing with disappointment, mind still reeling from the historical coincidence, I wandered disconsolately around the Airbnb website.
After trawling through the listings for Hydra, I found a delightful light-filled white apartment. Judging from the photos it was in a similar position to the hotel, with a gorgeous tiny little terrace overlooking the water. But was it available? Very quickly I had an answer back from the contact Iliana to say it was. I lifted my finger to press the BOOK NOW button.
I hesitated. Maybe that beautiful hotel might take one very quiet guest? I googled it again. Another website gave the contact name as Iliana. I drew in my breath. Surely not the same person? I sent her a message on Airbnb. Yes. Her mother owns both the hotel (still firmly closed) and the apartment. Destiny. I knew my course was set. I booked the apartment.
One last co-incidence. I love to buy local flowers when I travel. Last night at midnight when I couldn't sleep, I googled florists in Hydra. The first on the list was Seaside Rose. The owner? The same surname as our hero.
This trip has a feeling of inevitability, don’t you think? Or perhaps slight madness? I’ll do one more post about my packing list before I go. After that, all going to plan, I'll leave late next Monday night, and I’ll see you in Hydra!