The Aegean Sea, a warm breeze, is lands bathed in light. To cruise these seductive Greek isles is to discover the world of Zorba and abandon the hectic rat race. The ferry sails at dawn out of Piraeus, and everyone crowds up top to watch the wine-dark Aegean give up its mysteries. I could sail like this forever, bobbing between islands, lapping up the sun, but intriguing ports that have been here since the dawn of Greek history beckon.
The sight of Mykonos stirs the ship's crew into action. "Throw the line! Toot the horn! Lower the gangway! All ashore that's going ashore!"
On the waterfront, fishermen mend nets. Locals drink coffee or play backgammon at kafenions.
Petro, the mascot pelican, struts up and down the quay. The show goes on until the setting sun provides a grand finale to another Aegean day.
Next morning, the curtain rises again on another day of dazzling Greek light. The sun god Apollo has blessed his favoured playground with a sparkling luminescence that inspires artists and photographers. To help the god along, the Greeks paint every wall, every step, every stone, every tree a brilliant white.
If Apollo, the sun, is the patron of the islands, the ferocious Meltemi winds have inspired their architecture. To protect themselves from the winds, the residents built their towns in labyrinthine configurations that defy the mapmaker's logic. It's fun to meander through this maze of whitewashed stairs and alleyways. Narrow passages zigzag into cool, oak-shaded squares or come to sudden dead ends. Black cats sun themselves at windows overhung with laundry and vermillion bougainvillea. Across the doorway of a taverna, a line holds tangled tentacles, today's fresh catch of squid.
In such peaceful surroundings, the locals have turned their laid-back lifestyle into an art form. There's no room for cars on these tiny streets, so deliveries are made the traditional way - by donkey. Every square has its taverna where locals gossip, discuss politics, drink retsina and play backgammon.
In the tranquil countryside, tiny white villages nestle in mountain valleys. Since wind is the most abundant resource here, windmills power grain grinders and olive presses and draw water for irrigation. After the winter rains, the fields are ablaze with wildflowers, but this lushness is only a gift of spring. By June, drought and hot winds will turn the landscape into a parched, brown wasteland.
Still, surrounded by such serene beauty, Greeks have reason to celebrate life. And the celebration comes to a climax at Easter. That's when I find myself on the island of Santorini, following a procession led by Greek Orthodox priests in traditional Byzantine attire. The procession winds its way through the village, ending at a religious service inside the beautiful Byzantine church.
Later, wandering through the cozy lanes, I come upon a family roasting their Easter lamb on a spit in their backyard. When I stop to take a picture, the matriarch vigorously waves for me to enter. Out comes the retsina, and a plate of roast lamb, cucumbers and olives is placed in my hand.
A boom box whines a belly dancing tune. Grandfather jumps up from the table, twirls a handkerchief above his head and kicks his heels skyward. Grandmother joins him, apron round her neck, spinning like a teenager. Plates fly through the air, crashing into pieces against the wall. Now everyone's up, snaking around the table, dancing in true Zorba fashion until dusk.