The writer (right) takes a scenic drive around Mykonos, Greece, this summer. // © 2012 Skye Mayring
While I didn’t end up renting a Ferrari for a scenic drive around Tuscany and Umbria (an excursion costing nearly $8,000 per car rental), I did have a few hands-on, adventurous experiences of my own in Europe this summer.
During my 12-day Mediterranean Masterpiece cruise on the Crystal Serenity, I spent an afternoon exploring Greece’s popular party island, Mykonos. The cruise ship docked near Mykonos Town, which is where most of the year-round population (approximately 11,000) resides. Not everyone will want to explore the city by foot, but getting out of town to see other corners of the island isn’t entirely easy for tourists — taxi cabs are scarce and, for the most part, unreliable, and the bus system calls for strategic planning. For those who feel comfortable behind the wheel, however, moped rental companies are omnipresent and easily accessible throughout town. Personally, I couldn’t resist getting my hands on a scooter, even though I had never driven one before. This, as I soon found out, was no obstacle.
About 15 minutes and $20 later, I was handed a helmet and keys from the owner of Babulas Rent a Bike. It was almost too easy. The challenging part, I decided, was finding my way to Paradise Beach Resort on the south side of the island without veering off a cliff or hitting another motorist along the way. With the sun on my back and a tropical breeze cooling my face, I navigated the island’s windy roads at a snail’s pace, passing the island’s famous 16th-century windmills and powder-white residences that overlook the Aegean Sea. Somehow, I made it to Paradise Beach for a quick swim without as much as a knee scrape. Next time, I’ll drive a bit faster.
With my newfound hubris, renting a boat in Capri, Italy, seemed to be the natural next step. Banana Sport, located next to the ferry ticketing office in Marina Grande, rents boats to tourists for approximately $120 per boat — and a boating license isn’t required. Up to five people can share the costs, so small groups end up getting a pretty sweet deal. The rental time covers two hours, long enough to circle the island in addition to stopping for a swim or snorkel. An ice chest and snorkeling equipment are available free of charge but only by request, so be sure to pipe up before leaving the dock.
Like many first-time visitors to the island, I came to Capri with the intention of seeing the Blue Grotto and, therefore, made it my first stop. When I pulled up to the cove, the scene was not a serene as I had pictured it. Dozens of boats overflowing tourists were competing for the attention of oarsmen, and the area reeked of exhaust fumes.
A rowboat is the only way to enter the Blue Grotto, and oarsmen take on the role of selective gatekeepers. It’s not uncommon for an hour to go by without any sort of acknowledgement from any of the oarsmen, which can be frustrating for even the most patient of travelers. From my experience in mid-July, I found the Blue Grotto to be a true tourist trap and, although its luminous sapphire waters are gorgeous, the experience is hardly worth the wait.
For me, the highlights of Capri were anchoring at the Grotta Verde (Green Grotto), which is one of the few swimmable grottos on the island. I also had a blast speeding through the center of Capri’s picture-perfect Faraglioni, known as the “Go Through Arch.” Clear, warm water and the backdrop of rugged, white cliffs made it easy for me to spend the better part of a day cruising and snorkeling around the island. And, more importantly, I achieved a certain sense of freedom while captaining my very own boat.
On Mykonos and Capri, despite the inherent risks, I had opened myself up to new experiences that were both unpredictable and memorable — precisely why I love to travel so much in the first place.