Hydra: The Greek island that banned wheels
(Picture credit score: f8grapher/Getty Pictures)
A rising variety of locations world wide want to scale back reliance on automobiles. What classes may be discovered from a spot that by no means allowed them within the first place?
On my remaining morning in Hydra, I awakened early and ambled all the way down to the waterside to look at the weekly deliveries. Docked on the stone harbour partitions was a barge that brings over islanders’ orders from the mainland. Patiently queuing to board the boat have been a number of donkeys. Teams of three or 4 would climb aboard then return a couple of minutes later bearing home goods, packages and even baggage of cement in woven baskets strapped to their backs. The donkey drivers – all moustachioed island males – rapidly led their fees away up alleys main off the port and out of sight.
Hydra’s archaic reliance on donkeys for transport stems from a Nineteen Fifties presidential decree that’s supposed to protect the Greek island’s structure and character. It features a rule that wheeled autos – automobiles, motorbikes and even bicycles – can’t be used there. Because the city is constructed on steep, amphitheatre-like hills rising from its horseshoe-shaped harbour, donkeys are the one type of transport that may climb the steep steps and slender alleyways as much as many residents’ houses.
Municipalities world wide are at the moment taking a look at methods to cut back reliance on personal automobiles, and even ban them from sure elements of a metropolis altogether. Certainly, the London borough I dwell in has lately launched a “low visitors neighbourhood”, a scheme that makes use of number-plate recognition cameras to limit through-traffic so solely residents can drive there. So, in direction of the tip of an island-hopping vacation by means of the Greek islands, I used to be intrigued to see what a spot that had by no means permitted automobiles was like.
Donkeys are the one technique for transporting items up city’s steep hills and alleys (Credit score: Molly Dailide)
On first impressions, car-free island life felt idyllic. In cities on different Greek islands, I might discovered myself recurrently pressed up in opposition to partitions on pavement-less roads to let mopeds buzz by. In Hydra, in contrast, I may wander round at my very own tempo, gawping at pink bougainvillea cascading down whitewashed partitions, citrus and pomegranate timber in gardens and fairly squares framed by crimson pantile-roofed buildings.
Exceptions to the rule
Regardless of the presidential decree, guests to the island might sometimes see a handful of autos, together with a city garbage truck. And whereas forbidden for adults, bicycles are allowed for youngsters as much as the age of 12 – however they’ll solely be ridden within the winter months and never in the course of the tourist-heavy summer time.
It was additionally remarkably quiet; not one of the screeching brakes or roaring engines typical of cities and cities elsewhere. Often I heard a donkey honking or church bells clattering, however in any other case silence reigned.
The city additionally felt very human in scale. Strolling up the maze of slender streets and alleys to get a view over the harbour, I often noticed teams of pals and neighbours greeting each other, chatting and gossiping in the course of the street. One night a bunch of youngsters ran previous my desk as I drank a beer by the port, bashing one another with balloons, their dad and mom with no anxiousness about visitors. Even the numerous stray cats, a well-known function of Greek islands, appeared unusually relaxed – typically sprawling out lazily in the course of thoroughfares.
I am hardly the primary outsider to be enchanted by Hydra, which has a protracted historical past of tourism and has additionally attracted a bohemian set. Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen famously purchased a home right here within the Sixties and penned Fowl on a Wire throughout one in every of his stays. Dina Adamopoulou, who works at Hydra’s historic archives, instructed me a number of painters together with Picasso, Chagall and numerous Greek artists have additionally paid visits.
Hydra is understood for its peace and quiet, one thing that has lengthy attracted vacationers (Credit score: Anton Petrus/Getty Pictures)
For vacationers like me, the truth that Hydra is car-free makes it a beautiful place to go to. However what in regards to the roughly 3,000 individuals who really dwell right here? How does a spot work within the trendy world with out wheeled transport?
“We recurrently catch hearth,” stated Kelsey Edwards, an Englishwoman who’s lived on Hydra for greater than 20 years and runs HydraDirect, a neighborhood data and property web site. “Each summer time, hearth planes have to return over from the mainland and dump water on wildfires.” Edwards defined that since a lot of the island is inaccessible due its lack of roads, the native firefighting volunteer teams are unable to place out conflagrations on their very own. Even when blazes get away close to Hydra city itself, which is the one important inhabitants centre, “everybody has to run and manually carry up water to place the fireplace out”.
And fires aren’t the one time the place an absence of autos is a hindrance. “We won’t simply dial [emergency services] and get an ambulance,” Edwards continued. She stated that when individuals have well being emergencies, attending to the city’s small medical centre may be very troublesome, particularly for individuals who dwell increased up the steep sides of the hills. Usually, individuals must be introduced down by stretcher or on the again of a donkey to get seen by medics, which Edwards stated can really feel quite undignified.
Hydra’s automobile ban stems from a Nineteen Fifties presidential decree to protect the island’s structure and character (Credit score: Freeartist/Getty Pictures)
I additionally spoke to Rebecca Eptakili, the supervisor at my resort, who has lived in Hydra for the previous 38 years. “My husband is a carpenter,” she instructed me. “One night a couple of years in the past he reduce his fingers off by chance at work.” The native medical centre merely wasn’t outfitted for such a extreme harm and, because it was after darkish, it was not doable for a hospital helicopter to fly from Athens. So, Eptakili’s husband wanted to attend for a sea taxi to take him the half-hour to the closest level on the mainland, then get one other 1.5-hour taxi to the capital.
Moreover emergencies, there are a number of day by day inconveniences that include dwelling in a spot the place autos aren’t allowed. Edwards identified that taking family waste to the few assortment factors that the city’s garbage truck can attain is a headache. Getting issues delivered is a ache too, and the prices of transporting constructing supplies is exorbitant. In the meantime, Eptakili famous that frailer individuals who dwell increased up within the city typically find yourself remoted; it is not straightforward for wheelchair customers to get about both.
Nonetheless, on stability, Edwards reckons that almost all Hydriots would keep on with the established order if pushed. “You solely should say to the native individuals: let’s decide you up, let’s put you on Spetses [a nearby island] the place you possibly can’t stroll alongside the road or go round a nook with out being run over by anyone on their annoying scooters and motorbikes and quadbikes and breathe the air that is thick with the odor of petrol, and say ‘ought to we do this on right here?’ And so they go: ‘no, no, we do not need that!’.”
Hand carts are one other widespread technique of transport on the island (Credit score: Molly Dailide)
The actual fact there are not any automobiles is, in some ways, an enormous driver of the island’s economic system. Hydra is barely about 90 minutes by boat from the busy metropolitan sprawl of Athens, but it feels a world away. Vacationers come exactly as a result of it is so peaceable. Hydra can also be a lot wealthier than different islands within the Saronic archipelago to which it belongs, Edwards stated. That is, no less than partially, pushed by the truth that outsiders like how quiet it’s.
By by no means allowing motorised autos, Hydra has prevented lots of the challenges going through different small islands within the nation. Kosmas Anagnostopoulos, founding father of CIVINET, a sustainable transport network, told me about the various problems that vehicles introduce on small Greek islands. “You have a lot of severe accidents on the islands, especially the very touristic islands like Mykonos, Santorini, Paros and Naxos,” which mainly involve tourists who don’t understand the local road networks.
Building car parks to store all the vehicles is also difficult on Greek islands due to the country’s ancient history. Anagnostopoulos explained that councils struggle to build underground parking since there’s such a high chance of digging up archaeological ruins, which then prevents further work.
During my travels around other islands, it was noticeable how congested they could get – and I was travelling in the low season. In summer, when tourists vastly outnumber the permanent population, cars and scooters strain the infrastructure to its limits, Anagnostopoulos said.
Visiting Hydra feels a bit like stepping back in time (Credit: Sky Armstrong/Getty Images)
Mimicking Hydra, and going vehicle-free, might not be a realistic option for other islands of a similar size. Nonetheless, Anagnostopoulos said that several islands are being used as testbeds to find ways to reduce reliance on personal vehicles.
The island of Kos has invested heavily in cycle lanes, he said; Aegina has banned cars from its harbour during the evening; and in Tinos, the municipality is running a scheme with battery-powered tuk-tuks. Some islands have entered partnerships with transport companies, too. For instance, Volkswagen is running a scheme on the island of Astypalea to provide shared electric car and bus transport. That said, Kosmas noted many islands simply lack the funds to implement bold transport plans.
Earlier on in my visit to Hydra, I’d headed west out of the town along the cobblestone “road” that hugs the coast. It eventually fizzled out into a quiet track, where the incense of pine lingered in the air and the only sound was the pleasant buzz of cicadas and swish of the sea. With no cars in sight and little sign of development, it was like stepping back into another time, with nothing but my feet to transport me.
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