Last week I packed my backpack and headed off to Athens. After the 5 hour train ride from Thessaloniki to Greece’s capital, I made my way to the Athens Airport where I met Clark and Margarita (a couple from our Boston parish) as they walked out of the doors for international flights. A few months ago they had decided to take a trip to Aegina, which is a small but beautiful island just an hour’s ferry ride outside of Athens. Aegina, for the past century, has become well known as the home of St. Nektarios Pentapoulos--where he founded a monastery for women and where his relics can be found and venerated.
So, after meeting up in the airport, Clark, Margarita and I headed toward the port district, which is called Piraeus. The Athens metro, by the way, is AMAZING! It’s recently renovated, extremely clean and, contrary to most things in Greece (sorry to all Greek friends, but it’s true!), it’s ON TIME! Once we arrived at the port we grabbed a bite to eat and headed towards our ferry. The harbor in Piraeus is chalked full of ferry boats and cruise ships taking thousands of tourists, pilgrims and locals alike to various island destinations. We boarded our rather large vessel and settled in for the 45 minute journey.
Once we arrived at Aegina we took a quick look around (the small harbor is right next to the island’s center) and noticed that there were not nearly as many tourists as we had originally expected. It wasn’t exactly tourist season, but it was also clear that Aegina was more of a locals’ island than one for tourists. We found our respective hotels (I was staying in a pension/hostel-type place and C and M had reserved a nice, traditional pension) and settled in for the night.
The following day we decided to take a trip up to the monastery of St. Nektarios to see his relics and pray there. We took one of the town bus’ which had clearly been in use since the early 70’s. It was old and rickety, with wooden seats and everything! It was a bumpy ride with many sharp turns, sudden stops and all of this at a rather speedy pace, but we made it to the monastery in one piece. The nuns there were extremely nice, we got to talk with the Abbess for a bit who pleasantly surprised us with some profound insights about the spiritual life.
After that we spent our time on Aegina walking around the town; the streets are of the typical island variety--narrow, quaint alleyways with small “hole in the wall” shops and much of everything painted white, blue or some appropriate pastel color. The one thing we noticed, however, is that the roads and shops didn’t look artificially designed for tourist attraction, but really seemed authentic (“dirty” if you will).
We were able to rent a car on my final day there and took a ride all over the island and around the exquisitely beautiful coast-line. We saw the ancient temple of Aphaia, discovered that Aegina at one point used to be the capital of Greece(!), and had a wonderful traditional Greek meal at a taverna overlooking the water as the sun set over the nearby mountaintops. This particular dinner occurred on my birthday. What a great birthday treat! We also drove through the center of the island, where you could see traditional Greek houses, complete with vinyards, stucco exteriors, and of course the most important part--families sitting outside together and having a meal. It was refreshing to breath in the clean, un-polluted, island air, to basque in the slow island life-style and to enjoy the various sites around Aegina.
All of that being said, however, my favorite part of the trip was the traditional (and quite famous) pistachios made fresh on Aegina. They sell them everywhere and oftentimes you can by them still warm. Ok, it wasn’t my FAVORITE part (maybe my stomachs favorite), but I definitely recommend Aegina for any pistachio lovers out there, even if you don’t care for Greek islands or culture...pistachios!!!!
Until next time (when hopefully there will also be PICTURES),