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Speaking from the grave

My idea of a holiday is not having to make decisions. I quite like the idea of tossing a coin and letting fate decide where I go and what I do. Another option is to travel with someone who does know what they want to do and where they want to go; someone hovering on the same frequency. I had no strong opinions as to what we should spend our final hours on Aegina doing. It was too hot to think so I was more than happy to accompany Ms G to the church of Agios Nektarios and the monastery of Agia Triada.

IMG_3695 (800x600)There was a crowd of people milling around the bus station. The bus we wanted should have left ten minutes earlier but was running late. The lady at the ticket desk told us it was full and the next one wouldn’t be for two hours. But that would be too late. Not the end of the world – simply more beach time and a longer, lazier lunch. But then she said she’d check with the driver to see if he’d take us anyway. We got the last two places – standing places – in the stairwell.

IMG_3719 (600x800)The 6km journey up hill and down vale was quite reminiscent of Malta. Little chapels and random grottoes dotted the roadside. Pistachio farms attached themselves to olive groves. Stone farmhouses stood stoically, oases of cool in the  heat of the day. It’s the stuff that spontaneity is made for. I’m sure that many a life-altering fantasy was conjured up along this road as those who had come to Greece to escape a ratraced reality dreamt of stopping the world and simply getting off. Maybe turning their hand to olives or pistachios and converting the farmhouse into a B&B.

First off the bus at Kondos, we went straight to the church of Agio Nektarios (St Nectarios). He was born in 1846 and died in 1920, so as far as saints go, he’s relatively new,  yet he’s one of the best known of the Greek Orthodox saints. This was my first stumbling block – I didn’t know the first thing about that religion and was confusing it with Greek Catholics. Now I know that Greek Orthodox are members of the Orthodox Church. Greek Catholics are members of communities which were once Orthodox, but entered into communion with the See of Rome and accepted the Pope’s authority — i.e., they are part of the Catholic Church. Greek Orthodox believe that Christ is the head of their church – not the pope. As for Greek Orthodox vs Roman Catholics… that’s a whole other missive.

St Nectarious’s crypt is in the church itself and each month, thousands come to beg favours and seek his blessing. Apparently he was a great miracle worker in his day, a prolific writer, moralist, philosopher, theologist, poet, and mystic. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, he established the monastery next door – the Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) – a monastery for nuns where apparently 14 still live.

IMG_3709 (800x600)I wish that they would take the time to translate something about what they do and what we saw. But that’s selfish of me. I should have read up on it before I went and prepared myself. It was quite a shock to read the sign at the monastery entrance; wondering what constituted half-naked and why they should be so against trouser-clad women diverted my attention for a while.

IMG_3711 (800x600)IMG_3710 (600x800)There were two small chapels – one with the old marble tomb in which the saint was first buried. Those filing inside stopped briefly to put their ear to the tomb and it was only later I realised that the faithful believe that if they listen hard enough, they will hear him blessing them. Were a Martian to pop into mass in any Catholic church, he’d have cause to wonder at the veneration of a man nailed to a cross and perhaps have a hard time getting his head around the transubstantiation of the Eucharist… and I could feel his pain. I was completely lost as to what was going on and what I was supposed to do, or not do. But at least I wasn’t half-naked.

IMG_3726 (800x600)My religion is one of order and routine. We stand, sit, and kneel on cue. The Greek Orthodox seems random – lots of signs of the cross, lots of kissing of icons, lots and lots of candle lighting, not to mention the chanting and the constant movement. It would have been so nice to have it all explained to me but from what I could see, we were the only ones without a clue. Everyone else seemed quite at home. [A complete aside: Did you know that Greek Orthodox is very big in America?]

It was all a little frustrating and so very complicated – it seemed in marked contrast to the simplicity of everything else I’d seen since coming to the island. But then again, I’m not Greek.

I did have have my three wishes though as I have the luxury of believing that there’s only the one God – no matter what we choose to call Him or where we choose to house Him. And that belief works for me.

 

 

 

 

Too little time

A few years ago, being somewhere and not seeing everything would have made me feel like I was betraying some sort of tourist pact whereby holidays involved getting up at daybreak to be sure that each and every item on my list was ticked off. How could I say I’d been to Paris and not seen the Eiffel Tower? Or been to Venice and not seen St Mark’s? Or been to Berlin and not seen Checkpoint Charlie?There are certain things that are must sees but even those don’t need to been seen the first time round. I mean, it’s not like these places are going anywhere. [I’ve relaxed a little – I didn’t get to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam until my fourth visit.]

IMG_3657 (800x600)We had about 32 hours on the Greek island of Aegina. Buses are infrequent and packed to the gills. One guy has a mafia-like control of the car rentals at the port of Aegina and he was asking more than we were prepared to pay – on principle. So we had to make a choice – stay in the town or pick one place and figure out a way of getting to see it.

IMG_3737 (600x800)There are tours that offer trips captioned .’Three Greek islands in one day’. While we were lying on the beach, one such tour landed – mostly a mix of Asian and Americans. The former walked along the water’s edge carrying open umbrellas and then took their umbrellas for a paddle; the latter got into the water and then took to the sun chairs. Two hours later, it was back on the boat to the next port of call. I can’t imagine a worse way to see the islands. What little I’ve seen of Greek life leads me to believe that it simply doesn’t lend itself to that sort of pressure.

IMG_3662 (600x800) It was hot. Very hot. And such weather isn’t at all conducive to sightseeing yet both of us had this thing about at least making an effort of some sort to see more of the island that the port town itself, even though that, too, had to be explored. After whiling away the afternoon on the beach on Monday, we ventured out to explore the back streets of the harbour’s edge. It was a warren of individual boutique shops, each one offering something unique. After the sameness of shops in cities around Europe, it was refreshing to see some individuality. I am now a fan of the Greek label JOINclothes having spent way too long in that particular shop – and leaving way too much money behind me.

IMG_3749 (800x588)Pocket money spent, we gravitated back to the water. Some of the yachts tied up at the harbour were impressive, speaking as they did to another way of life. Some were part of flotillas, hired for a couple of weeks of sailing through the islands. Others were privately owned and lived in. Yet again I resolved to play the lotto – as that’s about the only way my life will ever include large chunks of time on the water.

greekWe stopped every now and then to eat or have an ouzo or a glass of local wine, which was cheap and served chilled. I have a whole new respect for Greek salads and have been converted to the simple culinary joy that is souvlaki. Greek food is simple but good; a lot like Greek life.

Walking home later that night, the sun having set over the water, we saw Greek family life at its best. Three generations took to the public benches. The elderly sat on walls and held forth while dads played with kids and mams chatted and all combinations thereof. The soft light of the evening bathed everything in a comforting glow that would have made a great advertisement for simple living. No one was plugged in. Everyone was engaged. It was lovely.

IMG_3682 (800x600)Back at the hotel later that night, we began the process of deciding what to do with the few hours we had on Tuesday…

We could go see the Temple of Aphaia  which dates back to the seventh century BC. We could visit Paleochora, the remains of a Byzantine city. We could check out a traditional pottery workshop in Mesagros.We could get a little bit of religion in by dropping in on the church of Agios Nektarios and the monastery of Agia Triada. And then there were old fishing villages and more archaeological ruins. The whole island is only about 80 square kilometers – but time was an issue and we had to decide. Aegina has been around for thousands of years, we told ourselves; it’s not going anywhere. We could always come back. But in the meantime, we wanted to explore some more …

 

 

It's all Greek to me

There is nothing that decompresses as much as physically transitioning from one pace of life to another, slower one. We were up at the crack of dawn this morning to taxi to Piraus to catch the ferry to Aegina – an island about 70 minutes boat time from Athens (and apparently the first capital of modern Greece). As we pulled away from the dock, we left a city settling in under a blanket of smog, created in part by the black smoke coming from the speedboats that were carrying those in too much of a hurry to take the puddle-jumpers to wherever it was they were going. Mammoth cruise ships carrying enough passengers to populate an average Irish town had yet to waken while incoming ferries disgorged hundreds of commuters heading to work.

IMG_3620 (800x600)IMG_3629 (800x600)We landed in Athens last night with enough time to check in to the lovely Palmyra Beach Hotel at Glyfada, drop our bags, and head out to dinner on the beach. As you do. Some decent Greek wine for me and some ouzo for the inimitable Ms G helped wind down what for both of us had been a stressful week. We sat by the shore until they closed the place down around us and then made our way back to the hotel for just a few hours of sleep before heading to the island.

IMG_3613 (800x600)I’ve never been to Greece before. It’s not a country that was high on my list of places to go, if it featured at all. Athens isn’t a city I’ve ever been particularly curious about and yet when he told me to be in Athens at 9.04 pm on Wednesday, 6th August, I immediately booked a flight. My last date with fate on 2 February 2013 marked many changes – good changes – so who knows what this one will bring.

IMG_3640 (800x600)It might well be the effects of the sun, but I think I can see the changes already. I am so calm I don’t know myself. I’ve only logged on once today and haven’t checked my phone at all. I’ve finished one book and have two more in reserve. We docked at Aegina early morning and couldn’t immediately see our hotel. So we did what any self-respecting Irish/Hungarian duo would do – we checked with the first bartender we saw. Nothing like taking advantage of local talent. .. but such information comes at a price.

Pulling wheelies behind us, we wended our way up the hill to our hotel and got to check in early. The Klonos is lovely – really lovely. That makes two in a row. We spent the day at the beach decompressing and feel as if Budapest is somewhere in the distant past. I’m keeping a watchful eye out for Tom Conti look-alikes (there’s a plethora of Shirley Valentines), and half expect to hear Pierce Brosnan singing his heart out in some little ouzeri tonight. But even if both fail me, I won’t be disappointed.

This is the first time in a long time that I’ve felt so relaxed. It’s going to be a good week. And yes, Wayne Brett – I’ll be back in BP by Friday 🙂

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