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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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 …