Everyone assumes that you’ll visit Greek Islands. They are all so famous, Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, and many others. We decided to stick with a one day trip from Athens to Aegina, one of the islands in the Saronic Gulf very close to Piraeus.* We could take the metro from Omonia all the way to Piraeus, walk down the street to the landing, take the fast ferry and be on Aegina an hour later.
We spent a fine day in Piraeus the week prior to our visit, scoping out where exactly the ferry landing is. Guidebooks and information online says Gate E8, but when you get there, E8 extends for about a quarter of a mile, and the ferry to Aegina leaves from just about the farthest point. We were glad to know where we were going in advance. We spent the rest of that day exploring Piraeus, visiting the archaeology museum, having lunch overlooking the sea. It was delightful.
We got up early on a Tuesday, drank our coffee and walked to the Omonia station to catch the metro. About 20 minutes later we were in Piraeus, and we headed for the ferry landing, a 10 minute walk. We arrived well in advance of the 9:30 am fast ferry, bought our tickets and waited to board. The ferry left on time, and I was surprised to find face masks mandatory, since elsewhere in Athens (on the metro) masks are mandatory and only about half the passengers wear them. Boarding was not allowed until the mask was in place. We had reserved seats, though it appeared that others did not.
The ride went smoothly, and we disembarked in the center of Aegina town, on the west side of the island. We headed straight for a cafe for cappucino, watching the harbor, the visitors, and the beautiful day. I decided that we had to do some beachcombing, so we strolled south until just beyond the harbor, where we found a small section of beach. A lot of eelgrass had come in on the tide, but there was enough exposed sand and gravel to hunt around a bit. We picked up a few pieces of sea-worn glass, though most of our finds were quite recent and we tossed them back to get a little more polish. Jonathan found a piece of red glass, and that’s quite rare, and pointed out a tiny blue-green piece that may be very old. It has a bit of patina and a folded shape. I found the rim of an old soup plate, and a few other things.
We couldn’t keep going very far, as the beach area was small and there are miles of rocky coast. Perhaps if we’d had a car, we could have looked for more places to visit, but we were content to go on to the next order of business: visiting an archaeological site.
Aegina has several ancient sites, as people have lived there from the late Neolithic around 3000 BC to the present. One of the best known sites is the Temple of Aphaia. We were going to get a taxi out to the site, but decided to look it up first to be sure it was open. It was not. Our fallback choice was the Temple of Apollo on Kolona Point, just north of the port. The site was much larger than it first appeared, as people have lived there for so long. Successive layers of occupation by ancient Greeks, Romans, the later Byzantine empire, and even later groups cover the entire hill.
We began with the museum at the base of the site. We’ve found that the small museums (Kerameikos, Piraeus) sometimes have interesting things to see.
After the museum, we climbed Kolona Point to the site. Only a single column remains of Apollo’s Temple. Like other sites, the ground is covered with excavated features and piles of column fragments that cannot be reconstructed. A German group excavates at the site each year; there were signs in Greek, English, and German explaining many of the details and showing the different layers of occupation that are difficult for visitors to identify. The view out over the gulf is spectacular, and we strolled around the point on some of the many paths to admire the view.
Despite the mild weather, I wasn’t interested in taking a swim, but we noticed a number of tourists sunbathing on the beach. We saw some of them on the return ferry in the afternoon, a few burned lobster red.
Having exerted ourselves by climbing the hill and exploring the site, we turned to the important business of having lunch. One of the restaurants recommended to us would involve a cab ride, and we had let it get rather late. We wanted lunch promptly and overlooking the water, so Jonathan consulted his phone and came up with O Pelaϊsos. Once seated, we decided that this stop would take up most of our afternoon. We had more than enough to eat, with taramosalata, saganaki, and fried calamari. Jonathan drank ouzo, and I had white wine. We idled away quite a while people watching and eating. Finally, we had to move.
On the way back toward the port, we stopped to buy pistachios, the Aegina specialty. A local cooperative packages most of the local production, the woman selling them said that every family on Aegina finds space for at least a few trees. The pistachios are a bit smaller than I am used to, but they have excellent flavor, and were not oversalted. The sales crew are generous with samples. We bought a small bag to eat immediately, and more to take home as gifts. It’s something distinctly Greek, and delicious.
Back at the harbor, we found a partially shaded bench and sat to await our ferry, not knowing we would witness the drama of the afternoon. As we sat, the wind got stronger and stronger until I had to jam my hat on my head so it wouldn’t take off. The wind turned the sea into a mass of churning waves exploding across the seafront. A tour boat had left its mooring on the wharf to sit out on the water in the rough sea. Passengers began arriving to board, but the sea had started to break over the wharf, splashing and spraying. The tour boat approached the wharf, ready to extend its gangplank. Bounding on the waves, the crew had difficulty getting a line to shore. After heaving up and down for a bit, the ship pulled offshore again and made another approach, but was still unable to near the wharf without tremendous bobbing up and down. There seemed no way the gangway could be extended safely. On the next try, the crew almost landed, but at the last minute pulled in the gangway and set off again. This kept up for more efforts without success. Part of the problem was that the ship was designed to back in and sit with its narrow stern at the wharf. In rough seas, with everything rising and falling 4 or 5 ft with each wave, the ship was extremely unsteady. It didn’t appear to be equipped to moor with its side to the wharf.
Late to depart, all the tour boat passengers had gathered, some people climbing on the cement planters to keep out of the waves sloshing onto the wharf. Normally, there’s one or two ticket takers, but not anyone to manage the crowd, and some of the waiting passengers were getting panicky, no doubt wondering whether they were about to be stranded for the night on Aegina. As the boat moved offshore again, passengers crowded onto the wharf, retreating only when the captain began another try at backing in. On about the sixth try, the captain brought the boat in at the far end of the wharf, where a large car ferry had just departed. Perhaps there was more protection from the sea, but for whatever reason, the crew got lines across and finally lowered the gangway. I was concerned there’d be a rush to board, and it looked pretty dangerous, but the passengers hustled onto their boat, and it left on their return trip. A very dramatic end of their afternoon. It took five or six tries over almost a half hour for it to get close enough to board people safely. It was quite a performance and a tribute to the captain.
I was happy to be going on the Aero 2 fast ferry, a heavy catamaran that barely rocked in the heavy seas. The wind blew strongly all the way back to Piraeus and on into the night. When we disembarked in Piraeus, the wind blew us down the street to the metro. In no time we were home, though it was almost 8 pm. One of our longest days out, but Aegina was worth it.
* For those who might be wondering WHY we skipped those famous islands, it’s mostly because they are so hilly. Sometimes there are very steep stairs between the road and the beach. Our knees are not up to that any more.
2 thoughts on “Day Trip to Aegina”
I like Winifred’s print pants worn on the day trip.
I only wish the weather made it possible for me to wear them more often!
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