Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 2

Friday, June 05, 2009
Greek Island Day

We wanted to go to the island of Hydra, which we had heard was very graphikos, picturesque, and upon which there are no automobiles. But by the time we had taken the subway to Pireaus, the town that serves as Athens’ seaport, and had arrived at the harbor, having been distracted along the way by a church or two, all the boats to Hydra had already left for the day. So we went to Aegina, the nearest island, pronounced "EGG-ee-nah," approximately.

The church that mainly distracted us was the Cathedral in Athens, with its blue-veined white marble.

We went to the island of Aegina by hydrofoil! I don’t know how a hydrofoil works, but from the name I assume it uses the water as a foil for air. The boat reaches a certain speed and then just rises above the water, all but a frame under it, and skims over the air. I don’t know whether it’s just air flowing under the prow in a certain way that creates this effect, or whether the boat also shoots out compressed air, but it’s fun, and the boat doesn’t rock when it’s flying. It’s still a bumpy ride, so I don’t know if not rocking cuts down on seasickness; I’m not very prone to that anyway.

The boat ride took about 40 minutes and then we landed in the main town, also called Aegina. Here we were looking at the blue sea, the blue sky, old stucco houses with balconies full of geraniums hanging over narrow, stone streets. Sylvia said, “Now THIS is the Greece of the movies!” (Athens decidedly is not, and neither is Thessaloniki, both being quite cosmopolitan and sophisticated.)

We ate lunch in Aegina and walked around its picturesque streets for a while. We found a stone fort a couple of centuries old. I'll post a photo or two of it later.

Then we had two choices for our afternoon. In one direction was the grave of St. Nektarios. In the other direction was the town of St. Marina, with an ancient temple nearby and pretty beaches. We chose the latter, since our non-Orthodox visitors could have no great interest in the grave of St. Nektarios.

Agia Marina was half an hour away by bus. There were only a few seats left on the bus, so we didn’t get to sit together. I sat on the back set next to an English retired couple. They were from “50 miles north of London.” They were on a one-week holiday in Agia Marina. They had been visiting the town of Aegina for the morning. We had a lengthy and charming conversation, and Sylvia took a picture of us chatting.

The bus landed us right next to a place that sold ice cream, so we stopped there and had some, striking up another conversation with the waitress, and Englishwoman who had lived in St. Marina for four years, but was about to return to England. Why would anybody who had become accustomed to this warm, sunny, friendly place want to go back to the drear and rains of England? She had family obligations. And living and working here was not as wonderful as it might sound. The trouble is, you worked during the summer months, just when you’d prefer to be off, to do some holidaying of your own. And then during the winter, when the sea is gray and the sky, dismal, when you may as well work because there’s nothing else to do, that’s when all the tourists have gone home, and all the summer residents, too, and there is no work. In fact, there’s nothing much going on there in the winter, she told us. Except that there is a rather substantial English community, and they do things together, like have a Robert Burns night when they all wear kilts, and so forth. We wished her luck and went our way.

Demetrios negotiated with a cab driver, who agreed, for 20 Euros, to take us to the temple, to wait 15 minutes for us (“or even 20,” he said when we got there), and take us back to Agia Marina. So we went and climbed around the temple, a copy of the Parthenon on a small scale, and enjoyed our 17 minutes. The cabbie told us this temple and one other, to Poseidon, made an equilateral (or isosceles?) triangle with the Parthenon, and this had been done on purpose.

Sylvia wanted to dip her toes into the sea, at least. We hadn’t brought our swimsuits, so that was about all we could do. So we climbed down a short but steep and rocky path to a small jetty where she could sit and dangle her feet in the water. She didn’t see until too late that the top of the jetty was concave and contained water, so she sat in it and came out looking as if she’d had a bladder control problem. All part of the adventure.

We found the easy path, flat except a few stairs to the sea, on our way back to the bus stop.

Time was up; we had to take the bus back to Aegina, the hydrofoil back to Piraeus, and the metro back to Athens, where more adventure awaited us.

We had supper at a lousy taverna where the food was terrible; I left my moussaka mostly uneaten. Afterward we wandered about in the Plaka again, the touristy district.

In one broad alley, numerous illegal immigrants from Africa were selling their illegal (stolen?) wares, mostly designer purses, or at least designer rip-offs. They were sitting on the ground, their goods spread out on bed sheets in front of them.

Suddenly, as we walked among them, they began to look panicked. There was a loud shuffling sound. They gathered up their sheets by the corners, handbags and other items spilling out, and ran as if for their lives. Four or five policemen came running after them. Passersby began picking up the purses, but in a few more moments, the police were rounding up the loot.

Sylvia observed that if the police had really wanted to catch anybody, they could have come in from both ends of the alley simultaneously and then they would have caught them all. As it was, they all got away and only a fraction of their wares was confiscated.

We passed a stall selling trinkets and souvenirs. Sylvia bought a –, well, I’d better not say what she bought, either, as it may be intended for a surprise. The point is, we began conversing with the vendors, a young girl and her mother. They were from Serbia. We sympathized with them, aloud, over the plight of their country. They were very glad to meet some Americans. They were even more glad when Demetrios told them I was Orthodox. They gave Sylvia more change for her purchase than was expected, and then they gave us each some pretty, sparkly worry beads. We were very touched by their kindness, refugees who had so little.

We were again exhausted by the time we got to bed, sometime around midnight.