Last week I shared a bit about our sailing trip in Greece which we went on back in June. Today is the next installment in my Going Greek series, but this one features the first island we visited (and for the next few Friday’s I’ll be sharing our stories from each of the 7 islands we explored during the trip!) Be warned – this is a loooong blog post. I just couldn’t stop myself from taking ALLLLL the pics because it was my very first taste of the islands. So make a cup of tea and join me as we explore Greece together right here! After setting sail from Athens around 2pm we headed for our first overnight stop – a tiny bay off the coast of Aegina island (or Egina) This island is the one located closest to Athens and makes for a magical day trip from the capital city if you want to get a taste for island life.
Aegina Island, Greece
After trying our hands at sailing for the first time (even an emergency “hat overboard” situation), we were only too excited to drop anchor off this bay as the sun started to set and dive in for a swim in the Aegean Sea (named for Aegina Island obviously!) Brad and I then decided to take the dingy boat out for a spin…
And that’s when the real adventure began!
With a motor on board we didn’t think it necessary to take the oars. MISTAKE! Always take the oars. Within just a few mins we had lost all power on the motor and suddenly found ourselves adrift at sea. Things could have ended badly, but fortunately our crew spotted our wild waves and one of our new friends dived in and swam over 200 meters to come and pull us back to the boat!
We realised that the motor was leaking oil and set about formulating a plan to replace it the next day… More on that story later!
The beauty of spending time slightly further away from the Equator in summer is that the sun sets that much later than back home and before we knew it it was way past 9pm (yet still light) and we were feeling hungry. We could have opted to eat aboard the boat (heaven knows we’d bought enough food) but my wanderlust can’t be quieted when I’m mere meters from an unexplored spot so we joined 2 more of our crew in the dinghy (with oars) I was feeling a bit apprehensive about our combined rowing skills as the wind had picked up so very nervously stepped aboard. I chose not to take my camera – I was that nervous we would end up in the water… something I regret now because we didn’t… and that meant I wasn’t able to capture the amazing experience of walking the streets of a Greek village at night for the very first time, but maybe that meant that I enjoyed it even more??
After a brief walk around the village we found ourselves seated seaside at a traditional taverna complete with a vine covered trellis over our heads and our yacht twinkly back at us from the bay. It was magical and the perfect way to start our Greek experience. (although the rowing back in the pitch dark and choppy waves is now firmly pushed to the back reaches of my mind!!)
Our first night sleeping on the boat is another one of those memories I’ve filed in the “not to be remembered” category… this was my first experience of sleeping at sea in a tiny little boat (Cruise ships are a different story!) The amount of sleep I got was very minimal as our yacht seemed to be rocking from side to side the ENTIRE night. I suppose that is what the sea does! In retrospect I think this motion is far worse when you’re at anchor and the yacht moves around and gets lapped by the waves. This was by far my worst night – probably also because I was terrified that all the motion would set off sea sickness and I REALLY didn’t want that!
What it did mean was that I was up bright and early with the sunrise and ready to head out to explore some more…
We didn’t have long for sightseeing. We needed to set sail again around lunchtime to make it to our next port plus we also needed to make our way over to the other side of the island to meet a certain ferry that would be carrying our new onboard motor.
My research on Aegina lsland had indicated that located in the hills above us was one of the very best examples of Doric architecture: The Temple of Aphaea. I had to see it!
Our very brief stint in Athens had meant I hadn’t yet caught a glimpse of any Ancient Grecian ruins (I had kept my eyes peeled for the Acropolis, even from the sky, but alas!) Fortunately we discovered that one of our new crew was also a keen photographer like me (a much better one!) and loved exploring and adventuring. So at 7:30am on the first day of our holiday we set off in our dodgy dinghy across the bay to make our way on foot up the hills of Egina to this perfectly preserved ancient attraction!
Waking up early on holiday is not my usual choice, but what I have learnt is that it is ALWAYS worth it!
The light, the stillness, the general everyday goings-on that you miss once the tourists are about. Those first few golden hours are a photographer’s paradise… and I snapped away!
This picturesque village is known Agina Marina and it is located on the Eastern side of the island (closest to Athens)
After mooring our dinghy amongst the local fishing boats and waving goodbye the resident ducks, we started our ascent to the temple by following a rather small signpost pointing up a few steep hill!
And it was a climb!
Up, up and up again we plodded on, one foot in front of the other, grateful that we weren’t doing this in the heat of the day (although it was already very warm!) The views behind us kept us going, knowing that further up the hill we would have an even better outlook…
And then, finally, when we’d started to wonder if we’d taken the right route, a glimpse through the trees of our reward…
The Temple of Aphaea (or Aphaia)
We arrived just after opening time of 8am and paid our 6 euros entrance fee for access to this special sanctuary. And gloriously we discovered we were the only people there!
Heaven for a travel photographer – no crowds blocking your shot or stepping into your selfie. So Raisa and I snapped away merrily while fully appreciating the magnificence and history of this ancient creation….
Aphaea was said to be the daughter of Zeus and was similar to the virgin goddness Artemis. The nymph was only worshipped on this island, Aegina, since the second millennium BC. This Doric temple was erected between 500 and 490BC on a very ancient cult place of worship with smaller buildings that had burnt to the ground. This masterpiece of temple architecture was built during the political and cultural peak of the island state of Aegina.
I may have taken a photo of this beauty from every. single. angle. But I’m sure you can forgive me… I mean how beautiful?? That bright blue sky, not a single tourist in sight!!
This is the view of Aegina island down to the main town of Egina and Agistri Island in the far background.
Finally, when we spotted the first fully laden tourist bus pull up, followed by 2 more, we decided it was time to leave… and treated ourselves to some pistachio gelato for breakfast whilst gazing down on our bay of yachts… where the rest of our crew still lay sleeping!
Then we began the long descent back down the hill, following the winding road this time as it felt a bit better for our knees (Some of us are pushing 40 after all! Let me just clarify that – it’s not me!)
We headed back to the boat only to discover that the plan had been made for some of us to head over the island by taxi to collect the motor rather than to sail round. So off the 3 of us headed again – you can probably tell by now we love a new adventure. And this one surely smelt like one. As it turns out – it definitely smelt like something!
But first, we had to hurry up and wait!
This is a Greek island after all. It’s not a thriving metropolis for a reason. People come here to relax. And so we did… under duress we were forced to relax for quite some time while waiting for our taxi.
Our first taxi didn’t show up, then another one arrived but didn’t want to go to the other side of the island. Then the local shop keeper saw our plight and offered to phone a friend. That didn’t work out either. Finally we had a commitment from a taxi. But it still took about 40 mins to arrive! All the while we were waiting! Fortunately this time I had my camera (lesson learnt – don’t go anywhere without it!) so I used the time to take a few more pics of Agina Marina. And it sure was looking splendid in the morning sun!
Another thing abundantly clear – that blue and white Greek thing is a thing!
Finally our (woman) taxi driver arrived… and she looked a bit skeptical when we started to load the dud motor engine into the back of her car… but we’d wrapped it up in black bags. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, actually, quite a lot!
Let it first be said that this Greek woman knew the curves of this well-worn road rather too well and basically we flew over the island at warp speed, whipping around the bends oblivious to the fact that the roads were rather narrow, and I was sitting in the back seat which is a notoriously bad spot to sit if you’re prone to motion sickness.
And then things got REALLY bad.
A small of diesel started to fill my nostrils. Could there be a problem? We immediately pulled over and to our horror discovered that the dodgy engine had leaked diesel ALL OVER THE BOOT. Ack.
I’ll just remind you round about now that the Greeks aren’t known to be a mild-tempered bunch. A few more words ending in ck.
Total panic ensued.
Brad grabbed the leaking engine out of the car and onto the side of the road. I grabbed the black bags and attempting to tie them tighter while also trying to mop up the oil and diesel (yes, both!) from the boot of the car. Raisa tried to calm down our taxi driver. We all swore a lot.
Finally after letting most of it run out on the side of the road (not our finest Greek moment) and after we’d convinced our taxi driver to not leave us stranded in the middle of an island, we tentatively climbed back into the car with the engine wedged upright between Brad’s legs in the back and me trying furiously to ensure it wasn’t dripping onto the upholstery. And the Greek driver FREAKING OUT at us in Greek all the way down to the Marina.
But we did stop on the side of the road opposite this particularly pretty spot so that’s worth remembering… right??
Finally we were unceremoniously dumped at the port and humbly parted with quite a bit of cash to make up for the major mess we’d inadvertedly caused, only to discover that we’d missed the 1pm ferry and it had left with our new motor still onboard!
No one had bothered to mentioned that the way the cargo system on the ferries work is that you have to be there to collect it in person at the specified time. No one takes it off the ferry and kindly leaves it at the office for you to collect in person at a suitable time. Nope. It doesn’t work like that – just a heads up for when you need to ship a boat engine (or anything) from one port to another in the Greek isles. You’re welcome!
So, what to do?
We didn’t feel like lugging the leaking engine back over the island again. Nope! That wasn’t about to happen. So we asked to send it back on the next ferry to Athens and washed our hands of it, literally! We had to wash our hands!! They were covered in all sorts of fluids that didn’t smell too good.
After the seriously stressful turn of events, we definitely deserved a good Greek meal, and a bathroom to wash off in, so we sat down at a restaurant overlooking the main street of Aegina Port to enjoy a meal of moussaka while watching life pass us by….
Looking back now I can say that the day turned out to be pretty good, it started out great, hit a few snags but was completely redeemed by the Moussaka for sure.
Holidays are meant to be memorable and this day certainly proved to be exactly that!
How to get to Aegina Island from Athens
It’s easily accessible by ferry from the port of Piraeus in Athens and the trip takes around 40 minutes by Flying Dolphin and 75 minutes by conventional ferry. A return ticket costs approximately $20.
Follow the rest of my adventures in Greece by reading the other posts in this series…
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See all the highlights of our sailing trip around 7 Greek islands in this short video…
Images: Kathryn Rossiter