Greece (like Oman) has many spellings for it’s towns and islands – Aegina or Egina and Piraeus or Pireus or Pireas, Oia or Ia and on top of that all signs in the Greek alphabet. It made it difficult when looking at the Tom Tom which didn’t recognise the spelling we used. Google translate is also good but not for English to Greek as it only translates to the Greek alphabet!

We left the Peloponnese on the 13th of June for the ferry port of Piraeus, taking the van over to the island of Aegina, one of the closest islands to Athens in the Saronic Gulf of the Mediterranean for a couple of days. The slow ferry only took an hour and ten minutes. Friends of our friend Ruth in Lubeck own a hotel close to Agia Marina and they were happy for us to leave the van there while we took the ferry back to Piraeus, bus to the airport and then flew over on Aegean airlines to Santorini for a few days. The buses and ferrys were very clean and ran very smoothly and were a pleasant surprise after hearing many stories of ferries being cancelled and long delays. We experienced none of that.

Aegina is a picturesque island with pine and olive trees and is renown for it’s pistacchio nuts. We passed many groves of the trees on our way across the island to Kavos Bay. The Kavos Bay hotel was about a 20minute walk from Agia Marina on the north east coast of the island and was on it’s own at the tip of the island. It was a very relaxing spot and the rooms and restaurant overlooked the very blue water of the Mediterranean. A rocky path took us down to the clear water for a swim although it was a bit tricky getting into the water because of all the rocks. Access to the water was much easier nearer Agia Marina.

We were very pleased that we didn’t take the van to Santorini as the traffic was bumper to bumper for most of the day with quad vehicles and hire cars driven by tourists who couldn’t drive. This coupled with local traffic, delivery vehicles and the huge coaches taking tourists from one end of the island to the other and coaches taking the thousands of tourists from the cruise ships around the island made driving a nightmare.

We were lucky that we could avoid the crowds by walking around early in the morning or later in the day (it didn’t get dark until about ten o’clock) once the cruise ships had left. One day five cruise ships and between 10-15,000 tourists were on the island, making their way around the caldera with many older people staggering up and down the steep steps. Cable cars brought most people up the mountain while a few hardier ones used the steps or rode the donkeys who were led down to the base of the cliffs every morning. At least they looked well fed when we saw their keeper take them up our street (a little way off the hectic part of town)in the morning and down again at night.

Santorini was so much busier than when I first went there about thirty years ago. There were a few shops selling carved items of olive wood or glass souvenirs but most of them sold the very boring cheap and nasty ones with Santorini written all over them. A lot of the ceramic items were no longer glazed. It was however still a magical island especially at night with a wonderful atmosphere sitting overlooking the sea, the volcano and the caldera way below at a superb restaurant with wonderful food and service or having a cocktail and watching the sunset which was not until about 8.45pm. The restaurants we chose – La Maison, Salt and Pepper and Melitini were all excellent with very varied food and no Mousaka or Pastitso to be found which was fine as most restaurants we had been to in Greece in the past three weeks offered a limited range of traditional Greek food. I had cooked most of our meals in the van with fresh produce especially the blood red delicious tomatoes. We especially enjoyed the “Fava” boiled split peas pureed and eaten with chopped onions and olives.

La Maison in Imerovigli had a delicious variety of beautifully presented foods while Salt and Pepper in Fira Stefani had very fresh fish and seafood and Melitini in Oia offered innovative Greek tapas. The cocktails at Palia Kameni and the service at all of the restaurants was exceptionally good and prices were surprisingly reasonable given their position overlooking the caldera.

The Fira (Thira)side of the island was very rugged with whitewashed appartments, hotels,bars and restaurants down towards the sea. Along some of the roads we even found some gum trees. We took the bus (a very frequent and good bus serviced the island) to Oia (Ia). The other side of the island to Thira was not so rocky and more graduated down to the sea with vineyards and various crops.

The architecture of Oia although also on a series of cliffs was somewhat different and it seemed more of an upmarket residential area amongst the restaurants,hotels and appartments. We did go to Oia to see the sunset but it was not a very special one that night. We arrived at Melitini too early (about 7pm) when it was still very humid and very hot sitting in the sun for the first hour or so.

We had decided to take the 4 1/2 hours ferry back to Piraeus the next morning and then transfer onto another ferry back to Aegina. We met two English girls Mattea and Anya on the bus down to the ferry port so they came and sat with us in our VIP section of the boat which was very pleasant and it made the journey seem very quick. It rained slightly on the way back but had cleared up by the time we arrived in Pireaus. We couldn’t change our tickets for the ferry back to Aegina for an earlier one so we bought new ones at 13euros each and left within the hour. The fast ferry only took 40minutes so when we arrived we ate dinner at Droumaki on the seafront before getting a taxi back to the Kavos Bay hotel for a couple of nights.

We walked into town from the hotel the following day, had lunch overlooking the small port of Agia Marina and relaxed for the rest of day ready for our departure at 2pm the following day back to Athens. The Tom Tom took us down impossibly narrow streets again so that I had to get out and guide Van Mauriceson away from the walls in Aegina old town before we parked. We again stopped at Droumaki and had lunch and bought some fresh fruit and vegetables before heading for the ferry where there was virtually no one else on board as it was a Saturday lunchtime.

It was an easy drive through Athens to “Camping Athens” a small but very well appointed campsite. A major highway was directly outside but that was the only downside. The receptionist was very helpful and highlighted how we were to get to the centre of Athens via a bus right opposite the campsite and then a quick metro ride to the centre of the city. We landed at Syntagma square where we saw the changing of the guard in all their regalia with pom poms on their shoes which looked very cute. We were there quite early so we went into Amalia National park adjacent to the parliament building. Amalia was the German wife of the first (German) king of Greece. She developed the park and it had a mini zoo with mountain goats, rabbits,geese,ducks and many types of birds.

By the time we made our way back with half an hour to go to watch the changing of the guard there were thousands of people already lined up in the blazing sun. To beat the crowds we left once the change had taken place and walked through Syntagma square and down to the Monastiraki and the Plaka area which was also teeming with people. We walked around for about five hours with a short lunch break and then caught the metro and bus back to the campsite.

We opted the following day for the free walking tour of Athens. It was spitting with rain for a short while before the day improved to a warm one although not very sunny. Maria had studied art history and was well informed about all aspects of Greek history, culture and economics. She was a very interested and interesting guide for the 14 of us that opted for this walk. Athens was very easy to get around on foot and there was much to see and hear about in the three hours. Many of the archaeological sights are in the central part of the city and in the Plaka (the hotel and restaurant area) and in the Monastiraki which is full of gold and souvenir shops. There are many parks and the feeling was one a very leafy green centre. Athens viewed from the water is a sea of white buildings spreading up the many hills around the city. It was only supposed to be a temporary capital and therefore was planned for between 40 and 60,000 people and then the capital was going to be moved to Istanbul. This never happened and what Athens has today is a burgeoning sprawling city of about over 600,000 people and greater Athens wirh over 4 million inhabitants not taking into account maybe another million illegal immigrants.

Many of the shop owners in the Monastiraki spoke an Ozzie English as they had lived for some or many years in Australia or had relations there. Melbourne has the largest Greek community outside of Greece so that wasn’t a surprise.
Part of the tour was walking through the Syntagma metro station. There was a lot of controversy about the construction of the metro given there were many archeological ruins and remains (parts had been cemeteries) so when they built it they retained or recontructed the layers of what was there including an open stone coffin with a skeleton. There were also artifacts in glass cabinets in some of the stations as well as modern sculptures which made them an interesting part of the city.
We had a vegetarian pitta in one of the more modern establishments and after buying a kilo of cherries for 1.69euros and a nice gold ring for me and a leather wallet for Maurice made our way back with sore feet to the campsite.

There were a few newly arrived camping cars – one with a friendly dog and one with a friendly cat Junior pronounced (shunior) He was French. Again the animals were well behaved and not a sound from them until they went on their walks out of the campsite. I attempted to replicate the “Fava” (yellow split peas, boiled, pureed and eaten with chopped onions, capers and olives) that we had eaten on Aegina after getting the recipe from the waiter but it didn’t quite taste the same. I since found another recipe online that I will try. The large Aegina tomatoes and yellow capsicum stuffed with a rice mixture we enjoyed on a number of occassions. We bought many peaches and nectarines which were extremely tasty.

The Acropolis and archaeological museum were left for our last day in Athens as well as the old cemetery area of Keramicos at the confines of the old city. It was about a twenty minute hike up to the Acropolis which was covered in scaffolding with a massive reconstruction underway. In order to differentiate the original from the new, they are now using a lighter coloured material in the columns and building structures. We walked from the top of the Acropolis down through the ancient Roman Agora or market to see the Stoa of Attalos an enormous two storey structure which has been totally reconstructed. Behind that is the Monastiraki area and beyond that the Keramikos ancient cemetery. Our feet had had enough for a while so we stopped at a nice little cafe where we must have looked hot as the owner came rushing over with complimentary water for us. There are many very upmarket cafes and patisseries also in the suburbs which we discovered on our way out of town.
The Thesseion metro station was nearby so we caught it and left it at Omonia square where we walked another twenty minutes up to the National Archaeological museum which was interesting with many artifacts, statues and marble steles in various states ranging from parts of a leg to some complete and beautiful statues from the period 100 to 500BC. We saw a gathering for a demonstration against the proposals put forward by the government. I’m sure there will be many more.

Our legs and feet had really had it by then so we caught the metro and bus back to the campsite which only took half an hour.
We thoroughly enjoyed our four nights in Athens and the friendly, welcoming and helpful nature of it’s inhabitants. We found the city, trains and buses to be very clean and tidy although there was much graffiti everywhere like in other major cities.

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