The Greek Islands are scattered across the Aegean Sea like handfuls of semi-precious stones. Each one with its own individual form and colour. Looking out to sea at any given point, there is always another destination on the horizon; another journey full of promise and expectation to be had.
From Athens, the island of Aegina is only an hour away by boat and is the easiest of these gems to visit in a day.
We left from the port of Piraeus and it is almost incomprehensible that within 65 minutes of leaving that hi-rise skyline behind, you will be arriving in the tiny island harbour with its backdrop of pastel coloured , neo-classical buildings.
Travelling by ferry in Greece is a bit like travelling by train in Britain. This is not a service just for day-trippers – this is a practical means of transport, vital for both the inhabitants and the businesses of the islands. Here are young women shopping in Athens for a special occasion and people going to the mainland for medical check-ups.
On both legs of our journey that day, we had a group of young Greek Orthodox monks in there tall black caps and long black robes.
The real joy of travelling by boat
in the Aegean, is the sight of more shades of blue than you ever thought possible to see. The glistening dark indigo of deep water, the bright cobalt of the sky – even in January. We are followed closely by seagulls and the foaming white, wake of the boat cutting through the sea.
Arriving in Aegina,we wait for the ferry to dock and the passengers, cars and trucks to head out. There is the usual mild confusion of an island harbour -disorientated visitors,others with eyes scanning hordes of strangers for the familiar, long-awaited face; arms raised to attract attention; hand-shakes and embraces. But we are soon out exploring this gorgeous place.
Out of the town, the land is green this time of year – bright green and the citrus trees are heavy with oranges and lemons. This though is not the best season to see the island’s most famous crop. In Greek, pistachios are called ‘peanuts from Aegina’ (φυστίκια αιγίνης ). and everywhere you look there are the grey, skeletal outlines of the pistachio trees, now dormant. It must be a true marvel to see them in blossom and later in fruit.
Back in the town we stop for lunch. There are two tavernas right at the back of the fish market – we chose ‘Yeladakis’ (Γελαδάκης)
The taverniaris offers us a variety of different fish – small fresh cod, octopus, whitebait, to name a few. We settle on squid and a type of red-mullet called ‘koutsomoúres’ (‘flat-faced’). They are both served fried to perfection. The squid is soft and tender; the mullet so fresh that the bones can be gently pulled out by the tail. Our side dishes are a crisp cabbage and carrot salad,dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and fried potatoes, sprinkled with oregano. A small carafe of local white wine is the perfect accompaniment.
Too quickly it is time to take the ferry back to the city – there is a brief stop to buy a bag of pistachios from the local co-operative before we’re back on the sea again. This time we don’t go on deck. Tired and well-fed, we close our eyes.