And other stories from my trip to Greece.
I got a coffee and sat down on the boat from Athens to Aegina while trying to make peace with its rockiness. That’s the problem with Adventure Lily. She has limits such as motion sickness and being bad at speaking different languages. Greek is especially hard as a language because when you’re looking at the letters you think you might know what the word is… but then you end up being totally wrong.
It was a bit stormy when I arrived at the Aeginitiko Archontiko hotel in Aegina, but the door was standing open anyway. The hotel owner, whose name I have since forgotten, pinched my cheeks and said I had a cute face, immediately taking on the role of a sort of Greek auntie. Later that evening, I went down the street to rent a scooter (the best decision I made during the whole trip). The scooter man asked me what hotel I was staying at and after the name came scrambled out of my mouth, he nodded and said, “Ah I know that lady… she talks too much.” But I liked her.
The next morning I climbed up the stairs of the hotel to the breakfast of my dreams in a sunlit indoor terrace. I think the hotel owner made the breakfast in the tiny kitchen that was also her office. She sat me at the corner table, next to stained windows that reflected splotches of color all over the walls, and squeezed some orange juice for me right then and there. Across from me was a buffet table with coffee brewing and a spread of homemade Greek delights. I tried my best to have a little of everything, knowing this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
- a piece of feta cheese and filo dough pastry
- a piece of spinach and feta quiche
- a slice of orange syrup cake
- a slice of pear syrup cake
- a plate layered with slices of ham and cheeses
- a bowl of fresh fruit
- another strawberry looking cake that I was too full to try.
At the table just in front of me two Greek women–I think friends with the hotel owner–were listening intently as she listed the ingredients of the quiche, and the best way to make it. I only know this because I heard the word “feta” and “filo,” in the midst of the Greek. She paused in her instructions to give a loud and long “Kaliméraaaa” to a man who walked into the breakfast room. It had quickly become my favorite Greek word because I understood it and also because in France, I never got the sense that people said “bon matin,” in the same way that we in the States often say, “mornin’.” But the Greek “kaliméra” was said like a mom says “good morrrninggg” to her kid who has just gotten up after sleeping way past the allotted time for the greeting to work.
In the room next to the indoor terrace, a group of Brits sat at a round table underneath a painted ceiling, which was the hotel owner’s pride and joy. I listened to their conversation even though I couldn’t directly see them. They had stayed in the hotel before, and seemed to know the hotel owner… or at least they knew her food quite well. I pictured them as a group of British people from a Miss Marple mystery novel: eating eggs, sipping tea and gossiping about important people. Maybe wearing hats. I, the lone traveler with nothing better to do, was Miss Marple in this particular imaginary situation. (Although she would have been knitting.)
But since there was no actual mystery to solve, I left before their conversation was finished because I wanted to scoot all the way around the island. The scooter rental man had asked me if it was my first time to Aegina, if I knew the roads. I did not know the roads, I told him. “Well,” he said, shrugging. “You’ll figure it out. There’s not that many. Just go easy on the front break around corners.” I told him I had a lot of experience going hard on the front break and crashing. I have lived and learned when it comes to the front break.
Alone and free, I made many wrong turns as I rode my way around the island in search of the Temple of Aphaea. It was my own personal pilgrimage and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a feeling of satisfaction as I did when I took a wrong turn, stopped to turn around and noticed in the distance on the top of a hill the outline of columns rising up above the trees.
The road was lined with flowers that smelled sweet and it was quite hot out, even though it was only March. Alone and without cell service, Adventure Lily was beginning to get tired of being a bit lost… but seeing the temple at the top of the hill renewed my energy.
The right road, once found, was a series of steep switchbacks around pistachio farms. (The pistachios are Aegina’s specialty. They are unlike any other pistachio I have ever had.) It would have been quite a walk for the Ancient Aeginetans to get to the temple. They worshiped Aphaea as a Goddess of fertility and the agricultural cycle. She was friends with Artemis and Athena.
Traveling in Greece off season meant that I was nearly alone at the temple. The bored lady at the pay station took my three euros and I walked around taking pictures and wondering what I would have been like if I had been an Ancient Greek.
Sitting at the top of the hill enjoying the view of the island, I planned my next destination: a coffee in Perdika.