Aegina: The Land of the Lotus Eaters

It has been a while, true. Give me a break, I have been exploring some Greek Islands! But really, that’s what I have been up to the past two weekends and now that I am back and sun-kissed, I am ready to share all the strange, beautiful, and unexpected happenings.

photo curtesy of Miranda.

photo courtesy of Miranda.

 

First we travel back to last Saturday when I went with three other ladies from the program (Annie, Milica, and Miranda) to the nearby island of Aegina. We arrived with zero plans other than the intent to explore as much as possible. After sampling some of the island’s famous pistachio nuts, we rented four-wheelers to cruise around the island. After growing up in Wisconsin, it was pretty crazy that this was my first time driving one! The man giving us directions observed my newness astutely as he stated “No driver, no driver” but nonetheless allowed us to drive away. We caught on quite quickly and soon were making our way across the island.

Apse

Apse

Saint Nectarios

Saint Nectarios

 

Our first stop was the Church of Saint Nectarios. This was initially a monastery established by the Saint himself in 1904. As we wandered the outskirts of the Orthodox church I found a lovely nun who pointed us in the right direction of the entrance to the actual chapel.  Something you notice after visiting many Orthodox churches is that they spare no extravagance; chandeliers, carved wood, tapestries, painted ceilings, icons, and absolutely stunning apses and tabernacles. Sadly, there was scaffolding taking up the entire middle of the church, a view up the aisle was near impossible.

Monastery of Agios Nektarios exterior.

Monastery of Agios Nektarios exterior.

 

We set off again to find (literally. because we took a few wrong turns) our way across the island. Through some detours and nature walks, we eventually found ourselves having a little picnic before checking out the Temple. While enjoying our snacks of almonds and apples, a middle-aged woman starting making conversation with us. A friendly local who used to own a shop by the shore and now lives elsewhere on the island. After recommending another location to visit on the island she invited us over for lunch followed by outrageously complicated directions to her home (“back the way you came . . . a left, and then a right, then it goes sort of up a hill, there’s a bakery, then a white van, then two bins, that’s my street . . . ” etc). Greek hospitality, right? Well, we will put a hold on that story for now.

With our student-discount tickets acquired we entered the ancient site to see the Temple of Aphaia. Although this temple was erected around 500 BC this site has evidence of cut activity since the 14th century BC. Not much is actually known about this strong Archaic Temple.  it was originally thought that it was to Athena because of her appearance on the pediment reliefs but inscriptions indicated that it was to Aphaia, a fertility goddess. 113A sweet temple, if I do say so myself, and a pretty spectacular view.

Temple of Aphaia

Temple of Aphaia

 

Next was our trip to a monastery per our new friend’s recommendation. This was the Monastery of Agios Minas. Saint Minas was an Egyptian martyr in very early 4th century AD. We arrived at the same time as a large tour group so, allowed or not, we followed them in. The courtyard was beautiful and the chapels, of course, were as well. I was reprimanded for attempting to take a picture so I resort to stealing a sneaky photo of Miranda’s of the beautifully painted iconic ceiling.

monastery

 

Between the lovely weather, fabulous company, and the gorgeous landscapes we wanted to stay on Aegina forever. It is here that we return to the strange and complicated tale of our friend from the temple. It is quite a saga so here you will receive a very much abridged version. We set off to try and locate this woman’s house and through much trial, error, and eventually her happening to pass us on the road, we found it. Long story short (for those of you who know me, making a short story is quite the feat for me), we made a delicious lunch, hung out with her visiting aunt who was awesome and decked out with self-crocheted clothing, talked, ate, then she got strangely and subtlety bossy/controlling, invited us to stay the night, and we left . . . quite quickly.

mixed rice, stuffed pepper, mussels, and salad.

mixed rice, stuffed pepper, mussels, and salad.

fleeing the scene.

fleeing the scene.

The best way I can explain it is by providing the analogy of the Land of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey “They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return”. For some reason while the whole series of events were unfolding it did not seem strange. Only as we were speeding away on our four-wheelers mush like Odysseus’ men fleeing on their ships did we realize the craziness of it all.

 

I am happy to report that we made it safely back to the port. We returned the bikes, and shopped for some of Aegina’s famous pistachios. Yum! Then we rested on the port, and watched the sun set over the sea-green water and admired the full moon as we recapped literally the strangest day of my life.

Farewell Aegina!

Farewell Aegina!

 

None of us would have guessed that we would have such an adventurous day when we set out at 6:00am to visit our first Greek Island. Aegina will always hold a special (and weird) place in our hearts that only the four of us will truly understand. A valuable lesson was learned that day of walking the line between being open to new experiences and staying logical and prudent in decision-making.  I’d like to say I have since mastered this skill, but alas, I am still a work-in-progress.

 

 “Prudence is the footprint of Wisdom.” ― Amos Bronson Alcott

 

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