This is Greece...

First field trip: success. Getting me to leave the island was a near impossibility. I’m rejuvenated. I’m happy. 

Aegina from the ferry
 Aegina: the beach island of Athens. A mere 40 minute ferry ride can get you to the island. We had some rainy weather in-transit, but the skies cleared as soon as we reached our paradise. The moment I stepped off the ferry, I knew my life had changed. This is Greece. Small buildings, tiny cobblestone streets, fish markets, small population of locals, and boats as far as the eye can see.

                We ventured up a tiny side street about a hundred yards from the Aegean Sea and checked into the most precious hotel of all time. It’s over two hundred years old and is seriously Greek. Spacious courtyards and a roof with a roof with a vast view of the Aegean and the island are only a few of its quaint characteristics.

                After snapping a few pictures from the roof, my roommates and I decided it was time to explore. We followed the water around the side of the island to the beach where a few men were working on their boats. There’s something strange about watching Greek men working with boats. They’re completely in their element; their craft is ancient. Since Greece has no natural resources to offer, they make boats.
  From the water, other islands can be spotted in the distance. The high peaks of mountains stand heavily contrasted with the bright blue sky. We waited to watch the sun setting until our stomachs twanged with hunger. Since we were on a Greek island, we agreed that seafood would probably be the best idea. Thus, in search of the freshest, we embarked.

                We wandered the backstreets for a restaurant uniquely Greek—no inflated prices or shmoozy waiters. While searching, we passed two old men sitting outside a shop. “kali spera,” we greeted them. Good evening. Turns out, they knew a surprising amount of English, and were eager to help five lost girls. Because we came during the off-season, they told us, not many shops were open. However, for the freshest food, we needed to head to the restaurant directly across from the fish market. We asked which way and one of the old men merely pointed to his left and said, “Just follow your nose.” We did just that.

                It’s hard to miss the smell of hundreds of fresh fish, octopus, squid, shrimp and every other possible creature which can be extracted from the sea. Sure enough, right across from the market, we found a tiny restaurant. The couple who owns it also runs it. The husband buys everything ten feet away and takes the orders from customers while his wife cooks. The husband spoke enough English and we spoke enough Greek to make it work. He was thrilled. Tourists are rare in his restaurant, he told us.
Octopus hanging outside a restaurant

                When the time came to order, I knew I had to be bold. Kalimari, for sure. It was served with white wine and bread with tsadziki---a cucumber and yogurt dip. The kalimari melted in my mouth. I’m so glad for my courage. In the end, the owner loved us so much that he only charged us '10 (ten euro).

                 The next morning, we awoke to the smell of every possible breakfast cake: chocolate, lemon, tiropita (made with ricotta), apple, and so on. Once the group felt entirely full, we hiked to the temple of Apollo high on a hill overlooking the island. The temple uniquely consists of at least 10,000 years of history—dating from Neolithic times until Byzantine occupation. 

High above the Aegean Sea with Cate
                We then took a bus well out into the rural parts of the island to the temple of Apahaia. The temple is incredibly well-preserved, high-above the sea overlooking Athens in the distance. We all camped out on the edge of the cliff bordering the Aegean. The Greek landscape is breathtaking.
               On the way back, we stopped at a potter’s home well out in the country. There we had the extreme privilege of watching the potter make two vases. His weathered hands effortlessly shaped the clay. He told us his craft was hundreds of years old within his family, yet he is the last one.

Favalina, the cat
                Our bus brought us back into town where we decided to grab lunch at a restaurant on the non-touristy side of the island. This particular restaurant sits right on the water and offers a wonderful menu. Once again feeling adventurous I told the waiter I wanted his freshest fish with melitxana thgangto (fried eggplant). Best decision of my life. The fish literally melted in my mouth. I think he called it gopes? Regardless, everything was cooked perfectly. Perhaps the fish tasted so fresh because they cooked it whole—bones, tail, and all. It was hard for me to tear myself away from the view, food, and especially the beautiful cat whom we called Favalina—after the restaurant. 
           I’m not sure what I would consider to be my favorite part of this trip. It felt wonderful to get away from the city and out into the countryside. The air is clean, the hills remain terraced and tended by shepherds, and the culture of the people remains uncorrupted by the outside world. This is Greece.

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