Sunday, May 18, 2008

Backpacking in Greece: Attica, Peloponnese, Northern Greece, Islands (Part V)

The only islands discussed here are the ones I visited at the end of my trip. This includes Aegina/Moni and Mykonos/Delos as well as brief stops in Siros and Tinos.

After a tedious ride back from Thessalonika to Athens, I was ready to get out and see something new. So I left for Aegina as early as possible.


Aegina: (6,333 inhab.) "Aegina Town" is the main port on the island that dominates the Saronic Gulf and it's only an hour's ride from Piraeus. In Classical times Aegina (history) was called "the eyesore of gulf" since it is very visible from the Acropolis and was an arch rival for some time with Athens. On the trip over I actually saw some dolphins alongside the ship, a sign of good luck. At the island, the lone remaining column from the archaic Temple of Apollo is a distinguishing landmark. The site is now called Colona, due to the remaining column. It is a picturesque town centered on the harbor where fresh fruit and seafood is brought in daily. I didn't stay very long here though, just enough to quickly see the Temple of Apollo site (not much though) and to talk my way into a brief view of the closed Archaeological Museum (may be open now), which had some big renovations going on due to structural damage. If you can get a postcard of the harbor at Aegina, you can still see the ancient docks under the water. I met some wonderful people from Osh Kosh, Wisconsin in Aegina as well (it was easy to pick out the American since I was wearing a "Fat Albert" T-shirt). Also, all the island's transportation is centered in Aegina so you'll have to go through there often if your moving about the island.

On the way to the main temple, we pass by an unbelievably large church. It is brand new and is supposedly the largest "church" in all of Europe. It sounds too odd to be true, but it is at the site of the monastery containing the body of Saint Nektarios (the first saint to be canonized by the Orthodox church in modern times). If your on the island, stop by and take a few photos.

Agia Marina: A small port town that relies mainly on tourism for the temple on the hill above. I stayed here three nights and I loved it, Temple of Aphaia on Aeginamainly because of the company and the food, but the hotel (can't remember the name, but it is the tallest one and probably one of the first on the left as you arrive from Aegina Town-maybe the Pantaleron?) was cheap and nice with a great view. The restaurants are great. Surely go by the "Three Brothers (Adelphoi)" by the shore and inland a kilometer (along well lit roads) is supposedly the best on the island (argh! can't remember this one either, but it is as you head back inland, possibly towards Alones?.?.). The Temple of Aphaia at the Archaeological site of Aphaia on Aegina is the big draw. It is fairly intact and most of the pediment statues have been spirited off to Germany. There were some terrific statues though. It still is unique in that the interior second level of columns have been reerected at some places. It has been struck by lightning in the past 30 years so there is a big, tacky rod next to the temple. Though the placement of the temple on a hilltop has the drawback of lightening strikes, you can see the Parthenon and the temple at Sounion from here if you bring some good binoculars. There is also a good view back to the mainland and some neat water trapping devices (a valuable commodity in the summer).

Perdhika: A really small town on the Southern tip of the island. Some good little bay restaurants and boats leave here for the island of Moni across the strait.

For additional Aegina information, try here.


A deserted island where there was once attempted a resort (the remains are prominent and derelict), but now it is a wildlife sanctuary. Tourists are allowed during the day and there are usually sunbathers and artists painting. There is also a German WWII lookout post at the top of the large hill. Good for a day hike. The island is inhabited by numerous peacocks and miniature horses with wild goats and giant hares (sounds a bit odd doesn't it). The peacocks and horses can be a pest though. The remains of the previous developments are an eyesore and junk is laying around all over the island. The beaches are not very large also, but it is still peaceful and unique.


This apparently seems to be a very desolate place, but as quick as you make a turn around a point the main town comes into view. It is a very common stop for trips all across the Aegean because of its location and size. The main town (Siros or Ermoupolis) has 13,000 inhabitants and is supposedly very clean and well built. What is obvious about the place when your boat is docking is the number of industries. It is one of the most industrialized towns in Greece with many cotton mills and tanneries. It is also well known for the neoclassical architecture of many of its buildings. Like every town of its size, Ermoupolis also has an Archaeological Museum, but theirs was founded in 1835 and has been housed in the same building since 1899. It has some Cycladic art as its main attraction, as well as the usual assortment of classical and hellenistic works.


The island of Tinos is the third largest in the Cyclades. The port town of Tinos (where my ferry stopped) has 3,800 inhabitants and is dazzlingly white. The huge church that dominates the landscape was created with reused material from the Temple of Apollo at Delos. The island becomes swamped with people as August 15 approaches each year due to the pilgrimage on Our Lady's feast day. There is also an Archaeological Mmuseum, built in the 1960's, that houses some pottery, marble reliefs and some sculpture.


Though I didn't know it (I didn't research the islands at all except for Aegina, since I didn't think I would have time to make a visit), Mykonos has quite a reputation. It is a very attractive town of 4,850 inhab. The island also has extremely high commercialization and it's very touristy, but somehow I'm not sure if the Hard Rock Cafe I saw has any real affiliation with the others. The streets are purposely bewildering (to confuse the pirates that used to raid the town) and the whitewashing of the buildings and streets contrasts remarkably with the blooming flowers and bright painted doors. It wasn't into the high tourist season so I wasn't exposed to most of the traffic but I did seeMykonos harbor at night some University of South Carolina caps and a white feather coat. It is well worth a stop if your nearby if only to experience it shortly.

When the ship disembarks, you are overwhelmed with offers for lodging. Women come with their photo albums full of pictures of their dhomatia (rooms to let). There is also a good little Archaeological Museum of Mykonos with a remarkable scene of the fall of Troy on a pithos. The five white windmills that dominate the town's view are still stunning, as are the homes that reach right down to the water below them. The food was great here also. Just grab something to eat in one of Mykonos' many bakeries or cafes (Hibiscus Croissanterie is great for a quick lunch), or you can eat at Niko's Taverna (don't ask me to describe where it is at, but it is not on the bay!). The whole stay was odd but since it wasn't too crowded and it wasn't too hot, I enjoyed it. (For Mykonos travel plans, HERE. For other Mykonos info, HERE.)


The ride over from Mykonos to Delos was very choppy but not too rough. The site was so large that there's no way I can describe much of Delos here. The picture here is of the lions that line the main entrance to the southern part of the island, coming from the sanctuary. The best word to describe the site is "Big"! It would take a few days to see the entire Archaeological Site of Delos. There are plenty of tourists at the site (it has become more tourist-friendly) but since there are no permanent residents, the ruins have been well preserved throughout the entire island. The site has been preserved in modern times and excavated by the French. In 1990 the entire island was named as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was believed to be the birthplace of Apollo and was treated as holy by the Classical Greeks. There was a major sanctuary to Apollo here with numerous temples and dedicatory buildings. A tax free trade zone was set up here and the island's population and reputation grew quickly with many foreigners establishing buildings and even sections on the island. There is a theater and many "mansions" that have been partially restored. Their Bouleterion was discovered and is now online as is the huge theater. Also the sacred lake with it's palm tree is neat, and the mosaics in the houses are stunning. The stadium was too far away for me to make it to after the amount of time I spent at the rest of the sites, as was the "mountain" that is often trekked up for a good view of the island. Don't miss the Archaeological Museum of Delos, though they were renovating part of it when I went by. Guide books are needed here to decipher the layers and regions of the island, but don't miss any of it! Take your time walking around Delos and I know you'll enjoy it.

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