Whenever Athens became a little too much (too hot, too crowded, too empty, too noisy, too whatever), we would take the metro down to the port in Piraeus and buy a ferry ticket to Agistri. You can take a hydrofoil to the island and you’ll get there in a little less than an hour, but here’s a secret: those big, hulking ferries are better. You might lose another hour of your life to travel, but there’s something magic in that ferry ride from Athens to Agistri. Skip the air conditioned interior and head straight for the outside deck. Watch Athens blur into a smoggy spot in the distance and then, for two hours, clear your mind and look out into the water.
Agistri is a small island covered in pine trees. From far away it looks uninhabited, but once you get closer you see the edges of the villages built along the coast, barely creeping up the sides. Once you’re closer you’ll see houses, pensions, boats, a church. It’s a humble island – you won’t find billionaire yachts docked at its harbour like in Spetses, it doesn’t have the donkeys and white washed buildings of Santorini and it definitely doesn’t have the party zone atmosphere of Mykonos – but it’s simple and beautiful. The air smells piney, salty. It can get busy in town, especially on a weekend in August, but for the most part it’s quiet and peaceful. In the summer you’ll hear cicadas as soon as the sun rises – they’re everywhere – and then they quiet down at night.
Agistri’s the kind of island you can walk around in easily. If you’re visiting, you’re probably in Skala, and it barely takes 20 minutes to walk the length of it. Milos, the nearby village where most of the inhabitants live, is also a nice walk away, but there’s a bus if you don’t feel like exerting yourself. There’s one taxi driver. His name is Stelios.
At the hottest point in the summer, we were in Agistri swimming twice a day. There’s a sandy beach by the port when you arrive, but there are so many other nicer places to swim on the island that sometimes I wonder why people bother. The water’s a little dead there, not so salty and must be dirty from all the incoming boats.
For the longest time, my favourite beach was Halkiada. You follow a path along the edge of the island and arrive at the top of a cliff. I like bringing people here for the first time and telling them that they have to climb down that cliff to get to the beach. It looks impossible and dangerous, especially when you’re wearing flip flops and a bikini, but the truth is that if I can do it, anyone can. The beach is infamous for being a nudist beach, so don’t be surprised by the naked men. Join in, if you like! Or don’t; no pressure. The beach is also a haven for campers who set up their tents for the weekend and sleep by the sea. The beach was overrun with them this summer, so we stopped going there as often. Actually, I haven’t been swimming there since June.
Sometimes we’d take the bus to the other side of the island, get off in Limenaria, where there’s a church, a taverna and a few houses, and walk down the path to the smallest beach. It’s not actually beach – you are essentially swimming off of a rock – but the water is deep and blue.
But this is my favourite place to swim these days, down a little path towards a little sandy cove. It doesn’t take long for the water to get deep and you can swim towards the rocky cliffs along the side, maybe see some crabs:
When we’re in Agistri, we generally take advantage of having a larger kitchen than we do in Athens to cook. When we don’t feel like doing that, we’ll head out into town to eat gyros (at Gyro Bank, who I’m sure didn’t clear the name with the real Eurobank before adopting it as their theme), at one of the seaside tavernas or for a crepe at our friends’ hotel, Hotel Galini, near the church.
Or we’d head to Rosy’s. Rosy’s is a little gem of a place on Agistri, built into the side of the island, and often we’d go there in the afternoon, drink some white wine, chat with Rosy and her family and check our email. (Another advantage to Agistri: no distracting Internet connection at home. I probably wrote as many words in Agistri as I did in Athens, and I was in Agistri for half the time I was in Athens.)
There’s something about night time in Agistri that makes me kind of melancholy. The darkness, I think, and that heavy silence. But it’s the kind of melancholy you need sometimes. An old, sweet sadness. A few nights ago we were sitting on the patio, eating dinner. It was dark out, and when it’s dark you can see the twinkling lights of Aegina across the sea. I was looking at those lights and suddenly they started exploding. Fireworks! They lasted only a few minutes, but I saw them and it was like the feeling of seeing a shooting star, like it meant something, and whatever it meant could only be good.