Athens and Agistri, September 2017

The last two times I went to Greece, I spent my spare time on the mainland - the first time going canyoning in Rodokalos canyon and rafting on Lousios River. The second time visiting a cave and some other sites on the Peloponnese peninsula.

What I never did was a "typical Greek vacation", i.e. travelling to a Greek island and relaying there. (Only once I had booked it, I realized that I had visited Crete once, but for some reason I didn't remember that as 'visiting a Greek island', but more as 'visiting Crete', as if it was a separate entity. In any case, that was a long time ago, probably 1992'ish.)

In any case, time for an island visit, even though I just had time for a short one.

But before I entered the ferry and left for Agistri, there was one thing I wanted to do in Athens itself - have a Dinner in the Sky.

'Dinner in the Sky' is a company that sets up a crane in various locations (some semi-permanent, some only for a short time) and then lifts a dinner table with attached seats up into the sky (for a very loose definition of 'sky').

Dinner in the sky table Dinner in the sky table Dinner in the sky table

In Athens, the 'Dinner in the Sky' is located at Technopolis, which used to be an industrial site for turning coal into gas, but became obsolete in the 1980s and is now a partly an industrial museum and mostly a cultural center for various events. (When I was there, they had a bicycle fair going on, with various stands and booths selling upscale bicycle parts for the serious bicycle user and electric bikes for the lazier ones.)

They have two seatings for the 'Dinner in the Sky' - one 'sunset' dinner and another 'City Lights' setting about two hours later.

I went for the 'sunset' dinner.

After a welcome cocktail and the usual release forms, we were shown to our seats. (The release forms where the usual ones, telling you that what you're doing is potentially dangerous, so if you do something stupid and get hurt, it's not their fault. And, usually a bit more hidden away, something saying that if they do something and you get hurt, that's not their fault either.)

The seats are mounted on metal bars that stick a bit out from the table, so when you look down, you have a good view of the ground below.

The seats swivel about 90° to the sides and (as I found out later) also about 90° backwards.

Dinner in the sky seats Dinner in the sky seats

I had assumed that you would get essentially strapped into the seats, but the seatbelts are kept surprisingly loose. You have one seatbelt around your waist and two padded straps over your shoulders. The shoulder belts are lightly draped over your shoulders. You could push a volleyball under them, without pulling your chest in or straining the belts. But they are quite serious about always wearing them and not pushing them to the side or slipping the arms out.

Customers get seated

The most surprising thing about the whole construction is how stable it is.

The table itself has four anchor points for the steel cables, but as they all attach to a single crane hook, the whole construction has, essentially, one attachment point.

Crane attachment point

So I expected it to swing back and forth a bit, like an oversized pendulum.

The first indication that it would be stable and not swing at all, was that nobody asked me to attach my camera to something. "You can just put it on the table."

And then I also noticed that the wine glasses stood on the table like in a normal restaurant. No sucker cups below the glasses, no magnets, no adhesive surfaces - on the assumption that they don't want to clean up piles of broken class after each dinner, I figured that the whole thing was going to be quite civilized and calm.

Getting off the ground was hardly noticeable.

Ascending next to old gasworks Ascending next to old gasworks Skywards in the Dinner in the Sky

They didn't make any big announcement, but kept pouring the drinks and playing some music and suddenly you noticed that the ground wasn't quite as close as it used to be.

One thing that makes Athens a good place for an attraction like this is the lack of high rise buildings.

The 'Dinner in the Sky' can operate at heights up to 50 meters above the ground (then they run out or extension cord), but we were only at about 25 meters and already had a great panoramic view all over Athens and felt 'above it all'.

Athens panorama Athens panorama and me Athens panorama

And I'm not really joking about the extension cord. Due some weird fire regulations, they can't have open flames at the table, so all their cooking equipment needs to be electric. And as they (when they are 'on tour') rent a crane from a local company, they don't want to run the power along the crane cable, so they have a power cable that hangs from the table down to the ground. And it can't be too long, or it might break under its own weight. (Presumably, if you're willing to bring sandwiches and a thermos, they could hoist you up on a construction crane to more than 50 meters.)

The food was unexpectedly good.

Soup Trilogy Salmon Salad preparation Salmon Salad Food and photo

For a dinner like this, you pay for the event and the location - the food itself is a bonus. So I didn't expect much.

But they food was a good five course menu, which was well thought out.

Dinner in the Sky menu

They found a good balance between slightly unusual, but not so strange that people get scared away, and classic. So their salmon salad was based on salmon (obviously), asparagus and lettuce, but it also had raisins in it, which gave it an unusual flavour.

And they gave the food a Greek twist, without emulating a stereotypical "Greek cuisine". So all the usual bits and pieces were there, but not where you expected them.

Quite nice.

So good food, Acropolis to one side, a colourful sunset to the other - what's not to like?

Acropolis view Acropolis view Acropolis view Acropolis view
Sunset view Sunset view Sunset view

Maybe the music. Rather generic beach-bar pop-radio.

But that gets bearable after a couple of glasses.

Me enjoying the Dinner in the Sky Me enjoying the Dinner in the Sky

And you can always lie back and relax.

After the first course, they mentioned that there was a small lever at the side of the chair, so we could push the back of the seat back a bit.

I asked whether that meant "tilt back a couple of degrees" like the backrests on a plane or more the "I'm toppling backwards towards the ground" reclining.

I am glad that I asked, as the answer turned out to be "It goes almost horizontal."

Relaxing between courses Relaxing between courses Relaxing between courses

It would have been a bit unnerving if you assume that it tilts back a bit like an office chair. And then find out that it goes on and on after that, like an office chair that topples over.

But when you expect it, it's quite ok.

Later the table started to tilt a tiny bit - not much, but a bit unexpected as there was no wind. It turned out that someone below had gripped the power cable and using it to slowly turn the platform around, so people at the table could enjoy a different view - a bit like a rotating platform in a TV tower, only more low-tech.

After about 90 minutes (it had gotten dark by then), we started our descent and needed to leave the table to make room for the next group of diners.

Dinner in the Sky descending 
Dinner in the Sky City Lights sitting></A><A HREF=Dinner in the Sky City Lights sitting Dinner in the Sky City Lights sitting Dinner in the Sky City Lights sitting Dinner in the Sky City Lights sitting

All in all a nice way to spend an evening in Athens.

And the 'in the sky' bit is much less noticeable than expected.

Yes, if you turn your seat around, look straight down or recline a lot, then you become aware of the height, but sitting at the table and eating, it feels like a normal dinner.

Next day I was on my way to Agistri (or Angistri or Agkistri, depending on what transliteration you choose).

There wasn't any specific reason to go there (as opposed to one of the other Saronic Islands, like Hydra or Spetses or Aegina). The main reason was primarily just that - 'no reason'. I hadn't found anything specific on any of the islands that enticed me to go there. All seemed kind of nice.

As I had only three days to spare, I wanted to have one that was easy to reach from Athens (I didn't want to spend two of the three days mostly on ferries), so Aegina and Agistri seemed the best choices, since they are only an hour away with a fast ferry. And Agistri, as the smaller of the two, seemed sufficient for such a short vacation - having so little to do to force me to relax.

So Agistri it was.

The fast ferry to Agistri is a hydrofoil. (There is also a slow ferry, going directly to Skala, where I was staying, but that takes almost twice as long and runs only once a day.)

In principle, the hydrofoil sound like a fun thing to do - going fast across the sea fast, looking at the scenery going by, find through the hair on a warm and sunny day. Like riding a fast cabriolet car, only on water.

Unfortunately it is more like using a cheap airline. You got packed rows of seats (in the front, they were rows of four "seats - aisle - four seats" with about as much legroom as on the flight I had to Athens. So you lose all the advantage of a ship (more space, ability to walk around, look at the scenery, maybe have a coffee). So in effect, it's a low flying, very slow plane, with a lower chance of a window seat. Cheaper, though.

The metro ride to the port of Piraeus had been more enjoyable than the ferry ride.

So it was a good thing that the ferry trip only takes 55 minutes.

Admittedly, the ferries look impressive from the outside when they move at speed.

Greek island hydrofoil ferry Greek island hydrofoil ferry Greek island hydrofoil ferry

Agistri has two primary settlements, Megalochori (where the fast ferry goes to) and Skala (where the slow ferry goes to and where I was staying).

There's a bus that takes you from the Megalochori port to Skala. Since I had some luggage with me, I took the bus. (It's less than two kilometer walking distance, so it's not worth bothering with the bus otherwise.)

Megalochori Skala as seen from Megalochori Skala as seen from Megalochori

Note that the mountains visible on the last picture aren't on Agistri - they are on the next island, named Moni. At least the ones on the right and center of the picture. The hill coming into the picture on the left side is on yet another island, Aegina.

After taking the bus to Skala and checking in, I did a little walk along the coastal road back to Megalochori (this time without luggage) and then returned on the inland road, which doesn't have much of a view of the sea, but is lined by olive trees in some places and a pleasant walk. At least until you decide to do a detour via Metochi, which makes the walk a bit more uphill.

Inland road on Agistri Olive trees on Agistri Olive trees on Agistri

It seems to be mandatory for Greek islands to have a white church with a blue dome. So here's the one in Skala.

Generic Greek Church Building in Skala Generic Greek Church Building in Skala

The next morning, it was time to board another boat.

This one a lot smaller and slower than the fast ferry.

And, again, I wouldn't have a window seat. But only due to a lack of windows.

Kayak Agistri Kayak Agistri

I hadn't expected to be able to go kayaking during this short vacation.

When I knew I was going to Agistri, I e-mailed the company about possible boat trips and they replied that they usually ended their season in mid-September, so they probably would have closed down for the season by the time I would be there.

So when I arrived at Agistri and e-mailed them to ask them whether they had, indeed, finished operations for the seasons, they told me that they had some bad (windy) weather recently. So they had one nine-day tour around the islands, which they had postponed, still to do. As that was coming up in a couple of days, they had still hadn't stored away their gear for the winter and they were willing to take me on a trip the next day.

As the season was essentially over (there's a reason why they usually close in mid-September), I was the only customer, so it turned into a private tour with me and the guide.

I had the option of going to the small island of Metopi, which is about three kilometers across from Agistri, or following the coastline of Agistri to some beach and do a bit of snorkeling there.

As I couldn't quite tell how good or bad I would be at kayaking. (The bits in France and Belgium don't count, as they have been downriver. I would have gotten to the destination even if I had sat back and done nothing. So I didn't know how much of it was my own doing and how much the river had done for me.) So going along the coast seemed the safer bet, since it is easier to say "Let's turn around now" when you are at a random bit along the coast than being three quarters towards the shore of Metopi and then turning back.

So we went around the beach and port of Skala and along the rocky coast for a while.

Kayak along Agistri coast Kayak along Agistri coast Kayak along Agistri coast Kayak along Agistri coast
Kayak along Agistri coast Kayak along Agistri coast Kayak along Agistri coast

We were kayaking a while, until we reached a bit of beach that was flat and stopped for a lunch break.

Lunch break Kayaks at shore

I also went snorkeling there.

While the Saronic Islands aren't known for their fishes (most people who dive here come for the underwater geology, not for watching the marine wildlife), there were at least some fishes around, which gave me something to follow and focus on while snorkeling.

Small fishes near Agistri Small fishes near Agistri Small fishes near Agistri
Small fishes near Agistri Small fishes near Agistri

So I had a good time in the water.

Me snorkeling Me snorkeling

Then it was time to get back onto the kayak and head back to the starting point.

Kayak from below Kayak from below

When kayaking back, we went even closer to the coast and visited some cave entrencas and grottos on the way.

Agistri caves and grottos Agistri caves and grottos Agistri caves and grottos Agistri caves and grottos
Agistri caves and grottos Agistri caves and grottos Agistri caves and grottos Agistri caves and grottos

And then we headed, in a fairly relaxed manner, back to the starting point.

kayaking Agistri coast kayaking Agistri coast kayaking Agistri coast kayaking Agistri coast
kayaking Agistri coast kayaking Agistri coast kayaking Agistri coast kayaking Agistri coast

Back at base, it was time to unload and get back into normal gear.

Unloading kayak

All in all, we did cover about 12 km on kayak, so that would easily been enough to get to Metopi and back. But I didn't know that in advance. And Metopi would have mostly meant walking around the island and probably included less snorkeling, so I think going along the coast was the better choice.

Kayak trail

The distance covered was a bit more than usual on a half-day trip, but that has nothing to do with any kayaking skills of mine. But if there's a larger group, everything takes a bit longer, so they don't cover as much distance.

We didn't get far enough to circumnavigate the island. That's about 16 km to go (and that's only if you go straight between the outlying points and don't hug the coast) and we didn't have time for that (unless we would have skipped snorkeling and eating).

Next morning it was already time to take the bus back to Megalochori and the ferry back to Athens.

At the port I noticed that I had forgotten something - a cat picture.

As it seems to be mandatory for Greek islands to have a picturesque church, it seems equally mandatory for tourists to take a picture of a cat.

Luckily there was an "emergency cat photo post" right at the jetty for the ferry, so I was able to take the cat photo just in time before leaving.

Mandatory cat picture

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