You can also find me at https://auth.lonelyplanet.com/profiles/julieadexter
An informative travelogue-turned-quest to find a rare fish for dinner on the immensely beautiful, island of Agistri in the Argo-Saronic gulf, Greece.
Agistri Island is one of fourteen islands situated in the Argo-Saronic gulf, South West of Athens. It is very easy to reach in just 55 minutes on the Flying Dolphin which makes a short stop at Aegina on the way.
Agistri, or fish hook island as it is also known (due to there being a plentiful supply of fish), is a beautiful pine-clad island with a myriad of beautiful blue and green colours framing everywhere you look. There are wonderful smells emanating from the arid Mediterranean earth; aphrodisiacal scents: mimosa, jasmine, oregano and basil waft on the gentle sea breeze.
Agistri is also renowned for its abundance of fig trees. In summertime the local people dry them off on their roof tops to preserve them for winter when there aren’t many to harvest. Wines and liquors can also be made from them.
Less well-known and less visited that some of the other islands, though hugely popular with salaried Athenians, Agistri has a small population of only 1250 inhabitants. There are few cars on the road which makes it ideal for cycling. It’s not possible to go directly to some of the other islands that make up the Argo-Saronic, such as Spetses, Poros or Hydra as once had been the option. That said, it is possible to reach Epidauros in the Peloponnese from the port of Skala.
Sandwiched behind Aegina and Salamina with Metopi in the distance (also a part of Agistri, though uninhabitable) it’s a fabulous place to get away from it all.
For a small island there are a wealth of different types of beaches. http://www.agistrigreece.com/portfolio-type/agistri_beaches/
Down in the south west of the island there is lake Limenaria, next to which is a tiny island, Aponisos which you can reach by walking across a small bridge. It’s a private island and closes at 8pm each evening. To go on to Aponisos for a refreshing swim in the cool, crystal-clear water, you have to pay a small charge of 5 Euros, but it does include a free drink, sun lounger and parasol.
A word of warning – do not try to cycle there from Megalochori in the heat of the mid day July or August sun. It is further than it seems, ( 7 miles) due to the relatively high land which rises to 275 metres.
If, however, you woke up early before sun rise, or rode there after 6pm, it is indeed a joyous cycle as the smell of the pine trees is simply luxurious. You’d also be able to take a swim before the island closes, though the tavern across on the mainland is open much later. With only a small number of inhabitants living on the island and relatively little tourist activity, there won’t be very many cars passing you by either.
Before leaving Athens we were told by our friends to make sure we had a dish of katsoules for them as that particular fish is quite a delicacy being native to the Argo Saronic gulf. I had assured our friends that of course we would most definitely eat a plate of katsoules for them since they couldn’t come with us. And that would be such an easy thing to do. Or so I thought.
I didn’t forget my promise when we set off to have dinner each night. But after three nights and some searching, we found octopus, squids, mullet, prawns, anchovies and others – but no katsoules. But I don’t give up easily, and before I knew it, my get-away-from-it-all vacation turned into a quest to find katsoules.
Visiting a few taverns on Agistri, I ask before I sit down whether they have these delicacies. Each time I inquire, my request is met with a smile. I begin to wonder whether there is something fishy about these katsoules?
When I ask a restaurant owner why they are laughing she tells me she thinks it’s quite strange for someone outside of the islands to ask for them as not very many people know of them.
“So you don’t have any?” I ask at the third tavern in Milos.
“Oxi. No. No katsoules.”
Fortunately, as I am walking down Megalochori, I see a fisherman sitting on the wall with a bucket by his feet. I approach him – he surely will have some fish in that bucket and maybe a katsoula too!
“Yeia sas,” I say. “Hello.”
“Good evening,” he replies.
I look in the bucket and see fish swimming around. Silver and red ones. “What do you have here?” I ask curiously.
He pokes his finger in, swirls the water, looks thoughtful and tells me it’s mullet, red snapper and that he will eat them with his cat that night. His sharp, green eyes shine brightly in his lean, brown face, his glistening white hair framing his face.
“And do you often find Katsoules?”
He smiles, then raises his nose in the air indicating a firm no.
This time I ask why not. “I heard that this is the place for Katsoules, only here around Agistri.”
“Yes,” he says. “Usually around here.”
“And why is that, why only here?” I ask .
The fisherman makes a snakelike motion with his arm.
“Sea snakes?” I guess.
“No, not sea snakes” he laughs. Little scholikes. They like to eat the scolikes we have here.”
“Scholikes?” I repeat, non the wiser.
He nods, “I don’t know in English,” he confesses.
I discover later that these katsoules are fussy-eaters, apparently only having an appetite for a specific type of worm found at the bottom of the sea bed in the shores around Agistri.I have yet to discover why there aren’t any this year, though I am assured by a fellow traveller-chef that the neighbouring island most definitely had some earlier in June.
Later that evening, a thought occurred whilst I munched my way through a delicious plate of fried prawn, why do the katsoules only eat those particular scolikes?
If you know, please do let me know!
JulieADexter, August, 2016
My scrumptious dinner of fried prawns with lemon.
If you want to look out for a katsoula or two, this is what they look like.
You dont have to speak the language to hear the desperation in the old man’s voice.
We have boarded the subway train for the journey to Piraeus. A little old man shuffles up, then down the train, his arm outstretched proferring an empty plastic cup in hope that someone will place a few euros into it. He is somewhat dishevelled, grubby looking, possibly homeless. It’s my guess that he has probably spent some time rooting around in rubbish bins to find food which many people now do – such is the far reaching impact of the economic crisis here in Greece.
At Petralona he is replaced by yet another person asking for money, then a further person asking for support for the hospitals, and finally an accordion player.
Every country has always had, and increasingly does have its share of poor people. But the middle class, it seems, are also struggling. Middle income earners have suffered astronomical reductions in wages due to the hefty hike in tax and national insurance premiums. There is no government support for children, and scrupulously low time-limited unemployment benefit support, after which there is nothing. Employees have had to face cuts in salaries, else be fired.
Since the taxes – the ICA and TEVE have risen to astronomical proportions, people are barely surviving. The Greeks are indeed fighters: and a proud nation – but many have been brought to their knees. Further pressures have meant that further hardships have had to be endured. VAT stands at 24%. In the coming months it is likely that new taxes will surface. I heard that a new tax was being introduced for owning and maintaining a swimming pool.
Families who have saved for many years in the private pension fund with Commercial Union have seen their funds disappear. After years of paying into the Union, the funds have simply gone – it is likely that they have been embezzled by a Greek tycoon who has sent the money who knows where. Thankfully he has now been imprisoned. Of course there is no way of recovering the money – they will have to go without. It’s like rubbing salt into the wounds after all the suffering that has already been endured, there now won’t even be a pension to look forward to. To top it all off, I hear that many people have not been paid their salaries that they have worked hard for, for months. Is it possible for the situation to become any worse?
As I stare from the ferry window at the Piraeus Cultural Centre which looks as if it, too, has seen better days, I hope not.
I’m fortunate to have worked my socks off and to be able to spend the next five weeks visiting Athens, Piraeus, the Greek isle of Agistri, Boitias, Malta, Gozo and Comino.
Instead of scribbling here and there in this notebook or that, I decided to publish in the form of Travel Writing.
The aim of these pieces is to inform, entertain, and celebrate differences that catch my eye, or ear; widen our understanding of other places, of other people as well as serve as a memory. Who knows it may even actually be of some use in providing information on places you’d like to visit – although there are the Lonely Planet guidebooks for that!
Having read a couple of LP guidebooks, this blog may offer additional information not already cited there.
Hope you enjoy this window into worlds you may never see – at least not the way I see!
I look forward to posting my first shared travel blog and many more thereafter!
JD July 28th, 2016
Doris Lessing Born 1919, D. 2014.
You will be missed. For the work we are missing now you have gone.
In your own words:
“My soul is a room, a great room, a hall – it is empty, waiting.” We shan’t know now what that would come to be filled with.
and then: “A great space that enlarges, that grows that spreads with the steady lightening of the human soul.”
With your acute sensitivity and sensibility you remind me that, “If we don’t feel, how can we believe anything is happening to us at all.”
You breathed life in to so may other worlds, have smiled life.
You have helped to make readers who they are through different ways of seeing. You have touched us but now let go into space like a free bird.
Thank you Doris Lessing