Here I go again

‘Have you been to Cephalonia? Did you know you can fly from Bournemouth?’ Was all I needed to hear over lunch one day with a freind. After a summer of relaxation at home, I am due to return back to my day job. First, I thought, why not grab a quick week back in the sun? Greece of course.

Instead of the islands of the Aegean, this time I head for pastures new. I am in the Ionian Sea – Cephalonia. I pack only hand luggage for the week and dutifully allow airport security to test my Nivea moisturiser and factor 30 (this happens to me all the time at airports) and board a flight.

Three hours later I land on an unknown island. All I know is this is the island of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – I own the DVD and the book. Apart from that, nothing. My taxi is waiting to take me the 20 minute journey to Lourdas. More specifically Vlahata, the village above Lourdas Bay. I note the island is green. Lush with Banana trees, Aleppo Pines and palms. Buildings here are not white and blue as I am used to. They are made of stone with red roofs. Those that are smooth with plastered walls are colourful. Dulux is doing a good trade here.

I arrive in the village tired and dusty. I have forgotten my phone charger I discover when unpacking. My evening thereafter consists of a Greek Salad, a Stifado (beef and onion stew. Delicious) and trying to buy any electronic device that helps me charge my phone. I end up buying a European plug with two USB ports which solves my problem. Weather forecasts, time of day, blogging and photography all salvaged, I go to bed ready to throw myself into the week ahead.

I’ll let you know how I get on…..

Until next time

The reasons behind my decision to fly home are many. I am fed up with my own company. I am an introvert by nature and I find building transient relationships exhausting. My clothes are dirty. Hard as I try, they all need a proper wash in a machine. I feel scruffy, my denim shorts could walk home on their own. I am buying clothes I dont have space for.

My back is now sore. A variety of hard hotel beds have taken their toll. I am in pain. Too many Greek beers and milky coffees mean I now avoid making eye contact with my soft midriff.

I have enjoyed every moment of my time in this beautiful place. There is something magical here that makes me wax lyrical like I’ve overdosed on vitamins.

So I prepare to say goodbye to these isles of blue and white, so beloved of the Greek Tourist Office, postcards and taverna walls the world over.

I head back to Mykonos to fly back to London, saying goodbye to Andros. The island of green hillsides, sandy beaches, geckos and butterflies. Go there – just keep it between us for a bit longer please.

Mykonos – package holiday heaven. A shock following Andros and Milos. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mykonos for all its camp debauchery, nonsense, bling and fake boobery. Plenty of all on display. But when you have been walking around in shorts and a vest for weeks, it comes as a shock to realise you need to raise your game and smarten up. The sun dresses need to come back out. This island is for those who want to, and can afford to be seen.

Personally, I feel refreshed and more confident in myself. I wouldn’t hesitate to do this again. I needed to stop my daily life, as it was, and totally rest up. It has been exactly what the doctor ordered. I was emotionally overdrawn and I’ve done this in an effort to put something back in the bank.

I have lost some people along the way when I was at my most emotionally fragile. Not everyone has the patience, empathy or understanding to recognise someone struggling. I hope by talking more and speaking up, we can change that.

I have more journey’s in me I know. I will continue to wander this summer closer to home. I have plans already.

Apologies I haven’t told you the monasteries or best restaurants to visit. This was always a personal journey and not a travel guide. Others can provide that information I am sure.

Thanks must go to Tina for her company and excellent driving in Milos. Costas in Paros who took me to the best beach. Yiannis at the Dolphin restaurant in Andros for the chat and the delicious food, and George and staff at Kolona Beach for too many beers and the best mojitos in the Mediterranean.

Thankyou also to you all for reading. My blog has to date had over 1100 views worldwide from 12 countries. I have enjoyed sharing it with you. I had lost some confidence to write, so this has been therapy. Please dont judge me too harshly for a lack of construction or punctuation – I am on holiday!

I hope you have had as much fun as I have keeping me company. After the UK my second largest readership was in Greece. That makes me very happy. Who are you? Get in touch. I’d love to hear from you.

Gigi

Batsi crazy

Gavrio harbour in Andros was in darkness as I arrived. After a never ending journey I didn’t linger. A taxi took me the 5km journey to Batsi.

My taxi driver asked me, in Greek, if I spoke Greek. I replied, in Greek, that I did not really. Never the less, he insisted on holding a 15 minute conversation in Greek. I felt like I was sitting some kind of final exam, only I hadn’t revised, it was 10pm at night, I was tired and hungry. ‘How long you stay in Andros?’ ‘Is it your first time here?’ Etc. Relieved to arrive in one peice both mentally and physically – the drive was exhilarating in darkness, I checked into my hotel and went straight to bed.

The next morning I looked out of my window to see where I was. The Gulf of Batsi lay before me. The view makes me say ‘wow’ out loud. I wish my camera did it justice. It doesn’t. The town is not cycladic in appearance, neither is the surrounding countryside. The hillsides are greener – more lush and verdant. For the first time I spot geckos scuttling in the verges. The houses have pitched red tile roofs, reminiscent of the more northern Sporades islands of Skiathos and Skopelos. Andros is on the outer edge of the Cyclades, much closer to Athens than Santorini.

Batsi is quiet, the tourists that are evident are Greek. I share the beach club opposite my hotel with locals who swim and play bat and ball on the sand. A German honeymoon couple share a single sunbed next to me and clutch on to each other. I guess they are on honeymoon – their actions are not indicative of a long term relationship. I suddenly feel lonely.

This island is not package holiday equipped. You need to be an intrepid grecophile to come. I congratulate myself on my decision to visit. I have found a secret.

There are tavernas and bars lining the harbour of course, but all is cheaper here. No tourist tastes are catered for. My hotel is a good 15 minute walk into town. All the businesses advertise in Greek as they rightly should. My rudimental grasp of the language and alphabet allows me to decipher enough to keep me fed and watered. The walk to town is along an unlit road with no pavement. Although I feel safe among the people, the traffic at night is another matter. I ensure I am back before dark. My tip for any solo traveller is to ensure a central location should you wish to avail yourself of any nightlife.

The island capital Andros Town is just under an hour away on a €4 bus ride. I sat on a crowded bus with chattering elderly Greek women doing their Saturday shopping. They pass around a packet of Cream Crackers and ask if I would like one. I decline. The journey takes in magnificent views of the Aegean below on horrific mountain hairpin bends. I try not to look down but I am already writing the local newspaper headline in my head should the worst happen.

The town is small and reminds me more of Malta than Greece. There are red roofs, wrought iron balconies and elaborate neo classical facades. The shops are few and I do not linger. I buy lunch joined by weekend Athenians before braving the journey back at 3pm.

On my way back to my accommodation I stop to buy my daily bottle of water, always €1. ‘Where do you come from?’ The shopkeeper asks me. ‘England’ I reply. ‘Good – Andros is good for relaxing. You will like’. And I do.

Farewell Paros, hello Milos

As I leave Paros, I feel I must offer my reassurances that I will be more adventurous from now on. When in Paros, I have felt no pressure or compulsion to explore too widely. I have done that before. This time, I have woken late, gone to the beach (I found it) and lazed around the hotel pool which I was lucky enough to always have to myself. Please dont ask me to feel bad – I can’t, I have enjoyed my time here.

Travelling days are always long and tiresome. They involve a lot of planning, preparation and hanging around. First the re-packing, then another local bus back to Parikia. I sit across the aisle from a local man clutching a packet of cigarettes and playing mindlessly with his worry beads. I wonder if they work and if I should invest in some.

There is time to waste, so I deposit my suitcase in a port side travel agent for a few hours. The shade of a cafe under a Plane tree is my lunch location of choice today. I write notes in my notebook and sip a cold beer.

Arriving at the quayside in good time I was alarmed to note my ‘Sea-Jet’ ferry was no bigger than a private yacht. It offered a scramble for an airline style seat. I hoped sea sickness wouldn’t strike.

No time to look back and say a whistful goodbye to Paros. We were off at high speed by the time I sat down.

I would like say I listened attentively to the safety announcement about life jackets, whistles, lights and abandoning ship. I have never once taken this information in properly, and I am a fatalist should the worst ever happen. Instead of paying attention I stuffed a doughnut into my face and looked out of the window.

Scaremongering of titanic proportions over, the TV came on behind the bar playing music videos. Rita Ora started gyrating furiously in her underwear on the screen. ‘I dont suppose she has eaten many doughnuts’ I thought – wiping the sugar from my face.

One hour 30 minutes later (via Sifnos), Milos came into view. My first thoughts were ‘how much is this going to cost me?’ A couple of superyatchs are in town. I’ll find out tomorrow.

Island life

Some of you may (or may not, up to you), be wondering how I am getting along out here on my own. I can’t lie, it does get lonely at times. I have caught myself ‘thinking out loud’ in public far too often for my liking.

Generally, people are friendly and curious and will often entertain me for a few hours with a conversation in a bar. I now feel no shyness in walking in to a cafe or similar on my own. I have met some really interesting people that way.

My hotel is in the centre of Naoussa with a large terrace and view over the harbour. If I don’t feel like wandering far, I can sit here and watch the evening’s shenanigans from a distance. My main thought when I checked in here was not the large terrace or the view – I am ashamed to say it was the supply of a washing line and six purple pegs. My ‘cool’ badge is duly surrendered.  Please understand that when you have been travelling for days with limited luggage, the chance to use your travel-wash in a tube and freshen up your act is not one to pass up. My daily smalls shower with me and hang on the line. Domesticity never stops, even here.

My Spotify and radio apps keep me company although wifi can be troublesome. The hotel is on a main road so it has been noisy with those more livelier than I in the evenings.

A wood pigeon coos in the telephone wires above my terrace. The church bells ring and there are white geese than honk in the canal which serves as a central reservation on the road outside. They regularly hold up traffic as they wander about the carriageway.  Drivers are patient and respectful of them.

Skinny cats sleep un the shade of the narrow streets. They have benefited well from my daily gyros. I am trying to spend no more than about €30 a day.

The streets around ring with the ‘put-put’ sounds of mopeds, the rumble of marine engines and locals greeting each other enthusiastically. ‘Yasou!’. The smells in the air are of grilled meats, fish and oregano.

I have gone feral and no longer wear makeup.  I brought the powders and creams of my life in the UK plus hairdryer. I am not using them. My hair goes up away from my neck and makeup slides right off in the sun.

This is island life in the summer. It hasn’t changed for years and I hope it never does.