Going back ‘home’ to Greece

I first travelled to Greece in 1979. There were four of us travelling overland on a bus from London to Athens.

coral and camper

The not so trusty VW with me and The Kiwi

 

Sara, my uni friend, and I had been working the summer at The Avon Gorge Hotel. It was rather a good summer job, as bar jobs go. My tips paid the rent, I had free food from the hotel, so with no other expenses, my wages paid for the trip to Greece.

Our customers were a good mix of locals who tipped well, hotel guests visiting Bristol for business or pleasure and a weekly coach load of Americans who were doing Europe in a week, (think, If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium). One of them thought the Clifton Suspension Bridge was a copy of The Golden Gate in San Francisco. That is a true story, I promise you.

We even had the Kent County Cricket Team stay once. Amazing how a logo on a polo shirt can get you into every club in Bristol for free. But that is another story and this post is not about Bristol or a night on the town with cricketers. It is about Greece.

food in Greece 1979

L to R Rob Ross, Ellie Ross, Cath, me, and out of shot, the Kiwi

My ex boyfriend had travelled to Greece the summer before with a guy named Rob. It was he who suggested I go to Greece and hooked up with Rob and his VW van. I suggested it to my uni friend and she was keen. We mentioned it to another girl who was working  the bar with us, and she decided to come along too. We had also got friendly with one of the receptionists, Ellie Ross. Amazingly she was also working at the hotel to pay for her trip to Greece. Then we discovered that Rob, the man with the van, was her brother.

coral and rob

Me, Rob and Cath at Corinth Canal

The overland journey by bus was pretty awful. I have recollections of travelling though the former Yugoslavia, where old ladies increased the charge to use unuseable loos when they realised they had a coach full of Brits. Being confused that we were not getting served with food and found out that was because we asked for the menu. And I am pretty sure we left one passenger stranded in Zagreb.

The highlights, for me, were travelling through The Mont Blanc Tunnel, and seeing the Geneva Water Fountain.  The fountain was always shown in the 60s tv show The Champions. I also recall rather good food being served, with wine, at a French motorway service area. Coming from England, good food is not what we associate with a motorway cafe. Certailnly not in the 70’s. That is why we used to take flasks and sandwiches and picnic on the verge of the M1. And wine, while driving?

We arrived in Athens and Ellie took us on the train to stay the night with the family of her ex boyfriend. In Kifisia. I am not sure that we had known then she had a boyfriend or where we were going to stay that night, we just let Rob and Ellie take the lead as they seemed to know what they were doing. Kifisia is the last stop, and is a leafy and affluent suburb. Water sprinlers kept the manicured lawns perfect.  Chilled water was kept in Gordon’s Gin bottles in the fridge. The decor was sumptuous. One night of luxury.

Ellie and Ross

Ellie and Rob

Anthony, her ex, and Ellie had met in England at University. His mother was English and his father was Greek. They had met as spies during the war. He was now something very important in the government. And I was staying in their house. That night the family and friends took us swimming off the rocks and afterwards for dinner in the hills. And that is when my love affair with Greece began.

I recall piles of food coming out, Greek Salad, lamb chops, chicken and potatoes, retsina flowing and wondering how I would be able to afford this. The bill, once split came to about £1.cheers

The next day, Rob came and picked us up in the ancient VW. He had one other passenger, John, from New Zealand. We camped in Athens and went to the Wine Festival. Nursing hangovers from hell the next day we set off around the mainland, visiting The Acropolis, the Corinth Canal and Mycenae. For someone who had studied and loved Classical Studies this was a dream come true.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

One night we went to see The Trojan Women in a Greek Ampitheatre. I had studied the play at school and now I was watching it in Greek, in Greece.  Afterwards we went to a taverna that was full of young men who were in the army on on Naitonal Service. They kept sending wine to our table. We later set off to the beach to camp for the night. Someone decided we would have a disco in the van. We got sort of arrested, a long night at the police station ensued.  Only after a lot of waving of arms and shouting did Anthony and his sister mention who their father was. We were then allowed to leave. We were woken in the morning by the fishermen whose boats we had slept in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After a more peaceful nights camping we left the van and took the foot ferry over to Aegina and Spetes.Cafe Spetses

Rob then decided to go to Piraeus and see where we could go from there. By then we were all so laid back we had decided that we were only allowed to make three decisions a day between us. Cathy had decided to run of with a Greek man after Spetses, so it was just the five of us who decided to go to Crete.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Again, how excited was I to be visiting Knossos.

Knossos

Knossos

Things I had read about at school, now I was actually there.

Campsite in Crete

Campsite in Crete

We camped here just outside Agios Nikolaos. When I returned to Crete in the 90’s all this had been built on. Five star hotels stealing the views.

But all things had to come to an end, and we had to say goodbye to Crete.

This was the last day, just outside Heraklion, making the most of the beach.

OMG was I that brown and thin?

OMG was I that brown and thin?

And waited in the shade for the ferry back to the mainland.

Snoozing

Snoozing

I am going back to Crete next week. The flight is booked and one night in Heraklion. Then it is off to the port, to get a ferry and make only three decisions a day. One will be to go to Santorini to keep the last promise I made to my mom. To reunite her with her friend the wind.

9 reasons not to travel

Staff at the local travel agents will never recommend any where that they are going on holiday to me and my family. This is because they know about our track record for holiday disasters.

These are those I recall off the top of my head, in no particular order.

  1. Andros the sinking pedalo, when we are rescued by a speed boat
  2. Ibiza lilo adventure, when Tim floats out to sea and Phil has to scramble over a rough sea bed to save him
  3. Majorca: the Thomson Dream nightmare, planes are grounded because of a volcano and we endure a 48 hour journey home by boat and coach. The boat is over crowded and there are no cabins left, or so they tell us……
  4. Grand Canaria, thieves who stole a camera and cash from our coffee table, while we were in the same room
  5. The Hotel California experience, trapped in LA by Qantas grounding all planes in October 2011
  6. Florida, losing a 9 year old daughter in Church Street 
  7. Dalyan, an earthquake and a very near miss by a lightning strike
  8. Egypt Nile Cruise, the holiday that never was due to the coup and playing the waiting game to get a refund from the travel agent
  9. Fiji, evacuated from Bounty Island in a cyclone. This was the only time on our RTW trip that the FCO contacted us.

From: suvaconsular@fco.gov.uk

> To: coral
> Subject: Tropical Depression affecting Fiji

> Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2012 23:51:20 +0000

>
> Dear British Citizens,
>
> A severe flood warning remains in force for major rivers, streams and low lying areas of Western Viti Levu This has caused major flooding and has closed roads paticularly in Nadi Town and left both locals and tourists stranded.
>
> Should you wish to seek urgent consular assistance or know off any british nationals in need of urgent assitance please do not hestitate to contact us on the telephone number (679)3229100 or (679)3304746.
>
> In light of this adverse weather conditions, we will be grateful if you can confirm yuor safety and well being in Fiji. The Consular team would like you to monitor the latest situation on the Fiji Meteorological Service website: (www.met.gov.fj) or http://www.ukinfiji.fco.gov.uk for further update.
>
> Kind regards
> Consular Team.

Of course this won’t stop us travelling. Off to Dalyan again in 2 weeks time. The mission to take Mom to all the places she loved, begins.

PS just back from Dalyan. We had another earthquake. This prompted us to recall other holiday disasters….

10. The shoe bomber incident which meant we could not bring the wine we had bought in Kefalonia  back to the UK. We sold it around the pool and gave it to the reps.

11. The hurricane in Kefalonia that kept us in the hotel all day. I love storm watching so this was a treat for me but lots of moaning from others that they couldn’t sunbathe or use the pool.

You never forget your first moussaka

Mine was on the ferry from Piraeus to Crete. It was 1979, the end of my second year at uni, and I was travelling with Sara, Rob and Elli in a camper van though Greece. On a whim, or because it was the first ferry to sail, we decided to go to Crete.

The signs indicating the location of lifeboats were in French and English and the walls were decorated with views of the White Cliffs of Dover on this former English Channel ferry. Yet there was no doubt we were in Greece, surrounded, as we were, by extended Greek families with their belongings wrapped in colourful blankets, tied up like a sack. Old men smoked their strong cigarettes, older women with headscarves slept on their makeshift sacks and children played games on the deck. I didn’t see a goat but it wouldn’t have surprised me if I had.

We were travelling deck class. I was contentedly cocooned by all this hustle and bustle, the shouted conversations, the clatter of the backgammon games, the welcome gentle breeze after the heat of the day, the prospect of sleeping on deck under the stars. I didn’t think it could get any better. And then I found my moussaka.

We had descended into the chaotic deck class canteen, heaving with hungry travellers. Burly chefs guarded the food in giant catering tins, with ladles as weapons, to beat us off if we didn’t take it in turn. It was a scene reminiscent of an old school dining hall, hungry children queuing for food while dinner ladies kept us in line. Except in Greece there is no such thing as an orderly queue.

The moussaka was divided into huge portions. Meat sauce, rich with tomatoes and onions, interweaved the towers of aubergines and potatoes, held firmly together by a thick white sauce. A savoury layer cake, glistening in olive oil. I pushed my way to the front of the gesticulating crowd, caught the eye of one of the cooks, pointed at the moussaka and thrust a few thousand drachmas into his hand to seal the deal.

Moussaka. It’s as if all the food and flavours of Greece have collided in one dish. Giant red tomatoes, ripened in the sun, deep purple aubergines, lamb combined with cinnamon, fresh oregano, custardy béchamel sauce, made with Greek yoghurt and fresh eggs, left to cook slowly all day, then cooled so it could be cut into slabs. And this moussaka had been cooking long enough for all the spices, herbs, tomatoes and olive oil to meld together; the taste of Greece in one delicious mouthful. My senses were bombarded, and Alice in Wonderland like, the moussaka said, ‘Eat Me!’

I’d been in Greece for about two weeks and had got used to lukewarm Greek food. I had discovered salads bursting with flavour, sprinkled with salty feta cheese; so unlike the English limp lettuce Sunday tea salads. Yoghurt and honey for breakfast, enormous juicy melons and apricots, souvlaki, retsina and Fix beers.

I had enjoyed meals in taverns on the beach and high in the mountains. Food was good, plentiful and cheap. Yet this moment has stayed with me. I can still smell the aroma of herbs and spices, can still see the olive oil seeping out of the sauce, and recall the taste of my very first moussaka.Image