Escape to the sunshine

OK Ok so I sort of disappeared on you all. I would say sorry but actually I’m not sorry at all!

I decided that I really truly utterly needed a break. A getaway to the sunshine and calm sea. When looking at destinations I had one minor problem or perhaps a restriction. I realised my passport is to expire in January and therefore I can’t go to any US countries or indeed places that may need a stop over there!

And then I remembered…

I remembered that a place in my past that I have visited a number of times and which has an instant ‘…and breathe’ moment for me, was Greece. I carefully cleared my diary of appointments and sent apologies for meetings that I was to be away for. I kept an eye on offers, flights, holidays and travel mailings. I found lots of tempting offers to Cities around the world, faraway places that I’ve not explored, safaris and also activity-type breaks. I also found glamorous locations with long white sandy beaches and azure blue waters… however although offering deals they weren’t quite up to the ‘bargain’ level I had set for myself. OK so perhaps I do have some Scottish blood in me after all!! And there were no ‘irresistable’ offers to Greece either!

I’ve also discovered that being a single traveller for a ‘package-esque’ holiday is as expensive as if I was part of a ‘couple’! Yes, before you chirp on about it, I did almost consider finding a ‘date’ for the holiday on the basis that a) there’d be deals to be had and b) it’d be cheaper than going solo! But sanity prevailed (or perhaps my need to get away).

My departure date was set – the day after my Royal Marsden appointment. No matter how that appointment had panned out, I was determined to go away. Believe me, I had thought through the various scenarios too!

On Wednesday I was heading out to see my Dad and Stepmother. They always tell me how fabulous ‘their’ travel agent is in their local town, so I thought I’d quickly pop in and book something up…. I gave them my ‘wish list’… departing on Friday (ie 2 days time), to Greece, pool, balcony, tea & coffee/kitchenette, nr beach, quiet, quiet, quiet and, of course, sunshine please…. oh and a bargain! She looked at me and laughed. She then told me she’d been looking for herself and there was nothing out there! Apparently the tour operators didn’t buy in as many holidays this year – apparently we’re not meant to want to leave the UK this summer (Olympics and recession) – but actually because of the lack of accommodation, the prices have gone up and they’ve sold out! Oh!!

I thought perhaps not Greece then. And then I figured I’ve still got a couple of days…

That evening I sent an email to a friend who works for Travel Counsellors. Within a few hours I received an email with a choice of four Greek locations. 30 minutes later it was booked. Super excited to be returning to Zante.

Zante holds intense feelings for me… good and bad. My first visit was over 30 years ago, as a child with my family. My parents were still together and I remember fondly us all sneaking out in the middle of the night to patiently wait on a beach for the turtles to appear and lay their eggs deep in the sand. I’m quite sure we weren’t quiet as we all lay on the sand waiting for what seemed like hours. I also remember the turtles finally appeared and holding my breath for an age in the hope that they wouldn’t be scared off by my breathing and my heart pounding with excitement at their arrival. I remember long sunny endless days playing on the beach and in the pond like waters. Challenging my brothers to build the best sand castle or to swim the farthest away from shore. I also remember my youngest brother (probably aged about 7) getting horribly sunburnt and being covered in Greek yoghurt to take out the heat from the skin! I guess 40+ years ago we weren’t aware of the damage that the sun can do and although we applied suncream it was probably only a low factor and once a day! Zante was an island of locals… and tourists were few and far between. Landing the plane we had been asked to get into brace position and only when we’d landed (with somewhat of a jolt) had the pilot mentioned that the runway was only just about long enough so he had to put the brakes on quickly and heavily to stop in time.

The next time I visited Zante was a difficult holiday. Mum and Dad had separated not long before. Mum invited me to go on holiday with her and my youngest brother (my oldest brother was working that summer) muttering something about wanting to see us and spend time with us. My friends urged me to go and suggested that this was her way of apologising and therefore I/we should go. Somewhat reluctantly I agreed.

Mum and I had a very difficult relationship at the time due to her leaving Dad and us. My little brother had a friend come on holiday too. It wasn’t until the plane had taken off from Gatwick that Mum said that her new boyfriend and his family were also on holiday in Zante and we’d be joining them. I think she knew that if she’d told us before the plane left that I wouldn’t have gone.

Mum allegedly didn’t leave us for anyone else and allegedly was single. I always wish this had been true but I knew otherwise. Prior to her leaving us, there had been a couple of instances when I’d answered the home phone to an old friend of hers asking to speak to her – she was somewhat takenaback when I said that Mum was ‘staying’ with her that weekend… some mumbling and then said pretended that she’d rung the wrong number! Another time, his daughter called to say thank you to Mum for baking cakes and filling the fridge for her weekend return from university… she’d allegedly been staying with another friend that weekend! I never did mention either of these calls to Mum NOR Dad.

Fortunately I had some other friends who were holidaying further round the island and spent a couple of days/nights with them. My brother was upset too so I didn’t think I could leave him for too long. There was one particular night that still haunts me today though. We had gone along to a ‘family dinner’ with Mum, her boyfriend and his family. Toward the end of the meal I remember my little bro getting more and more upset until he eventually said he was going back to the villa (remember he would only have been about 14). I followed him home. When I got in, I found him in floods of tears, angry and wishing Mum wasn’t with him. He’d worked out that if Mum’s boyfriend wasn’t around then Mum and Dad would be back together again. Sometime later he fell asleep. I stayed in his room, stayed guard in case Mum came home. She didn’t. We were up early the next morning and the three of us (my little bro, his friend and me) headed out early and found ourselves a little beach to hang out on all day together. Nothing more was ever said about it but I can still recall his twisted and upset face with rivers of tears streaming when he stood in the kitchen that night.

So you see Zante holds mixed emotions for me. A past, some that I’m trying hard to recall and some that I’d rather find and then delete in their entirety.

Getting here…

The flight here should have been 3.5hrs and I arrive at Gatwick at 4am, check-in, phaff and get on the plane for a 6am departure. I’m reminded (snob bit!) why I’ve not done a package holiday for a while when I’m seated by the ‘wedding party’ heading to Zante to get married. They’ve already been on the bevies (apparently topping up from last night). The language is loud and blue. The music is played without headphones… oh joy, I think at least it’s only 3.5hr flight.

Or that’s what it should be.

The turbulence gets worse as we approach Zante island. The pilot descends to land and then puts the nose up once more, leaving the airport behind us. A few minutes later he tells us that we can’t land due to the storms. We also don’t have enough fuel to continue circling waiting for the storm to pass. He’s made the decision to head to Athens for a refuel by which time he hopes the storm will have gone and we can return and land, late but there.

Much disgruntlement from the wedding party who announce that it’s OK becuase it’ll give them more time to drink the bar dry! Oh Joy Joy Happy Joy Joy.

We land in Athens and watch the plane being refuelled. The stewards and stewardesses are brilliant… they come through the aircraft offering snacks and drinks and also put up with the endless questions and moaning about why we’re in Athens. They arrange for steps to be bought to the plane when we’re advised we’re not leaving immediately… not to get off the plane, as we’re not allowed onto the tarmac, but so that people can get some air and sit on the steps for a minute or two. One of the wedding party then starts getting really anxious and crying… she can’t cope without her ‘fags’ and demands to be let off the plane to have a fag (cigarette) but this is denied so she then threatens to have one on the stairs (near the fuel), this is denied so she cries!

After nearly 3 hours the pilot announces that the storm is still over Zante and planes aren’t landing there. Plus if and when we can, there will be a queue of aircraft trying to get in. Apparently the airport isn’t big enough to house the planes overnight and now the crew are at the end of their working hours. We’re staying in Athens.

Not sure for how long but we’re told that we’re being put up in a hotel. We’re also told that we need to collect our baggage and get on coaches… another hour or so passes and we’re finally on coaches and heading to ‘hotel unknown’. At 18:48 I’m checked in and heading to my hotel room… a mere 15hrs after I checked in Gatwick! 10 minutes later I’m requested to be in the dining room for a buffet supper. No one knows how long we’re there for or what time we need to be up but I’m assured by hotel reception that I’ll have a call in good time to wake up and head back to the airport. An hour later I’m in bed and minutes later asleep.

I was a little surprised when a man walked into my 5* hotel room at 5.40am though! Oh I don’t think I mentioned that I hadn’t bothered unpacking my suitcase just stripped off and in bed getting some sleep. Poor chap is probably in therapy now but backed out of the room quickly ‘Sorry sorry sorry’. After a few minutes I came to and realised that perhaps this awkward chap was in fact my ‘wake-up call’…. interesting approach, many other hotels use the phone or knock on the door… but hey perhaps this is how they do it in Greece!! I call down to reception to discover that the coach is leaving at 6am (by now it’s 5.50am and I’m not dressed or showered!). I hurridly brush my teeth and dress into the same clothes that I’d been travelling in yesterday…. I must ming, so liberally spray some perfume!

I’m the last one on the coach and get several ‘stares’ from my fellow travellers. I discover that some of them received wakeup calls at 4am and some were told by reception last night that there would be breakfast buffet from 4am and the LAST coach leaves at 6am! It was at this point that I realised that at no point had a ‘register’ been taken of us from leaving the plane in Athens nor were we counted on or off the buses… would they have even noticed if I’d not been there??

Greece September 2012

The flight, fortunately, from Athens to Zante was uneventful – except that by the time we arrive we are all tired, smelly and feeling more than a little antsy at losing so much of our holiday-chilling time! However we were also grateful when we spotted a plane on the tarmac that had clearly been ‘hit’ by the lightning and sported some blackened paintwork!

Zante’s airport has now been extended (at least the runway has in length, if nothing else) and therefore there are more flights coming in and out of here. The island has been built up and is now a hive of tourism… so very different but I guess in all these years, it really did have to change or else I’d have to wonder why it hasn’t!!

My chosen holiday location was a short walk from the bars and restaurants. Away from the town of Zante. Importantly a self-contained little studio apartment with a balcony. I figured that way I could stay in or eat out but certainly watch the days/evenings pass whilst continuing to write more of my book from the balcony. Aaagh the greatest of plans.

Greece September 20123

This is where this entry is better portrayed with a few photographs.

Greece September 20121

My days were spent relaxing on a beach. My evenings with an early meal out (or via the supermarket and home for an easy meal on the balcony). Early nights and late mornings. Bliss.

In the many many years since I was last in Zante a great deal has changed. There are many many more hotels, apartments and bars. A quiet beach is much harder to find. However the music being played in the bars and out into the evening air is still the same – regulars during my holiday were Papa don’t preach; Come in Eileen; and Karma Chameleon!

One day I walked around the island and into Zante town. Apart from along the front which was buzzing with new bars, the town is very similar to how I remember.

Greece September 20122

I met some lovely people, but mostly was able to enjoy my own company, read a book, write my book and relax. I met a number of Greek ‘Tom Conte’ waiters but managed to resist any urge to recreate any scenes from Shirley Valentine.

Great holiday and even I managed to get a tan… well sort of a magnolia colour!

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