Sunshine

I took my little Anita away on holiday the other week. The last week in July to be precise, which I know you love. We went to Syvota, a little village in north west Greece, about half an hour south of Albania and where you could see the southern tip of Corfu lurking in the haze across the shimmering blue sea.

On the journey there, I was sat next to an engaging young couple, who judging by their age, conversation, manner of speech and general demeanor were the proud recipients of a mid to late 1990’s university education. The female suggested to the male that they have a game of Scrabble on her mobile device, which I was happy to see had been set to Flight Mode and thus had no external connections. He agreed, but confessed that he’d never played before, which I found hard to believe but I resisted butting in and calling him a liar. There then followed forty five minutes of quite entertaining despair as she attempted and dismally failed to teach him the rudiments of a board game which most sentient beings have mastered by the age of eight. I eventually zoned out of their increasingly desperate conversations and reflected with satisfaction and gratitude on the fact that my formal education had ended shortly before my sixteenth birthday. The thought that I could have been fooled into wasting another four or five years of my precious youth in an education system that has churned out so many people like these sent an icy chill through my very soul.

Anyway, after landing at Preveza we made the two hour journey up the coast to our chosen destination, dumped the bags, had a swift refreshing drink or two and retired for a well earned sleep. There followed five days of sheer, unadulterated laziness, where each day consisted of a lazy balcony breakfast from the nearby zacharoplasteion, a lazy stroll to one of the nearby beaches and a couple of hours of lazy swimming, drinking, and general lazy beach behaviour. Occasionally we would stroll into the village and spend a relaxed couple of hours sitting with ice creams and chilled drinks outside one or other of the harbour front cafes, watching the rich retirees from Italy, France, Greece and Portsmouth jostling for position with their lovely overpriced yachts. Chuckling along with a devastatingly attractive young Italian couple over hot kataifi and meltingly smooth ice creams when an elderly yachtee lost his shorts and his dignity while he was being bullied by his skipper into not dropping a mooring line was but one highlight.

Then we’d have the siesta, rising in the late afternoon for a shower and a stroll around the village, and possibly another swim, before choosing where to eat. My favourite was an Italian place, where on one memorable evening I squeezed in a dish of fava, followed by a bigger dish of Linguine Vongole, where the pasta was completely hidden by the clams, followed by half of a wood oven baked pizza which was enough to cover a full moon in midsummer. I had a jug of the local red to help it down, and the waiter rewarded me with a glass of his favourite liquor, whose name I can’t remember but whose effects ended with a ringing in my ears. A good evening, one of many.

On the day before we came home we took a ride out, half way to the Aegean across the Pindos mountains and into the Thessalian plain to reach the wonderful Monasteries of the Sky at Meteora. These beautiful buildings lie atop stone columns and mountains rising hundreds of feet into the air from the green valley below. We visited the Grand Meteora together, and spent a good couple of hours there, before making our way to the nunnery of San Stefano, where Anita remained outside in the shade while I made the ascent into the Monastery, where I wandered spellbound and had a lovely if rather onesided convo in the Greek tongue with one of the Sisters, who showed me how to open and close a mother of pearl and olive wood crucifix necklace what I’d got for Anita in the little craft and book shop there.

On the way there we had to stop on the road for five minutes to allow a tortoise to cross. That’s an experience which helps you slip into a meditative, relaxed state of existence. All good. Shortly afterwards we watched helpless as a couple of pillow sized slabs of unsecured sandstone fell from the back of a truck into the path of a following car on a lonely mountain road, miraculously missing it by a few seconds and flying gracefully into space to land hundreds of feet below, hopefully not squashing a tortoise when they hit solid earth again. That’s an experience to remind us of life’s fragile hold.

From Meteora we made our way to Metsovo, a Vlach village in the hills, where we had smoked cheese, baklava and coffee. I was tempted by the boiled goat on the menu but decided against on this occasion. There is a bear sanctuary nearby but we didn’t visit, instead we sat in the shade of a plane tree on the village green, where we got into conversation with a lovely couple from Thessaloniki and their little son Dimitri, who had also chosen this part of Greece in which to holiday. We eventually said our farewells and spent a while wandering the village which, with its hillside setting, its split stone roof tiles and balconied Alpine villas, is one of the least typical yet most beautiful Greek villages I’ve ever been lucky enough to visit.

After a week of unbroken blue skies, temperatures in the thirties and warm, limpid seas, we arrived back at Gatwick late on Thursday night and were awoken in our airport hotel in the early hours of Friday by heavy rain and a thunderstorm. We had a full English breakfast, went back to our room for a second shower and caught the train back to the old home town.  It was nice to be home, in a way.

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