2007-10-16 : Fried cheese – it’s not JUST for breakfast any more!

The idea of a “holiday” means different things to different people, and in recent times what I've come to realise is that to me it means going to a new location to do some activity, or see some people, or do something with someone, but whatever's involved there's always some kind of purpose and activity. When K suggested we go to the Greek Islands for a holiday, I was thinking “Great! A chance to kick back and catch up on a whole lot of .Net coding that I want to do!”. However it turns out that what she meant was a “relaxing holiday” – the type of trip where you do NOTHING. Laptops definitely not welcome. Naturally, I found this a little hard to get my brain around initially, however in the interests of harmonious domesticity I decided I'd throw convention to the four winds and give it a go.

There seems to be some sort of calculational Airport coefficient which means that the relaxing-ness of a holiday will have an inverse proportionality to the amount of stress & effort required to get there. Our flight was at 9:30am from Gatwick. This meant arriving at Gatwick at around 7:30 for optimum checkin timing, leaving Victoria at 7am on the Gatwick Express, so actually getting out of bed at 6am. 6am. In the MORNING.

Surprisingly, this worked.

We got the Express to Gatwick and sought out the checkin queue. This proved fairly easy, as you could probably see this queue from space. It sort of snaked back & froth 3 times in front of the desk, then extended up the checkin zone & around to the right, then continued on across the entirety of the next checkin zone (preventing anyone from easily getting in to check in for that airline's flights), then across past the next checkin zone, around another corner, and so on all the way back to munchkin land. To one side of the main queue was another similarly proportioned queue for the self-checkin kiosks (of the 4 of which, 3 were working) however we skipped that as the median IQ of the people using them seemed to hover around fridge temperature and the normal checkin queue appeared to crawl along at a faster pace, unbelieveably. Wedged in between these 2 queues was a third queue destined for the self checkin luggage dropoff. Plus there were various random people milling about trying to make their minds up whether or not they were actually going anywhere, and a couple of people who statistically were probably just queue enthusiasts. Though we each finished a pint of coffee whilst waiting we eventually got checked in in about an hour and progressed over to the security queue – this was actually in 2 parts – the first queue was to line up & find out which ACTUAL queue you were going to be fed into. We crawled forward in this line until we got to the outer edge of the tensabarrier before disappearing through the aperture of the security door, when a BAA employee (or as I prefer to label them, “The Architects of Stress and Misery”) whisked us out of the queue and beckoned us upstairs to the 2nd security entrance, which was almost utterly empty. After popping out into the waiting lounge the big screens said that our flight was now boarding, so given my non-exemplerary record with getting onto planes I was quite anxious to get to Gate 24. K was significantly more relaxed, and decided to go to Boots to pick up some snacks for the trip. My stomach was starting to do knots and I suspect there was an increase in sphincter tension as well as we approached the cash registers to make our purchases, only to be confronted with… MORE BLOODY QUEUES! Virtually running now, we hastened to Gate 24 where – though the NOW BOARDING sign had been up for about 20 mins now – everyone was sitting around, cool as cucumbers. We started boarding 5 minutes after arrival, and once I was on the plane the relaxing commenced.

I'm convinced that the British design airports so as to instil such anxiety and stress in the passenger that once you leave the holiday appears many times more relaxing than it actually is. In our case we had extra time to chill out, as we were held on the tarmac for an additional 40 minutes.

We arrived at Kefallinia airport only a short matter of hours later on a runway which could only be described as “short”. There was a good 100m or so from the point our plane came to rest until the runway disappeared off the edge of the island. I wonder how many go over in a year?

First impressions of the place were similar to most places that aren't London – I'm constantly amazed at seeing sunshine and an absence of tall buildings. Quite a good looking place though. And – now I could see them disembarking – a frightening amount of Wrinklies on the plane. I managed to hold everyone up just that little bit longer by forcing the one passport control officer they had – by virtue of my non-EU passport – to go hunting for the box he keeps the special stamp in.

So now, after only 800 words, we were finally in Greece!

On the bus around to Kato Katelios – the town we were staying in – the bus had a tour guide, and I prepared for a serve of local history & information. Was it going to be Odysseus? Or perhaps about the turtles? No. Captain Corelli's bloody Mandolin. I swear, if I ever hear another word about that film I'll strangle someone.

There's not much to say about the actual holiday – most of it involved one or more out of the following list: chilling out, swimming, drinking beer, sitting in the sun, eating and watching rugby. We occupied a great deal of our time selecting which taverna (or “tabepna”, as we elected to call them based on the Greek lettering outside) to have our meal at… largely immaterial, as they were more or less the same. The only way I was able to discern which was which was by the quality of Saganaki they served (a fried cheese dish, which though horrendous for you if you eat it every day, was soooooooooo tasty!). The tabepnas served a good range of seafood, and from time to time I ventured out & had swordfish souvlaki, or calamari.

On the Saturday we watched the England/Australia rugby game (with me asking K “what's happening now?” nearly every time ANYTHING happened), then caught a cab around to Skala, the nearest town. For some reason the cab driver had 4 mobile phones, which puzzled us a little. Probably had our worst meal during the trip there, as well – maybe “least remarkable” is a better description.

Sunday we took a bus tour around the island (we didn't get around to hiring a car, so it seemed like a good way to see something outside Katelios), and – surprise, surprise – heard all about Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Lamentably, you can't see any of the film set, because they blew it up as part of filming. Doesn't stop them wanking on interminably about it though.

The bus stopped at the amusingly named fishing village of Assos (where I had a lovely pair of Greek coffees). Next stop was the beautiful Myrtos Beach – we didn't actually go down to it, but we stopped at what seems to be the most popular spot to photograph it from. Pretty beach – white sand, turquoise water… and apparently the “best beach in Greece”! It's also one of the most hazardous swimming places in Greece, and has a savage undertow which befalls many tourists a year. I couldn't help but wonder if the sense they meant “best” in was “highest tourist bodycount”. And (predictably) the beach featured in Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

Lunch was in the affluent harbour town of Fiskardo, where the rich & famous moor their yachts and get fleeced by tabepna owners. I had the most humungous calamari I'd ever seen there. We ate a brilliant lunch and watched idiots who had hired yachts and clearly had no idea how to pilot them attempting to leave the bay.

Finally we headed back to Katelios via Melisani Lake (a giant lake inside a cave, which was spectaular both for the visual beauty of the place, and the gall of the boat operators who rowed you around without really telling you anything and then expected a tip as you left), and Drogerati Cave (a large cavernous stalagmite/tite cave which apparently has had classical concerts performed in it, although I can't imagine many top class instrumentalists would want to expose their gear to that sort of humidity).

It wasn't all sunshine & sand though – we also had some mighty impressive electrical storms pass over the island. I didn't do so well with capturing the lightning on film, although we saw some great arcs snaking across the sky, and by the sound of it one must have hit a hillside fairly nearby! Being in the midst of that sort of thing made it quite easy to fathom why the Greeks came up with the idea of Zeus throwing lightning bolts around…

One thing I found it slightly hard to adjust to was the idea that there were no caffe latte's about! You had a choice of Greek coffee (strong, sweet & muddy), Nescafe, or “cappuccino” (which varied in quality from quite a nice espresso/froth drink, to a mug of Nescafe with whipped cream sprayed on top). Louisa, the barmaid at the bar we kept finding our way back to, ended up resigning herself to the fact that when I think of coffee my brain immediately makes me say “latte”, and would therefore bring me what she described as a “greek latte” – i.e., a cappuccino.

By contrast, one thing that wasn't so surprising was the difficulty we had convincing the shower to dispense hot water. Having come from a similar situation in our place in London, this seemed almost predictable really. I managed to get it to work I think 3 days out of the 7 that we were there, and that was only after an arcane series of tweaks & turns – it almost resembled a masonic handshake, of sorts.

Oh yes, I reluctantly got my brain around the concept of doing NOTHING, and by the end of the trip I was even getting quite good at it! It almost seemed a shame to have to come back, really. Although with higher stress levels also comes ready access to email, and more frequent warm showers. So that sealed it for me, really.

I don't think I've forgotten anything. Thanks for sticking with it!