Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back Home

I'm sitting in the living room looking out at rain of monsoon proportions, beating against the windows.

It seems scarcely believable that at this time last week we were sitting in a taverna on the slopes of Mount Ipsarion on the Aegean island of Thassos, dining on the local Greek specialities ('fried pies', feta-stuffed courgette flowers, and cheesy garlicy mushrooms), looking across the shimmering, sun-blasted, rocky hillside. We did try to walk the path up the mountain, but the sun was just far too hot and before long sweat was literally pouring down our backs. Unwilling to risk either sun or heat-stroke we returned to the jeep, and took a joyous and breezy downhill ride back to our apartment where we splashed gratefully into the clear sea, not 50m from our front door.

So once again the family summer holiday recedes into the rolodex of memory, leaving a miscellany of impressions, sensations and atmospheres.

We had an absolutely wonderful time - probably the most enjoyable holiday yet. We'd booked it independently in the January of this year, the Husband diligently researching suitable apartments on the island and finding a gem on the outskirts of the main town Limenas.

We arrived via a flight from Manchester to Kavala, a taxi-ride to the port of Keramoti, and a 35 minute ferry-ride across the narrow strait to the pine-clad island that rises straight out of the sea to the summit of Ipsarion some 1800m high. Our landlord was waiting for us and carried us and our bags to our holiday home. We were more than impressed. The property was newish, immaculately clean, air-conditioned (essential) with a balcony that overlooked the sea.

Having settled in and unpacked we made our weary way into town, but as we'd been up since 3am that morning, we scarcely managed to make it further than a proximate vine-covered taverna, where we gratefully sat and watched the sun going down whilst drinking a big glass of ice-cold Mythos beer.

I'd actually forgotten how huge the portions of food generally are in Greece, so we somewhat overestimated what we'd be able to manage to eat and started to struggle mid-main course. We were exhausted too, and stumbled early to our beds along a little beachside path that passed a tiny chapel (St Basil's?) where the oil-lamps burned all night in front of the icons. Its door remained unlocked at all times too, and the faithful could help themselves to candles to light under the 'candle canopy' in the front porch. The unselfconscious piety of the Greek people is moving - it was a source of wonder to me when we once stayed on another Greek island that the many little roadside shrines twinkled in the darkness, the elderly women who tended them (and it seemed to be only women) ensuring that the icon-lamps were kindled at dusk.

It would be pointless recounting our every activity during the week. We spent time on lovely beaches and in tiny coves, sitting in the shade in a bar on the old trireme harbour eating homemade bread and dips, driving up into the mountains (in the rackety old open top 4-wheel drive that we'd hired from a most accommodating and genial local company), exploring churches, monasteries, villages and the many neglected ancient ruins that lay strewn carelessly along the roadsides. We ate (and ate and ate), sometimes breakfasting on yoghurt and honey on the balcony, sometimes paddling down to the very local taverna for strong coffee and hard-boiled eggs, at other times exploring the menus and wine-lists until we'd reached total satiation. The food is so very cheap that even our most expensive meal (which came with complementary watermelon and coffee) complete with beer, wine, soft drinks and water, came in at half the price of an average meal in Sardinia.

We had forgotten how much we loved Greece. We love Greece, and when we returned home it was with a real sense of nostalgia for the holiday week, an aching longing to return and enjoy this vibrant and generous country.

But now I'm looking out on a rainy, tangled, green garden and wishing instead it was an olive tree studded shoreline against a turquoise sea....

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