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Published: June 12th 2013
The most recent Mama Mia movie inspired me to travel to Greece. Maybe inspired isn’t the right word here, more along the lines of started a small spark of intrigue that turned into a massive raging fire of longing by the end of the movie. I’m not sure what it was about this country that drew me in. Maybe it was the likeness to New Zealand. Maybe it was the atmosphere portrayed in the movie. Maybe it was Meryl Streep. Either way, for some reason I led myself to believe I would find true love on a Greek island, have a beautiful summer fling, and feed each other olives and dance on the sand in the moonlight. For this reason I put ‘sailing in Greece’ at the top of my bucket list. Greece for the above reasons; sailing because I’ve always dreamed of a sailing holiday in the Mediterranean. A good combination I thought.
So on a 23:15 flight from London Heathrow I set off on the trip of a lifetime, ready to eat all the Greek salads in the world, and meet the man of my dreams. What follows is probably the shittest love story of all time.
I arrived at Athens airport at 4am, I time I thought only existed after a drunken night out. Unsurprisingly, it was a sleepless 4 hours from London and I was knackered. I was warned about traipsing around Athens in the dark so I killed time trying to figure out what Athens was like on the outside. The airport gave no clues, as it was a standard, modern airport. Eventually as it got light, I jumped on a bus to Omonia Square, where my Greek friends specifically told me not to go. But hey, you cannot say no to a 15 euro hotel. Especially when it includes breakfast.
As I trundled along on the bus, and the world got lighter, the city became apparent around me. Buildings were in ruins, rubbish littered the streets and homeless people lay shamelessly on the ground exposing their open wounds for sympathy. When I got off the bus, I was hit by the stench of urine and the blast of car horns. People walking by stared and gave me dirty looks for no apparent reason. Where was I? Damn you Mama Mia, this is not what I signed up for!
I wandered around,
determined to change my view on the city. I found myself up on a hill, overlooking the city. It was a pretty sight, but only from a distance. As soon as I went back into the city, the homeless people and the stench were just too much. It was a sensory overload, and not at all what I expected, even though people did try to warn me. I went back to my hotel to hide.
The next day I went down to Piraeus Port. One thing I will say about Greece so far is the transport is amazing and cheap. 70 euro cents for the metro! Amazing!
I caught a ferry across to Poros Island where I was set to start my sailing adventure. Rather than going for a standard sailing package holiday, I decided I might as well do a course, and get a sailing certificate. So I signed up for a week long competent crew course. The thought of spending a week on a yacht with 3 strangers was quite an exciting one, and I was adamant that this is how I would meet my husband.
As I arrived at Poros Island, I met the
first of my crew mates. A 43 year old man from Lebanon, living in Abu Dhabi who looked uncannily like a Lebanese Mr. Bean. Oh well. Strike one. We wandered around the island before our instructor turned up. We went back to the boat to meet him. He was a 56 year old Englishman who was quite large, and looked like a badger when he laughed. Strike two. I was holding out for number three. Third time’s a charm... Right? Our third crew mate was a 54 year old man from England. Married. With kids. Striiiiike three and you’re out. No whirlwind romance for me this trip.
So a week at sea with 3 men, all at least double my age. How on earth was this going to pan out?
Surprisingly well as it turned out. They could be a right laugh and were true gentlemen. The week began well as we sat at a pub, getting to know each other a wee bit. We were discussing similarities between the UK and Greece, and right on cue, the instructor said, “Well, you wouldn’t find that in London, would you?” He pointed at a large tortoise who was ambling past on the road.
All three men were really nice, but on the first night a bit of a power struggle became evident. We had a wonderful meal at a taverna on the harbours edge, with amazing fresh fish, strong wine and stunning views. I could rave on and on about the food here. Everything is so fresh and flavoursome, often being caught that day by the owners of the taverna. Anyways I digress. After the meal had been well and truly demolished, and we had asked for the bill, we all started fumbling in our pockets for our share. Lebanese Mr. Bean just pulled out 100 euro note and paid for it all. You could see the alpha male rising up in the Englishman as he wasn’t impressed that this other man had outdone him and had proven his masculine worth to everyone at the table. This commenced the battle between the two. What it meant for me that all my meals were covered for the week, which I was very happy with.
We started our sailing adventure the next day, and as usual with most of my adventures, it wasn’t what I expected. Even though I had opted for a course, I was still expected the whole sea, sun and relaxation experience. Instead what I got was a refresher course in my knots that I learnt in scouts, a whole lot of rope burn and many, many conversations about retirement.
I did definitely get the sea and sun though. The weather was absolutely perfect, and the sea was prime swimming temperature. I cannot tell you how unbelievably refreshing it was to jump straight off the boat and into the Mediterranean. It was absolute bliss to lie in the sun and feel it warm my skin, after the grey misery of London. Following three applications of factor 60 sunscreen of course.
We spent 6 days sailing around little islands, anchoring the boat in little coves to have our lunch of fresh Greek salad and bread baked that morning. We visited tavernas to have ice cold beer, and tied up in harbours to visit the local villages. Our instructor knew everyone and could happily point out the hidden swimming spots, and the best places to eat. When we weren’t learning, it was so peaceful and relaxing. We had a few laughs as well, which was nice as it can be quite uncomfortable being with three men that are not exactly your hand-picked crew. The fact that my Lebanese mate looked like Mr. Bean was only the tip of the iceberg. He had witty quips which were made approximately 20 times funnier due to his very heavy Lebanese accent.
One evening we were sitting at a tavern, after spending the day learning the boating equivalent of the road rules. We were having our dinner when a man picked up a guitar and started singing a song in what I can only assume was a mixture of English and Hebrew. His voice was God awful, and I don’t think he knew the words. A waiter approached him, shook his hand and said, “thank you, thank you, that’s enough,” nodding his head and motioning for him to sit down. The man kept on singing off pitch, so the waiter began throwing olives at him amidst cheers from the other tables. Lebanese Mr. Bean leaned over to our instructor and asked, “So who gives way here?”
Overall Greece was an experience. An unexpected experience but I left Poros with a competent crew certificate and a sense of relaxation. It was almost too relaxing though, especially coming from London where the pace of life is very hectic. It was uncomfortable at times, quite a culture shock. No one was in a rush, there was no elbowing. The pace of life here gives you a lot of time to dwell on things, whereas in London, you are always preoccupied. Athens definitely isn’t somewhere I’d hurry back to, but going on the advice from other skippers, it seems the smaller the island, and the further it is from an airport, the more beautiful it’s going to be.
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