We just returned from our second summer holiday in Greece. This year was equally exciting and full of beauty, but it was also very different from last summer's trip. This time, we stayed on one island, Mykonos, and rented a self-catering studio apartment rather than a tent sandwiched between loud Australians. Actually our Greek hosts were louder than any antipodean youth, but the Greeks seemed to contain their noise within the traditional Greek Shouting Hours of eight a.m. to noon and four p.m. to midnight. We never could figure out exactly why they shouted all the time. Hearing loss? In the end, we decided it was probably just a discussion about this season's broccoli crop, but spoken with Mediterranean gusto and passion.
Our most difficult decision each day was which beach to go to, or whether we should simply opt for a day relaxing by the nearby swimming pool. The first full day we were there, we walked to Áyios Ioánnis beach and enjoyed the same views of the sea as Shirley Valentine did from her hotel. On other days, we went to Super Paradise beach, with its crowded sand but beautifully clear sea, and our favourite beach, Eliá, which has a small secluded cove and equally crystalline waters. Both of these two beaches are surrounded by rocky stretches of land to explore.
The swimming pool was an added bonus that came with our accommodation. It was at a nearby hotel affiliated with our tour company and was a nice place to go and read our books and cool off. During our holiday, we read some excellent novels, including The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Book of Revelation (a dancer gets kidnapped by three sadistic female "fans" in Amsterdam), Carol Shield's Mary Swann, the surreal Wide Open, and the laugh-out-loud Book of Ideas featuring Louis Lewis, a boy who feigns demonic possession at a televised fundamentalist church service and sends The National Enquirer bogus news articles such as "Suburban Housewife Gives Birth to Monkey Boy". Because we spent so much time at the pool, we got to know the hotel's CD collection pretty well, mostly 80s tunes and the ubiquitous Loreena McKennitt whose album was playing at three of the restaurants we visited, and the waiter referred to us as His Boys. A couple of English women from our flight were also at the pool most days. We ironically christened them Penelope and Sarah Beth (one of them looked like England's reigning champion pool player) but later learned their real names, Nic and Jen. The path leading to the pool was surrounded by olive trees and grapevines and one burgeoning pomegranate bush. We giggled when a German woman pointed at the pomegranates and repeatedly insisted to the uncomprehending Greek gardener, "I know these apples. I know these apples." After that, we could never pass the bush without saying in our best Allo, Allo accent, "I know these apples" and laughing.
We were much better attuned to the Greek timetable this year and we sometimes went into town as late as 10.00 p.m. for dinner and bar hopping. We ate gyros on four different occasions at a place called Jimmi's because the food was delicious and cheap, but we also had memorable meals at fancier sit-down restaurants. We defiantly ate Mexican food at a restaurant that someone had slandered by writing Bad Food. Don't Go There! on their posters around town. The food was actually very good, but some of the dishes were oddly reminiscent of the Chinese dishes served at the Dynasty restaurant owned by the same proprietor. I finally tried grilled octopus this year, at a seafood restaurant close to our studio. I'm sure it was pure coincidence that the following day we were both confined to the bed with upset stomachs. On our last night in Mykonos, we ate at a wonderful restaurant on the beach, just under the windmills and with a splendid view of the sunset. We had a delicious fresh rocket salad and some grilled vegetables and shared a T-bone steak. Everything was gorgeously presented at this restaurant. There were crates of lemons and peaches and peppers sitting beside the grill and bottles of wine were served in chilled zinc buckets filled with fresh flowers. After the sun set, the waiters placed candles in hurricane glass containers on each table. A kindle of kittens (what a pleasure to get to use that collective noun) lived in an abandoned wooden spool near our table, and the soft grey mother cat got her fill of leftovers from well-meaning, but not very bright tourists. We took with us from this restaurant a funny anecdote involving a very pretentious American couple - real jet setters. They sat at a table near us and the man, wearing a blue and white polka dotted silk shirt, lit up an enormous smelly cigar (which later caused us to pick up our table and move it a few feet away from the stench) and then proceeded to try to order "just a bottle of red wine" in a sort of exasperated why-don't-they-do-things-like-our-yacht-club-back-home kind of way. The waiter, an old Greek fisherman who had all the time in the world, tried to list the good local wines that they served, but the American man would have none of it and said pleadingly, "Don't you have anything like a Cabernet Sauvignon?" I think in the end they settled for some good local plonk in a zinc bucket while waiting for their "two friends" to join them for the meal. The friends never showed. I imagined two very relieved people somewhere on the far end of the island, sighing in relief at their escape from Mr. Jet Set. Like the German woman with the pomegranates, this man afforded us with a nice phrase to use if we're ever roughing it in a jungle hut somewhere in darkest Africa, being served beetles off the end of a banana leaf. Don't you have anything like a Cabernet Sauvignon?
There are several bars on the island and we became familiar faces at most, drinking Mythos beers, ouzos, martinis, and more exotic cocktails when the sun was setting. We created a drinking game at the Montparnasse piano bar based on the Liberace-esque style of the entertainer. There's just one simple rule: take a drink every time the pianist played a glissando. If we'd stayed long, they would have had to carry us out on a stretcher. Simple pleasures. We watched the sunset while sipping Mai Tais and Singapore Slings at the Kastro Bar. They seemed to have an amazing ability there of timing the classical music just right so that the climax of the piece synchronised precisely with the setting of the sun. We spent most of our time at the Porta Bar, a friendly, small spot popular with vacationers. Because we were often there early by Mykonian standards, we got to know the French waiter Giles quite well. Giles would sit at our table outside and share his dislike of Italians with us and tell us of his winter plans to work at a London bar. I called him Elvis one night because of his slick black quiff and he flounced off in a good-humoured huff. On our last night there he and Michael, the bartender, gave us free shots of strong, sweet red alcohol and drank with us promising to meet up in London in December. Although we never went into Pierro's club or the Icarus bar in the Town Square, it was a fun place to sit and people watch. We would usually buy a drink at a nearby kiosk and then sit in the square.
One of the things we'd promised ourselves we'd do this year was to have professional photos taken. Last year, we discovered a photographer whose work was displayed on a street corner stand. We remembered that he takes people to various island locations and shoots a roll of black and white film, resulting in some beautiful, atmospheric images. We didn't have enough money last year, but we've often thought since then how nice it would have been to have such a personal souvenir of our time together in Greece. Luckily Milos was still there working on the island this summer and we booked a session through his wife a week in advance (to give us time to work on our tans, you understand). It was funny, because we'd seen Milos photographing some young girls in the Kastro bar the day before, but we didn't realise who he was. That day, we thought he was a really pretentious jerk, shouting commands such as "Lick your lips, darling. That's it!" and we almost broke into an "I know these apples" fit of giggles when his wife later described him to us and we realised it was the same man. Fortunately we respected his work enough to book with him and not the rather sad "glamour" photographer sitting a few feet away and we are happy with the results. Milos was much friendlier and normal than we expected and he was very good at putting us at ease. We did some portrait shots inside the Kastro Bar and then changed clothes for some more photos outside by the white church. We changed again and walked through the winding streets to our final location, the sunset restaurant with the crates of lemons and the zinc wine buckets. It's odd. The black and white photography made us view ourselves quite differently. We stole his technique of telling the subject to close their eyes in the bright sunlight and only open them right as the photo is being taken. "Now " The next day, we bought a new roll of film ourselves and tried some do-it-yourself portraits in town and at the local Ornos beach. Even if they're not of Milos standard, it was fun posing in the late afternoon surf.
Another of our special memories from last summer was a boat trip to the magical island of Delos. Delos is a place so full of ancient ruins, statues, and mosaics that the Greeks seem to be unable to contain and catalogue them all. Instead, granite columns and stone walls stand or lie toppled like playing pieces in a giant board game for us to walk among and touch. It is a completely different experience from walking around a museum and viewing objects from behind glass. We returned to Delos this year and found it just as impressive and powerful as last year, despite our seeing perhaps less this time. Because we'd been before, we took more time to look at things and we ventured in the opposite direction from the main tourist attractions and consequently from the majority of the tourists. We walked past the avenue of the lions, but the sculptures have been moved inside to the museum since last year. We saw some nice mosaic tiles in the ruined House of the Comedians, comparing their expert grouting with our own kitchen efforts at home, and strolled among the relatively oasis-like enclosed "lake" area where Apollo was supposedly born. We found our chance for solitude when we went further up the hill to the site of the ancient gymnasium. There were some stone arches and pedestals that we couldn't resist posing among. As we went further, we discovered that we were completely alone amid the vast stone stadium. The lizards scurrying along the walls were larger there and there was an excellent view of Mykonos across the sea. I discovered a staircase hidden behind marble columns. The staircase descended into the ground and a cool smell of earth wafted up from the darkness. I called Nick over to look and we took some tentative steps down into the ground. As we rounded a dark corner we could see that the steps went down further into a chamber that was lit by a dim light from above. We found ourselves in a small round room not unlike a well. The light was coming from a boarded-up opening high above us and the walls were cool stone. We enjoyed the cool peace of this room for a while and then got hungry.
We ate our packed lunch on a rock with our feet dangling into the sea. As time was getting on, we decided to make our way back to the port to re-live our memory of swimming in the ancient cove next to the boat after a hot day of exploring on Delos. On the way, we stopped at the island's snack bar and bought two delicious, freezing cold lemon ices made from fresh lemons, which tasted just as good as last year. We got to the port with about twenty minutes to spare and so we peeled off down to our swim trunks and waded into the cool water for a rejuvenating swim. We waved at a pair of English acquaintances who had already boarded the ferry and were looking at us enviously from the heat of the upper deck.
We took many things away with us from our Mykonos trip. Each of us bought silver bracelets from a nice local jeweller o match our Santorini necklaces from last year. We also both came back with tans. Nick got some jeans, a steal at £18, and I bought an olive green zip front shirt suitable for club wear. We each returned with a resolve to diet and lose some weight and get fitter. We have an envelope full of professional photos for framing and displaying and a suitcase full of alcohol (Grand Marnier, banana liqueur, ouzo, brandy, and amaretto; no Cabernet Sauvignon) and pistachios and honey. This may seem at odds with our resolve to diet, but you can make really low-fat desserts with fruit and liqueur. Honest. I brought back a cold and mosquito bites and some scrapes, but mainly we both returned with more memories of a warm, golden summer together. I've written this account purposefully detailed so that we can read it in years to come and be reminded of our wonderful time in Mykonos.