Category Archives: Greece

The First Eurovision Song Contest

Four years earlier the Great Smog of 1952 darkened the streets of London and killed approximately four thousand people in the short time of four days and a further eight thousand died from its effects in the following weeks and months.  In 1956 the Clean Air Act introduced smokeless zones in the capital.

Consequently, reduced sulphur dioxide levels made the intense and persistent London smog a thing of the past. It was after this the great clean-up of London began and buildings recovered their original stone façades which, during two centuries, had gradually blackened.

By all accounts the summer of 1956 was truly abysmal: rain, hail, lightning, floods, gales and miserable cold. It was the wettest July in London since records began, and August was one of the coldest and wettest on record across Britain, as barrages of depressions swept the country.  But there was a silver lining to this cloud and September was such an improvement it was warmer than August, a very rare occurrence, and the rest of autumn turned into a glorious Indian summer.

In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.

European Union Flags

What was needed was something to cheer everyone up.  At a committee meeting held in Monaco in January 1955, director general of Swiss television and committee chairman Marcel Bezençon conceived the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in one television programme to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy, and was also seen as a technological experiment in live television as in those days it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network.

The concept, then known as “Eurovision Grand Prix”, was approved by the EBU General Assembly in at a meeting held in Rome on 19th October 1955 and it was decided that the first contest would take place in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.

It was held on 24th May 1956. Seven countries participated, each submitting two songs, for a total of fourteen. This was the only Contest in which more than one song per country was performed as since 1957 all Contests have allowed one entry per country. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation with a song called ‘Refrain’ sung by Lys Assia.

The United Kingdom first participated at the Eurovision Song Contest in the following year. The BBC had wanted to take part in the first contest but, rather like trying to get into the Common Market, had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. It hasn’t made the same mistake again and the UK has entered every year since apart from 1958, and has won the Contest a total of five times. Its first victory came in 1967 with “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.

Eurovision Greece and Spain

There have been sixty-two contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 contest, which had four.  Twenty-five different countries have won the contest.    The country with the highest number of wins is Ireland, with seven.  Portugal is the country with the longest history in the Contest without a win – it made its forty-fourth appearance at the 2010 Contest.  The only person to have won more than once as performer is Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who performed “What’s Another Year” in 1980 and “Hold Me Now” in 1987.

Norway is the country which holds the unfortunate distinction of having scored the most ‘nul points’ in Eurovision Song Contest history – four times in all, and that is what I call humiliating. They have also been placed last ten times, which is also a record!

For many years the annual Eurovision Song Contest was a big event in out house usually with a party where everyone would pick their favourite and would dress appropriately to support their chosen nation.  In later years no one ever picked the United Kingdom because the only thing that is certain about the competition is that being the unpopular man of Europe we are unlikely to ever win again and every year there is a ritual humiliation with a predictable low scoring result.

Scrap Book Project – Bank Notes


Foreign travel and different bank notes remind me of my dad’s insistence on always returning home from foreign holidays with currency for his personal memory box.  The note above is from the former state of Yugoslavia which dad visited several times in the 198os.

Even if it was 90˚ in the shade and everyone was desperate for a last drink at the airport dad was determined to bring a souvenir note or coin home and would hang on with a steadfast determination that would deny last minute refreshment to everyone so long as he could get his monetary mementos back home safely.  How glad I am of that because now they belong to me and now my own left over bank notes from my travel adventures have been added to the collection.

The euro is useful because it has simplified travel to Europe but I miss the old pre-euro currencies. To have a wallet full of romantic and exciting sounding notes made you feel like a true international traveller. I liked the French franc and the Spanish peseta and the Greek drachma of course but my absolute favourite was the Italian lira simply because you just got so many.

When going on holiday to Italy you were, for just a short time anyway, a real millionaire. The first time I went to Italy, to Sorrento in 1976, the notes were so worthless that it was normal practice for shops to give change in the form of a postcard of a handful of sweets.

My most favourite bank notes are probably from Switzerland.  Everyone knows that the Swiss are fond of money and they leave no one in any doubt of this with the quality of their notes.  Not only are they brilliantly colourful but they are printed on high quality paper as well and one is thing for certain – these notes are not going to fall apart easily.  Another interesting thing about the Swiss Franc is that there is something about it which prevents it being scanned and half way through the process the scanner stops and produces a message on screen that it cannot copy a bank note.



Cyprus £1 front

Zorba The Greek

A couple of weeks away in Greece are just not complete without going to a traditional Greek food and entertainment night and this really must include participative Greek dancing.  A real enthusiast will prepare for such an evening by purchasing a CD of Greek music to practice beforehand but this is not strictly necessary and all you really need to be able to do is to recognise the opening chords of ‘Zorba’. made famous by the film ‘Zorba The Greek’, which was released on 7th December 1964.

In ancient Greece, dancing was believed to be the gift of the gods. Sacred dances were held as offerings to the deities, as commemorations of key events, and as a way of keeping communities together. Dancing was also taught to soldiers as a crucial part of their military training, especially in Athens and Sparta.

Proper Greek nights will have real musicians with bouzouki and accordion players as these will play the best music and the ones to be avoided are those with electric organs because these are simply not authentic.

Most Greek dances are danced in a line and the line moves generally to the right and the person on the end with their right hand free is the leader.  Everyone else follows the leader who calls the steps that can be quite complicated.  Beginners are supposed to join the line at the end and it is considered bad manners to barge into the middle.  One of the most common dances at Greek party night is called the Zembekiko, or drunkard’s dance. This one is easy because it has no specific steps and involves stumbling around precariously to the rhythm of the music. In the Zembekiko there are several dancers down on one knee clapping around a particular dancer, and then they’ll swap places now and again. There are no rules. You can dance alone or join the clapping for someone else. As long as people are having fun, that is just fine.

Greek Dancing

The best Greek night that I have been to was in Mykonos in 2005, which was held in a rustic bar in a village in the hills and as well as the food and the wine and the dancing also had table dancing, setting fire to the floor with lighter fuel dancing and plate smashing.  Breaking plates is linked with the Greek concept of kefi, which is the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, or frenzy.  Some say that it wards off evil spirits. Others maintain that breaking plates symbolises good luck (especially for potters I should imagine).  Whatever it means it is a lot of good fun.

Breaking plates like this is now considered a dangerous practice due to flying shards, and perhaps also because of intoxicated tourists who have poor aim and may hit innocent bystanders. It is officially discouraged and in Greece, as well as in the United Kingdom, a bar or restaurant that wants to do it requires a license.   Tucked away in the hills, I doubt if this place had a license but it didn’t last long and they very quickly substituted the plates with paper napkins to throw around.  Mind you if you think plate smashing is dangerous in the old days they used to throw knives at the dancers feet as a sign of respect and manhood.  This was a bit reckless and not surprisingly, due to countless injuries, that tradition gradually changed to the present-day flower throwing alternative, which is a bit pansy but a whole lot safer.

World Heritage Sites


In 1954, the government of Egypt announced that it was to build the Aswan Dam, a project that proposed to flood a valley containing priceless treasures of ancient civilizations.  Despite opposition from Eygpt and Sudan, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, over fifty countries contributed and the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.  At last the World was collectively protecting its treasures and hopefully never again will something magnificent like the Colosseum of Rome or the Parthenon of Athens be torn down and destroyed by following generations of rebuilders.

Building on this international success the United States then came up with the idea of combining cultural conservation with nature conservation and a White House conference in 1965 called for a World Heritage Trust to preserve ‘the world’s superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.’ The International Union for Conservation of Nature developed similar proposals in 1968 and they were presented in 1972 to the United Nations conference on Human Environment in Stockholm.  A single text was agreed and the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’ was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 16th November 1972.

Today there are eight hundred and seventy-eight listed sites and it isn’t easy to get on the list and to do so a nomination must satisfy impressively difficult criteria which in summary consist of cultral criteria:

to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; to exhibit an important interchange of human values; to bear a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition; to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or landscape; to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement; to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance,

and natural criteria:

to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; to be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth’s history, to be outstanding examples representing significant ecological and biological processes; to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-site conservation of biological diversity.

It is hardly surprising that with forty-seven listed sites Italy has the most but for those who think of Spain as nothing more than a country of over developed costas with concrete condominiums, marinas and golf courses it might be a shock to learn that Spain has forty-three sites and is second highest in the exclusive list.


On every visit to Spain I seem to be visiting a World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that I have been to twenty and that is nearly half of them.  In 2005 I visited Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi and Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Córdoba,  the  Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville.  In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities I visited the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct,  the Historic Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila.

Even before I knew anything about World Heritage Sites it turns out that I have visited two more in the days of my beach type holidays, although when I went to these places neither of them were yet on the list.  In 1988 I holidayed on the island of Ibiza which was accepted onto the list in 1999 in recognition of its biodiversity and culture.  The following year I went to Tenerife and took a cable car ride to the top of Mount Tiede, a national park that was accepted to the list in 2007.  I have also visited Benidorm but for some reason that doesn’t yet seem to have made the list.

Even though they weren’t World Heritage Sites at the time I visited them I am still going to count them but the final two might be a bit dubious but anyway here goes.  In 1984 while driving back through Spain from Portugal I drove with friends through the city of Burgos which was accepted in that year because of its Cathedral and in Galicia in 2008 while visiting Santiago de Compostella I managed to drive over parts of the Pilgrim Route, which exists on the list separately from the old city itself.

Next time I go to Spain I am going to pay more attention and see how many more I can visit.

Turning for a moment to Greece it will surprise no one that the Acropolis and the island of Delos are both on the list but due to mistakes made in submitting the application form by the Greek Ministry of Culture in 2005 then for the time being Knossos is not there.    Everyone is accusing everyone else for this mistake and the Prefect of Iraklion blamed both the Ministry and UNESCO for leaving Knossos off the updated list of World Heritage Sites in 2006.  I am surprised that a site that important even has to bother with an application.

Gaudi chimneys

Island Hopping and Greek Ferries

I have been visiting the Greek islands on and off for nearly thirty years and island hopping for the last six and I have noticed that things are beginning to alter, and not always for the better either.  There are new roads being constructed on the islands and EU funded improvements to ports, traditional mini-markets are becoming supermarkets and the ferries are beginning to change.  New roads are fine and improved port facilities are good, personally I prefer the dusty old shops with surprises in dark corners but I have to say that I am really disappointed by the ferry changes.

This year there were new routes and unfamiliar boats and these were all high speed and modern and they are not nearly as much fun.  They are more expensive, have inside allocated airline style seats, in some cases no access to the outside deck and generally lack character or individuality.  I understand that these changes are welcomed by the people who live on the islands, who now have faster and more convenient transport options and by the Greek Government who prefer a privatised to a subsidised service but it is a sad day for back packers and island hoppers.

I prefer the uncertainty of missed schedules, the battle with the elements and the confusion and commotion associated with getting on and getting off in preference to the reliability, the smooth ride and the orderly airline style of boarding and departure.  One year we were stuck on Folegandros for an extra day when ferries simply didn’t turn up but a year later there was disappointing sense of reliability.

Once I travelled from Naxos to Ios on an old rust bucket called the Panagia Hozoviotisa (named after the monastery on Amorgos) and there was a real sense of adventure. It was two hours late and there was a force seven gale and the boat struggled through the heaving seas but it was an honest hard working boat and the journey was wonderful.  I used it again the following year but now it is laid up out of service in Piraeus.  So too the G&A ferries the Romilda and the Milena that used to run the western Cyclades but have now been replaced with charmless monsters called Speedrunner or Seajet, boats named without thought or imagination and completely lacking any sense of romance.

Using the traditional old ferries was even more of an adventure because the island hopping guide advises that most of them should be avoided if possible.  Finally only the Ventouris Sea Lines Agios Georgios was left and I used it twice, once between Serifos and Sifnos, and then from Sifnos to Milos and I really took pleasure from sitting on the open deck with a mythos, enjoying the sun and watching the islands slowly slipping by as though floating on the Aegean.   Next year I fear that the Agios Georgios will probably be gone too and journeys between the islands will be less enjoyable.

On the old boats it is possible to move freely from deck to deck, get close and see inside the bridge and see the captain at work and then at the other end watch the crew at work at the back of the boat (I believe they call that the stern) and a mad rush of activity when they came in to a port and then left again shortly afterwards.  It was noisy and fun with creaking ropes and rattling chains and the men looked like real sailors.  On the new boats there is only a monotonous hum from the efficient engines and the crew, dressed in smart corporate uniforms, don’t really like you leaving your seat and wandering about unless you are going to the overpriced bar.

This regrettable change is driven by the desire to improve but is in part due also to stricter operating rules imposed on ferry operators after a disaster on 26thSeptember 2000 when the Express Samina Ferry sank off of Paros while the captain slept and the crew watched a football match on TV.  Several of the crew were convicted of manslaughter and sent to jail and the General Manager of the company committed suicide when he jumped from his sixth floor office window in Piraeus.  There followed a crack down on safety, record keeping and passenger numbers and ferries that failed tough new safety checks were barred from operating.  Interestingly the Agios Georgios failed this test at first and has also subsequently broken down at sea!  After thirty-five years ferries are no longer allowed to operate so it is inevitable that within only a few years there will be none of my favourites left.

I am glad that I had a few years of travelling between the islands on the old boats and I suppose I will have to come to terms with the fact that these days have gone and in future there will be no option but to use the awful new ferries to get from place to place.  That is called progress I suppose!

Robbed in Athens

The difference between having a really good time and not having a really good time takes no longer than a blink of an eye and sixteen good days in Greece were swept away in an instant when a pickpocket struck on the Athens metro on 17th September 2009 and in that awful moment all of the hospitality and friendship that we had enjoyed on the islands disappeared in a cloud of anger, resentment and mistrust.

I have always considered Greece to be an honest and safe place and Athens has always been regarded as a safe city, where stealing from the tourists was unheard of, where people can be trusted and it isn’t necessary to take the same precautions as you would for example in Barcelona or Rome but what I know now, but didn’t at the time, is that the Trip Advisor web site places Athens in the top ten places in the World for pickpockets.  It seems that now Greece is in the EU and all sorts of different nationalities are arriving in town that this is no longer the case.

It was the last day of the holiday and we had spent a good day in the Greek capital, visited the Acropolis Museum enjoyed the buzz of the Plaka and had a final meal before collecting our bags and making our way back to the airport.  This was the fourth year of taking the metro and I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in any of the previous three years but this time something was different.  Syntagma station was busy and felt edgy and when the train arrived we had to force our way onto unusually crowded and uncomfortable carriages.

As soon as I got on board I knew something was wrong and this is how they did it.

At the very last moment a group of three or four young men rushed onto the train causing mayhem and confusion and pushing and shoving and moving other legitimate passengers around.  In the melee we were separated so couldn’t watch out for each other and I knew instinctively that something was going to happen in that carriage.  In hindsight it is easy to see that we had been targeted, we had been on holiday, we were off our guard, weighed down with bags and the way that Kim was looking after her bag made it obvious that there was something inside that she would prefer not to lose.

One man stood by the door but then I sensed that he was determined to stand next to me and he pushed in and stood so close I could smell his body odour and it was most unpleasant.  I knew what he was doing but luckily I was wedged in a corner so I gripped my wallet in my pocket in a vice like white knuckle grip and turned away from him so that he couldn’t get a hand to my right side where my wallet and my camera were.  He knew he was rumbled, gave up and moved on pushing and shoving the other passengers as he went.

Kim was stranded in the middle of the carriage but I could see that she was clutching her handbag tight to her chest and I felt reassured that she too was being extra careful.  Suddenly I noticed that she was bothered by something and was examining her ring.  One of the thieves had placed a bit of wire around the stone and had pulled it so hard that it had bent the ring and it had hurt her finger.  She said that at the time she thought it had been caught in a zip or a strap from someone’s bag but this must be a well practiced diversionary tactic because at the moment she reacted he managed somehow to open the zip of the bag and remove the first thing that he found.  All of this happened so quickly and at the next stop they were gone and so was Kim’s camera.

Apparently the Athens metro has become notorious for thieves so wouldn’t you think the police would do something about it, these guys are so easy to spot.  Instead they prefer to swagger about in groups walking around Monastiraki and the Plaka and being completely ineffective.  The Foreign Office web site now advises “Most visits to Greece are trouble-free, but you should be aware that the tourist season attracts an increase in incidents of theft of wallets, handbags etc. particularly in areas and events where crowds gather”.  I can’t imagine that this is good for tourism and I am surprised that Greece isn’t tackling this problem and cracking down hard on offenders but it seems that it isn’t a priority.

I suppose it might have been worse, the thief didn’t get her purse or our passports that were also in the bag and without those we would have had an extra night in Athens to endure but for Kim the loss of her camera with all of her holiday memories was a real Greek tragedy.  Even the camera was unimportant except for the little chip inside with over seven hundred pictures that cannot be replaced.

I console myself with the thought that hopefully the thief wasn’t a Greek and he was disappointed to only get a camera when he probably hoped he had stolen a purse.  I hope he has a short, painful and miserable life (preferably behind bars) and when he finally gets to Hell (as surely he will) I hope he has to spend eternity in a nasty dark corner with his head in a bucket of excrement!

The Island of Ios, Farming and Tourism

On the Greek island of Ios the walk from the busy harbour to little Valmas beach is interesting because of the derelict terraces and dry stonewalls that separate the bony hillside into individual plots of land.  Ios is just one large inhospitable rock that has been baked hard in the sun but as recently as only fifty years ago people here were scraping away at the thin soil and the stones here to try and make a living or to feed the family by growing fruit and vegetables.

There is very little useful land on Ios so this must have been almost unimaginatively difficult and the owner of the hotel, Homer’s Inn, Antonia told us of her memories of life before tourism.  She told us how each islander, including her father, had a personal plot and would attend each day to manage and tend the land.  This must have been incredibly hard.  They had to carry all of the water to the side of this cliff and the only way to achieve this was by using a donkey. Then in the 1960s visitors started to arrive and the enterprising islanders realised that there was more money to be made renting out the back room and this was also a lot easier than a twelve-hour day toiling under a hot sun.

The terraces are all abandoned now to giant thistles growing like candelabras and what other few plants can survive in a hostile environment and they are unlikely ever to be cultivated again.  There is no one to look after them or protect the heritage, each year parts of the walls collapse and disappear and soon they will be gone altogether and that will be a sad day.  Although no one will ever see it again I like to imagine what this hillside might have looked like fifty years ago with farmers scratching away at the ground, donkeys patiently waiting to return to the town and fishing boats slipping in and out of the harbour below.

Do As I Say Not As I Do!

On 10th September 2008 we woke to a glorious morning on the island of Milos and after a cup of tea I walked briskly into the town to hire a vehicle to transport us around.

I found a place and negotiated the hire of a white, sport model, quad bike, but before being allowed to proceed with the hire I had to undergo a short driving competency test to satisfy the renter that I was safe to go out on the open road.  He explained that as a rule English and French people were generally ok, but Italians, who think they know all about scooters and bikes, are not so good and are liable to fall off and injure themselves sometime during the day but the Americans, who know nothing about them at all, are absolutely hopeless and are very liable to crash and cause a multiple pile-up within seconds.

I passed the test but I couldn’t help but feel a total hypocrite because I have always told my children for safety reasons not to do anything so rash as ride a scooter or a bike like this when on a holiday but I had total disregard for my own advice and was completely euphoric about driving around like Peter Fonda in Easyrider on my four wheels as I returned to the hotel.

Once on the open road the first thing that we had to do was to negotiate our way out of the harbour and this involved a steep climb to the town high above the seafront and this proved quite difficult because it soon became obvious that the quad bike that I had rented was hopelessly underpowered.  It was only 50cc and completely unsuitable for two people, the steering was light because of the weight distribution, handling was a nightmare and it was inevitable that within only a few minutes we had our first near death experience when the thing refused to take a tight hairpin bend with two of us on board and we had a confrontation with the driver of an impatient mineral lorry who was not minded to be very helpful.

I was very careful after that because the thing was very difficult to control, it was hard work, essential to keep your wits about you at all time and the slightest road undulation resulted in wobbles and panics all the way to our first stop.

With some relief we stopped at Sarakiniko beach, which is one of the famous picture postcard sites on Milos.  It was approaching midday and we walked around the sleepy village of Pollonia and up to the top to the inevitable blue domed church and an uninterrupted view of the nearby island of Kimolos.  We left and returned back along the coast road stopping frequently to admire the colourful rock formations, the pretty beaches and the excavations at the Papafragos rocks all of which were along the route.  To be honest I was glad of the frequent stops because I didn’t feel too confident about the quad bike and the way it was behaving with the pair of us, and our luggage, on board.

In the middle of the day we arrived at the main town of Plaka, which overlooks the port of Adamas below and we parked the bike and walked into the little streets of the busy town.  Next to Plaka was the village of Trypiti that had restored windmills and Christian catacombs that were sadly closed due to excavations and an ancient Greek amphitheatre that we missed because it looked like a long way to walk in the blistering heat of the afternoon.

After a couple of Mythos I was much more confident about the quad bike so we left the high level towns and returned again to the beaches on the north of the island and then we had our second near death experience when we stopped for a photo opportunity and I left the bike in reverse and when I started off again almost tipped us backwards into the deep ravine that had provided the backdrop for our dramatic biking pictures that almost proved fatally to be our last.

Later we rested and recovered from our biking experience and debated whether to use it again to return to Plaka for evening meal, but after we had reflected on the earlier dangerous incidents we decided instead to leave it safely parked up and stay instead at the harbour.

The Boss Bar on Santorini

I like Greece and I like Greek tavernas, they are almost always friendly inviting places and the food is inexpensive and good value and it rarely disappoints. I like the carefree ambiance and the complete lack of formality, outside wooden tables and rattan chairs, check tablecloths, extensive menus and unhurried waiters. I like the cheap paper table covers so you can spill food and drink without worrying about being asked to pay the laundry bill, I like the certain company of scrounging cats and I especially like those with live bouzouki players running through the familiar catalogue of traditional Greek music and always starting and finishing with the obligatory ‘Zorba’.

My favourite Greek taverna, without a shadow of a doubt, was the ‘Boss Bar’ on the island of Santorini in 2004.

It was an untidy little place right on the beach at Perissa and on a fortnight’s holiday we dined there most evenings and when we felt obliged to try somewhere different, just for a change, we almost always wished that we hadn’t and went back there later for a final drink.

The ‘Boss Bar’ really had been an excellent place, the staff were attentive and friendly, the food was good, the beer was cold and the prices were reasonable.  There was always complimentary ouzo to finish the evening (except when there was complimentary melon which quite frankly wasn’t so good) but the place had my fullest recommendation.  On my fiftieth birthday a very substantial meal for nine cost only €85, I left a hundred, the owner refused such a generous tip, I insisted, and he completed our meal with at least €25 worth of complimentary sweets and drinks.

I returned to Santorini on 6th September 2006 but was devastated to find that it had gone, probably because the owner had been far too generous with the complimentary ouzo.

Terror Drive in Naxos

This morning we had to come to terms with our rash decision of the previous evening and after breakfast on the terrace we set out for a planned full day drive in our hire vehicle.  This wasn’t a regular car or a jeep or even a quad bike but rather a sort of easy-rider roadster dune buggy.  It looked cool and it looked fun but this was to be a full day of terror.

I would not advise anyone to hire one of these vehicles and these are the reasons: to begin with the driver only has about 10% control of this vehicle, the rest is down to pure chance.  There is no suspension so it vibrates through every bone in your body, which is an experience that I can only liken to driving a washing machine on full spin cycle.  There is very little steering control and no effective turning lock so to do a simple turning manoeuvre almost always requires a three-point turn.  In the event of an accident there is no protection from very serious injury as the seat is only a few centimetres from the road surface and your knees are effectively the front crumple zone.  Hit something in this and if you are not killed outright then you face many long painful months recovering in hospital.  In a Greek hospital that is!  Death would be preferable.

To hire one is relatively straightforward, you need three bits of documentation, a driving licence, a credit card and a letter certifying that you are clinically insane!  And then you are completely on your own!

We were heading for the Temple of Demeter somewhere in the centre of the island and it was quite difficult to locate.  This was because it wasn’t a very big site and there was only enough to see to provide thirty minutes or so rest from the killer vehicle and soon it was time to return to the buggy and continue our adventure.  This time Kim decided she would like to try to drive and this, if anything, was even more terrifying.  It is comforting to be in some sort of control but to be in the passenger seat as we flashed past dangerously adjacent rocks and vegetation as she clung to the edge of the road where the tarmac gave way to pot holes and and loose stones, was a complete nightmare.

After a while I resumed driving duties and we decided to drive south back towards the coast and the small map that we had for navigation purposes indicated a straight road through to the beach at Agiassos, which looked like a good location for a lunch time drink.  The road was ok for a few kilometres and then the paved surface suddenly ran out and was replaced by unmade shale road and a big sign saying that the new road was under construction with the generous assistance of EU funding. We had a short debate about whether to continue or turn back and as other people seemed to be using the road we foolishly choose to go on.  Foolish because most of the other people were using proper vehicles – usually four by fours!

Although the buggy had been hard enough to drive on a regular road that paled into insignificance now that we started to drive down this gravel highway because now it was like trying to drive a fair ground dodgem car over a frozen lake.  The loose shale was like ice under the wheels and we skidded uncontrollably as I tried to negotiate deep potholes that could have rendered enormous damage to the underside of the vehicle.  There was no protection from the dust and the stones that were thrown up by other passing vehicles and just to make driving even more difficult it was necessary to close my eyes every time someone went by in the opposite direction or overtook us.  We were being shaken like a vodka martini and the road surface seemed to be deteriorating with every kilometre that we went on.  Eventually it became so bad that we stopped and turned around even though there was about ten kilometres of sheer hell to renegotiate.

As we stopped to take a breather a young couple in exactly the same sort of buggy pulled up and asked for answers to the same questions that we were asking ourselves, ‘where are we? what are we doing here? Will it ever end?’ Of course we couldn’t help but we took comfort from being able to share our ordeal with someone else and when they announced that they were pushing on to the coast we turned around again and intrepidly followed them.  Soon we did arrive at the coast but this did not bring any respite from the wretched gravel road that just kept on going and going and brought unending agony.

Eventually we chanced across a taverna next to the beach at Pyrgaki and we had no hesitation in pulling in and getting out of the vehicle for some recovery time.  My whole body was shaking, especially my hands and arms because of the severe vibrations that came up through the front wheels and the steering wheel, I felt like Shakin’ Stevens and it took all my concentration and considerable effort not to wobble my beer glass so violently that I didn’t distribute the top half of the contents of cold mythos all over the fresh check tablecloth.  It took a good thirty minutes and another glass of beer to stop vibrating and return somewhere towards normal.

The bad news of course was that we had to return to the vehicle because there was still a long way to go to get back to Agios Prokopious but fortunately very soon after this we thankfully returned to a paved road and we came across a nice beach at Aliko which was an attractive bay with cream sandstone cliffs and ochre red rocks and fine sand.  There were some big waves in the sea and we enjoyed cooling down and cleaning off in the water that’s for sure as we swam and washed the dust from our cracks and crevices.

There was a final thirty-minute journey back to the hotel and I was so pleased to get back.  On the way we stopped to refuel the vehicle and the man at the filling station squirted about half a litre of fuel in the tank and enquired if we liked driving small cars.

No we just made a big mistake OK!