Greek Islands I have visited
One of my favourite films is Shirley Valentine, the story of a woman who has a life changing experience when she goes on an unexpected holiday to the island of Mykonos, so it was inevitable that I would have to visit there one day.
I wasn’t expecting it to change my life in any similar dramatic way however when we visited the island in July 2005 and went for a two week holiday to the tourist resort of Ornos Bay on the south coast of the island. From the moment we arrived the sun shone continuously and we had a long lazy fortnight baking under the Aegean sun and walking back and forth from beach to apartments located about two hundred metres behind the busy coastal strip of bars, shops and tavernas next to a strip of golden sand decorated with beach umbrellas and brightly coloured beach towels.
We stayed at the Anemos Apartments and they were excellent, pristine white with tiny balconies and brown shutters, in a quiet location of the main road that led in one direction to the wide sandy beach and in the other towards a busy road that went to the lively party town of Mykonos, or Chora.
We didn’t stay in Ornos all of the time of course because Mykonos is an interesting and lively island with plenty of things to do and see. First of all we had to visit the nearby beach of Agios Ionnis, which was the principle location for Shirley Valentine with the hotel she stayed at, the beach where she enjoyed wine and sunsets and of course Kostas’ taverna where she worked after staying on beyond the end of her holiday. It was all fairly recognisable but this was ten years after the film had been made so there had been one or two changes here and there and it has to be said that the taverna with the proud sign outside looked completely different following an obvious refurbishment and make-over.
Mykonos town is a lively place and one of the top tourist attractions in the Cyclades, not as spectacular as Santorini, as historical as Naxos or as dramatic as Ios but with an enviable location facing west with the town rising up from a gentle shelving crescent shaped bay full of traditional fishing boats competing for moorings with pleasure boats and rich men’s yachts. In the typical Cycladic town of narrow streets and whitewashed houses there was a generous mixture of expensive cosmopolitan shops and cheaper tourist stores, pricey restaurants and affordable tavernas, chic modern bars for young people and tourists and traditional cafés for the local men. The most famous residents of Mykonos are the pelicans which waddle around the streets, their wings clipped to prevent then flying away, going from one restaurant back door to another in anticipation of fishy scraps from the kitchens and stopping every now and then in a good natured and obliging way to have their photographs taken with the holidaymakers.
Mykonos is one of the most popular of the Greek islands and the down side of this is that it is more expensive than most and that is especially true of the most picturesque part of the town, a collection of old fishermen’s houses built right up to the edge of the sea and known as ‘Little Venice’. Fishermen don’t live there any more because these gaily coloured buildings are all bars and restaurants and to use them and enjoy the stunning views one has to be prepared to pay elevated prices. We weren’t of course but we did eat at an adjacent taverna with a good view of the houses on one side and Mykonos’ famous windmills on the other as we sat at the same table as Shirley did in the film and enjoyed an evening meal with moonlight on the water and gentle waves harmoniously rearranging the pebbles on the beach.
The fortnight in Mykonos was a good holiday and maybe I will go back one day but for now I am happy to backpack and wander among the islands using the ferries to transport me around rather than be organized on traditional package style holidays.
Greece is my favourite place in all of Europe. For me the very best way to see the country and the islands is to hop on a ferry and drift between them setting down now and then to enjoy the history, the people, the food, the ouzo and the Mythos!
The iconic symbol of the country is the blue and white flag of Greece that was was introduced on 13th January 1822 and is called ‘Galanolefci’, which means ‘blue and white’. Originally it was blue with a white diagonal cross but the cross has now been moved to the upper left corner, and is symbolic of the Christian faith. Being a seafaring nation, the blue of the flag represents the colour of the sea. White is the colour of freedom, which is something that is very important to the Greeks after years of enslavement under foreign domination. The nine stripes of the flag each symbolise a syllable in the Greek motto of freedom: E-LEY-THE-RI-A-I-THA-NA-TOS, which translates literally into ‘Freedom or Death’.
Greek Islands I have visited
On 10th January 1863 London became the first city in the World to open an underground railway line and began a trend for travelling in long dark tunnels. Whilst this makes for convenient transport it also provides an environment for thieves and low life pickpockets.
2009 was the fourth year of taking the Athens 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 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 practised 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 and I bet they haven’t got a ticket. 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 know that this has hurt her badly, she rarely mentions the holiday now, can’t bring herself to look at my very similar pictures and I wonder if next year she will even feel like returning to Greece which until this incident has always been our favourite place. 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 develops a horrible incurable disease and has a short, painful and miserable life (preferably behind bars)! And when he finally dies and gets to Hell (as surely he will) I hope he has to spend eternity in a cold damp corner with his head in a bucket of shit!