Chapter 1 - The Journey
I have visited Greece many times and have spent time on both the mainland and the various islands, but the episode I am inviting you to read is about my stay on the Island of Skiathos in the late 1980′s.
I had driven over to Greece from England via a ferry from England to France, and another from Italy to Greece. It was a long journey, which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though I was on my own.
The lonesome traveller wasn’t alone for long though, after two weeks parked on a beach just outside Athens in my large motorhome I was heading for Athens Airport to pick up my wife and child who had taken the easier and supposedly more comfortable travel option.
I arrived at the Ellinikon International Airport, which had been operational for 50 years at the time, but has recently (2001) been replaced by the new build of Athens International Airport. It was a tiny place just up from the beach and adjoining a golf course and I was surprised to find military vehicles, complete with machine gun toting army personnel guarding the entrance/exit.
In England at the time everything to do with security was very low key, maybe a policeman or two, but nothing like this.
After getting over the initial thought that there had been another military coup, I parked my van and strolled into the terminal to await my nearest and dearest.
I watched the plane land, the doors open, and then my wife and child appear at the exit door of the plane.
They both saw me almost immediately and their beaming smiles and excited waving brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye.
The reunion was wonderful, I do not think you could have found a happier trio if you had searched the length and breadth of the entire World.
We walked over to the gleaming red and white van that was literally sparkling in the Greek sunshine, I had spent the previous evening cleaning of the dust and dirt from the 2,600-mile journey and by the look on their faces it had been worth it.
They both wanted to know about my journey, and what I had been doing while I had been waiting for them, and they listened intently as I informed them that I had already had many adventures.
Before I left England, I had exchanged just enough money to pay for fuel and a few meals in both France and Italy, the rest I was going to change into Greek Drachma when I arrived at my destination.
I told them about getting lost going through France and then running out of Francs because of the extra fuel bills. I told them about having to pay for my fuel with Italian Lire even though I was still in France. About then running out of Lire and having to use my “traveller’s cheques’ to pay for the ferry to Greece. It had been fun trying to explain all this to the various ‘helpful’ officials that I had encountered, and with nothing but English and the waving of my hands.
Unlike today when almost everyone everywhere seems to be able to speak English, at this time that was not the case. Everyone I met spoke the language of that country, and nothing else. It made for an interesting trip.
Once I had told the story of my journey, I then told them about my experiences while parked on Glyfada beach. It was still the first week in January but the weather had been amazing, the water was cold but I had been able to spend every day sunbathing. I had met a few other travellers, an Australian that was living in an old bus, and a few English and Danes that were travelling around in very posh motorhomes.
I got quite friendly with the Aussie, and it turned out his bus was fitted with bunk beds and a kitchen, he picked up holidaymakers at the airport and drove them around the country for a week, before depositing them back at the airport for their journey home. He had been doing this for years and had been all over Europe doing the same thing.
He used to park on a plateau that overlooked the beach, and at the time my red and white motorhome and me.
Each night while I was on my own I would fall asleep listening to the waves and usually engrossed in a book, It was such a relaxing and enjoyable time until...
One evening the wind got up quite strong, and being in a van with great suspension, I found that I was rocking to and thro so much that I could not even concentrate on reading. The sounds outside were fantastic as I could hear the roar of a storm battering the beach and that was entertainment enough.
Suddenly I heard some shouting that seemed to be coming from above, and looking out of my window, I could see my Aussie pal waving a torch around in the air. I went to the door, opened it against the storm and looked up at him asking what the problem was.
He pointed down at what was once the beach and what I saw was waves. they were halfway up the tires and looked like they were rising. I quickly realised that to attempt to drive myself out of this was a non-starter and my only option was to hope for the best.
I relaxed and enjoyed the ride; it was like being in a hammock. The van was rocking, it was even on occasions moving a few feet back and forwards, but I kept an eye on the rising tide and it didn’t seem to be getting any higher.
At sometime through the night I dozed off and did not wake again until there was a knock on the door of the van. My Aussie pal was there laughing.
“I can’t believe you got through that, I looked out at one time and you were some 100 meters from the shore. I came out onto the beach and he was quite right. I had parked next to a stout tree that was on a slight hill and had obviously survived many previous storms. When this storm tide had come in the previous night it had bypassed both me and the tree and showing by all the driftwood further up the beach had encircled the pair of us to the extreme.
I spent the next day walking along the beach collecting driftwood for the stove in my new friend’s bus.
After my wife and less curious son had experienced a few hours of tales we were all up to date, and we were back on the beach that had become my temporary home. My son was playing in the now sedate waves while Jayne and I caught up on a few cuddles over a glass or two of white wine.
During the evening, we poured over a map of Greece and decided on our destination. There being no internet in those days so this was simply, choose a destination, read a few lines in a travel book and then head in that direction.
We chose Skyros, a supposedly beautiful island full of olive trees, and surrounded by beautiful beaches.
To get there meant a further drive of some 150 miles, across a land bridge onto the island of Evia, across to Kymi, and then a ferry ride to the island.
The next morning we set off to complete our journey, the sun was shining, the air was sweet, and the traffic was non-existent. The trip was exciting and the roads were sometimes a little threadbare giving us a true feeling of going into the unknown.
We stopped at a few villages on the way, got ice creams, and enjoyed the beautiful views. We went high up and came down roads with more bends than I had ever previously experienced, all in all, it was hard work on the driver but great fun at the same time.
Eventually, we arrived at the port of Kymi.
It consisted of a tiny parking area and a small hut.
On the hut was a sign.
“Next Sailing MARCH 30th”
If you remember it was early January at the time.
I jokingly asked Jayne if she wanted to wait, or should we try somewhere else.
Happily, she went for the second option and once again out came the map of Greece.
We decided on Skiathos, another long journey back the way we had just come, and then along the coast north for 150 miles to the Aghios Constantinos for the connecting ferry... we hoped.
We stayed the day at Kymi, playing in the waves with my boy, and then eating at the solitary taverna that was open.
The water was sparkling clear, and warmer even in the winter than I had ever experienced in an English Summer. I knew I had made the right decision coming to Greece, even without a job or any other concrete plans in my head.
I had a bit of money, and approximately 2,000 English books, my backup plan was if I couldn’t find any work I would sell books to the English tourists in the summer.
It seemed a good idea at the time.
We got to Aghios Constantinos only to find that they only took foot passengers. The port official pointed us in the direction of the port of Volos... yet another 150 miles.
Was I getting irritated by this time, was I thinking will this never end?
Not at all, I was enjoying it.
As we arrived in Volos the weather changed, the storm that I had encountered a few days previously came back to haunt me. The beautiful blue skies turned a deep black, and the waves outside the port looked dark, forbidding, and angry.
Not being the best of sailors... as in my stomach turns at the slightest ripple when out at sea... I was not that keen on boarding, but after a quick chat with an official, I discovered this would be the last sailing for a few days as they expected the weather to get even worse. I braved it up and drove my small compact family aboard the rocking vessel.
We parked the van below decks and climbed up the metal stairways until we reached the top deck. The view was incredible, we were looking back at the port and in the distance, the snow-capped mountain of Volos. Also in the distance was some blue sky, but closer to hand it was as black as night and a few lightning bolts were being hurled around.
The boat set off on its four-hour journey at 11am, and by 11.15 I was hanging on for dear life as the boat bobbed along on waves that every self-respecting dolphin would do their best to avoid.
My stomach was in the lap of the gods, it certainly was not where it should have been. I had not been sick, though just about everyone else had been. My wife and son were in a bad way and they were in the toilets talking to the big white telephone.
The rain was coming down in buckets so everyone was now inside, and everyone that was not being sick seemed to be smoking, it was horrible.
Out of the window I could see an island, was it Skiathos? I had no idea.
I waited, everyone waited, the boat bobbed and weaved, we still waited.
Then there was an announcement... all in Greek.
The boat turned round and headed back to Volos. It seems the waves were so high that it could not dock. In all we had journeyed 4 hours, waited 3 hours, and then journeyed back another 4 hours.
We drove off the boat at 10pm as though we had been on our very own nightmare. My boy looked green, my wife looked green, and I apparently also looked green.
We stayed on the dock for 3 days, every two hours the next sailing was put back another 2 hours. This meant we could not go anywhere, we just had to stay at the dock ready to board any moment. Most other travellers were either in cars or on foot, so they were as uncomfortable as they could be. We had a home on wheels, a shower, cooking facilities, a TV, a video, a fridge... and most of all... beds.
The weather calmed and we re-boarded the vessel. this time we were seasoned travellers and enjoyed the trip. The weather was not great, but it was clear enough to see all the passing islands, and on our left the mainland.
This time we had set off at 3pm and arrived at Skiathos at 7.30pm. The boat docked and we drove onto the island that was to become our home for the immediate future.