Postcards from Crete

Postcards from Crete

Aphrodite’s Sanctuary

Darkness had fallen by the time we opened the front door of the Aphrodite Guest House at the Eleonas Country Village. Expectations were high and it didn’t disappoint – simple pleasure, tastefully presented. On day one, Liam leapt out of bed and threw open the window to let in a heady scent of rosemary, sage and marjoram and a words-totally-fail-me view. Yes, this’ll do for our week of solitude and Scrabble, cards and cuddles, rest and recharge.

Toddlers on Acid

After two glorious days serenaded by monastery bells and a chorus of horny cicadas, the melody has been shattered by toddlers on acid. They weren’t expected up here in these hills. High-fibre parents encourage little Hugo and Matilda to express themselves in any way that takes their fancy, and so they do – loudly and often. Real life won’t be so obliging when they grow up.

We upped towels and fled to the tranquillity of our patio, dragged out the Scrabble, popped a cork and settled down beneath the canopy of a fat-trunked carob tree. As we supped and scrabbled, a panicky goat suddenly appeared from nowhere and scuttled past. A startled Liam jumped from his seat. Ever the expert sot, he didn’t spill a drop.

The Road to Zaros by Liam Brennan

Day four, and Jack has a case of the munchies. While he lounges under the shade of a carob tree, off I trot in the blistering heat to the local village in search of essential supplies (Pringles, Hobnobs and village plonk). I say ‘trot’. By the time I had negotiated the never-ending ‘road’ to Zaros, with its twists and turns through the hills into the valley below, my old-man legs had packed up, I was more or less blinded by sweat, and delirium was beginning to set in. It’s an indication of how pathetic I must have looked as I wobbled past the village tea house that one of the octogenarian villagers rocking gently in his shaded chair gestured for me to take a seat next to him.

‘Kàni polì zèsti’ (it’s very hot), he mumbled nonchalantly.

No shit, grandad.

I panted an appreciative ‘thank you’ in Greeklish and pointed at my wrist – time was ticking by and I was on a mission. As it turns out, that mission was accomplished in some style. Thanks to the local shopkeeper who steered me away from his dusty stock of imported wine, I staggered back to Jack with gallons of the local rosé, decanted into recycled one-and-a-half-litre plastic bottles at 3 Euros a pop. Not to mention the sour cream Pringles and a stash of chocolate bars. I may have lost half my body weight in sweat and pulled every muscle of my ageing body, but at least Jack was happy. That man owes me. Big time.

Much Ado

We dine late to avoid the over-fussy kids and their over-fussing parents. Food is gloriously no-fuss – hearty country fare, fresh and generous, and all washed down with robust local wine. And Διαμάντι (Diamánti), our waitress, provides a side order of wit and wisdom. On day two, a sparkling trio of West Country Brits emerged from the beige backdrop of pasty-faced, sensibly-sandalled hikers. We shared a joke or three and chatted our way through the honeyed raki. You know who you are and we thank you.

Déjà Vu

Our Cretan idyll delivers unexpected familiarity. If I close my eyes, I’m transported back in time to another land of randy insects, loose goats, old men in tea houses and pine-smothered hills.

In the end, who could tell the difference between a grandma riding a donkey in Greece, Bulgaria or trotting through a Turkish village?

Turkey Street, Chapter 13, Blesséd are the Meek

As I once wrote in a book. Ok, no headscarves or hassle, and the call to prayer has been replaced by the chimes of the local blue-domed monastery, but looking at the following snaps – the first of our Cretan digs, the second of our former house in Bodrum – you get my drift.

Host with the Most

Manolis, our gentle and affable host, runs a tight ship with a light touch – efficient but not pushy, with an ask-and-it-shall-be-given style. All the staff were helpful and friendly, but for us, it was Diamánti – our diamond – who really made our second honeymoon something to tell the metaphorical grandchildren about. It rained on our last day – a summer monsoon to frighten the herd, all snap, crackle and pop.

We took our seats in the taverna with a couple of glasses of white to enjoy the noisy spectacle. Diamante emerged from the bar to present us with a gift. Now that’s never happened before.

Efcharistó.

We never got to eat the fruit of the lotus tree. It must be the only shrub missing from Eden. So we went home, but we’ll be back.

Coming next – Minos, Minotaurs and Mazes

 

The Lotus Eaters

The Lotus Eaters

Greece beckons – seven lazy days round a Cretan pool. As with last year, we’re flying from Norwich’s bijou international airport but, unlike last year, we’ve gone up a notch or two, accommodation-wise. We’re so off the beaten track, there’s no track at all, just a collection of stone cottages sprinkled over the side of a hill with its own spring and a couple of travel awards. And the unpretentious comfort has earned it a sparkling set of five-star reviews. Our sanctuary for the week is the Aphrodite Guest House, close to the bar. Expectations are high.

Although it’s a paradise for hikers and bikers, we plan to do little but sleep, float, eat, sup, read, bonk, play snap and cheat at scrabble. The only exception, I think, will be a trip to ancient Knossos. As one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece, it’s bound to be nose to nipple with babbling coach parties. But it’s there and it’s not far, so it would be an insult to give it a miss.

Who knows? We may turn into lotus eaters – from Greek mythology, that is, not the seventies TV series set on Crete starring Wanda Ventham, Benedict Cumberbatch’s mother. According to legend, those who ate the fruit of the lotus tree lost the desire to return home. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Schindler’s Lift

Schindler’s Lift

Following a boozy afternoon on the tiles, I had no memory of making it back to our hotel in East London. This is despite staggering from Soho to Piccadilly Circus to get the Tube, changing at Oxford Circus, taking the Central Line to Stratford, finding the hotel and checking in. I was thankful to wake up in the right room in the right hotel with the right person. Liam couldn’t remember anything either.

I rolled out of bed and peered through the window. The first thing I noticed was how high up we were. It was quite a view, with the London 2012 Olympic Stadium – now home to West Ham Football Club – in the foreground and the city skyline beyond. There were cranes everywhere – saluting the ever-evolving cityscape. The sky was winter bright and the sun hurt my eyes; I drew the curtains and clambered back under the duvet.

After a couple of hours’ dozing and dossing, it was time to drag our weary carcasses back home to little old Norwich to nest and rest. Easier said than done. The Schindler’s lifts were on a go slow and it took ages to get down to the first floor reception to check out. Rather than wait for another sulky lift, we decided to take the stairs to street level. What we didn’t know was that the hotel was perched on top of a high-rise car park and the stairwell just went down, down and down. Our heads thumped in sync with every step into the abyss. For some inexplicable reason, the treads were numbered with felt-tip pen.

And there were the directions just in case we lost our way. Clearly,  the cleaners didn’t make it down very often. And who could blame them?

We had an hour or so to kill before our train, so we settled on the best hangover cure – a full English in a fancy restaurant. Yes, that’s a dead tree behind Liam. Very fancy.

Postcards from Corfu

Postcards from Corfu

The A Gays

We chose simple and we got sublime. Our billet is a modest studio (A1 for the A Gays) overlooking a sparkling pool.

The Little Terrace

All we have to do is drag our tired old carcasses the few yards from bed to lounger – perfect for the R&R we crave. Most days we laze about dipping and sipping, reading and dozing. We deliberately booked the week after schools went back – to avoid over-wrought brats who scream and splash. We hadn’t wagered on the toddlers, though. We’re being diverted by the neurotic antics of four nervous grown-ups dancing round Lola, a tiny tot wearing a kamikaze-style sun hat and what looks like a suicide belt. Lola’s only word is ‘NO!’ and she repeats it a lot.

Elleana the Great

Our landlady is a magnificent Corfiot matriarch called Elleana – not one to cross, we think. Liam has charmed her with warm talk and a few well-practised words in Greek. It’s done the trick. She keeps a well-stocked bar which we’re eager to drain. Corfiot wine is surprisingly quaffable given it’s stored out the back in three-litre plastic bottles.

Elleana’s gaff is protected by a shaggy guard dog. He likes to call round for a sniff, frisk and lick. We’re not sure of the make or sex but we call it ‘Hector’.

The dog

Wasps around the honey pot

The vine harvest has brought the last hurrah of the season for squadrons of wasps. Puny by comparison to their angrier British cousins, they’re more annoying than menacing and are only really interested in sipping from the glass Liam keeps topped up by my side. I’m happy to share. Several have drowned during the mid-afternoon Bacchanalia. A leathered Brummie reclining at the far end of the pool keeps insect spray to hand. Every so often we hear ‘pssssst’, ‘pssssst’, pssssst’ then she returns to her chick lit. We call her ‘Ms Raid’. The wasps may be irritating but the mozzies are less voracious than expected. Either that or our four years in Turkey have turned our blood to poison.

The Youngest Gays in the Village

The resort is serene and spartan – just a few tavernas and pizza parlours – and most of our fellow visitors look like they’ve been pickled. It’s a novel experience being (almost) the youngest gays in the village. The locals are friendly and obliging, if a little frayed after a long hot summer. Liam was nearly laid low by an upturned beer crate. Fixed to the pavement with duck tape, it was there to cover a big hole.

Jack on the Road

Overheard

As many know, I’m a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) eavesdropper. Here’s a few random throwaway lines picked up on the radar as we gadded about:

What’s the wever tomorrer?

‘ow do I know? Do I look like a weather cock?

She’s very end of season, that one.

No, Joan, I don’t ‘ave a pair a woolly knickers.

For maximum effect, such quotes are best recited with a northern accent.

It’s all Greek to me

Sunsets are spent playing cards and Scrabble accompanied by the hard stuff. As the light gradually dims, we resort to mini-torches to read the letters. Liam tries to cheat with Greek and thinks I won’t catch on in the dark.

Wine that glows in the dark

 

Déjà vu

Our soporific Ionian idyll delivers unexpected familiarity. Closing my eyes, I’m transported back in time to another land of barking dogs, crowing cocks, randy crickets, loose cattle, manic drivers, ripe drains, pine-clad hills, goats, potholes, bugs and a nightly spectacle of glorious sunsets.

In the end, who could tell the difference between a grandma riding a donkey in Greece, Bulgaria or trotting through a Turkish village?

Turkey Street, Chapter 13, Blesséd are the Meek

As I observed in a book I once wrote. Ok, headscarves, hassle and the call to prayer are missing and they don’t play cricket in Bodrum but you get my general drift.

Coming soon… Postcards from Albania.

Albania

 

In the Footsteps of the Durrells

In the Footsteps of the Durrells

We’re off on our hols to sunny Greece. Seven heavenly days round a cool pool in Corfu. We’re flying out from Norwich’s very own international airstrip – small but perfectly formed, a doddle to get to and a doddle to get through. We’re not expecting the full Durrell-esque experience – no crumbling Venetian mansion overlooking the shimmering Ionian Sea and awash with exotic fauna for us. But we have bagged the next best thing for our bargain-bucket budget – a little place slightly off the beaten track. It might come with challenging plumbing but also boasts a set of five star reviews on Trip Advisor for its unpretentious, no-fuss comfort. We intend to do absolutely nothing but sleep, drink, read, drink, eat, drink, oh, and play Scrabble. We’ve packed a couple of torches and a keg of insect repellent. Happy days.

Make mine a double on ice and shove a brolly in it. Yamas!

Perking the Pansies

Perking the Pansies

Our hobbling tour of Bodrum was something of a boozy whirlwind and confirmed I can’t do multiple piss-ups anymore. It was season’s end with flight prices to match, but the interminable limp through Stansted was a brutalising experience when compared to our little local airport. Working to a slum-it budget, we bagged ourselves a hotel in Bodrum for eleven quid a night, breakfast included. Nothing much worked in our barrel-scraped digs but the family-run gaff was clean and convenient. This was the first time we had set foot on Turkish soil since we called time on our Anatolian adventure in 2012 and we were determined to make hay. Naturally, the wedding of the year was the main event but we also wanted to share a jar or two with some of our old muckers, so we pitched our standard on a Bodrum Beach and waited for battle to commence. The onslaught came in waves and after nine hours of friendly fire, talking ten to the dozen about everything under the moonlit sky, we staggered to the nearest taxi rank. A huge hand to all the Bodrum belles and beaus who really made our day. You know who you are.

These images are as blurred as our vision was by the end of the evening.

Of course, no trip back to Bodrum would have been complete without a reunion of the Sisterhood…

… the antidote to the VOMITing sickness that afflicts the many Shirley Valentines who wash up like driftwood on the beaches of Turkey. Many of the Sisters are reformed VOMITs who’ve been through the ringer, some more than once, but have emerged to tell the tale stronger and wiser. The Sisters stick together (like birds of a feather), because men are rubbish.

Expat Glossary

So after a day trip down memory lane along Turkey Street (more of this later), we joined the Sisterhood in Musto.

Musto was top of our list and sat in a prime location on Marina Boulevard opposite the smart shopping parade. Its handsome young owner, Mustafa the Magnificent, was second cousin to our landlady and a generous and convivial host. The eponymous Mustafa learned his trade at Sünger, his uncle’s legendary pizza parlour, a place that had been dishing up margheritas to the sailing squad since the early seventies. Unlike some of his rivals, Mustafa never resorted to pressganging people in from the street. He courted the emigrey crowd with Italian seasoning, palatable wine, affordable prices and generous yolluks. It was a formula that attracted swarms of discerning diners, even out of season.

Turkey Street

mustoMusto has expanded considerably since our last visit, though I’m pleased to say the menu and ambience remain special. Back in the day, regular meetings of the Sisterhood always kept the pansies perked, particularly during the chilly winter months when Bodrum life was as a slow as pond water. Thank you Doc, Jess and Victoria.

There was a distinct autumnal nip when we got back to Norwich and the heating went on for the first time since the spring. A day or two later, Liam departed for London on family duties so I sank into the sofa to watch an ancient episode of Midsomer Murders on ITV3 with my carcinomic ankle resting on a Swedish pouffe. I was unsettled. We thought our trip back to Bodrum would be our swansong. Now I’m not so sure. Despite challenging political times, Turkey has worked her magic all over again. Blimey.

bodrum-beach

More Postcards from Gran Canaria

More Postcards from Gran Canaria

Following last week’s delivery from the Royal Mail, here’s the second batch of postcards to land on the mat.

Mad Pedro

The staff in our global holiday village are delightful, particularly Pedro, our mad barman. He services us with charm and generosity and rings his little bell every time he gets a tip. It’s like a royal wedding at Westminster Abbey when we’re around and the bigger the tip we give, the bigger the drink we get. As Pedro said to Liam:

Ah, you Engleesh with your happy hour. It’s always happy hour in Pedro’s bar!

Loose Talk

Regular readers will know I’m a dedicated eavesdropper. Here’s a small selection:

And I’ll tell you one thing for nothing. As soon as I get home, I’m back on the tramadol.

 

 We went tut Benidorm in January. It were great. We ‘ad beach to ourselves.

Oh. How come?

It were rainin’.

 

Me son’s got an apartment in Bulgaria.

Nice. Wotsit like?

Cheap but those Bulgarians…you wouldn’t trust ‘em.

 

Of course, we normally go to Goa, don’t we Jean? All-in for a tenner a day – and that includes two packs of fags and enough booze to sink the Ark Royal.

A Yumbo Cocktail

We’re just a short mince from the Yumbo Center, the largest of the many tacky shopping and entertainment centres dotted about Playa Del Ingles. As I wrote back in 2012 after our last trip…

The Yumbo Center is the throbbing epicentre of gay Canarian low-life. The Yumbo is a naff treat for all the senses, a crumbling multi-layered open air shopping and sex emporium. It started to fall apart as soon as it was built (some twenty five years ago). By day, it’s an over-sized pound shop patronised by ancient slow-lane Germans in busy shirts and socked sandals. But, at the stroke of midnight, the racks of tat are wheeled away, the garish bars throw open their doors and the entire place is transformed into a gaudy cacophonous neon-lit cess-pit of drunken debauchery.

Gran Canaria Sex Emporium

It was one of my most popular posts ever. Can’t think why. Strangely, we’ve only ventured into the Yumbo Center once so far – and then only during the day to do a bit of shopping for that must-buy momento. The venues come and go but the place never really changes – apart from the newly installed lift for the mobility-challenged. It’s true, we did stop for a daiquiri or two – for old time’s sake and to survey the footfall. Our immediate neighbours were an over-waxed Franco-German gay couple with plucked brows, precision beards and perfect pecs. They could have been separated at birth. Must be like shagging a mirror. When they weren’t fiddling with their iPhones (to check Grindr, presumably), they communicated in Globalish*. Our barman was pretty. And pretty useless. Just like every gay bar around the world.

yumbo-centre

Geordie Shore

Mercifully, the heatwave has broken. I’d started to lose the plot and I was a hair’s breath away from garrotting the leathery old early birds who always get the brollies. With plunged temperatures, Liam bundled me out of the apartmentos for an excursion to Puerto de Mogán, a marina resort on the south-west coast of the island. We went by public transport, by far the easiest way to get around. Naturally, the bus stop was like a multi-national rugby scrum. You’d think people were fleeing a war zone. Why do we Brits bother queueing?

Set on a steep-sided valley, Puerto de Mogán is built in faux Spanish colonial style and very pretty it is too. But the epithet ‘Venice of the Canaries’ is over-egging the pudding a bit. There’s just the one ‘canal’ – more of a creek really. Still, we ate tapas in a lovely marinaside restaurant followed by coffee and cake in an inviting backstreet bakery. The port’s like a mini version of Bodrum in look and feel, particularly with the dripping, multi-coloured bougainvillea. Sadly, the relaxed ambience was marred by a gang of pissed-up Geordies stalking the streets and waving empty Peroni bottles. My dad was a Geordie. He’d be spinning in his urn.

Back to Bodrum

All in all, it’s been a splendid week, with batteries, scent and cigs (for my mother) recharged. Next trip: back to Bodrum for the wedding of the year. Now that really is something to write home about.

*Globalish is the cut-down version of English used by air traffic controllers, international conferences and dating apps which is totally lacking in elegance, colour, nuance or wit.