I have to say this page would not have been possible without kind permission from my beautiful heroine Sandy, who has allowed me to reproduce some of her Ithaka diary after I carelessly left my own at Kefalonia International Airport - and that I can't thank her enough.

P.S. Also, she insists that I admit to being an idiot.

 

 

 

 


 

    

Ithaka

Vathy

 

Vathy is not just the main port of Ithaka but also one of the most idyllic seafront settings in Greece, (but aren't they all?) nestling at the end of a long, deep bay and embraced on three sides by steep hills. A truly welcoming tranquil vision now we'd finally arrived.
But it was while we were wandering along the quay, as independent travellers, that I realised we had no idea where we were going and also, dragging along a bag on wheels without any idea of destination is just too reminiscent of hypermarket shopping for me.

Way behind, Tony trailed along without a care in the world as though he was visiting an exhibition in a museum so I decided it was up to me. But it wasn't long before we were pounced upon by two lady gypsies who knew of a 'room to let'. One said she learned English in New York! We decided to go and look at it - up a hill, of course, nowhere flat! But we thought it a bit on the expensive side and much more than we needed so we said we'd think about it over a drink. I wanted somewhere to shower, change and settle and as soon as possible. Tony asked the barkeeper about a room - and eventually he pointed up the street and indicated the same place! We decided to rent it for 2/3 nights (7,000 per night). It was the ground floor of a large house - 4 beds, a kitchen, bathroom (with permanently wet floor AND resident mosquitoes, as we later found to our cost)! We unpacked etc. then Ouzo on the quay and a meal - rice, meat balls and deep fried aubergine in batter - yum! Baklava later. I thought it a little dry then found out that Turkish Baklava is different from Greek - also, no nuts. I was tired so Tony took me back to our room then he went for a drink at the workers' bar.


Wednesday 13th

Discovered the road outside our rooms is very noisy. Growling motorbikes nearly all night, and then again just before dawn. Also heard a mosquito in the night. Very persistent, so I had to wrap up well in a sheet, then felt very, very hot. Decided to get in some juice, yoghurt and coffee etc., so we can make our own breakfasts and save some money - if possible. Found a brilliant supermarket. Met an old English lady, Rachael. She lives with her son and daughter. Tony carried her shopping back to her house - up the hill, of course! Before breakfast we walked along the quay, past the ferry, right to the end. Met a tiny puppy with no apparent mother. He adopted Tony and tried to suck his leg! Back to town for coffee and croissants. Lunch was Tsatziki and Greek salad - amazing feta! Watched fish fighting over bits of bread in the harbour. Back to our house for siesta.

During our wanderings we found other 'Rooms to Let' and met a couple from Denmark who told us in perfect English that they were to leave soon so we may try to have their room. It is 5,000 drks. per night and adequate.

Tony wanted to swim so went off to find a beach - very few and far between! A chap in the Foreign Exchange was positive there were NO beaches in Vathy. I tried to turn on the water heater for a shower but no joy, so had a cold shower and hair wash. Washed out a pair of knickers, too. Felt a lot better. A change of clothes and then went to meet Tony. I have countless mosquito bites! Swellings and itchings! Found out suntan lotion has insect repellent in it - bit late to discover that! Used it all over, as much as possible.

Met Danish pair again in the evening - they joined our table. They are going tomorrow and we decided to get their room if we can. Got back to our place quite late, after finding Ithaka's version of the Karpathos 'Xalkia' bar. BIG MOSQUITO HUNT - Tony used one of his flippers as a swatter. Cleaned electric mosquito zapper and put in a new tablet. Plugged in and shut door and tried to sleep. Amazingly noisy with motorbikes going by for hours, THEN the ferry came in! Eventually slept but awake again before daylight - motorbikes going back the other way!

Thursday 14th

Tony up and packed very early. My bites are making me miserable. On face and eyelid as well as hand, arms and legs. Tony paid, got passport and we left after yoghurt and peach breakfast. Arrived at new place before Danish couple had gone so dumped bags and went for a walk. Tony is very restless to swim, explore and go places - I am content to sit in the shade and do nothing. Watched ferry come and go then moved into the new place.

Told 'No mosquitoes here'! Yippee, but a bit late! Given huge bunch of grapes by lovely new landlady.

Sat in shade on terrace for a while. Tony had a shower, then itchy feet again. Into town for coffee and croissants. Tony is desperate to explore/swim so I told him we may have to go back to Kefalonia sooner than we intended to find a beach for him to snorkel etc. Don't fancy riding a motorbike! Left him to hunt out information about Kefalonia and returned to our place to write up this account in the shade on the terrace. Young couple with a car and small girl came to take a room then quickly changed and went off to a beach.

Its Wednesday 20th now...

...and I have lost track of what we've done when!

After the initial period of bites things have calmed down and the itchings are getting less. Although the nights are cooler I still find the heat of the day very oppressive. Tony would like to get out more and explore etc. but I can't do it so he will have to go alone. There is very little in the way of public transport here so no easy way of getting about to see places of interest. Plenty of hire places for motorbikes and cars but neither of us is confident enough to get one. I'm not into rushing about here and there in the heat, although I would like to see other places. As I've no idea what we did when I will list what I can remember.
A bus ride to Stavros. Found it is the only bus and goes to Kioni (or Frikes!) then turns and comes back, which means a stay in Stavros of 30-50 minutes only! (Driver doesn't speak English and has to use school children on the bus to translate for him. Bus is laid on primarily for the children to get to and from school.) The road is narrow and steep and I didn't enjoy the journey very much at all - think I'm becoming a wimp! We thought we could see dolphins a long way below us in the sea but then thought they must be waves as there were so many! We'll never know!

One good thing was that we found a beach within walking distance of the town (Dexia beach). Up the hill past the petrol station, round the bend and down again. Walk takes about 30 minutes from town - that's without hurrying. Spent all day there - probably Saturday, having gone to Stavros on Friday and bought coffee cups that Tony had long desired. I drew and swam, Tony snorkelled. A few other people came down. We took our lunch, rolls, feta and olives. I accompanied Tony to a beach round the other side of the bay - where he had been earlier (called Loutros beach after the ruined castle above it.) Quite liked it there. Tony was put off initially as the music at the bar was very loud rock but it was quiet when we went there so it was OK. (Got louder on subsequent visits!) Very battered palm 'umbrellas' on the beach. Quite a popular place. Stunning waves when the ferry comes in! Agias Andreas II at 3.30 (high speed ferry). Caught Tony unawares one day - we were ready for it the next! It caught the odd, unsuspecting couple. High spot of the afternoon and 'regulars' would wait for it. The rest of the time the waves seemed almost too tired to lap. (Strintzis Lines - Blue ferry - Kefalonia - comes in about 1 hour later and doesn't cause nearly so much to-do). Both boats turn round in 15 - 20 minutes. ( I swam topless on Tuesday 19th there after seeing others doing it there on Monday).

Last night, Tuesday, I bought a knitted, lacy top which I had been looking at on and off since we got here. The woman who made it owns the shop and knows all about the folk lore museum and history of the place. The night before I had far too much to eat and drink and had a hangover - no headache, just no energy! (Joined Tony in his bed that night, fell asleep, then he moved into mine - swapped beds for the night!)

I have taken to wearing shorts under my skirt to ease the rubbing of my thighs, they get so sore and itchy otherwise. Weather during the day is very hot though we have seen clouds on one day, and have had 2 or 3 breezy evenings when we first arrived. Late September and its still very hot in the day. Whatever can it have been like in July/August?

Evvi, our landlady, gave us new sheets and towels today. Sheets are far too small for the beds and end up screwed up down the middle if you move too much in the night. I thought I could hear mosquitoes in the night and wore the top sheet like a shroud - false alarm fortunately. It was one of the triangular-shaped flies that seem to live in the bathroom.

Tony has gone off walking to try to get to the 'Cave of the Nymphs', which is above Dexia beach. When we went past the other day there was a notice saying it was closed. It is the end of the season here. Very few people out eating in the evenings now. The taverna on Loutra beach sold out of beer while we were there on Monday & yesterday there were men dismantling the place - hope they leave the umbrellas for shade. I had planned on being there by now for a spot of topless sunbathing but I've become involved in writing up this 'diary'. It is nearly 11.30 and the sun is beginning to come over the roof, I can feel it on my head.

Yesterday we saw a war-ship (Greek navy) come in to the quay near the Town Hall and a cruise ship (rusty) near the quayside tavernas (lot of white fluorescent lights). Engine was running all night but I can't hear it now so I suppose it has gone. (Will have to finish this soon as I want to get my bra off!) Tried the new top on without a bra - its OK so that's what I'll do tonight. We have been the only ones in this place for 4-5 days now & we are quite liking the solitude. Other couples have come to look at the other two rooms here but none have stayed - I think they prefer the apartment at the top of the house, it is more expensive, 10,000drs as opposed to our room, which is 5,000. (Another German couple has just turned up, looking for Evvi. Think they are going to stay upstairs) At breakfast today (bought by Tony from the supermarket) we were visited by a hairy dog Tony named Fraggle. He/she stayed around for half an hour or so, thought about chasing the black kitten, then decided it wasn't worth the effort. I am starting to feel hot now, when earlier I was feeling chilly and had to wear my shirt soon after getting up - am I getting acclimatised to the Greek weather? (Overhearing conversation - German man wants to book the right hand room upstairs with the view for sometime next July! Am I hearing this right? They're booking for next year! Very polite - they've just said goodbye to me!) Policeman has just come home to his lodging on his motorbike - and has gone again. They are very casual round here, with clip-boards on their laps while driving. While on Loutras beach the other day a large blue tall ship came in and it moored alongside the Town Hall quay after all the yachts had been shifted to make room for it. We found out that it belongs to some governmental minister from Kefalonia. Presumably the yachts were moved for security purposes. No sooner does that leave, after 2/3 days (long weekend?) than the navy boat turns up! While out on Thomas' boat he showed us Odysseus' castle site, supposedly, and an expensive (20,000,000dr) place where a building (house) is planned. No road to it at present, lovely view though. I spent a few minutes trying to calculate how much in sterling, either £40,000 or £400,000 not sure which now! Run-down place by our house with lime trees in the 'garden' is now 12,000,000dr according to Evvi. Previously owned by two brothers, now one has died and the other can't maintain it. (Hello, the wind is getting up. Tony has left papers on the table about Ithaka on the Internet and they have caught the wind, almost upsetting the small vase of flowers Tony put there after one of his swimming trips - while I was lifeless with a hangover!
The sun has found a hole in the grapevine over my head and is now blazing through so a move very shortly is on the cards. Can't get the idea out of my head that this time next week we'll be back in England and at this time (12 noon here, 10am in England) we'll be either on the train for Reading or heading for it. I don't want to go! It would be nice to do a 'Shirley Valentine'! I don't want to go back to our way of life in England - I've found I like doing nothing!
It is signing-on day for P/T Art Foundation tomorrow. I am 99% certain that I won't be going back. One day Tony's sandal came unstuck on the beach and I fixed it with some discarded fishing line Tony found on the beach. He walked around on it for a few days then it went just after we got off Thomas' boat so he found a tube of Superglue for us! A man and woman have just gone down the road carrying a green metal barrel between them, presumably to be dumped on the corner for the dustmen to pick up - why didn't they just let it roll down the slope and save their energy, it looked so heavy! Just read through some of Karpathos '98 account and realised I didn't do a Naxos '99 diary - I wonder why not. Probably lost interest after the fiasco with my ruined rucksack!
12.30 now and HOT! Bit of breeze, ants on the table, wood pigeon, cockerel in the hills/woods. Should I stay for Tony or go to the beach. Or maybe paint/draw? All or none of these, decisions, decisions. (Ask a friend?) There's going to be a bit of a gap now, which I'll probably fill in later.

It is now Saturday 23rd...

 ...and I have just got 50,000dr in cash from MBNA Visa account. Not certain how much that is as I'm not sure of the exchange rate but a rough calculation based on 540dr = £1 comes to #92. Ah, well, live now, pay later! IMMEDIATELY treated myself to 2 small note books - as this is nearly full - 1 small Greek rubber and some new sandals (4500 dr), 1 book = 465dr, rubber = 100dr, other book = 365dr.

Now feeling very good I am back on a very wind-blown terrace with a coffee and a calculator as Tony has gone off on a taxi trip with Selija, a German girl in the next room, to a monastery up on top of a mountain. Roads very scary by all accounts and not my idea of fun!

Just tried on the new sandals. Size OK but strap over toes is a bit tight, being leather I have no doubt it will stretch. The ankle strap needs a hole to make it shorter so I can't see me wearing them till we get home, however that's no problem. Now feel an urge to go out and look for a purse but as I have just re-organised the English and Greek notes and coins I don't really need another purse - I'm just being greedy! Really ought to look for something for the kids, Catherine and Jonathan. Actually posted a card to step father Harold! Soon be going home now and can't be bothered. As usual once I'm away I lose all ties with home. Suppose I'd better try to recap on the last few days, if I can!

Yesterday, Friday, we were both feeling the effects of a long day in the sun. Tony was very tired. Went for a long walk on the 'top' road behind our place and out to the farming area (which we didn't know existed!). Lovely old area. Felt very comfortable there. Olive groves, ramshackle old buildings, cows, kittens, dogs, chickens, donkeys. Back through 'industrial' estate - all quite by accident. Lemonade and cake then home for a rest and sleep. Tony went for a swim and I followed later.

Strong NW wind started, big waves in harbour. We were the only ones on Loutras beach. I lay topless for an hour or so - not that you'd notice! Swamped by wash from Agias Andreas II as usual! Very, very windy in the evening. Boats moored alongside the harbour wall were having problems. We got splashed! Only just warm enough without a pullover in the evening. Sat outside chatting with Selija till nearly 11pm. Gale-force winds so we closed the shutters more than usual. Tony had my sarong on his bed as it felt a bit chilly. I had bad heartburn/reflux in the night - due to peanuts or late ouzo?


Thursday 21st (Day of re-registration for P/T Art Foundation Course) we went on a long boat trip. Very little and varied information available but we understand there might be a boat trip around the island (found this out on Wednesday night) so we planned for an early, 9am, start on Thursday. (I was feeling fragile due to raki and wind and huge meal at Sirens restaurant on Wednesday evening.) Made it to the quay and found others, all English, waiting there. Is the trip on or off, are there enough wanting to go, etc, etc.? Round the island trip is off but another, to Lefkada and Meganissi, is on. Was the captain of the boat transgender? Not sure, but probably! Picked up more people in Kioni so trip is more viable.

Sea was ultra calm and everything blue. Hope photos come out well. Boat went into a sea cave at Meganissi, then on to touristy Nidri for 'lunch'. Awful place, never go there again! Blackpool/Newquay Mediterranean style. General feeling of 'yuk!' expressed by all English on board. Glad to leave. Round Skorpios island to look at Onassis' palace. All very green, lawns etc. Amazing mini harbour, which I wish I had photographed, then on to a crystal clear lagoon on Meganissi (?). Water wasn't that warm, no sand just fine gravel but OK. Tony had been told about a character called 'Chicken Billy' by Greekofile's Terry and Sylvia and had been trying to work out how he could get to meet him. He mentioned him to the boat captain who said he had died while swimming in early August! Tony was very sad about that but walked up to the village above the lagoon and met Chicken Bill's relatives - all very sombre and sad. We said it's strange how things work out as Tony had been fretting about going to this place ever since we arrived and was fed up with how little public transport/ ferries there are. Then, suddenly, a day trip turns up unexpectedly. Everyone on the boat was hoping to see dolphins but there were none to be seen. Quite a few flying fish though - spectacular. There was a bit of a to-do in Kioni where a yacht was blocking the landing place (there were loads and loads of yachts everywhere, we got sick of seeing them!). It was all soon sorted out by the 'Yacht Club Chairman' on board our boat! We got back to Vathi about 6pm.

 A quick shower then out for food. We were both tired from a long day at sea so relatively early bed. Tony keeps on wanting to keep going but finds his body won't let him! We ate at the 'Xalkia' bar but I didn't enjoy the meal as I found it too oily for my taste. Tony likes Greek food, I don't, in general.


(Strange to think that P/T Art Foundation Course has started again - I feel light-years away from that now! I know I wont be going back to that, though I haven't ruled out a day-school (or longer course) in some art subject, eg watercolour/landscape, etc. Might investigate water colour crayons, Aquarelle, a bit more. I have brought them on holiday with me but haven't explored their full potential by any means!)

No sign of our landlady today, there have been people looking for rooms, but no reply to her bell. Hope she turns up in good time for our departure very early on Tuesday. May pay our bill early, just to get my passport back! We were going to have eggs for breakfast and went out for bread, ended up having bacon and eggs at the cake man's place - he came to chat with us. Told Tony about the Kathara Monastery. We bought films at the Fuji film shop on the quay. Both our cameras ran out at the same time!

On our long walk yesterday I took several pictures of Tony 'in the environment' for him to send off with articles. Various shots of him on rocky track with mountains/sea/trees in the background. Tony has heard of a concert of Greek music tonight which he is getting excited about - can't say as how I feel the same by any means! Probably I'll come back to our room and read or paint. Can't sit in a kafeneion all night on my own!

It's now 1.30pm. Few clouds in endless blue sky, still windy in gusts but it seems to be lessening a bit. Harbour is still very choppy. Tony estimated they'd be away for 2/3 hours, so I'm not really expecting him back till 2pm - if then. Not sure what to do now. Go into town for a new pen as this one is running out fast and maybe look for a purse at the same time or go to the beach or stay here as the shops will soon be closing for siesta time? Can I be bothered to walk into town or shall I just have a glass of orange juice with ice cubes in it and read a bit.
Tony and Selija came back about 2.30pm, having been to Stavros as well and being charged a vast amount by the taxi driver. We walked to Loutras beach later and got caught up with the English couple with the hat. We passed a woman returning from the beach with a cell-phone on her ear and as we passed she announced 'Peter Redgrove has won his gold' (in the Olympics) ... who cares!! We couldn't believe it!
Time, as usual, has galloped on and we are now at home and have been for several days, it now being Saturday 30 September and late in the evening to boot! Well, I'll try to go through the final days of our trip but have little hope of remembering the finer details or the sequence of events in their right order.
Now, lets see, where did I finish?
Taxi drivers - we have learned that they appear to control the public transport on the island - or lack of it, that is! That accounts for the number of hire bikes and cars about the place! Have little hope at present of identifying which they went on, on the monastery/Stavros trip so bear with me while I try to back-track a little.
Tuesday - we left early morning. Monday - we picked olives and sage and swam at Dexia in the afternoon. It was still windy but not quite so bad. We packed before having a meal of sausages and chips for me and Kalamari for Tony. We met Selija, who insisted on buying us a drink, so wine and coffee. White roses from Spiros for me and a huge bunch of red ones for Selija! She was really embarrassed and sad we were going. (I had one red rose at first then 8 white ones.)

Sunday - we tried walking to the beach which was recommended by Selija, up and over the headland. We got there OK but there were people on it already and they didn't seem very friendly, so we went on to another, which appeared to be private, so we left. (Selija said later that her book said it was private at one end.) I thought I remembered Thomas the fisherman saying that one of the beaches he showed us from the boat was private but I couldn't be sure which one. On the way back over the headland we were passed by a fat Greek on a moped and he had to use his feet like a toddler on a sit-on-and-push toy to help the struggling engine make it to the crest of the hill! There was lots of really fresh and green-looking sage about, so we decided on a foraging expedition to gather 'presents' to take back home. We decided to carry on round to Dexia beach as Tony is still keen on a nude swim and someone was doing that at the end of the beach when we were there yesterday. On our way back through the town we decided we were hungry so eventually ended up at the Poseidon Taverna - up a side road near the (bad) copy of the Poseidon statue, near the folklore museum. I had cheese pies and lemonade, Tony had spinach pies and Retsina. Well into the afternoon we headed for Dexia. There were no nude bathers, but we both went in. It wasn't quite as cold as yesterday, but not far off! Warmer in than out so a very quick change back into warm, dry clothes!

Collected stones etc., to bring back for daughter Catherine, for presents and for curiosity value. We found an incredible amount of broken china on the beach, all well sea-worn.(I think I've run 2 days into one - on Sunday there was a very cold wind off the sea and nude bathers.

Both Sunday and Monday we swam (Tony snorkelled). Monday we ate at the Poseidon. (Sunday there was going to be live music at Stavros but getting there and back could have been a problem.) One day, possibly Saturday, we went to Loutras beach, for the last time, though we didn't know it then. There were quite a few people there so I didn't go topless - the English couple were there (they get everywhere)! We felt a bit sad as a dead cat had been washed up on the beach near the now-deserted and abandoned taverna.
The evenings are getting darker earlier now. There is still a wind from the NW and it is noticeably cooler - or I'm getting acclimatized! Some of the yachts are having great trouble coping with the wind and rough water in the harbour - they'd be better off moored out in the middle rather than tied up alongside. Evenings are so chilly I resorted to wearing my striped T-shirt - birthday present from Tony - one evening but felt as if I was wearing the Greek flag and a bit conspicuous so swapped it for my black cardigan the next night (Monday). We have noticed that all the flags on the hotel at the 'rubbishy' corner of the harbour have now been taken down.
I seem to have gone back as far as Saturday now so I only have a bit more to catch up on there then back to our departure!
Loutras beach Saturday pm - dead cat. Friday - Loutras beach - only ones there. Tony went on ahead and I followed later. He swam, I didn't. I put on my bikini and sat with my legs in the water to try to ease my swollen feet. I lay on the jetty topless and got swamped by the bow wave from the ferry. Tony wanted to take a picture of me but both our cameras were out of film. (He got the picture eventually on our last day on Dexia beach, with me on my stomach in the water.)
Tony um'd and ah'd about going to the Mazy Maz concert. He had a look outside and decided 'no'. We had cake at Tsid's place and he said he'd go. I sat outside for a time then paid (2850dr) for 2 cakes, a Metaxa 5* and a cappuccino and a small bottle of water. (Same thing the next night (Sunday) it came to less because the cakes were cheaper!) I walked 'home' and had been in only half an hour or so, reading, when Tony came in. He had enjoyed the music, recorded some of it, which sounded very tinny on his little machine but was OK through the speakers when we got home.

It might have been the 2 cups of Espresso coffee I had with the cakes or it might have been anxiety about missing the ferry, alarm not going off etc. but I didn't sleep at all well on the last night. We had planned to get up at 6am for the 7am ferry and got up while it was still dark. We tried not to make too much noise. We ended up leaving coffee, honey, sunflower seed and orange juice for Selija ........

It was just before the daylight so still quite dark when we turned off the lights and closed the door of our Ithaka room behind us. Then down the narrow lane and round the harbour we dragged our bags towards the ferry. I remember the air held the unmistakable smell of bacon and baking as traders set up for the day. We strode on, not speaking or trying to be brave, smiling weakly, heads bowed because our time in Ithaka was almost done. On the other side of the harbour we could see our ferry, Kefalonia, waiting alongside the quay, big and blue and full of lights and consciousness.

From the stern of the top deck we turned to look over the town and watched the street lights go out one by one. It was still too dark see clearly but a dim blueness gave relief to the big old bulk of the mountains that had cushioned us during our stay. The sea was calm and the boat lay still. Usually the quaysmen make a big show of setting sail with much shouting and striding about and rattling of chains but not that time. It was as if they knew that any sound might break the spell of our parting and so the first we were aware we were moving was when we saw there was water between us and the shops on the road. And so in the softness of dawn, without even a kiss, we slipped anchor and withdrew from Ithaka and headed for Kefalonia.

Sandy and Tony Brown

 

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