05 Aug Halkidiki: Greek sunshine & the post-holiday blues
It’s August. It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s hell, and I should never have come back from Greece because summer is great there, and any remaining excitement about living in Italy has been replaced with an intense feeling of disappointment every time I step outside into the oven-like heat to find a whole lot of smog and no beaches at all.
My two weeks in Halkidiki this summer were amazing – I would almost dare to say the best holiday I’ve ever had. After being whisked away for a birthday dinner in Milan consisting of an entire cow on a plate at El Gaucho, we had a short nap at The Greek’s lovely friend Linda’s house before making our bleary-eyed way to Bergamo for a very early flight to paradise.
An hour after arriving, we were at a beach bar, itself called ‘Paradise’, souvlakia and frappé in hand, and my birthday was already complete, even before a dinner of pita gyros and a big slice of birthday cake came along to top it off.
I had been promised a different beach every day, and that is exactly what I got. We did a fairly comprehensive tour of the first and second fingers of Halkidiki, meeting up with friends in various locations, some of whom I’d met before and some of whom I hadn’t, and of course eating our own body weight in grilled meat along the way. As a friend of mine observed, it was much like being on the Atkins diet, although I imagine somewhat less successful in terms of weight loss.
The beaches were all beautiful, the water the clearest I have ever seen, and the service was truly Greek. Our days went much like this: wake up, get ready, walk 20 metres to the car, drive to a shop to buy breakfast, get back in the car, drive to the beach, walk 10 metres to a sun lounger, sit down, order a coffee to the sunlounger, sunbathe, walk 10 metres to the sea, float around for a while, return to sunlounger, sip coffee, nibble on breakfast, sunbathe, float in the sea some more, order some grilled meat, or perhaps a club sandwich, or a donut, receive order at sunbed, scoff, sunbathe some more, sip, nibble, home, shower, out, drinks or club or both, home, sleep, wash, rinse and repeat. It was wonderful.
My Greek improved a lot too, thanks to my new teacher, The Greek’s 2-year-old nephew. We were always going to get along, as our language is at more or less the same level, and whenever I didn’t understand what he was saying, all I had to do was a silly face and he’d forgotten all about whatever it was that he desperately wanted to communicate to me before. Consequently, I learnt some very useful vocabulary and became very accustomed to hearing “Mema… ela!”
One day when the sky was looking a bit grey, we decided to skip the beach and instead go on a little road trip to Meteora – a historical site where a number of monasteries were built on the tops of huge rocks 400 years ago to avoid the Turks, and a place I’ve been dying to go to ever since seeing a 3 minute video about it during a particularly successful procrastination session on the BBC website.
It didn’t disappoint, and was one of the most strangely beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Being Greece, we obviously managed to park right outside one of the monasteries, reducing walking to a bare minimum, and went to look around one of the monasteries, returning via a mountain village for – you guessed it – more grilled meat, in time for the good weather to have returned to Moudania. On the way home, I even saved a suicidal turtle from the middle of the road and almost certain death. That was a highlight.
Fellow Brits Rhiannon and Lia joined us from Turin for the last 4 days of the trip, so we naturally stuffed them with food, showed them some of our favourite beaches, and took them on a couple of nights out, one of which involved a little light smashing of things, because The Greek’s friends took it upon themselves to demonstrate that Greek people really do do that sometimes.
By the time we had to leave, I was well and truly in love with Halkidiki, so since returning to Turin have been dealing with my heartbreak by eating many, many imported sesame snaps, Greek chocolate, and a lot of oddly delicious peanut butter flavoured crisps. It’s easing the pain, but only very slightly.
For the first time, landing in Italy felt a bit disappointing, and I will admit that I’ve already been scouring travel websites for a cheap deal to go back, except next time I won’t make the mistake of buying a return ticket.
Turin is now very much dead, as everyone has gone away for the entire month to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity, so we’ve been spending our days sitting in the now cave-like house, with all of the shutters down and the fan switched on, skyscanner-ing away and waiting for the sun to go down – not that that helps very much.
All but one of my students have disappeared to the seaside, so I’m more or less jobless, totally out of money thanks to the wonderfully unpredictable Italian approach to payment, and am feeling somewhat lacking in purpose, leading to many a day watching terrible American TV shows rendered even more terrible by their disastrous dubbing.
Hey ho, I’m heading home for a few days next week, which should at least give me some respite from the ridiculous temperatures, and I have 1000+ photos from beautiful Greece to trawl through to remind me of better times. Roll on September!