The Summer Holiday
Fiona & I had some difficulty picking out a destination for our summer hols this year. Last year we drove by car from Dublin to Lugano, not far from the Italian/Swiss border. This year I just wanted to lie on a beach and do little if anything. Contrary git that I am, I also wanted to travel someplace that I hadn't been before. This conveniently cut down the number of possible destinations, including some lovely ones:
Gran Canaria - We love Puerto Rico, but it has gotten very pikey in recent times. If we were truly fans of the collected hits of DJ Otzi, we would have booked ourselves into Playa Ingles and have done with it.
Puerto Banus: Definitively the spiffiest resort in the Marbella area. Sitting among the yachting fraternity makes one feel awfully posh, but there's too many of mother's golfing friends lurking out there in the long grass for my comfort.
Personally I fancied a spell in the Caribbean, but Fiona warned me not to pick any place necessitating a flight longer than it would take her to serve divorce papers on me, so that was eliminated from our enquiries also. With West discounted as a possibility, I turned my gaze East. I briefly considered the merits of Croatia. It's come a long way from being A Former Yugoslav Republic (which always carries the intimation to me that we're not going to bother giving it a name of its own since we fully expect it to be invaded and absorbed into someplace else within the next couple of weeks). Now it's part of the EU (OK, maybe they did get absorbed after all) and there are direct scheduled (if infrequent) flights from Dublin to Ljubljana. The country looks beautiful but resort hotels looked as if they still needed some work - massive 800 bed hotels in the middle of woods not far from the coast, but very far from any other habitation. You're completely reliant on the in-house facilities. Struck me as slightly redolent of the Socialist Worker idyll. I'm sure they're very nice, but I always like to have the option to run away and eat someplace else if I feel like it - I'm just funny like that. Anyways, we settled on Greece as a destination. It's the cradle of Western civilisation and furthest flung member of the EU, or at least it was until Cyprus joined last year (how much longer before the EU has a border with Japan?). It's in the Euro zone, so I won't be confused about prices (maybe angry when I see how expensive Dublin is compared to the rest of the world) and direct flights from Dublin are plentiful to various bits of it. But which bit to choose?
People recommend that we try island hopping - the ferries are plentiful and cheap; you'll be besieged at the quayside with guesthouse owners thrusting offers of accommodation on you; lack of language skills or an inability to even read the local alphabet won't be a hinderance. Yeah, right!
Can any of you who know me well imagine me showing up at Piraeus, fresh off a four hour flight, two weeks' clothes stuffed manfully into the rucksack on my back, delighting that I have to hang around for the next six hours to get a boat to someplace I didn't originally want to go to but wasn't booked out yet. Likewise I'm sure you can picture Fiona revelling in the uncertainty as to whether we'll secure a bed for the night once we get there. We plumped for Crete, simply because it was the largest island and therefore probably had the widest choice.
Consequently we turned to the good people at Budget Travel for advice. Their brochure is a lot easier to hold in your hands than a low-resolution web page and is a finely nuanced document, although the website enables you to make the actual booking without spending any bus fare. They manage to convey the true nature of a resort, warning off the wary and still make it sound attractive to its target demographic. If you know the keywords, you too can decode the message. Fiona & I are looking for a couples type of place. We want a selection of bars and restaurants, but don't want to land in the Greek version of Temple Bar. We want to be able to dine and drink and observe the nightlife, but we don't want Eurodisco cheese reverberating across the valley until dawn. We're also shying away from sleepy family resorts - having declined to produce progeny of our own, we see scant reason to spend two weeks in close proximity to other people's kids. If I want to witness a temper tantrum, I simply have to think back to my time in the office.
I acknowledge that this is a difficult balance to strike. As I said earlier, the key is in the nuanced phrasing. For example, Malia is described as "hectic" and "buzzing". These are not good words to me. Hersonissos is described as a "hotbed" which ruled it out for me long before I got to the abject confession at the foot of the page - "Hersonissos is not for the faint-hearted". This translates as football shirts, lager, televised football, chanting, actual football kickabouts on the beach, loud chants of "Eng-Er-Land!", mass consumption of chips & burgers and inappropriate display of beer bellies. Now I'm not exactly going to be discussing the importance of Eleftherios Venizelos in building the modern Greek nation over a quiet game of backgammon with the locals (Bluffers guide: He's the bloke with the 'tache on the back of the local 50c coins and they named Athens airport after him, so he must have been pretty important), but there are some standards to observe. OK not really, I just don't want to get in an accidental fight with a bunch of soused construction workers from Mayo - I will lose.
Instead we pitch for somewhere more reserved. Gouves (or more precisely Kato Gouves to distinguish it from its mountain neighbour three km away) is "the perfect holiday choice if you prefer the quiet side of life", with "a sprinkling of local bars and tavernas". Not many, not few, but a sprinkling. The deal is done - we're going to Gouves.