Thursday, September 20, 2012

Crete

I'm tired and grumpy. My motivation is in the gutter. I am the poster child for lethargy and crushed spirits, although I feel like I am slowly on the mend. I have been back at work following my summer break for four days now, and I can sense my brain shifting into change like a junkie coming to terms with their abstinence.

The holiday heroin I'd mainlined was Crete, which we chose so we could give something back to the proud Greek people in their austerity, because what they really need when $400 billion in debt was two pasty men haggling in a tourist shop.

My travelling companion Edward and I had never been to Crete. We chose it because it was in our Goldilocks zone of being new (at least to us), warm, and relatively 'nearby' with attractions that lifted it above the package holiday hell of Costa Del Brit.

Yet it was a shock to find our EasyJet queue formed of my fellow fat countrymen, sporting more tattoos than at a Maori wedding. In fact, by the time Ed and I walked out of Nikos Kazantzakis International that evening, it was clear that Crete was not unlike that south coast of Spain, but with more ruins.
And in Greek.

We stayed in the pleasant hillside village of Piskopiano, on a steep elevation just off of the main road which led to the equally pleasant village of Koutouloufari. I say village, as I can only guess what they must've been like fifty years ago when that term would've been accurate. Today, these villages seem to cater only for tourists, with its string of back-to-back restaurants and shops selling olive oil and wicker hats - and little else. Occasionally this pattern was broken up by small mini-marts selling soft drinks, Ouzo and fags, and lighters that resemble bullets, plus a wide selection of olive oils.

In the main, 'pleasant' it was, even though it was near impossible to walk the length of the road without molestation from touts stood outside every restaurant. We tried to ignore them with their rictus grins and purposeful smalltalk, but guilt got the better of us as we visited most places during our trip. The main lessons we learned; 1) Restaurants with picture menus are largely shit, which was a shame as 90% of every eatery in Crete had picture menus. 2) If there was a tout egging you in, it was also going to be largely shit. 7) Crowded restaurants really speak for themselves.
Our favourite places a) were full, and  p) had no reason to tout. The one exception to this rule being Sosos cafe in Old Hersonissos that was always empty, but we were never pestered at once.
Apart from by him.

I did try to be a gentleman abroad but it's hard in that bloody heat. Dignity and, let's be honest, manners, die a death south of Dover, and my uniform of necessity became t-shirts and shorts; practical, if completely undignified. And it really wasn't long before I was shedding my snotty middle-class pretensions by being that guy, drunk and on holiday, being filmed singing Bohemian Rhapsody in an Irish pub on karaoke night to an audience sunburned and silent.

Ed followed this by singing an incredibly polite and restrained version of James' 'Sit Down', which I videoed with particular emphasis on the breasts of the cute girl behind him (I'm pretty sure she never noticed).

But that was, regrettably, elegant compared to what was to come. Edward, being a more mature chap, knows when to call it a night.
I don't.
I soon found myself headed downhill to the large coastal town of Hersonnisos on Mission: Fun. What I found instead was a blonde Ukrainian I somehow ended up dancing with in a magical style that was part peacocking, part groping. Needless to say it was a tremendous success. Through the haze, I vaguely recall thinking 'What moves am I supposed to do now to elicit sexual congress?', by which point she'd walked off in disgust as the grinning observers stood next to me asked me where I was from.

Then I recall chatting to two German girls and leaving them to hug an Israeli (male, indifferent - and my actions in light of the aforementioned nationalities serve no historical relevance... or indeed any relevance), then I wound up next to an African American who seemed to take my statement, "What the fuck are you doing here?" with good grace. I even think he bought me a drink. I really can't recall anything by now.

Then I was in a beachside Irish pub with a pint...

... then eating a kebab (a more legitimate activity over there)...
... then I was placing that pint glass on a phonebox in a deserted part of town...
... sat back on the beach
... now panting uphill...
... then waking up the next day naked.

Ed was pretty amused, explaining to me the following morning via the medium on non-amusement, about how I woke him up unnecessarily to get back in. He'd got karmic revenge as I'd stripped and fallen into a booze-sodden coma on the sofa. I'd left the windows in the doorframe open, thereby affording every passer-by heading to breakfast the hellish sight of a beached whale, snoring with his cock out.

Mostly, Ed and I walked and sweated around Crete a lot. We'd purposefully booked a resort with a gym, except this gym was a lie, containing the type of rusting, broken equipment more normally found slung away in people's sheds. Instead we played a lot of Ping Pong - their best functioning item - and moved whenever we could. We also took tours and headed south to Samaria Gorge, Crete's alleged top tourist attraction, and walked all ten of its majestic miles to the Libyan Sea. The views at the top of the gorge were simply stunning, although it became apparent as we traipsed almost constantly downhill for the next four hours that we'd spent most of our time looking at the ground in case we slipped on loose rocks.

Here's some bloke who looks exact Fuck it, it's me...


The hike became quite monotonous after a while, although Ed only complained about it for the last eight miles or so. Remarkably I was holding up well. I'd been exercising for a couple of months beforehand and walking 3 (admittedly flat and paved) miles a day for work, I had only aching knees. For some reason Ed perked up in the last few metres and decided to make a break for the exit when we saw it, which inspired me to sprint for the fucker too to beat him. We'd literally walked the length of Europe's largest gorge and I was in touching distance of the enormously moustachioed man collecting tickets in his hut when I twisted my fucking ankle in the run, and spent the next two days limping.

This far into our trip, the summer heat I'd dreamed of in London was taking its toll. My underwear was yellowing (in the absence of women, fuck it, I was wearing them several days straight), I was getting heat rashes and peeling the occasional gland free from an inner thigh (my testes, my thighs, in case you're wondering), and I had enough mosquito bites that I resembled a fleshy dot-to-dot puzzle. The vacation magic was beginning to wane.


Our last tour was to Knossos Palace, the impressive remains of the Minoan civilisation that once flourished in Crete, although it lost its appeal almost instantly thanks to the huge numbers of competing other tours, and the suspicious amount of cement that made me think a hell of a lot of it was reconstructed. Even this, a picture I took of what I was told was Europe's oldest road...

... turns out (at least via t'internet) to be a guess, as that claim also goes to Egypt, or possibly Rome, or maybe even Britain.

Then the tour took a turn for the worse as we wound up at a monastery. I tried to take something spiritual from the place - not easy for a Jewish atheist - but all I got was bored. Even the Nuns were on their phones.

Thank Zeus then for Zeus's cave, a total bloody highlight of the trip of which I have no readily accessible pictures, so HERE's a link. The Dikteon cave walk takes about 20 minutes to ascend, up a mountain it took our coach about half an hour to get to, and is the supposed birthplace of Zeus, father of Gods and men. It's easy to see why the cave became the stuff of legend (or in a parallel universe the pilgrimage place of an ancient and highly respected religion, had St Paul never made it to Crete to convert everyone), as the entrance to the cave overlooks a stunning plateau of farmlands and villages, all fringed by distant mountains.

Then we were driven to another fucking tourist shop to buy more crap.

The trip proved to be a great holiday, even though a leather goods salesman, and the customs guard checking my passport as we left both said I looked like ginger monobrowed footballer Paul Scholes, a comparison I'm pretty thrilled never to have had before.

And then, after a three-and-a-half hour flight next to a huge former paratrooper who WOULDN'T. SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP for the entire trip - even when I pretended to be asleep - and through 20 seconds of turbulence so utterly violent that the other passengers screamed and I genuinely thought as my fingertips gripped onto that well-known safety device, the edges of the stowed tray, that we were going down and I was going to fucking die, I was suddenly alone, and back in bloody Watford.

The following day, as I walked to Marks and Spencers to replace the trousers I'd singed a pattern into ironing for the holiday, I was given evil stares by some young ragamuffin walking towards me. By the time I reached Watford town centre, a gang of teenagers were having a very real fight in broad daylight. When I got to M&S, their cleaner was mopping away the purple dye and footprints left by an inept thief as he fled the store.

I was back in Britain.


It has taken me all four days of work to go from being ruthlessly desperate to kill myself, to just relatively miserable.

Now what have I got to look forward to? Anyone? Jesus...