'Gregory Peck without the Peck.'
Alex Christoforou took folks on a walk around Athens and reminded us of something we'd also forgot long ago. 25 March is the Greek national holiday.
Sydney and I had recently arrived on Crete, setting up shop in a house in Kolimbari, a bit up a hill immediately outside the 'city centre' which was not much more than a crossroads by the IN.KA. During the long wait for our trek, we specialised each in things we thought we'd be good at. Sydney did the facts and stats and I did the cultivation of personal contacts. But Sydney had in some way encountered this English gent who had a pub on the beach right outside Agi Nik. This being a Friday, and the weather getting hot, we decided to go for a long drive and try to meet up with this guy. First stop of course would be to the local ATM to get some cash.
The ATM in Kolimbari was out of cash. No matter, we thought, we'll keep on our journey, the next one will surely have cash.
No such luck. It took quite a few stops before we found one that had cash. What was going on? It took us quite a while before we figured it out. This Friday was 25 March, and that's the Greek national holiday.
Driving into Heraklion... I praised Sydney for having the perspicacity to settle us on the west side of the island. 'It'll be slightly more expensive but it'll be worth it', she said at the time. Heraklion is not pretty. Sorry.
We continued through to what must have been Agi Nik, and again it was all praise to Sydney. Agi Nik is a British expat ghetto. There are no signs in Greek. It's all in English. Bed & Breakfast, Full English Breakfast, British Lagers & Ales, Fish ‘n’ Chips, Burgers. You name it. And it looked really run down.
The chap with the beach pub? We found the pub. Note that we'd never even spoken with him, much less arranged to meet. We just got in our car and drove there. And it was hot. As in really hot. I also remember stopping along the way to use a public restroom. They can be a bit different on Crete. This one was simply a hole in the ground where you could squat. Thanks but no.
The Cretans got it all wrong with sewage, BTW. The entire island. Their pipes are way too narrow. You can't flush toilet paper down your loo - the pipes will clog up. We knew a travel agent who visited Algeria and came back complaining about how barbaric their best hotels were. 'They don't even provide a basket beside the toilet for your paper!'
But we made it to the beach pub. Which of course wasn't open. Too early in the season. Great planning on our part. We had no phone, we probably didn't even know his phone number, we had no pen, or paper, we had no way of leaving a message. So yours truly thinks of the genial idea of simply writing a message in the sand. Yes, true. What else to do?
Sydney was tired. She warned me about this. I can only drive so long, she said. After that we have to stop somewhere. It's too dangerous otherwise. And we'd driven for quite a long time. And she was starting to fade.
Suddenly, on the left side of the road, a bit up the incline, I spot what appears to be a resort hotel. Hey look there, I cry out to Sydney. She tries to find a way to get off the carriageway and turn around. She finds it. We head back.
The establishment is called the 'Mediterraneo', and it seems to exist even today, and it seems more expanded that what we saw back in 2005. We pull up and enter.
We're later to find out that the Mediterraneo is Norwegian owned. As we would shortly find out, it was completely inhabited by Germans.
We went up to the reception. There was no one there. We waited.
Off to the right was a bar with a lot of people sitting, drinking, talking. Two bartenders at the back.
As we would later learn, the wine and beer were free - they're included in the price of the room. And yet, despite this, no one is drinking wine or beer. They're drinking cocktails with paper parasols. Yes, really. Prices start at €5, which of course is more than $5.
There's still no one at the reception. So I go into the bar and speak to one of the bartenders. Tell him we want a room. OK, he says, I'll get someone over there immediately.
That 'someone' is of course him. It's like a scene out of Local Hero. We're given the lowdown on the room rate and amenities etc and we're told about the dinner coming shortly - all included. It sounds good. We go up to our room. And it's very nice. The overall architecture of the place is very very nice.
But here's the thing. The Mediterraneo is located only a few metres from the Mediterranean. It's literally only a few feet away. Right over the Εθνικη Οδος. The national highway.
(Εθνικη Οδος - Ethniki Odos? Tough to figure out, huh? Ethnic you've heard about, right? And that mileage counter in your jalopy is called a ODOmeter?)
A few words about the Εθνικη Οδος. It was supposed to be a highway across the entirety of the northern shore of the island. You don't worry about the southern shore because no one lives there. You can't get telephone lines or energy lines there. But a highway across the entirety of the northern shore? Sure. Except they ran out of money. So somewhere the road just stops, just like that.
The road existed by the Mediterraneo. So you'd think that, for frozen people up in the north, one of the big agenda items would be crossing that road and going for a dip in the Med!
But no. No one we talked to at the Mediterraneo ever did that. Not a one. We met only two people who'd ventured off the hotel property, after nearly two weeks there. It was nice, they said. A first look at the island around. They were all from Hamburg. That's a cold place in March.
So they come down from way up north and pack into a Norwegian hotel...
Sydney and I went back down to the bar and got two glasses of free wine. A bit about Cretan wine: it's like velvet. Sydney doesn't even drink. But she'll drink white Cretan wine. It's that good. All your fancy vintages from the continent? Pure crap. And they don't sell it by the litre. They sell it by the kilo. Or half-kilo.
We found a long table with some amiable people and sat down. Soon we were all talking, and we learned a lot about who they were and how they were doing. They were all from Hamburg and they absolutely loved Crete!
So did we. But we'd moved to Crete. Our plan was to stay about five years and then move further east. A lot further east. These people were on a spring break from the drudgery of Germany. I asked them if, given that they really liked the place and the climate, they'd consider moving here? Oh no, they said, and it was dismissed. Just like that.
Suddenly the bartenders tell us there's a last call and the bar would be closing in ten minutes. It's OK, our new friends tell us, they're only getting ready to serve dinner. Ah.
So we all dutifully shuffled out and waited in the lobby as the bartenders saw us out and then bolted the door. There we were. What now?
A few minutes later, a door immediately to the left opens. It's the same bartenders. It's another room. This is the dining room, or more precisely the cafeteria queue for food, and then you go into the dining room with your tray.
A quaint German lady, all alone, is ahead of me in the queue. She holds up the line as she inspects the boiled potatoes. The boiled potatoes. She wants only one. But it has to be perfect. She picks up one after the other with the serving spoon and inspects. Finally, after rejecting several, she decides this last one will do nicely and moves on.
As she is alone on this trip, she of course sits alone for her repast as well. The tables are made for four persons each. She takes a table for herself. And no one joins her. And no one asks her to come over and join them. She's alone on this trip. Perhaps she prefers being alone, horrid though that thought may be. But no one inquires. Alone when you book your ticket, insulated and isolated throughout. And they all seem to eat out of duty rather than enjoyment.
The sun is bright and the day is hot in the morning. Sydney and I go down for their breakfast. Same procedure. Cafeteria-style. Everyone is orderly, eats dutifully. Next big event will be at noon. Lunch. They all go upstairs to their rooms and change into beach gear. Except they don't go to the beach. I can see the beach right there, it's right off the highway, takes two seconds to get there, but no. They all pick a long chair and find their favourite spot poolside.
It's amazing. They fly down from cold Hamburg way up north, check into this hotel right on the fucking Mediterranean, yet not once in a fortnight go off the compound. Not once. Save for the few we had drinks with the previous evening. Amazing.
Sydney was ready and rested and we hit the road. Cretans are second worst at driving after the Portuguese, we'd later read. Believe it. A lot of those roads are mountainous, and some of the curves... Cretans don't believe in guard rails much. At one curve, as we were going left around this mountain, just before we got to that point, one lorry pulls out heading our way, then a car races up, trying to pass the lorry, then a second car comes up, trying to pass them both. So we're looking at three vehicles abreast, coming straight at us. Somehow they all get back onto their side of the road on time. Unbelievable.
Anyway. That's 25 March for us. Now onto technical stuff.
This is being written on our new text editor Be, and it's very nice. We put up a quick 45-second clip on YouTube yesterday. We rolled out the update to our clients. Once again, we don't expect this to be disruptive, but hope it will seed thought as things progress over time.
PS. Who's 'Gregory Peck without the Peck'? We probably told this story in our newsletter back in the day. We can tell it again, but not now.
He's Grigoris and he's your typical shyster.