I’ve just returned from a week on the lovely island of Skiathos in Greece. It’s been three years since my first visit and I’ve always wanted to go back. You can see why. But the stunning scenery is just one of the island’s attractions. The Greek people are incredibly warm, generous, passionate and full of good-humour.
I’d checked the weather before I went and saw that thunderstorms were forecast. Concerned that the steel rod in my thigh might turn out to be the perfect lightning conductor, I thought I’d better be prepared. So I googled ‘surviving a lightning storm’ and found some great advice from the US military, which I’ve paraphrased below.
Step 1 – Take cover (really?).
Step 2 – If you can’t find cover, crouch down on the balls of your feet, put your head between your knees, cover your ears and hold your breath. (Ha! See – I knew all that kung fu training would come in handy for something.)
Step 3 – If you feel a prickling sensation on the back of your neck, see (2) and pray (better make it short).
Day one – cue thunderstorm. Eager as ever to make the most of every minute on holiday, I decided to visit a monastery in the mountains. When I emerged, I was horrified to see that the steep stony slope down to the bus had morphed into a slick, fast-flowing stream. I’d trained for a lightning strike but the prospect of sliding down the hill on my (half-new) backside left me rooted to the spot like Bambi.
The bus driver, bless him, took my caution for fear of getting my hair wet and promptly ran up the slope to me carrying an UMBRELLA! I could almost hear the collective groan of the US military. Nonetheless, his supportive arm was very reassuring.
Having survived the storm unscathed, I decided to visit a great fish restaurant overlooking Skiathos harbour.
“I bring lamp, just for you,” growled the waiter.
That’s nice, I thought.
Only when I glanced round to see other people dining in the semi-darkness did alarm bells began to ring. Oh God, here we go.
45 minutes later, having bolted down an excellent grilled octopus, I managed to make my escape, having reassured whatever-his-name-was that no, I was not cold (I’m from England, for God’s sake) and no, I did not need to borrow his jacket, and no, I did not need a lift back to the hotel on the back of his bloody moped. I really thought these sorts of shenanigans were way behind me, along with my youth. I put it down to end-of-season desperation.
But sometimes things can go too far. I feel duty bound to warn women who decide to visit the gorgeous Agia Eleni beach to avoid the cafe there. The man who runs it is predatory, persistent and, according to a local woman I spoke to, ‘dangerous’. I believe her. This unpleasant encounter was the first time I’ve ever found myself wondering what the Greek police would consider to be ‘reasonable force’. By all means visit this beautiful beach, ladies. Just remember to take a picnic…
There was one nut I was determined to crack before leaving Skiathos. I suppose I can’t really blame the bus conductor for being grumpy – she must have endured a long season listening to foreign visitors speaking to her slowly and loudly in their own languages. She did, though, take grouchy to a whole new level. After an early feeble effort to explain where I wanted to go, which resulted in me being dropped well away from my destination, I was determined not to be beaten. I studied the phrase book and, as luck would have it, she was on shift for my last bus trip of the holiday. Resplendent in yellow and green, her face a picture of world-weary misery, she stalked up the aisle perfecting her scowl with every step. But I was poised. I was ready. She stopped and cast me a bored,cursory glance.
“Ee-STAHssee EEkosee PEHNdeh pahrahkahLO!” I trumpeted.
I swear the old Gorgon almost almost cracked a smile.