I don’t suppose the place itself can take all the credit – but it sure can take a lot of it. The best holiday I ever went on, as an adult, was the first one I went on with my husband.
At the time, we were living in Brighton, UK and had been running a pub together. In those days we were not married but the term ‘partner’ was easy enough to use as we were both life partners and business partners, so it suited us well. We had been working for around 18 months to build up the clientele of a tiny pub, which was just over the border of Brighton and technically in Hove. Determined to do well, I had thrown all my time and energy into the venture, working 90 hour weeks and frequently not looking after my own health as I fell into the trap of ‘and have one for yourself’ far too often. As we approached the 18 month mark, we were both tired and in desperate need of a break. While we had free accommodation over the pub, we had a pretty low wage until the takings were over a certain amount – a system I had somehow come up with, convinced we would take the pub scene by storm in a city full of pubs. When the pub owner offered to pay for a holiday by way of a bonus, we did not think twice and I headed off to a local travel agent to see what I could get for the price.
There were a number of things that made this holiday special: it was an accident – I had no idea where we would go before I walked into the travel agent, just that we had both been to Spain and France in previous lives and thought we would try something different. I had also been away from Australia and its heat for sometime, plus we had never been on holiday as a couple before.
Looking at the options for a late deal, Greece seemed a good idea. I had always felt confused by Greece, mainly because I had the impression that to travel there, you had to be on a gap year, and say things like, ‘Oh Yah, I did the island hopping thing for a bit.’ I did not know how to hop islands, or say, ‘Oh Yah’ for that matter, but neither of us had visited the country so it seemed to warrant further investigation. Working in hospitality, the last thing we wanted was a loud, busy time, we just wanted to sit by a pool or a beach and watch the world go by. The travel agent had a late package available, to Kefalonia – the only catch was that you would not find out where on the island you were staying until you got there. I had never heard of the place but it was the year when everyone was reading – or trying to read – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, so I paid the money and we booked the tickets.
About half the plane was still trying to read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as we flew across, including me. I am not sure how many of them made it through the novel during their holiday, but I certainly did. The trick is to know that the first 100 pages are going to be really hard work, after which the novel just takes off and you can barely turn the pages fast enough. Oh, and if anyone is judging the book by the movie, please don’t. I can’t remember who was responsible for that abomination, but it has nothing to do with the text I read. Even one of the key scenes in that book – a really emotional one where a group of soldiers sing while being transported to their execution – which I thought would be the high point of the film, was completely overlooked in favour of sop.
We were being taken to the resort of Pouros – thankfully on the ‘quiet’ side of the island. The first thing I noticed was the heat and the sky. It was just like Perth, an endless blue sky and a hot, dry heat. The next thing was the horror of having the ancient Greek plumbing explained to us by the tour guide, which necessitates avoiding flushing toilet paper and instead placing it in a small bin beside the loo. Horrific! THAT wasn’t in the brochure. How was I to survive for two weeks? (Spoiler alert, I did). Then checking in to the hotel and realizing how quickly my partner changed from work mode into holiday mode. As I busied myself in the hotel room, I realised he had been gone for a while so set out to find him. He was sitting on the terrace, looking at the ocean with a cold beer. Instead of being furious, I ordered one for myself and joined him.
I thought it would take ages to wind down, but it didn’t. We were right by the sea and there was nothing to do but swim, read and relax, with the biggest decision being where to have dinner everyday. The same tour guide who had explained the icky toilet thing had told us the hotel did not have room safes, because the island was crime-free. This was possibly due to the dynamic local police station, which boasted one fat dog and an even fatter policeman, both of whom could be seen napping on the porch of the station house during the heat of the day.
We quickly slipped in to the rhythm of life there. One of the highlights of the day was watching the ferry come in from the mainland and we would stop to observe the chubby ship puddling towards the bay, in which it would perform a delicate three-point turn and moor up. After the ferry we would often see a local couple arrive at the harbour. Young and tanned, she would like be in a brown bikini, he shirtless and in shorts. While he got the boat unhitched an ready to go out, she would spread a towel on the deck, roll a cigarette and recline, while he steered the boat out so they could catch their supper.
The first bar we had gone into was the one we drank at throughout the holiday and was run by a lovely guy and his Australian wife. Despite the hours I was working in the UK, I was amazed at how hard the Kefalonians worked during tourist season. How many bus loads of white, flabby, frowning English people must they have seen being tipped out onto the pavement every week? Within three days they would be bright pink and within seven, they would be smiling, tanned and relaxed. To a person, they were greeted with warmth and charm and welcomed to the island. As we got to know the owners of the bar during our stay, I learned not to compliment too readily. On one occasion, I admired some tiny gas lamps they had bought for the tables from the mainland – at the end of the night I found two of them, wrapped in tissue being pressed into my hand. We mentioned that some of our customers had talked of grappa – and were presented on one of our last night nights with two litres of the stuff, camouflaged in soft drink bottles.
Some evenings, we would lie on the beach outside our hotel, look up at the big navy night sky and contemplate the stars.
We left two weeks later, totally in love with the place – working out how we could move there and promising to definitely return the next year.
But we did not return. We arrived back and after the grappa was shared with our customers and we had shown our photos – many of which, to everyone’s confusion were of a lumbering ferry – work and life swallowed us whole again. The following year, I tried to book a late deal to Kefalonia , but like a garden that only appears when the clock strikes thirteen, I was unable to get a package there and we went to Crete instead. Crete was lovely, but it was not Kefalonia. A year after that and the pub was sold, our lives changed dramatically as we worked separate jobs, unable to both take the summer months off together.
And so this holiday remains frozen in time in my memory – possibly never to be repeated. A perfect time of people and place. I have no idea how the island is faring now, given Greece’s economic problems, but I hope it is OK. Last year I turned 50 and the plan was to do a big trip back to the Uk and Ireland and Greece, but with one thing and another it never came about.
So this holiday sits, caught forever in the amber of my memory as the best holiday ever – and maybe that is how I should leave it.