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The way of the Gods

Sitting atop a rugged hillside on the Saronik island of Hydra I was suddenly struck with a piece of travel lore once given to me by my best friend. After a wonderfully relaxing day of walking, eating, swimming and generally trying to forget that this was the last day of my Summer holiday, I was thinking how lucky I was to be here. Then it occurred to me. It had little to do with luck and more with fate, or as my friend puts it, the “Travel Gods”.  Being in a country where the capital is named after a principle deity of the ancients it seemed appropriate to me to attribute my good fortune to the modern, “Palinic” equivalents. Now before any religious body strikes me down as a heretic or the men in white coats come to cart me off, let me explain:

There are two sorts of days you can have on holiday. Put simply:
1. Where EVERYTHING goes swimmingly OR
2. When it does NOT.
Very few people talk about 1 days – I’ll put this right later – after all this is how it should be, should it not? Now 2 days are a different matter. They normally start off with all good intentions and, most importantly, a set plan. You have it all sorted; wake up call; taxi to port/station/bus stop; first point of interest; lunch at a lovely local place; next point of interest and time for souvenir shopping before the boat/train/bus back.

Before you’ve even woken up it’s gone horribly wrong; because there’s been no wake up call. So you rush out the door, no time for breakfast, angrily ignoring the plaintive apologies of the hotel staff. You try to arrange a fare with the driver, standard  good travel practice, but the driver’s having none of it. He’s determined to get his last Shekel, Groat or Zloty and won’t go until he does. So after agreeing a just less than exorbitant fare he bumps you and your ever-growling stomach to the boat/train/bus.

Another agonisingly slow journey later you arrive at you destination so starving, tired and irritated you could have been having a guided tour of Buck House by the Queen herself but all you’d be thinking of would be the ever growing hole in your insides. That “charming local place” your neighbours had raved about has changed hands and is now a truck stop – no time to change now, will have an omelette, they can’t ruin that surely!

The second point of interest is a tourist trap and the guide speaks English like a BR announcer. The tour takes forever. So long in fact that you forget to haggle over the soap stone ashtray you fancied in the souvenir shop and end up paying what you would for the Sarkowski crystal equivalent back home. You arrive back at the hotel spitting blood. Well you would have been if you hadn’t been running for the toilet where you will spend the rest of the night after that dodgey omelette at the “Truck Stop a-la-carte”.

Or something like that anyway. We have all had them. The point is, and I have learnt through experience, that the whole day has been pre-ordained  by the aforementioned Travel gods. During all your meticulous planning they have already decided; “Does he have a 1 day or a 2 day?”. Ignoring these guys is like calling Wayne Rooney a “big pouf” to his face. “So, how do I avoid all this?” you may ask. Well, here’s the tip: be flexible. If there’s anything that gets their goat it’s Mr. Concrete Planning.

Another illustration: you have your itinerary set out and you’re going to stick to. The thunder bolts are armed and ready buy this point, but you can still redeem yourself. Say you are having trouble finding your lunch venue. Do you a) stubbornly go round and round in circles berating everything from the map to your travel companions or b)  accept that you are not going to find it, put it down to experience and “didn’t I see a nice little Italian place down that last alley?”. Choose a) and you had better watch your back [side] tomorrow; choose b) and it’s all looking rosy.

I can still see you looking sceptical. Well, during my recent stay in Athens, Greece were playing in a football friendly against England. I knew it started at ten so I thought I must eat before but I wanted a cocktail before that, say, 8:15 to fit it all in. So after consulting my trusty guide book I found a trendy bar and a reasonable restaurant but, to my chagrin, nowhere to watch the game. Still, at 8 I exited the metro and headed toward my chosen watering hole. Expecting it to be only about 5 minutes away at 8:30 I still hadn’t found it.  I was about to get cranky when I saw three trendy looking girls walking up the other side of the street. Chancing my arm I followed them. Not only did I find a funky little establishment that served the best mojitos I’d ever tasted but right next door there was a great, traditional eatery serving mounds of food at very cheerful prices and… showing the game! Even though Greece lost I had a wonderful night, made more special when the owners presented me with a glass of wine on the house, for cheering Greece, in English!

The next morning, following a trouble-free ride on the excellent Athens metro to Pireaus and an hour’s calm crossing to Hydra, I spent a marvellous day disturbing donkeys from their naps and being ambushed by half blind kittens. But that’s another story for another time. If there is any proof to this pudding, or should I say moussaka, it’s in the eating. So, do yourselves a favour next time you travel; sacrifice your guide book on the alter of the travel gods. It’ll be worth it…plus you won’t have to buy clean pants!

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