04 June 2013

Hairpin turns with bougainvillea billowing

One of the best things about spending a few years in England in my youth were the amazing cheap weeks away in Europe you could book at the end of summer at the very last minute for an absolute steal. Before our trip to Kefallonia in 2001, we'd already been to the Greek Islands once before -  to Kos late in the summer of 1999, which was my very first experience of the concept of boarding a charter flight to an exotic holiday destination. If you haven't been lucky enough to experience one, charter flights are a rare mix of cramped seats, no refreshments, and if you're very lucky the flight will take off with only a few hours delay.

Often these flights take off late at night and you arrive early in the morning to a windswept and dry destination, with the warmth of the summer sun both catching in your eyes and warming your back the minute you step off the plane. 

Arriving in Kefallonia was no different. It was early October, and one of the final weeks of the summer that flights were still available for, which meant that the island was not overrun with tourists, making a pleasant change from the height of the season only weeks earlier.

Our accommodation wasn't much to get excited by, a room on the ground floor of a terraced apartment block, starkly set against a rocky outcrop, the bare red earth not yet landscaped to create a welcome that extended past the doors of each apartment.


It mattered not.

We were here to explore the island and the degree of 'finish' to our surroundings caused little care or concern  on our part.


And explore we did. 

It was our first time driving on the other side of the road which made for a hilarious start each day as we would merrily drive out of the driveway onto the road, driving several metres before one of us (usually the non-driver) would remind the driver of the need to move over to the other side of the road. Negotiating roundabouts was even more entertaining. Steady as she does it proved to be the best plan of attack.

One might imagine that we could have considered a more sedate lead-in to our first ever 'driving on the opposite side of the road' experience. 

But no. Instead we opted for our virgin right-hand side driving encounter on one of the most mountainous islands in Greece complete with hair-pin bends, narrow lanes and steep drops to the ocean accompanying us at every turn.


All I can say is it was a good thing we were both confident drivers. I'd hate to see some less confident drivers I know attempting these roads.


But oh the scenery.

It was worth the frequent heart-in-mouth episodes as we went from mountain pass, to quiet cove. From seaside village to historical cave



The drive from where we were staying (Katelios) to the other end of the island was easily manageable on a day trip with frequent stops to gaze upon sights straight out of a travel magazine.


And if you were to stumble upon amazing little finds like the village of Markopoulo (named for that very famous explorer) along the way, it makes for an even richer journey.



One of my favourite moments of the holiday was this view looking down on Myrtos beach from the cliffs above, you can only just make out the rows of sun umbrellas lined up on the shore facing out onto what must be one of the fairest sights in Greece. The drive to get there is as hair-raising as it looks though, particularly when you meet the odd donkey being led up the road as you are tentatively coming down it.


But it's worth the heart palpitations. And then some.


This island is so surprising in its contrasts. The barrenness of the rocky hills crazily juxtaposed with the lush colour of the summer foliage that hugs every house on every corner of every village.


Bougainvillea billows from every available crack and crevice.



Another memorable moment of the trip was on a journey to the other side of the island, with our trusty Lonely Planet guide in tow. We couldn't believe our eyes when we came upon the very scene that was depicted in a photo in our Lonely Planet guide. Seriously, what were the chances of seeing this very house amongst the thousands on the island? But we did.


And despite the boundless energy we had back then for exploring from sun-up to sun-down there was still time for a final relaxing day at the beach. It was still warm enough in early October to be warmer than even the hottest summer day back in England, and I reminisce back to these days in my early twenties where I could eat whatever I wanted, barely do any exercise and look like that - and did I appreciate this fact? Hell no! 


Ah well, I'm guessing the younger version of me would have been highly unlikely to listen to her thirteen-year older self telling her that she should just hold onto this moment and enjoy it while it lasts. Because it never does.


All good things must come to an end. Life moves on.

Those carefree days of being a young twenty-something gallivanting all over the world are all but a distant memory now. 

But still the memories of those days will remain. 

And they sustain.


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