On the Greek Isle of Spetses, my niece Ana is performing in Oedipus and Romeo and Juliet and it’s the perfect excuse to cruise the continent. Basking on a beach under a striped umbrella, lounging on a chaise lounge under the hot sun, then diving into cool aquamarine seas might have been a bit of an incentive also. None the less, my personal travel agent and partner booked us a big fat greek holiday.
It has been nearly a year since my 210 pounds of luggage and I landed where I now call home. SEF (Portugal Immigration) has tentatively decided I can come and go as I please and am just about a resident, so to paraphrase the great Miss Diana Ross, “ Ain’t No Border Wide Enough”.
With our bathing suits, sun block, passports and not much else we set off for Spetses. We live in a tiny village, we don’t have a car. But, getting to the aeroporto in Lisboa even from Podunk, Portugal is a breeze. At noon we lock the door of the casa and stroll about 4 blocks to get the bus to Caldas da Rainha (2 euros). From there we get an Expresso Luxo bus to Lisboa (8 euros, 1 ½ hours), they run every hour. Once we arrive at Sete Rios Estação it’s a short wait for the airport shuttle (3.50 euros for the day). By 5pm we have arrived at the airport with lots of time for our 8:15 flight. I couldn’t do that by any public transportation where I used to live…in the U.S.
Check in only to find our flight doesn’t exist. Well, it does, but it is another flight about 3 hours later, my beloved gold card I booked with forgot to let me know about the changes…bad, bad card! It shall be punished later, now I am going to enjoy a fat Greek holiday. We are travelers and flexible, not to mention clever, we use ticket from the shuttle, went into the big city for a bit of sight-seeing and a cocktail.
The Rossio, the center of the old city with a big square. Artists, African immigrants, Lisboans hurrying home after work all mixing with the throngs of tourists, their cameras frantically clicking away. We explored the old shops, and then sat at a busy café with our vinho and cerveja. We rarely get to Lisboa being country mice, but each time I visit it is seducing me like a retired senhor with a casa in Bom Sucesso. Translation: Charming elderly man with great moves and lots of cash.
By 10:30 the next morning we have arrived in Spetses. From Athens airport we took a bus to the hydrofoil, and then 20 hours after closing our casa porta da frente we are staring in awe at clear aquamarine waters shimmering under a blazing sun.
Every ferry that docks is breaking news in town, people are sitting at the shady seaside cafes drinking greek coffee, scrutinizing the newcomers. Watching who has arrived, if they know them,where they are headed and is their luggage Louis Vuitton or a backpack?
It is early in the season; the isle is just beginning to receive what will soon be demanding hordes of tourists from all over the continent drawn to the exquisite waters and beaches. Spetses, the southernmost island in the Saronic Gulf is said to have been one of Jackie Kennedy Onassis favorite. Rich with beautiful beaches and coves can’t be reached, or even seen other than by a boat (or a huge yacht in Jackie O’s case). I can see where she would seek sanctuary and peace gently floating surrounded by these beautiful waters, spectacular cliffs and never-ending sky.
Our hotel is small, simple and just darling, our room as small as a Jesuit’s low budget double, but cozy and greek-ish. The view from the wide balcony outside our door is spectacular. We see the town, the harbor and the sea. At night the moon rises full and as red as an unprepared Irishman after a day on a Spetses beach. Exhausted from our 24 hours of travel, we gratefully plump up our pillows and stretch out, then…the hammering and electric saws and grinders power up. Shit! We open our door and within spitting distance (if I were a spitting woman a vigorous renovation is going on…and on…and on. As in deadline and bonus “get it done yesterday” working. We know there will be no sleeping, the only thing to do is head to the beach.
The beach has rocks, round smooth lovely, but still, rocks. Gingerly, I step on them and am rewarded with my first taste of the Mediterranean Sea. It is cool, clear and not blue but aqua. Even at some depth it looks like the sea floor is inches below, when I dive under the surface the layers of water are all different hues of blue, from light to dark…but not blue, some other indescribable ethereal blue. Sea urchins are black pin cushions sticking to their rocks defying you to step too near. I stare at them wishing I had a sturdy glove and a spoon so I could pry them off their stone perches and scoop out all their lovely deliciousness while still floating above their spiny friends.
The Spetses Hotel, is next door to the beach with a big rock free pier with ladders to climb into the water. I grab the citizen, both of us a bit grumpy from lack of sleep and head for the beach bar. We check the room rates as we are thinking about a room without οικοδόμος bob (builder bob) and his energetic team making a better place to more tourists to stay. Prices have changed in the 20-some years the citizen had last backpacked his way through Greece. Weighing our euros, we decided even οικοδόμος bob has to stop sometime. We belly up to the bar and order, and lucked out, a local ran the beach bar! Not only does he discount us, but we compare notes both living in PIG countries and all (Portugal, Ireland, Greece…Google PIG bailout for information). He was an engineer and hated the office routine. He returned home to the Isle and runs the pool bar. He works hard as the staff was reduced by two-thirds, has little money, but every day he has paradise because he works surrounded by the sea. His leftover bread is in basket at the bar for the birds, he throws other leftover pieces to fish. At his house he has a small garden, so he gets by. We heard this story from many Greeks, they left with big degrees and swanky office jobs, but they could not be caged. They had to return to their island, poorer in pocket but richer in life.
Another drink (this one on the house) we watch as water taxis from the mainland drop well-dressed people off at the hotel’s private pier. Our new friend working behind the bar begins to close for the day and tells us how he plans which beach he goes to after a day’s work. If the wind is from one side, he goes to the other, makes perfect sense. When I fall off my barstool after a combination of a very long day and two wine spritzers it is time to go back to our monk’s quarters and pray for a worker’s strike. Blessed silence other than the chatty bird outside the bathroom window is all we hear, thankfully crawling into our sheets to dream of tomorrow’s beaches and everything Greek.
The next morning the hotel’s breakfast we eat bowls of the most wonderful yogurt drizzled with local honey and we are in love with the morning. Packed for our beach lunch; snitched goodies from breakfast, aqua andσπανακόπιτα (yummy spinach pies from the local bakery). Surprise…my first ATV, which they call “gourounes” or pigs in Spetses. I just read an article and learned (after the fact) that they have a spectacularly scary accident rate, it is best to stay away from them. I know I almost was one, several times.
“The journey not the arrival matters.” – T. S. Eliot And ours continues…