My dear mum had passed away the year before. She knew that I had always, always wanted to go to Greece. A painting of Santorini she did for me hangs on my wall – not her best work (as she aged her Parkinson’s got the better of her magical artistic talent), but filled with love, just for me.
It all started with a mid-week impromptu vino with a great friend at the Whangarei waterfront (well, to be honest, more than one wine and less than ten…). I had three weeks of leave booked at work – to accommodate with other staff – at a random time that doesn’t usually fit with travel to the opposite hemisphere. And I had a wad of inheritance money sitting in the bank. What to do? Aren’t some of life’s best (and worst) ideas hatched this way…
My dear mum had passed away the year before. She knew that I had always, always wanted to go to Greece. A painting of Santorini she did for me hung on my wall – not her best work (as she aged her Parkinson’s got the better of her magical artistic talent) but filled with love, just for me.
So there it was, staring me in the face (and thanks to my friend Sarah for stating the obvious). To Greece! The plan was set.
The memory now of standing on the white-walled wee balcony of our traditional Santorini villa that hung on the side of a cliff staring out at the Aegean Sea still fills me with little bubbles of joy and wonderment. We spent a lot of time there in the evenings. We collected simple, fresh local food – a Greek wine, tomatoes from baskets from old weathered guys on the roadside, unpronounceable cheese that I asked the lass to choose for us, local olive bread… and a cool off-season breeze. Bliss.
Of course, we felt justified to eat and drink plenty after we spent our days hiking to Oia around cliffs that plunge down into the sea (I gotta tell ya, I was TERRIFIED doing that hike!). A million stone steps, all of varying heights (albeit leaving us with buns of steel). We were tourists – tough. But the most challenging hike of all was the seven gazillion stairs down the cliff to the ancient harbour (the other tourists thought we were mad – that’s what the cable car was for). In hindsight, I think we might’ve been – but that’s the Kiwi way – “of course we will walk”.
I wasn’t quite so cocky when the old knees were screaming midway, so we took a donkey ride up the cliff. Those amazing animals are not called beasts of burden for nothing; with us heffalumps on their backs, our two crazy four-legged friends decided to race UP the cliff. More of a ‘hang on for dear life’ experience than the gentle plod the Asian travellers behind us experienced. We hoped not to plunge over the side of the cliffs, or get too scraped on the stone walls as they competed with each other to overtake at the corners like frisky rally drivers. We laughed ourselves stupid and agreed that was the scariest fun of the entire trip.
Our holiday was filled with wonderful hard-working Greek people, who were happy to share their experiences, trying to maintain an existence for them and their families, with the hopeful and unstoppable enthusiasm of the Greek. I can’t recommend enough to travel on the edge of the season – it’s cheaper, quieter, cooler and you get to see more of the real Greek lifestyle. Naturally, all that pre-holiday online practice of language and correct pronunciation (ten points for effort) is always well-received overseas and opens doors. Thank you, Greece. Thank you, Jess, for encouraging me to give this writing thing a shot. But most importantly - thank you, mum. I think we have honoured you in a way you would have approved – joyful, adventurous and not at all ‘backpackery’.
Author - Kim Andrews
Kim Andrews is from New Zealand. She is an intensive care nurse and believes that travel is not just big, expensive overseas trips, but savouring snippets of local opportunities.