The simplest way to explain my dream and my decision to move to Greece is by copy-pasting something I wrote just before I left the UK in August 2011. I’m warning you, it’s a bit of an essay, so fix yourself a drink and get comfortable!
I was 15 years old the first time I went abroad on holiday. I was with my parents and younger brother and we travelled to the Greek part of Cyprus. My parents were reluctant to go abroad – what, after all, was wrong with the Gower, the Lake District, Devon? – but I had been badgering them for years. Everyone else in my class goes abroad, everyone else has a passport, why can’t we go, it’s so unfair . . . . So our little family finally made the giant leap into foreign holidays (we went to Kerry in Ireland the year before to warm up) and booked a week in Cyprus.
Naturally, as he was paying, the holiday was on my dad’s terms, i.e. out of season, remote as possible, no other people around. We arrived at dusk at Larnaca airport and eventually located our hire car, a sort of reverse-Tardis, which meant that our luggage, which had fitted quite well into our Mini Cooper, had to be piled onto our laps and shoved into the foot wells. We set off and began climbing into the Troodos Mountains, up winding roads with precipitous drops at the edge (which we were for the most part blissfully unaware of as it was by now pitch dark). My dad was getting a little irate, not least because the reverse-Tardis had a “sewing machine for an engine”, and had confiscated the map from my mum due to her appalling navigational skills. I was endeavoring to read this map by the light of a torch, whilst holding it above my head due to the luggage on my lap. It was very likely we were heading for a family row, when my dad stopped the car and told us all we should look at the stars.
Out there, in the complete and utter darkness, the sky was so full of stars it seemed to be more silver than black. I had never seen anything like it, had never felt so small, so free. It was a magical place.
The hotel where we were staying was in the middle of a dense, cool pine forest. We saw snakes and geckos – things we had only seen before in the zoo or on television. When we ventured down from the mountains the heat was intense, dry. The sun scorched, the food was delicious, the wine was warm in our throats and in our bellies.
Everything was so different, so beautiful, but one place stood out for me, and I think all my family felt the same. A short walk down the mountain from our hotel was the village of Pedhoulas and it was here, right on the road, you could find Harry’s Springwater Restaurant, est. 1929. ‘Harry’ was a short, plump man with thick glasses, who looked to be in his sixties. His real name was Panagiotis and he had inherited the restaurant from his father after he returned to Cyprus from spending 17 years in London.
The restaurant itself seemed to be part of Harry’s own home and everywhere there was a disorderly, charming mess of furniture, papers, bottles, pot plants and photographs. The front of the building was covered in signs, in both Greek and English, and national flags, and yet more plants. Behind the building was Harry’s orchard, where he grew cherries with which to make his wonderful cherry brandy. Harry showed us his home, his life, shared his stories with us and gave us gifts when we left. For years afterwards he sent my parents a card at Christmas. I had never met anyone so genuinely generous before. I was charmed by Harry’s character, fascinated by his life and bewitched by his island. I still carry the card from his restaurant in my wallet, behind the photographs of my friends and family.
I suspect that most people have a place that is close to their heart. The town they were born in, the place where they proposed, the summit of Cader Idris, Thailand. For me that place is Greece. I have been back there many times, to Crete, Paros, Corfu, Athens. I am married to a Greek and I have seen the country through the eyes of the people that live there. I have been horribly exasperated by the bureaucracy, totally shocked by the corruption and outraged by the forest fires. More recently, I have been deeply saddened (although not surprised) to see Greece’s economy collapse, and to hear what people say about Greece and Greeks (largely influenced by the inaccurate television coverage of the riots and protests in Athens). Yet I have never stopped dreaming about Greece – the country, for all its faults, enchants me. I don’t know if it’s the warm air, the breeze that is always blowing no matter where you are, but despite the impossible bureaucratic system, the shoddy pavements, the lack of law enforcement . . . I still feel it’s a magical place. I have been dreaming for 11 years – surely it is better to go and find out if the magic outweighs the misfortune, rather than spend the rest of my life wondering what it would have been like. So here it is – the Great Greek Experiment.
And that was how – or rather why – in the summer of 2011, my husband and I came to quit our secure civil service jobs, pack up our belongings, and take ourselves and our almost-two-year-old daughter to Greece.
Photos are my own work, except the title graphic which is from Pixabay.