Monday, 22 July 2013

Greek Bench Mission: Impossible




On the plane to Greece I reminded Miggy and Mungo that this was not just a holiday.

"We are on a bench-finding mission," I told them. 

"Benches and boats," said Miggy. "We'll find plenty of them in Greece."



Mungo wasn't so sure about the benches. He was keen on the boats though.




He dreamt of sailing a boat in the inky waters of the Ionian Sea.



image from www.etsy.com/shop/dreamaspirations


As for me, I just wanted two things out of the trip: benches and swimming. There was a pool at the apartments where we stayed but that isn't what I wanted: I wanted pristine Ionian Sea. 




That's me out there, making for Ithaca across the Gulf of Sami.

Day 1

On our first day of bench finding Mungo went down to the harbour but then he didn't seem to know where to start. Not that there were so many benches: there were so many boats. 



To gear up for bench finding, he went to a cafe. Later, he told us about his delicious crispy donuts smothered in warm local honey and toasted sesame seeds. 



Meanwhile, Miggy went to the beach. Call me naive but I don't see how you're going to find benches standing around in the aqua-marine waters of the Ionian Sea. Especially if you're wearing a daft hat and a silly dress. 




By the end of Day 1, we, collectively, had one photograph of a bench.



"Come on, guys, we've got to try harder to find some benches." 

Miggy and Mungo nodded but I could see they had only one thing in mind: the taverna on the corner.



Day 2

In the morning, Mungo headed straight for the harbour and plonked himself on a bench. I took a picture as evidence of his not working hard enough. 



"Come on," I said, "Get thee to a bench."

So he did. He spent the whole afternoon on this one.


Meanwhile, Miggy had met Costa. A chef, apparently, not a coffee shop owner. He said if she came round later he'd grill her some sardines.




So Migs spent the whole afternoon looking for a dress to wear for her sardine date.



"Does my bum look big in this?"

"He's way too short for you," I told her. "And anyway, you didn't come here for romance. You're supposed to be finding benches."

By the end of Day 2, we had one more bench:




Day 3

I was feeling despondent about both the quality and quantity of benches we had gathered so far. I proposed that we spread out, cover different areas of the island, come back together in the evening and see what we'd found.

"We'll have a little competition," I suggested. "The winner gets a plate of sardines." 

"I hate sardines," Mungo said. "I like boats."

"OK then, the winner gets a boat."

Mungo liked the sound of that. He set off to find a bench to sit down and think over where he might go to find a bench. 

The view was very pleasant so by lunchtime he was still sitting there.



"Right!" I shouted, "No boat for you unless you get off that bench."

Exhausted from thinking about benches all morning, he made his way to the beach and stayed there. 




In a Shirley Valentine sort of way, Miggy decided she would like to live in Greece. She spent the morning on the terrace looking through property magazines.




In the afternoon she found this house. Yes, a lick of paint was needed but she thought it might do up nicely.



It was unfortunate that we hadn't gone to Greece sooner because in April the island of Skorpios was for sale. This would have been ideal for Miggy to set up another of her cake shops.

All in all, at the end of Day 3, we'd found this bench . . . 




. . . and this one



. . . and this one




"This is pathetic!" I shouted. "We've come all this way and we've only found five boring benches. Is this the best we can do?"

Mungo and Miggy asked me what I'd done all day. I tried to explain, patiently, about my need to swim to Zante.



That's me out there in the distance. Not the first head in the water, but the one further out, heading for the mountains. That's Zante.

Migs said huffily that she had to go. 

She had a date with Stavros, a baker. He was an older, experienced man and he told her he had a special way with pitta.





"She's really starting to annoy me," I said to Mungo. 

He said he wished he had a boat.

Day 4

The temperature had climbed to 38 degrees centrigrade. That's 100.4 degrees for some of you.

I hired a bike for the day:



I had a novel to read; something about a mandolin. 





Mungo hired a car.  




He set off on the narrow, twisty, rocky, trecherous road across the mountains and along the coast.





The views were gorgeous.



He had an outstanding day on the beach.



Meanwhile, Migs had met Dimitri, who had a little motorbike. They buzzed around the island on the bike but then he had some goats to herd. He was a goat-herd apparently. 






Sardines, pitta, mutton:  in choosing her romances, Miggy was obviously thinking about food.

Dimitri had found some houses for Miggy to look at. The first one was in a sought-after location.



He said it was quite trendy.



Don't they understand irony in Greece? You're certainly not going to have a trendy house if it's called Trendy House, are you? Or even if it's called μοντέρνο σπίτι. 

The next house Dimitri showed her was much more upmarket. It even had a swimming pool.


It was cheaper than the price of a one bedroom basement flat in Tooting but it was too expensive for Migs. 

She told Dimitri she'd need a job if she was going to stay in Greece and he said he'd find her one. 

And then I discovered we had made a fatal error in timing that day.  





We hadn't fixed a time and place to meet in the evening. 

I went up the hill and found us a table at a favourite taverna. I waited while the sun set over the Argostoli Gulf.


No sign of Miggy or Mungo so while I waited I had a quick swim to Lefkas.




I misjudged the distance and it was dark by the time I got back. The turtles had already laid their eggs in the sand and gone back into the sea.





Mungo had been hanging around the harbour wondering what to do. 



While he wondered, he had a look at the boats.





And then he went to a cafe where he could keep an eye on the boats.





Miggy said she felt under pressure to find benches. 

She said she felt like she had a gun to her head.






She claimed to have waited all evening on this bench in the town centre and, as I didn't believe her, she brought this photo to prove it. 


By the time we all met up late in the evening though, Migs was looking rather elegant.



Ali, the estate agent, was going to show her a house down by the harbour. 






"Ali." I said," Isn't that a Turkish name?"





Sure enough, when he came to meet us, Ali had the look of the Pasha about him.

The harbour was lovely but Ali admitted the house needed a couple of things doing. 




As Miggy and Ali were going off for their souvlakis, I suddenly remembered what we were here for.

"Wait! What about our benches? It's Day 4 and we only have five benches. What did you find today?"

Migs, having been with a shepherd all day, made this offering rather sheepishly:


Mungo had done a little better. At least his bench was a bench.




"I recognise that bench," I said. "It's the one at the cafe with the donuts and honey."

Yes, Mungo had been there again. All afternoon in fact. 

But I couldn't really complain since I didn't have much of a bench either. The best I could offer was this:




Day 5

Day 5 didn't start out well, benchwise, because Dimitri had found Migs a job and it was her first day at work.




She had no time for bench finding: she spent the whole morning trying to read the Greek sign and wonder what she was supposed to be selling. 

You can see how beautiful and complex the Greek alphabet is. Here's the whole Greek alphabet, both upper and lower case:



 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Modern_Greek_alphabet_sample.svg

Yes, there are only 24 letters to learn and it starts well with A and B but after that it gets confusing. The one that looks like P is an R, the Y is a U, the Z is an F, and the Pi looks like a porch you could hang a Christmas wreath on. Not only that, but there are four different kinds of O, there's no C, and the L looks like a festival tent. 

Well, good luck with that, Miggy.

Mungo hired a little boat and set out to find benches along the bay.



I waved him goodbye and set off for Meganisi.



I didn't quite get there, but I did stop for lunch in Santorini.




Suffice to say that by the evening of Day 5 we had only three more benches. 

This one, found by Miggy, is very boring:



This one, though cheerful, isn't a bench:



And this one isn't even trying:



"It's a shame we're not doing chairs," said Miggy. 

She had a date with Stalios, who was a waiter and had a bright yellow bike.  




Stalios had promised to show her his best table but after working all day, Migs was too tired. She was despondent that her job, her house-hunting and her romances had come to nothing. Also, all the men she had met in Greece were rather short.

"I'm never going to find a Greek god with a kebab to die for," she complained.

"Never mind," I reassured her. "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince."



Day 6

Day 6 was our second-to-last day of the trip. We were leaving on Day 7. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find Miggy and Mungo all day. Call me paranoid, but I had the feeling they were avoiding me.

When we eventually met up in the evening they showed me where they'd been.




They warned me that there were to be no puns about how much a Greek earns. 

Day 7

Our day of departure and we had gathered between us a huge credit card bill, seven benches, and quite a few chairs. 

The airport bus was coming to collect us at noon so at half past ten we did the sensible thing and ran down to the beach for a final swim. 




This left our towels and clothes rather wet for boarding the bus, not to mention the considerable amount of sand on our shoes and persons. Mungo set everything out to dry while we waited to be picked up. 




It was while waiting here that Miggy noticed the bench opposite. It was a rather nice bus stop bench that we hadn't seen before.



And right behind us was a splendid palm tree bench.



Mungo's eye caught a glimpse of a solid wooden bench in an ornate style. In fact, there were two. 


How did we miss these? I wondered. 

And this very colourful bench: how did we miss that?  Surely we'd have noticed the tie-dye shirt? It's just like one Mungo used to wear.



And this? Blazing with colour and we didn't see it until now.





Miggy went round the corner to have a final look at the view.


She found a fabulous bench that we hadn't noticed.


And just as the bus pulled up I saw what I think is the best bench of all. 

It's out there all on its own on the jetty. 


So our bench mission seemed impossible but it was not a disaster after all. 

On the way home we agreed we'd all had a brilliant time. 



Credits

With one exception, all the photos were taken by myself or Miggy or Mungo. We are all point-and-click photographers so I think we did pretty well. This trip to Kefalonia is one of our many bench-finding missions which we do each summer. All in a good cause, we've cycled down the Danube. We get high in the Alps. We party in Mexico. And, of course, we eat Italian pasta benches.  


The pretty little papier-maché dream boat is from Maria in Chania in Crete. Maria says that each boat she makes takes her on a journey and is inspired by the colors of the Mediterranean Sea. This boat is travelling through vibrant blue, light blue and bright aqua green waves. It is made of papier-maché with a wood stick mast and leather cord sails embellished with clay beads and organza ribbon, painted with acrylic colors and sealed with glossy varnish. Maria  has lots of beautiful Greek things, including other boats, in her shop at www.etsy.com/shop/dreamaspirations


The image of the Modern Greek alphabet is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Modern_Greek_alphabet_sample.svg   The Greek alphabet has been like this since the 8th century BC. They're very keen on Greek alphabets in the US because of the Greek Letter Organizations, aka, fraternity and sorority houses in universities. Although Miggy and I found the Greek alphabet difficult, many American college students would know that a delta is a triangle and students of maths, science, statistics and engineering would know some of the alphabet as well. 

The plate and pots in the first photo are from previous trips to Crete and other Greek islands. OK, they're not Ionian but at least they're Greek.

The six main Ionian islands, giving them their English names, are: Corfu, Kefalonia, Ithaca, Zante, Lefkas, and Paxi. There are also a lot of smaller Ionian islands, such as Meganisi. As far as I know, you cannot swim between them. However, if you fancy swimming between islands there are holidays in the Cyclades on the other side of Greece where you can swim as far as you like. 

I love Maria's papier-maché  dream boat. If I were a boat, this is the kind of boat I would be.

 www.etsy.com/shop/dreamaspirations

Mungo really does love boats. If Mungo were a boat, he'd be this little Greek fishing boat.




It's funky, sturdy, charming, practical, and useful for catching fish. 

On the other hand, if my other husband, His Excellency, were a boat, he'd be this one.


It's elegant, stylish, show-offy, expensive, wasteful, and pretentious. In a good way. For boat benches that really rock, see http://benchsite.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/boat-benches.html

The houses Miggy looked at are surviving manor houses from the 1953 earthquake which devastated Kefalonia. The house with the swimming pool is not a house: it's the Nikos Apartments in Lassi. I don't know how trendy Trendy House is. Here is the Greek translation for Trendy House, which I cannot vouch for, having got it from online translators:  μοντέρνο σπίτι

The island of Skorpios is a small island previously owned by Aristotle Onassis, who married Jacqueline Kennedy there in 1968. Onassis, his son and his daughter Christina are all buried there. In April this year the island was put up for sale by Onassis's grandaughter, who sold it to the daughter of a Russian billionaire. This goes against the will of Aristotle Onassis, who stated specifically that if the island left the Onassis family, it was to be donated to the Greek government. One way or the other, Miggy was never going to be able to get her hands on it. 

Loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs at night on sandy beaches. From June to August the female lays around 100 eggs in a nest and then returns to the sea. The eggs hatch a couple of months later and the new turtles try to make their way to the sea. Beach activities like sandcastles and beach umbrellas disturb them so some people put signs up to mark the nests. We didn't see any turtles but we were lucky enough to see this nest on Avithos Beach in Kefalonia. 

Ali is not an estate agent. I don't know if they have estate agents on Greek islands. If they have, they are unlikely to be Turkish ones. Ali might be one of the descendents of the Ottoman Empire who, despite all efforts, never managed to rule the Ionian islands. The islands were, however, ruled by Rome, Venice, France, Britain and Greece before being occupied by Italy and Germany in the second world war. Now they are mainly occupied by European tourists. 

The picture of Santorini is from the best-ever adult colouring book Fantastic Cities by Steve McDonald. 

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a novel by Louis de Bernières, published in 1994. It's a love story but also a depiction of the tragic events of September 1943 when the occupying armies of Italy and Germany parted company because of Italy's move to join the Allies. Recommended reading. And if you can't be bothered to read it, there's a 2001 film version with Nicholas Cage, John Hurt, and Penelope Cruz. She's not Greek and neither of the men are Italian but apart from that, the scenery in the film is stunning, especially Myrtos Beach. 

Myrtos Beach is the photograph with the bright turquoise water and the white sandy beach. It was photographed by Mungo when he took his car trip along the western side of Kefalonia. 

We have been to Greece quite a few times but not for a few years. We were disappointed not to see this time 1) elderly women dressed all in black 2) Greek Orthodox priests playing chess outside cafes  3) herds of goats with their tinkling bells as they graze on what looks to be nothing but stones. The exception was this one goat herd in the hills above Lassi.

The frog is in a pond in the centre of Fiskardo, a delightful harbour town in the northwest of Kefalonia. The ferry comes in here from Ithaca though it looks close enough to swim. Fiskardo is very touristy and not the kind of place you go to see goat herds. However, if you're looking for benches, there are quite a few. The sign showing a charge for sitting on the bench was obviously a joke as the price stated zero Euros but 23% tax. There is a lot of discussion about tax in Greece these days so it's probably something to do with that. 

Miggy and Mungo did not spend the whole day in these pots. In fact, the pots were photographed on a trip to Portugal many years ago. We didn't see any pots like these in Greece so don't worry, I won't make any jokes about how much a Greek urns. 

This tea-towel was for sale in the shop Miggy worked at in Argostoli. Her career was short-lived but I bought a tea-towel and I've put it here to signpost the next blog post on Benchsite, which is World Cats Day on August 8th. If you are a dedicated reader you will see it again soon.






If at the end of this story you have a lust for further travel, you can go lots of places here on Benchsite. Try Turkey. See a fiesta of Mexican benches, for example, or an alphabet of Dutch benches. Get high on alpine benches, or tasty Italian ones. See what happened when we cycled down the Danube. And for some truly amazing Japanese benches, see http://benchsite.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/spring-comes-to-fribble-via-japan.html

For an even wider selection of benches around the world, see bus stop benchesbridge benches, or Mariner Mikey will show you benches from all the oceans of the world