Saturday, 12 December 2015

Spina-wrong-a, Part the First

Ever since I read Victoria Hislop's "The Island", some time before the Greeks made a TV serial out of it, I ...well, I should say we - have been curious about visiting the place. The Greek TV serial, which went out a few years ago now and is available in (as far as I understand it) abridged form on a DVD with English subtitles, was arguably the best piece of TV drama the Greeks have ever produced. But then, that's just my humble opinion of course.

The island in question, as no doubt you'll know, is Spinalonga and it served as a leper colony from 1903 until 1957, with the last resident finally leaving the island in 1962. Although Victoria Hislop's book is fiction, it is of course based around the true events of the time and is a truly heartrending tale. People living on the island of Crete for many years up until a cure was found for the dreaded disease lived in perpetual fear of catching it, with the inevitable prospect of being banished to the island for the rest of their lives.

As with so many people who've read the book, the desire to visit the island has been with us for some years and so, with the opportunity to visit and stay with friends on Crete, who live only half an hour's drive from Plaka, the village across from which Spinalonga stands, we got a bit excited about the whole adventure. Should have known better, this IS Greece after all.

We'd originally wanted to visit during the season, but were assured by our friends that they know a bloke who used to work on the island and he assured them that we'd be able to visit during November. OK, no sweat then, we went off season.

The day dawned for our expedition and our friends lent us their car for the day. This time we were going it alone after a few trips here and there with them. After several visits to Crete, during which we'd never been into Agios Nikolaus or Elounda, we were "right made up" (as Northerners would say) about the prospect. The weather all week had been kind, with only two periods of rain, both of which had been after dark. The day for our trip to the Island dawned sunny with cloudy patches, so we were very positive. First though, my wife insisted that we had to make a visit to the weekly Laiki (street market) which was within walking distance of our hosts' home. She and our host, Sylvia needed a dose of downmarket-downhome rummage-type retail therapy.

Reluctantly we trotted up the road, with me all the while watching my watch to see how much time we were losing from our planned excursion, to begin the excruciating "stroll" along the endless street where the market was being held. Pretty soon the two women had found a stall selling tops, skirts, leggings and all that other stuff that usually sends members of the female gender into paroxysms of delight and Timothy and I began hanging around, trying our hardest to put on expressions of mindless boredom in the hope of eliciting some sympathy. The vain hope I should say.

Of course, the sound of Greek music was wafting along the street from some bloke's stall selling dodgy CDs and even dodgier ghetto-blasters and thus my better half began showing her appreciation by dancing to it. This had the effect of making him turn up the volume even more to ear-splitting level, whereupon she danced all the more. I pretended not to notice...

Tim shows his apprehension at the prospect of purchases being undertaken. The women, of course, were oblivious.
You know, when women get into the zone in such circumstances, us blokes have no chance. In the end Tim and I stood together to one side for so long that people began approaching us, proffering cash in one hand for the garment they were holding in the other, thinking that we'd been there so long that we must be working there. Had we not been honest as the day is long we could have cleaned up.

Finally, after I'd tapped my watch for the umpteenth time and my wife had satisfied her primal homemaking urges by making a couple of well-chosen purchases, we agreed that it was time to get going and, catching the car keys that Tim tossed me, we bade our farewells and headed back to the car.

We headed for Plaka first, with the plan of coming back through Elounda and then to Ag. Nik. before heading home. It was probably about 1.30pm when we arrived at Plaka, under a clear blue sky and with the sea looking like the proverbial millpond. "Yes," we'd been told, "There will be boats going today, no worries." This from someone who had worked on the island remember.

As you'll know, in this country if someone says "no worries," then it's usually the time to worry. Driving through the village and catching glimpses of the island, only a few hundred yards offshore, we strained to see where the quayside was from which the boats would probably be going. Having parked the car and walked through to the front we found it. There before us was a stone quay, completely devoid of boats and none were visible across the other side at the tiny quay on the island either. Hmm.

Not far, is it.

Not that rough either, eh?

The breakwater above the quay can be seen bottom right. 
You know, when one imagines a deserted village, well one usually pictures what we were now seeing. There was hardly a soul anywhere. Well, there was a French couple ambling along the quayside, evidently doing what we were, looking for a boat. I ought to add that there were in fact several, but none of them was actually in the water. They were propped up on wooden blocks on top of the quay. There were also two women from Germany, also looking to see if they could make the crossing. We know, because later they asked us about what had happened at the small café on the front.

What did happen at a small café on the front? I'll tell you next time. Master of suspense, eh? Alfred Hitchcock eat your heart out.


  1. Can't wait for part 2. Being Crete it must have a happy ending ...... er, mustn't it.

  2. Hi John,
    I very nearly started feeling a tad sorry for you and the anticipated disaster that is about to occur.
    Then I scrolled down to your photos taken across the water.
    I saw blue skies and blue water.
    I guessed the temperature was hovering somewhere in the lower twenties and you were in tee shirt and shorts.
    That's when my sympathy seemed to evaporate.
    Here in darkest, dreariest Cheshire it has rained, then rained some more. Blown then blown some more.
    Mind you the thermometer did hit a heady nine degrees this afternoon after a morning start of four.
    Please keep up the blog so my jealousy levels maintain their heights.
    Just started on "Tzatziki For You to Say"