16 July 2012

Halkidiki

At the Hanioti Village Hotel
Below the ancient city of  Thessaloniki in northern Greece, three fingers of  sun-baked land reach out into the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea. The most westerly peninsula is called Kassandra. And that's where Shirley and I have been this last week. It is also the reason why this blog has been frozen for the past seven days. I'm sorry.


I first visited Greece in the seventies and recall sunny, magical days and nights on faraway islands like Naxos,  Folegandros, Milos, Ios, Mykonos, Santorini and Delos. Old men rode donkeys to barren fields. Old women dressed in black and smiled from whitewashed doorways - "Kali mera!". At noon, the daylight was brutally sharp as the sun, an angry eye, seared down. This was the land of Jason and Venus, Hector and Lysander. I slept on beaches to the sound of the sea and woke at first light to plunge into that crystal clear saltwater. I could tell many tales of the Greece I discovered back then but this past week's Greece was a different one.
Sea and sky merge at Loutra
Shirley at Aghios Nicolaos
Near Old Skioni
To start with, we were staying in a hotel. The room had a shower and a terrace. Swallows had built mud nests under the eaves and their young were learning to fly. We had to cross a busy road to get to the track that leads down to Hanioti Beach. There, to the left, was a beach club with two hundred identical sunbeds and horn speakers blasting out tiresome music. So we headed to the right and found a quieter spot, paying five euros for the comfort of two sun beds and a beach umbrella.

The little resort was inundated with Serbs, Romanians and Macedonians who had driven there. The man at the car hire office told me that ten years ago 80% of their visitors were English and now 80% were Serbian and they didn't need to hire cars because they'd brought their own.

We toured the peninsula. I was looking for something of the old Greece that I had known and loved but it was somehow hidden away. Yet one day, when we were basking on a sandy western beach, I noticed an archaeological site in the adjacent field - mainly foundations and some tiles and marble pillars. It looked like the remains of a pre-Christian settlement but I haven't been able to find anything out about it - not even its name. 
Shirley under an olive tree on the western beach
The main point of the little holiday was to give Shirley some well-deserved sunshine R&R, lazing about by the sea and the pool and catching up with some reading. I think she read four novels and I read two - "So Much For That" by Lionel Shriver and "Senor Viva and the Coca Lord" by Louis de Bernieres. I also read "Blue-Eyed Son" by the British TV and radio presenter - Nicky Campbell - all about his adoption in 1961 and his quest to find his blood relations and thereby better understand himself.

One afternoon I swam out to a white buoy, two hundred metres off shore and rested there as one of those stupid and rather pointless jet skis surged by. Then I swam back with the sea floor far below me and watched the Serbian figures on the hot beach gradually growing closer. Greece 2012.
Hanioti Beach  at sunset

10 comments:

  1. fantastic post and Thanks for sharing this info. It's very helpful.
    B&B in Jaipur

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  2. So this past week we have both sat under the Greek skies and swum in the beautiful sea YP....we returned from Paxos last night.....and today I'm going to try to make the beautiful giant butter bean starter we enjoyed so much.....although the food at home never tastes as it does abroad does it? sounds like you and Shirley had a wonderful time...how lucky we are.

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  3. Sounds like you had a great time. Apart from the car hire bloke, any other signs of the crisis hitting home, or maybe tourism is the only thing still working?
    By pure amazing chance, I'm also reading de Berniere at the moment (Birds wwithout wings)- and can highly recommend the one you've read, and the rest of the trilogy!

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  4. what's that blue stuff above the land!?
    I have not seen anything like that for quite some time

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  5. I don't know.... some people are never happy..... there's a palpable sense of disappointment in your tone mister pudding..... I think you'll have to travel much farther afield to find some of those unspoiled lands you refer to..... tourism has ballooned since the seventies as you're obviously now aware..... and you're obviously aggrieved that there was no oirish bar for a soothing pint of Guinness!!

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  6. CRISTEEN I agree, it was a "fantastic post" but you can stuff your B&B in Jaipur!
    LIBBY Our grandparents would have been happy with a charabanc trip to Cleethorpes, Bridlington or Great Yarmouth.
    BRIAN "Birds Without Wings" is such a lovely novel. A few years ago, Shirley and I visited the Greek ghost town of Kayakoy on the southern coast of Turkey...BTW we saw NO signs of Greece's economic turmoil apart from some unfinished building projects.
    EARL GRAY Like John Lennon said - "Above us only sky".
    ARCTIC FOX You are right to detect a note of disappointment from this miserable old sod though the sunshine and the sea were so lovely and soothing. No Tetley's in sight so I had to resort to "Mythos" and "Fix" Greek beers.

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  7. I really do like the colours that your new camera captures. That photo near old Skioni is stunning!

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  8. The sunset at the beach -- gorgeous!

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  9. Although you got your sun and sea it sounds a little like paradise lost. It is getting harder and harder to find those unspoilt places isn't it?..... especially if you're looking for them where there's sunshine and the sea.

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  10. I can't comment on Greece before or after, however I would love to see the same scenes as I read about in Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals', if they exist anywhere still...

    I hope Shirley had a lovely holiday anyway.

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