Thursday, 7 May 2009

Getting there

Awake at 3am, trying to think of everything I need to do, pack, finish, arrange. Dopey in the dark, stuffing things into my case. Andrew remembers I should take my own fave muesli (Dorset spelt) and that goes into my case at the last minute. Befrore 4 we are off, collecting Duncan en route, as he is catching a plane about the same time as me, to his house in Turkey.

The roads are empty, we get to Gatwick in good time but instead of Duncan and I being able to share a breakfast, I need the North Terminal and he the South. It's all so huge now. I remember my first visits to Gatwick when it was just one large room. Getting through all the security systems is as time-consuming as ever, queuing, taking off shoes, packing make-up into small plastic bags, being given and then giving back little bits of cardboard. Hardly any time to grab a paper and a bottle of water, though I do snatch some sunblock at Glamourville or whatever they call the make-up sales area.

Patrick – my unknown fellow traveller – has preceded me to the gate. He is determinedly laid back, about where we sit, where we are in the queue, etc. The plane (Airbus 319?) is luckily not totally full and we have a bit of space about us, sitting either side of the aisle. The flight is smooth, we arrive 10 mins early, our bags reappear in exemplary fashion and we emerge into a long hallway. Our car-hire booth is not far along the corridor... The child on duty inside is efficient but hard to understand, and we struggle through details of insurance, what is or is not covered, excess waivers, drivers' details, passports, deposits and the lack of a GPS system. Eventually I go and buy first an atlas (23 euros) and a satnav (269 euros) because I spent quite a long time the night before trying to navigate our route through the mountains of the Peloponese, and the thought of driving bad roads in an unknown left-hand drive car in a country with a mad alphabet has scared me too much. This purchase turns out to be a great help.

We wait for the planes to arrive from Copenhagen and Amsterdam, bearing the two other people who we hope will share the drive and car-hire costs with us. We don't know either of them. Patrick has their names on 2 pieces of paper, but he's been waiting at the wrong place and I rush to intercept the first batch of people emerging into that long hallway. I pounce on one or two single women who look as if they might be coming to our conference, but they stare at me blankly when I demand 'Are you Viveka?' Then I see her, undoubtedly, I think, she is one of us. And she is! She looks very like my sister Sheila, in fact more like Sheila than I do, and she turns out to be Swedish (although on a flight from Denmark), and I wonder if her style is something Swedish and accounts for sister's look.

We grab a coffee and roll from a not-brilliant-but-welcome stall, and sit in the smokey atmosphere, sizing things up. Tiredness and stress are beginning to make themselves known and I am anxious about the drive ahead. Eventually Karen arrives and we buy more water bottles and set off to the car. It seems a long walk, though only 200 metres, because there is a massive, huge, dark, sweaty, rolling, banging thunderstorm advancing on us, and fat drops of rain start to hit us. I hear Karen behind me asking loudly how far it is to the car. I have no idea...I am heading for the car-hire park, with its flags fluttering, somewhere in the distance.

The car turns out to be not a Ford Focus as imagined but a BMW and the first problem is we need to pull it forward to get our luggage into the boot. But how to start the damn thing. No ignition, no visible means of starting it. A lorry driver stops to help us...the fob itself is inserted into a little cave in the dashboard. Then you press a large, well-labelled button saying START STOP. Duh! I knew that.

We try to pack our 4 bags in, and they barely fit. Thank god we fixed to book a 4-door car and not a 2-door. A man comes and explains a few more things about the controls... the lights, the amazing engine cut-out controlled by the clutch. Many of my readers will know all about these things, but to me they seem like miracles and wonders. We have only a smidgeon of petrol but the garage is not far, we are told. My passengers ask me if I am a good driver and I assure them I am, but this car is so different from my own tiny Fiat 500 and so loaded it all feels very heavy. We edge out into the traffic. We get to the garage, and after wrestling to get into reverse so the filler is on the right side, I start to put petrol in. Or rather, nothing happens. At that very moment, no doubt triggered by the huge storm, the electricity in the garage completely cuts out. The attendants shrug, spreading their arms in a classic and comic gesture of ignorance...

A Frenchman says he knows nothing. We wait, and then I ask how far to the nearest next garage. 10km a man says, on the Makmoura road (something like that). So we set off again into the furious traffic streams, not sure if we have enough gas, and not sure where we are going as the satnav is insisting on saying nothing helpful either.

However we find our garage, I luckily have enough cash to pay for it as none of my cards work in the Shell machine, the satnav starts to say where we should go, and we get going. I start to feel more at home with the controls, and we pick up speed, only to hit a massive traffic jam. I am worrying we won't get to the hotel in time for the wedding.

Along the motorway to Corinth with no-one is really obeying lane discipline, I suddenly notice that the little white van ahead of me has a logo on the back, one among many. It is the Al-Anon logo, the circle in the equilateral triangle, red on white. I suddenly know everything is going to be alright. With lots of loud driving instructions from Karen in the back seat, we get to Corinth, passing huge smelly industrial sites along the way, and crossing the Corinth canal almost without noticing it. How small it looks. I remember our ship the Dunera squeezing through it when I was on a schooltrip to Greece in about 1963, and it seemed a mighty work of engineering then but now, with modern roads sweeping across it, it looks like a grubby backwater left over from the Industrial Revolution. How sad, or since I think this is the right place to say it: Eheu.

We turned south toward Epidavros, and stopped at a roadside cafe for a pee and a drink of water. Viveca bought us each a banana. We saw in the loo that paper is not to be flushed down but put into a bin. Patrick took over the driving, announcing that he had not driven in Europe since 15 years ago, and that as a motorbike rider he hates driving cars. This last stage of the journey was a slightly scary trip along mountain roads of very mixed quality, steep edges, spectacular views, empty landscapes, with hardly any people around except totally mad Greek drivers coming round bends very fast and not always on the right side of the road. We saw areas of burnt forest, and gradually descended to the coast, arriving at the hotel at 6.30. My room is lovely, facing the sea, with a balcony. Patrick came to show me how the lights work (all based on the key of course, which just as with the BMW) you have to slot into a hole in the wall for things to happen.

I unpacked, showered, went down and bought a glass of wine from the bar and wandered out onto the restaurant terrace to look at the sea. How totally lovely it is. Diana and Dodi were here in this very bay in his yacht immediately before the fatal trip to Paris. Because access is so difficult and winding, it's not really very developed at all, and very old fashioned.

I was introduced to the bridegroom Dermott and some of his family and the other people here. A lot are Irish and not only sound it but look it – those unmistakable Irish faces. I thought David's Jo would probably know someone... We drifted across to the beach just across the road, and there as the sun headed for bed, Dermott and his beautiful bride Tammy made their vows and lots of people talked about how it had all come about. It was completely lovely. We had the sun setting over the water on one side of the sky and the moon just risen on the other. Boats lazed at their moorings nearby, the waves tumbled lazily onto the sand, and we headed lazily back to the banquet prepared for us. The whole hotel is very clean and newly painted, lovely colours, nothing too flash, just simple and elegant and comfortable. There was far too much food, lots of music to dance to including some very basic Greek Zorba-type stuff with fancy footwork, and an adorable two-and-a-half-year old little girl in best dress having the time of her life, watching everything, dancing, joining in....her speciality was a kind of break-dance in which she sat on the floor and twiddled round on her bottom with her feet off the floor. Enchanting.

I was in bed about midnight, exhausted. What a day.

(That was Wednesday 6th. Loading this up on Thursday 7th from the hotel lobby, and I will write my account of today later on. We went to Epidavros). Now going for a swim.

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