Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Frugal Greece

It's one of the best things about living in England:  loads of interesting (foreign) places in Europe are a puddle-jumper away, which means the possibility of fairly inexpensive holidays.  The tourist industry here has the sunny spots well charted and colonised, so even timid tourists can feel right at home.  However, there can be a downside to this.   

Brits are famous for insisting on their very own fry up for breakfast and their very own fish and chips for their evening meal.  There is at least one Irish pub in every tourist place I've been to.  Of course not all British tourists feel this way, but I've heard of someone who even packed a suitcase with tins of beans and loaves of white bread when going abroad!  

Whilst Greece is listed as a 'high income economy' they aren't fabulously wealthy by Western standards overall.  I'm sure there are areas of Greece that might look different, but in all the places I've been, the poverty shows in the unfinished buildings (something about avoiding property taxes) and the rusted cars.  Certainly on Zante (which is the Venetian name; Zakynthos is the Greek name for the island - we kept wondering about that...) they know who butters their bread.  Restaurants advertise not just Greek (if even that), but British, Indian, Italian and Chinese (other comfortable cuisines).  Everyone down to the hotel maids speaks at least a little English - and probably a bit of German and Italian as well.

We chose a holiday completely opposite to the one we had in Italy earlier this year.  This was going to be all in one place, we chose self-catering accommodation (which means a small kitchen), we chose something with a pool and near to a beach (unfortunately it was also near the airport).  Instead of booking the flight and hotel ourselves, we went with a tour company, even knowing the sales spiels and anxious attentions we'd get from the tour rep.  We didn't go to learn anything historical or cultural, only to veg out in some warm weather and eat different foods.  The holiday was no doubt even cheaper because we were at the very end of the season.  Many of the businesses in Kalamaki were already shut for the season, though there were plenty of restaurants still available.

I took a swimsuit, but we didn't spend a lot of time at either the pool or beach.  I'm not big on sunbathing anymore; I'd rather walk in the surf.  I took more clothes than I absolutely needed, but some of those were sewing projects -- shortening long skirts to knee length -- that I've meant to get to for ever and finally did.  I read 4-5 books, 2 magazines, did my sewing, made the occasional meal, washed the occasional dish.  We shopped for food about every other day.  We ate out for 3 dinners and 2 lunches; the rest were light meals in the room.  Bill was so good:  he went for a short run nearly every day.  I made it out once.  My pathetic "excuse" is that the bed was quite hard and so I woke up tired and a bit bruised each morning.  We each bought a new pair of sandals.  My purchase made it possible for me to get rid of two less useful pairs of black sandals.

We sat out on our balcony a lot. Unfortunately, so did our neighbours.  Bill deduced that we had Mancunians on our left, Welsh on our right.  Everyone was pleasantly friendly, but also rather noisy and smokers one and all.  We bought a citronella candle in hopes of warding off the cigarette smoke that drifted our way.  Though I couldn't understand much other than swear words (why are they always so distinct?), the Welsh woman seemed to speak a continual stream of consciousness.  She had a wonderfully deep whiskey- and-fag voice, and the accompanying thick cough.  Her husband seemed bored with his new retirement lifestyle; he often struck up conversations with Bill over the balcony wall.  The 30-something woman further down the row spoke to her pre-adolescent child in a tone that near took my skin off; he was a whiney child, but mostly pretty quiet. 

Everyone (else) had bacon for breakfast which set off their smoke alarms.  We watched a young man in our block do an amazing sprint towards the office one afternoon.  I remarked on him to Bill, saying he didn't look at all like a runner.  Turns out they'd gone out of their flat to see the airplanes and a breeze had blown their door shut.  They were locked out and there was bacon frying inside.  Well, it's good he could still shift when it was important.  

In the first part of the holiday it tended to rain at night but be sunny and in the 70s-80s during the day, which feels surprisingly warm to me now that I've been in England for 15 (!?!) years.  In the last few days it was cloudy and cooler but, just as Bill predicted, when we were getting on the plane to leave it was gorgeously hot!  


All this probably makes me sound really snooty and discontent, but I wasn't. It was all pretty much just as I expected.  I may not have had much in common with the neighbours, but no one spoke unkindly to me and I didn't figure much of the rest was really my business.  On other trips we've experienced slightly better or slightly more basic accommodation, had better resort locations and quieter neighbours, but we chose to go down-market and we got what we paid for.  I agree with Bill that the tour company could have been a bit more forthcoming about the proximity of the airport -- though we did know it was pretty near.  Then again, imagine the challenge of convincing someone they wanted to experience the terrifying thunder of not just tourist but USAF and RAF airplanes!   

Maybe we just should have taken up plane-spotting.  Then again, maybe not in Greece...


Steph said...

How interesting. I used to like "proximity" about England, too.

Struggler said...

Wow. A bit of lazy sun & lots of reading sounded great until you got to the bit about your smoky neighbours! It does trouble me a bit that the Brits go abroad but won't make any effort to adapt - just a little - to local customs and food.