Wednesday, 14 July 2010

To get ahead, get a hat

After high winds in Ithaca, where we are marooned in Vathi harbour for two days, on the third day all is calm.

With us are our crew, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie, our neighbours from The Enchanted Village. Earlier in the week he stepped out from the Easy Jet plane at Corfu airport in blazer and panama hat and carrying two bottles of champagne.

'Is he royalty?' we heard a woman with a faded tattoo ask her husband in cropped trousers and fake Crocs.

Now, five days into the voyage, we still keep hearing cheerful mutters of 'bugger', 'bollocks' and worse as Champagne-Charlie hits his head on bits that protrude in the cockpit. The panama is not much use on board a boat.

Today we are off to explore the island on scooters. The boys arrive at the quayside on their newly-collected bikes and are wearing rather fetching crash helmets.

'These must be our dates for the day,' Mrs Champagne-Charlie says, confiding in me her terror at the prospect of riding pillion around hairpin bends.

'He hasn't ridden a scooter for at least forty years,' she says through gritted teeth.

Champagne-Charlie comes aboard with black crash helmet, like the policeman in Terminator II, and turns to Mr Grigg and says: 'I could wear this all day, chap.'

And so he should. Much more protection than a panama.


Onwards and upwards to the lovely village of Stavros, overlooking the bay at Polis, before heading across to Keffalonia where it's back to the airport for me. Until the next time.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 8 July 2010

When the wind blows

I am sitting alone in the stuffy cabin of our boat in the wind-tossed bay of Vathi in Ithaca. I want to get to shore but cannot reach it - Mr Grigg and the Champagne-Charlies are in a bar somewhere and they've got the dinghy.

I also keeping getting Mr Grigg's answerphone message when I try his mobile to tell him to please come back and get me, I'm feeling as sick as a dog.

But like Odysseus, I am facing my own challenges before being able to set foot on dry land. Namely a 2,000-word Open University essay on the role of black slavery in the modernisation of the Atlantic world. I am nauseous, bobbing around and a little bit frightened - although not half as sick as those poor slaves must have felt. The essay has to be emailed by noon tomorrow and I've still got 1,400 words to go.

And yesterday, as we were trying to anchor in a harbour full of white caps, Mr Grigg fell in the seated position on my neck. All 16-stone of him.

It sorted the crick out. But now I've got a headache.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 4 July 2010

To hell and back

Just in the Thessaly region of Greece, I get closer to God as I climb with Mr Grigg to Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), one of the many monasteries that perch on the ancient pinnacles of Meteora.

It is a strange place, like something from the set of a science fiction film. I am also reminded of Black Narcissus. Any moment now I expect a crazed nun to jump out on me thinking I am Deborah Kerr.

But I am not and I make it to the top and back to the bottom again in the baking heat, just as storm clouds descend and forked lightning rattles through the mountains.

Then to Ionianna and the tomb of the decapitated Ali Pasha. Down at the coast, we make our way from an overnight stay in Sivota to the Necromanteion of Ephyra, the ancient Greek oracle of the dead. We pass azaleas, hollyhocks, wild thyme and olive groves along the roadside.

This is somewhere I have been wanting to visit properly for several years. On our first visit, the place was closed but Mr Grigg found a hole in the fence where I climbed through. It was too small for him, so he and a solitary tortoise stood guard on the outside.

Back then, I wandered around the ruins of this eerie place on my own. I tried to picture it when the ancient Greeks came to communicate with the dead. Odysseus stopped here for a chat with Teiresias. Stupefied visitors were lowered down by windlass to the chamber below, the palace of Hades and Persephone. In my head was a scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but a silent version.

I found a metal stairway going down into a hole in the floor. Down below it was dark, dank and I had no idea how deep it went. I pictured myself in a thriller, at the point where the viewer thinks 'don't go down there you idiot', so I didn't. I decided to wait another day.

The day has come. We take a boat ride up the lazy River Acheron, which in mythology was one of the four rivers including the Styx that converged at the centrerof Hades on a great marsh. Our bony skipper could be Charon, who ferried the dead across the river to the underworld.

At the Necromanteion, we wander around until we find the hole in the floor. Mr Grigg goes first down the stairs and I follow, clutching the cold metal rail in my clammy hand. The temperature drops, the subterranean room smells earthy and it feels claustrophobic. Not as large as I imagined Hades to be, but other wordly just the same.

And we emerge into the sunlight again, to see a mother stork and a nest of youngsters high up on a lamp post.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 2 July 2010

A Greek chorus

High above Metsovo, the sky darkens. A thunderclap breaks the gloom, crackingly loud as if the gods are playing bowls overhead. We drive towards the 1,705 metre Katara Pass, once the only route through these lonely mountains.

The sun comes out in a flash that is almost blinding. Pine trees cling to the sides of the mountains, holding on for dear life, while campanula, yellow yarrow and thistle pause for breath.

In the town square of Metsovo, the old men sit in the long shelter in front of the gardens. They are all wearing suit jackets and an assortment of hats including flat caps and baseball caps and black berets. They gabble, flicking their rosary beads and clacking their shepherd crooks. One of them stands up, gazing at the black-edged obituaries on the notice board.

'You next,' says one of them with a laugh.

A haze of woodsmoke hits the cold air and the kokoretsi on the grill turns slowly, its ribbons dripping fat on the embers below.

An old man comes around the corner, taps with his stick on one of the posts supporting the shelter and shouts to his friends: 'Anyone at home?'

'No, we left long ago,' say the ghosts of old men past.

They come alive as a group of young women in short dresses bend over to pack the boot of a nearby car. An old woman in traditional costume picks her way down the cobbled street and the men turn to ghosts once more, clasping their hands over the ends of their walking sticks as if in a combined act of prayer.

In the courtyard of a house where truffles dry out in the sun, a little old man and woman stoke up a cauldron and make some butter.

Up in the mountains, where grizzly shepherds roam with gravel-voiced dogs and the occasional brown bear, the Katara Pass beckons us. We are off to Meteora, with its myriad of monasteries perched high on mounds of stone rising up from the earth.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x