I’m now back in France, redressing the work/life balance that had threatened to tip over to the point Paris Hilton would envy me.
Mykonos was fun, particularly landing on it. The island is frequently exposed to strong winds and our plane, an Airbus A320, was being thrown around all over the place in the final stages of the descent. I’ve rarely felt turbulence this bad and a few passengers around me were looking scared as hell and gripping the armrests. One or two nearby let out little yelps of terror. Occasionally turbulence scares me but this didn’t, and I quite enjoyed it. I reckoned the pilots of this thirty minute shuttle between Athens and Mykonos had done this landing a hundred times in worse winds and we’d be fine, and we were.
I’d been to Greece only once previously, to Rhodes in 1998. Given I stayed in Faliraki I might as well have gone to Essex, but I noticed that the island was made of bare rock with almost no fertile soil and it was scorching hot. The same was true for Mykonos, dry as hell and almost no vegetation save for patches of horrid, spiky plants that even goats would likely avoid. Every building was smothered with concrete painted white like the icing on a Christmas cake to keep the heat out.
I’d gone to meet a Greek-American mate who lives in New York and his cousin who is from Athens. I had little interest in Mykonos itself, but going with semi-locals piqued my interest (plus I wanted to see my mate). The authenticity of my trip is open to debate. Sitting in the back of a car while the driver pays scant attention to the traffic rules is probably pretty Greek. Guzzling bottles of Russki Standardt on the patio of a high-end hotel less so. I discovered that while the Turks make their doners from lamb, the Greeks make their gyros from pork. Much as though I hate to offend any Turks reading this, and I appreciate that I probably haven’t had the best doner kebab (which requires going to Turkey with the complainant and driving six hours to where their grandmother lived and finding the 3-table shack they ate in as a kid), but I found the gyros better simply because of the pork. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, in a wrap with onion, sauce, and French fries. And yeah, the Greeks do fantastic French fries too.
The first place I ate a gyro was at a tourist trap and it wasn’t that great, but later I went with my friends, and a Greek lady from Athens, to a “proper” Greek restaurant. There they ordered what we call a Greek salad but they call a village salad (the Turks call it a shepherd’s salad, so we can probably assume this is peasant food). They also ordered kokoretsi, which is:
a dish of the Balkans, Greece, Azerbaijan, Iranian Azerbaijan and Turkey consisting of lamb or goat intestines wrapped around seasoned offal, including sweetbreads, hearts, lungs, or kidneys, and typically grilled; a variant consists of chopped innards cooked on a griddle.
The Turks have the same thing with almost the same name – kokoreç – which confirmed that the difference between Greek and Turkish food, at least around the Aegean, seems to be slight. Depending on which particular lump of offal you got, it wasn’t bad if a little dry. I preferred the heart to the liver, and I couldn’t identify anything else. The gyros in that place were great, though. I also found a place open at 3am serving huge cardboard boxes full of pork and French fries: I was there 3 nights and I ate 3 of them. Burp!
Both days I was there we went to a beach called Super Paradise Beach. I’m not sure that’s what Alexander the Great would have called it, nor do I think he agreed to pay 25 Euros for a pair of sun-loungers, but he might have thought it spectacular. Alas I didn’t bring my camera, but the sea was a beautiful deep blue that turned to turquoise as the day wore on and the sun moved and the beach was hemmed in my cliffs to form the sort of bay you see in travel brochures. There’s a picture of it here:
Approximately 90% of those on the beach had spent the past 6 months running frantically between the gym and the tattoo parlour. Modern twenty-something men have adopted a look consisting of a chiselled physique, tattoos all over their legs, arms, torsos, and sometimes their necks, hair shaved like something out of Peaky Blinders and bushy beards. They’re basically like hipsters only with muscles, and most of them on this beach appeared to be Italian. Their womenfolk were often highly attractive and wearing skimpy bikini bottoms and sometimes nothing else, but most – and I mean well over 80% – were sporting tattoos of some sort.
We wondered where people like this work – it’s hard to imagine anyone with a neck tattoo, lumberjack beard, and nose ring working in an investment bank – but came up short. I pointed out that damned near every barman and barista I have come across in the past five years in the West, particularly the English-speaking parts, have fitted this description but they can’t all be doing that. Our question was partly answered when one of them expertly braided his friend’s hair in about five minutes flat, but other than hairdressing and serving drinks I have no idea what these thousands of people do that would earn them enough money to come on holiday to Mykonos in peak season. Anyone have any ideas?
I put my toe in the Aegean Sea and found it much colder than expected. For some reason I’d assumed it would be like the Mediterranean but it wasn’t. Later I read that it was very deep (over 3,500m near Crete) and cold water masses from the Black Sea keep the temperatures down. Once you were in it was okay, but don’t go to the Greek islands expecting the Aegean to be like the Andaman Sea.
The place has a reputation as a party town, particularly for gays, but it looked to me more like a destination for couples. Most tourists I saw were Italian, American, and Scandinavians as well as European nationalities I couldn’t place easily. There weren’t many Brits, and I didn’t hear Russian spoken once. I suspect they go somewhere cheaper. Mykonos was expensive, and probably always will be given its popularity, but I did wonder if the lesser-known islands were suffering under the strength of the Euro and would be better off being able to price things in drachmas. The subject of Brexit came up and although the Greeks have their own rather obvious issues with the EU and particularly Germany, they seemed entirely uninterested in Brexit. Like the French I talk to at work, they’ve always seen the Brits as awkward members who were never fully committed and don’t think it makes much difference whether they’re in or out. In short, nobody really cares.
It was a good trip, long enough given there wasn’t much to do but lie on a beach and drink, and well worth doing with a few people who speak Greek and can at least get the orders at the bar right first time. And catching up with old friends is always good.