Nicola here and I’m recording in between olive grove cutting so you might hear the odd buzz saw in the background!
It’s been a mixed bag of emotions this week, with tension running high at some points, both internal and external.
One of the reasons to come out to Greece was to get away from my day to day routine in Shoreham, to jolt me out of my rut. I felt very much like a hamster on a wheel, albeit it a comfy, cosy wheel, but I felt instinctively that to escape from that wheel I needed to do something drastic.
While I knew that the relative quiet of Stoupa out of season would limit our options a lot, the nearest town being Kalamata which is 45 minutes away by car, even more by bus and, I’m reliably informed, 2-3 days by donkey laden with vegetables for sale, back before the road was blasted through by the Greek Army.
We have just left Shoreham-By-Sea, a very small town where Brighton, one of the most lively and vibrant cities in the UK, is just 7 miles away, half an hour by bus and 10-15 minutes by car.
So we are limited here, particularly around socialising, but even with all those options at home, I wasn’t socialising.
Since Steve died, I can barely be bothered to talk, let alone socialise. Going out in Shoreham was a bit of an ordeal, in case we met anyone I knew, that didn’t know about Steve yet and also I didn’t seem able to NOT talk about it. Cheery.
So I was actively looking forward to getting away to somewhere where I didn’t feel the pressure to go out, cheer up, get on with my life – yet. Six months vacation from having to go through the motions of living and acting as if nothing had happened, if you like.
I knew things would get better with time, it’s a process apparently and there is no dodging any of that process. I also knew the sunshine and scenery would help me feel better, even if it’s cooler here now.
Visual beauty matters to me a lot it seems and in Shoreham, while it was a lovely little house, I looked out on a carpark from the back windows and a converted church from the front. There was a sweet little garden – with an olive tree no less – at the back but you could only see it from the kitchen.
When not thundering and lightning, with occasional cataclysmic rain, it’s bright and sunny here most of the time and very, very green (olive groves and spiky palms punctuated by tall cypresses) and very, very blue (both sea and sky).
I’m walking more than I ever did at home, the most I used to rack up at home was 2000 odd steps unless I made a real effort. I’m lazy and I hate walking for walking’s sake, especially in the rain. I get bored easily but with nice scenery to look at, it’s easier to be “present in the moment” more.
Here, if you don’t walk down the hill and back, you starve eventually, as both the village tavernas and Katerina’s Supermarket are a good 5000 odd steps there and back.
As I’ve said before, a visit to Katerina’s Supermarket is both an adventure and a bit of an outing and as the post office stand-in here, you never know if there might be a package from home or even more excitingly, Amazon.
(You also have to take your own rubbish bags to the bins in the village or they pile up at home in a most stinky fashion!)
We had a great walk on Saturday, we walked from Stoupa to Agios Nikolaos along the secret coast path and it was absolutely glorious, with the mountains on one side and the sea on the other.
Carefully timed to arrive just before the last bus back to Stoupa, it took about an hour at a fairly brisk clip, although I did need some rest stops especially after the uphill bits.
As an aside, the bus service round the Mani Peninsula is remarkably efficient. While the buses are air conditioned, with the drivers section often decorated with religious icons dangling and even mysterious lacy bits, the outsides are green and sleek and navigate the precipitous mountain road bends most reassuringly.
Having arrived in time, we settled down overlooking the harbour for a restorative Nescafe Frappe but I must have mumbled as I ordered because a hot coffee arrived instead of a cold one, but hey ho! Any drink was welcome.
While Agios Nikolaos is not a busy place, I was expecting the bus to behave like it does in the summer, stopping in front of the cafes to allow people for Stoupa, Kardamyli and Kalamata to get on with all their suitcases and bags, those from Gythio, Areopolis and Itilo to get off, for everyone to have a bit of a chat, the driver stretching his legs after the 45 minutes or so from Itilo, the last “hub stop”.
I was in the cafe paying for our coffee when the bus arrived at the far end of the village, slowing down as he approached the cafes. It’s a looping detour from the main road, coming in at one end of the village, exiting at the far end.
Several people got up, bound for the bus too I assumed, and Sarah and I walked towards it in a leisurely fashion.
Suddenly, as if in slow motion, I realised the bus wasn’t stopping, but it WAS still going very slowly, so the thought flashed through my head that the traditional stopping place might have changed to around the corner, by the stationery shop / post office. But no, it was not stopping there either, it just kept going up the narrow lane, tantalising slowly but with no obvious signs of stopping at all now!
At that point the realisation kicked in that, if we didn’t get this bus, there was no other later and we would be walking another hour to get home.
Someone started shouting “Run, run!” behind me and I turned to find Sarah lagging behind, laughing, so I gave her a bit of a glare, running being much more her department than mine!
I reached deep inside and summoned whatever energy I had left after that long walk and attempted to follow the slow moving bus, dodging from side to side trying to work out which side the driver was on and therefore, which side I need to wave at to catch his attention in the rear view mirrors.
Nothing worked and the bus disappeared slowly but majestically into the distance.
I turned around to be confronted by a helplessly laughing Sarah, plus a lady with two small children who had realised what was happening and had tried to alert us that the bus needed flagging down AND chasing. Yes, it was she who had been shouting “Run, Run!”.
There was also the row of cafe patrons, all watching with great amusement as this was a great diversion on an otherwise quiet afternoon.
The lady with the children started asking us – in English – if we were going to Kalamata or Stoupa, Sarah answering Stoupa and me saying Kalamata, thinking she was asking which bus we actually needed (it was the Kalamata bus, stopping at Stoupa).
That confusion out of the way, Stavroula Nikoloudi, our saviour and new best friend popped her shy little girl into her car, driving us back to Stoupa – ten minutes by car on the main road, one hour on foot on the coast road!
We chatted as we went, Stavroula’s english being excellent and she invited us to her sister’s taverna where they occasionally have live music on Sundays.
Although it doesn’t start till 9pm, which she thought might be a bit late for us…how old do we look exactly? Or do the ex-pats round here have a reputation for going home early, perhaps rather the worse for wear?
We assured her that 9pm was not out of the question for us middle-aged party animals and immediately determined to sort out the taxi situation for a night out in Agios Nikolaos. We swapped emails so she could let us know the next time live music was on the cards.
We staggered down to the village in Stoupa for a restorative ouzo as the sun went down and kept laughing very hard at the picture I must have painted, a portly Brit running up the road after the bus, dodging from side to side, shouting STOP! in English at a rapidly vanishing Greek bus.
Oh, how my kids would have loved that sight, delighting in anything eccentric that Mum gets involved in.
We then moved onto the 360 Bar, which august cocktail emporium we had heard tales of, it being renovated by my friend Elias and run by his son Costas (who I first met as a cute young greek boy of around 5-6 years old many years ago).
My friend Kim and her daughters had recommended it as somewhere with great cocktails, cool music and an even better view and it didn’t disappoint.
A couple of hours later, rather surprisingly, the place was absolutely full of young greeks. They were drinking coffee, beer and the occasional cocktail, playing backgammon, cards or just talking. It was a remarkably civilised scene compared with Saturday night at the Crown & Anchor in Shoreham!
There must have been 40-50 of them and we had to wonder, where were they all in the daytime?
Then out of nowhere, Sarah and I had our first row, since getting here. We hardly ever row. The details are unimportant, but it blew up out of nowhere, was about something 20 years ago and is 100% forever unresolvable.
Sarah sensibly went home, defusing the situation, leaving me to finish my drink and and ruminate for a while, wondering just how I was going to cope with the super dark bit of the walk home through the olive groves. The torch on my phone would have to suffice as illumination, but it was still going to be really quite scary (I hate the dark, even with company).
When I was ready to go, I asked Eleni, who had been looking after everyone in the bar very efficiently, if there was any young person with a car who (for a fee obviously) would take me up the hill and home. She said that she would ask, but came back to say that, if I could wait a little while longer, she would take me herself.
So I arrived home in style after an altogether most eventful day and slept till late on Sunday.
I topped 10,000 steps easily that day.
Next morning, Sarah brought me a coffee in bed so I took that as a positive sign that the row was over.
And so the week progressed relatively uneventfully….
I was going to write about the creative tension I’ve been feeling this week but that can wait for next week as I’ve rambled on too long already and our new cleaner Nina will arrive any minute and I have to get in the shower first or she will think me a very lazy ex-pat indeed!