Ten Days in May

Odyssey Island
17th May 2014

It was hardly worth paying to stay in the Hilton last night after barely spending four hours in our room. We could have slept in a chair in the North Terminal for that short amount of time and saved ourselves a pretty penny.

We weren't even at the right terminal. Our departure was from the North Terminal and we were at the South!

Anyway at 3:30am we made our way across terminals on the shuttle train. We really do appreciate Gatwick's "twilight check-in" service where you can deposit your hold luggage the night before. It made for a far more relaxed morning.

Although it was eerily quiet as we waltzed straight through the security gates. Within no time we were sat at Starbucks enjoying a strangely microwaved cheese and marmite panini for breakfast. Their coffee wasn't up to their usual standard either.

We checked the departures board for our Easyjet flight to Kefalonia. Julie was in a diazepam induced state of calmness as we waited for our gate number but when '53' appeared she shuddered to the core as if she had only then realised we had a flight ahead of us.

By the time we reached the gate she was walking like the condemned, her head dropped low, staring at the floor with a forlorn look on her face as we boarded. We settled into our favourite seats 18E and 18F. As the plane taxied she shook uncontrollably and as we hurtled down the runway she held her breath waiting for that life or death situation to come to an end one way or another. Thankfully for us all we successfully broke through the clouds with little effort. In fact it almost glided up it was so smooth.

Ahead of us was a three hour flight. So with a bucks fizz in one hand and the iPad in another Julie distracted herself by browsing through photos of our previous trips to Sofia and Ljubljana and countless photos of our grandchildren.

With thousands of images it took almost two hours to scroll through them all by which time we had flown over the Italian Alps, and were passing Venice, heading down the Adriatic Sea. Half an hour later we already began our descent, leaving the heel of Italy behind, heading across the Adriatic down towards the Ionian island.

We bumped our way through some thick cloud cover sending Julie into gasps of despair but once below the greyness the buffeting stopped. However the respite was only brief.

Kefalonia's airport is situated to the South of the island, right on the coast and as we came to land all we could see from our window was the crystal clear Ionian Sea. We drew nearer and nearer to the water with no sign of land. Julie couldn't bear to look anymore, convinced we were going to splash down.

Right at the very last second the runway suddenly appeared, Julie heaved and we landed in style. She wanted to applaud but held back as we always roll our eyes when that happens.

She expressed her joy instead by giving me a huge sloppy kiss and thanked me for getting her here. It had been a long winter and it was with such overwhelming elation we finally began our holiday.

We were met at the airport by someone holding up a card for our apartments, Braunis Horio. He led us across the car park and over the road to the office of a car hire company. Included with our accommodation was complimentary use of a car for the week.

Before handing the keys over he explained that the road between Divarata and Assos had been washed away after an earthquake and heavy rains in January. There were two detour options, the longest along main roads would have added 45 minutes to the journey, whereas the shortest distance, which he recommended, was up and over a rough mountain track.

He also told us that we were getting a "new car" with "no scratches". So no pressure then!

After some quick instructions on our Chevrolet Spark such as "lights, indicators etc" we set off for Assos. Co-driver Julie had a map in one hand and detailed directions in the other. First instruction was to take the road to Argostoli.

Driving on the right-hand side of the road was a little disorientating at first but I soon got the hang of it. Our first real challenge was a roundabout on the outskirts of the island's capital. The rules in Greece differ to the UK because you have the right of way when approaching, which means whilst you're on the roundabout you must give way to cars entering from the right. It sounded quite confusing but in practice it actually made some sense.

From Argostoli we followed the road North, hugging the coastline. Across the expanse of water, the bay of Argostoli, we could see the town of Lixouri and the Pali peninsula.

The skies were still overcast. We began the journey with the windows open but we had to wind them up as we were feeling a bit cold. We even had a bit of rain. I flashed my lights, indicated left and right before eventually finding the windscreen wipers.

As we came to the village of Kardakata we seem to drive inland but it was only where the peninsula joined the main island.

A few minutes later and we were back to hugging the coastline with beautiful blue seas to our left and steep hillsides to our right.

In fact the scenery was becoming increasingly dramatic especially the water which was a stunning turquoise colour. It almost had an incandescent glow. 

We were compelled to pull over to fully appreciate the view and fortunately we came to a bend in the road with enough space off road to safely park the car. The road was very quiet. It was surprisingly peaceful.

We picked up our sandwiches and crossed the road to sit on the grass verge. It had to be the most breathtaking setting to eat a picnic!

Gazing out along the coast I thought I recognised a small island attached to the mainland by the slightest of connections. I'm sure it was Assos!

It was so exciting to catch our first glimpse. It looked exceptionally idyllic. Moments like this can sometimes be quite emotional. We hugged and literally welled up with happiness.

It was an unforgettable experience.

Keen to get to Assos we got back in the car. It looked no more than a 15 minute drive away (if it wasn't for the subsided road).

A minute later, at the next bend, we decided to stop again!

This time it was an official viewpoint complete with proper places to park, an information board and benches overlooking Myrtos Beach, a strip of sand consistently voted in those Top 10 Beaches of the World surveys.

Despite the facilities and the sneak preview of a superstar beach we were quite glad we had stopped earlier at our very own private viewpoint.

Back in the car we were minutes away from reaching the village of Divarata where the detour began.

Co-pilot Julie got out the directions and we followed them to the letter, first turn left, then before a bus stop (or was it a phonebox?) turn right. Follow the road turning left somewhere and keep on heading up hill. The road meandered its way upwards through the village until we came to steep straight road that lifted us high above Divarata valley.

With us driving on the right hand side it was Julie's side which was nearest the edge. A fact she didn't appreciate one bit!

I stopped briefly, on a very steep incline, to absorb the views of the lush green valley below. It made us realise how mountainous Kefalonia was and how fortunate we were to be here in May to see it at its most verdant.

We could also smell the distinctive pungent aroma of goat. We looked around but couldn't see anything but droppings littered the side of the road. After a challenging hill start, rolling backwards slightly which freaked Julie out, we continued our way up the mountain known as Mount Kalón Óros.

Even though the goat smell intensified it still came as a surprise to come across so many of them. There were literally hundreds of goats all gathered together where the land levelled out into a saddle between the hills.

I stopped the car (yet again) and got out to get a photo of a goat. I apologised and promised Julie I wouldn't stop again or else we'd never get to Assos!

Back on the road, which had been smooth tarmac or concrete so far, we soon came to the rough dirt track we had been warned about. We took our time over the bumpy surface with the words "New car, No scratches" constantly in the back of our minds.

Rolling slowly forwards we soon learned to avoid the puddles as they were deep pot holes filled with the recent rain. Eventually and with huge relief the road returned to tarmac when we came to the village of Patrikata.

The directions became a bit sketchy here. It said turn left, then right at the "construction" which we took to be a house being built, then left again and somehow, more by chance than judgement, we ended up on the right road out heading down hill signposted for Assos.

To get down from the giddy heights the road meandered down through a succession of hairpin bends. Not at the first right corner where a table and two chairs were tied to the barriers but at the next one I broke my promise to Julie and pulled over yet again.

When she saw the most incredible sight of Assos below she forgave me. We could see the rocky island, topped with a Venetian fort and the narrow connecting strip filled with red tiled rooftops.

We didn't loiter for too long. We were eager to finally get there.

In fact we were a little too eager and missed the turning for our apartment and ended up driving through the village, all the way down to the harbour front. It was so exciting to drive through its narrow streets.

We completed a full circle and at the second attempt we took the correct turn. The road seemed to take us away from the village but it then looped back towards the right direction. It was such a narrow lane that we crossed our fingers so we didn't meet another car.

At the end of the road before it turned sharply downhill to the left, we finally came to the gates of the Braunis Horio Apartments. It had only taken us 90 minutes to get here but we had already enjoyed such an adventure. We had a good feeling that this was going to be one of our favourite holidays.

Julie keyed in the number to open the electric gates and I drove the car in. From the balcony of one of the properties someone waved at us and signalled us to drive up.

We had already seen a map of the apartment complex and knew where to park. It consisted of a dozen villas built neatly into the hillside so parking spaces were at a premium. There was an overflow car park but fortunately we had one allocated space right near to our apartment. Even so, it was quite a tight fit, even for a little Chevrolet Spark.

We were welcomed warmly by the caretaker/manager. She introduced herself as Arianna and took us to our accommodation for the week, Villa Palatsina.

It was the middle of three apartments. We walked into a large open plan room, bright and airy with two patio doors brining in the light. The kitchen was at one end with a dining table that could sit six people. The other end of the room had two large sofas, one each for us to sprawl across.

It was more than spacious enough for the two of us.

On the table was a bottle of wine and a hand written note wishing Julie a "Happy Birthday" from Katerina, the lady with whom we made the reservation. That was a really nice touch.

Its best feature however was the outdoor space. We had a small patio area with a stunning view across to the island and fort. It was so peaceful with just the soothing sound of the water lapping against the rocks breaking the silence. Then there was the intoxicating sweet smell of honeysuckle adding to the idyll.

How could it get any better? Well, down some steps was our own private pool. That's how!

Arianna wished us a wonderful week and left us to settle in.

Despite the obvious charms of our villa we couldn't wait to make our way down to the village. From the gates of Braunis Horio we walked downhill where within a few short steps we came across a clearing opening onto most magical view of Assos.

The blue green sea and the white pebbly beach of the bay surrounded the pretty pastel coloured houses perched on the narrow peninsular was possibly the most beautiful view we had ever seen.

This was a Greek island but the architecture was clearly Italian influenced. The legacy of the Venetian occupation. The Italian city state were one of many who ruled Kefalonia over the course of the last millennium. Others included the Ottomans, the French and even the British. But it was the Venetian influence that persisted.

It was surprising to learn that all of what we see today was rebuilt in 1953 after a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake raised almost the entire island to the ground. Fortunately for Assos it was such a gem that donations flooded in from all the over world specifically to restore the village to its former glory.

Arianna had told us about a shortcut that dropped us down directly onto the quayside between taverna Nefeli-Anait and a cafe bar called Conteco. The steps were quite steep, enough for us to decide we wouldn't bother using it again.

Ahead of us was a street that had the look and feel of a square. It had a church, a couple of tavernas and a mini market.

We were glad to see the shop was open because we really needed to stock up on provisions. Inside it was a proper Aladdin's cave with shelves were stacked high with everything they could possibly squeeze into such a small room.

At the back of the room the shopkeeper opened up the covers keeping the cold air in and the heat away from the dairy products in the fridge.

After all the effort she went to we felt obliged to buy something at least, so we placed some Feta cheese, strained yogurt and some cream cheese into our wicker shopping basket.

I had imagined I would be cooking a grand Mediterranean meal this evening but we were really disappointed with the choice of fresh vegetables. The tomatoes were in reasonable condition and we managed to find a few decent old potatoes and an almost fresh cucumber but that was literally it. No aubergines, courgettes, bell peppers, none of those wonderful Mediterranean vegetables. Not what we had expected.

Add a bottle of local wine and a very large loaf to the basket and our bill reached €22.70.

It wasn't cheap but watching the old man tottering behind the counter, shuffling across to weigh the tomatoes with precision, raising his glasses and squinting at the price tag on the Feta cheeses, was priceless. It made Julie and I smile so much. He must have been eighty something, a proper old codger and reminded of us of Monsieur Leclerc from Allo Allo.

We continued our stroll past a restaurant called Platanos which came highly rated on trip advisor. For future reference we checked out its specials menu written on a chalkboard. "I think we'll be eating here often!" said Julie.

At the end of the street there were two derelict houses. One was for sale. The roof had fallen through and a tree now grew inside. Despite its sorry state it was easy to imagine its former grandeur with its tall windows and wrought iron balcony above the entrance.

I wouldn't have thought it had been left like this since the 1953 earthquake but it's possible. It could also have been damaged by countless others the island has been hit with since. Kefalonia is on a major fault line. Small tremors are a daily occurrence and as recent as 3 months ago it experienced two earthquakes over 6.0 on the Richter scale.

We didn't go much further than the end of this street before returning back towards the village "square".

A little thirsty we decided to sit outside a cafe with the best location of all the tavernas in Assos. It was called the Assos Blue Cafe or at least I think it was. It could also have been called Sea-side as there was a small chalkboard with that name on it.

Anyway, whatever the name it was literally at the side of the sea, right on the pebbly beach, overlooking the tranquil bay. The sun was shining, the beer was ice cold and the water was lapping gently on the beach.

It felt so good. It was one of those idyllic moments when you think to yourself "life doesn't get any better than this!" and we beamed with joy.

I then order myself a bowl of yogurt with honey and it just got better!

It was €4.50 which at first seemed expensive but when it arrived it was worth every penny.

The yogurt was exceptionally creamy and thick and the honey was light and wonderfully sweet. It was so luxurious.

We stayed here long after finishing, unable to remove ourselves from the peaceful setting. It wasn't busy so we didn't feel at all guilty nor were we made to by the ever so welcoming staff.

Of course eventually we had to leave. As we walked back towards our apartment we noticed a sign for another mini-market. It was only a short distance away from the harbour. This one had a slightly better selection of fresh vegetables so we picked up a pepper or two and some potatoes.

Laden with supplies we returned to the steep steps of the shortcut and climbed our way back up the hill to our apartment.

There was nothing more to do than head down to our pool and lie down in the sun for a few hours. The grey clouds had long gone and blue filled the skies.

I can't swim very well so a pool isn't high on my priority list. However, I did spend twenty minutes in there splashing about. It was lovely and warm, a proper little sun trap, so to cool down I jumped into the pool which brought my temperature down a bit quicker than I expected. The down side of holidaying in May is that the water, sea or pool will be a lot colder!

Anyway, I still managed to swim some of its mini-lengths.

It boosted my confidence slightly but it also reminded me that one thing I can't do is tread water. The deep end was only 1.7m but that was deep enough to cover my blowholes if I stood up straight.

Every year my New Year's resolution is to learn to swim but I never quite get around to it. I really must make the effort one year. You never know, it may save my life one day.

Bobbing about the edges of the pool, looking out towards the Venetian fortress felt great. It was really stunning here.

The tranquillity was shattered however when our neighbours arrived and came down to their pool. Whilst we couldn't see them we could hear them!

They had a young daughter called Grace who was full of excitement and loud with it. They kept telling her to be quiet. You could sense they were getting a little stressed and concerned that they were disturbing us.

We easily recognised from their accents that they were from the Valleys of South Wales, so we broke the ice and said hello. Julie told them not to worry, "We have four grandchildren of our own" and that we knew how excitable children can get.

We sat on our loungers, sipping wine, listening to music until about 7:30pm when the sun dropped behind the island of Assos.

We had been debating all afternoon to either eat in or out tonight, eventually deciding to stay at the villa. We didn't have much to eat but neither of us could muster enough energy to get dressed and walk down into the village.

So Julie had some cream cheese on garlic toast whilst I had an Assos Mini-Mart Salad. Washed down by a complimentary bottle of Kefalonian Robola wine from Braunis Horio.

Sat outside on our patio as the sun set we could see the cliffs down the coast alight with the sun's rich glow. The final magic moment of what had been an amazing first day to our vacation.

Once it got dark we came inside, mostly to avoid any mosquitos. I couldn't see any but Julie could feel them. She doesn't react well to insect bites so it was a sensible precaution.

We put the TV on but there was very a poor reception. Eurosport was crystal clear but all the rest was very crinkly. It didn't bother us though. What did slightly bother us was we couldn't connect to the internet. The villa had free wi-fi but it just wasn't working for us. It's surprising how much we take connectivity for granted. 

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